by Father James Rodriguez
MERCY. It is at the very heart of today’s readings. It is a commonly misunderstood word, yet the Word of God teaches us on this second Sunday of Easter that it is essential. In a vision, our Lord showed St. Faustina the now-popular image of His divine mercy (see photo). In the year 2000, with her canonization, the Church declared that this, the second Sunday of Easter, would be known as Divine Mercy Sunday. Pope John Paul II consecrated the entire world to the Divine Mercy, that immense mystery so thoroughly visible in this holy and radiant season of Easter. Under the tyrannical pressure of fear, mercy was far from the apostles’ minds. They feared for their lives, ashamed for having abandoned the Lord. In one of the most poignant scenes in the seminal film “The Passion of the Christ,” Peter, just after denying Christ, runs away from the battered Lord and the abusive crowd. He is stopped by John, Mary, and Mary Magdalene. Weeping bitter tears, he falls to his knees before Mary, who instinctively reaches down to touch him, prefiguring the mercy of God with her own maternal mercy. He refuses, crying, “No, no…I am unworthy! I have denied him, Mother! Denied him three times!” Behind the invisible wall of shame, he runs off again into the darkness of night. Running and hiding, like Adam and Eve in their original shame, the apostles needed God’s mercy more than ever. As with our first parents, the Lord penetrates the fear and speaks. This time he does not ask, “Where are you?” but says, “Peace be with you.” How liberating! How powerful! How merciful is the Lord of love! Forgiveness poured from his wounds, no longer bleeding, but still visible. Their fear receded, for this was indeed the Messiah, for whom the world had longed since that first devastatingly easy bite from the fruit of a tree. The world rejoices in the splendor of the Risen Christ, the source of God’s merciful forgiveness available to any sorrowful sinner behind the doors of confessionals around the world. There, the divine mercy that found the Apostles enters our lives. In our first reading today, we hear about the nature of the early Church. They held everything in common. People were selling off properties and houses to help the poor. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Acts 4:33). Can we have this same great power? We already do. It is the same as theirs, for our help is in the name of the Lord. So often, we retreat in fear when faced with the challenge of defending our faith, but ours is not a religion of fear or myth. Christ is risen! Every time we receive Holy Communion, we are afforded the opportunity to be so close to Him that we hold Him in our hands, and we receive Him into our bodies. St. John, in today’s second reading, encourages us to become victors over the world by living out our faith, sacrificing ourselves for others and remaining faithful to the Bride of Christ, the Church. Her rules are His rules, and it is for us as faithful sons and daughters of so beautiful a mother to uphold those rules. In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments. The Apostles, as the first priests of the new covenant, are entrusted with the divine power to forgive sin. (John 20:23) Like the apostles, all of us are given the power to forgive and change, since we have seen with our own eyes and, yes, even touched the wounded side of the Savior. Like Thomas, we touch the flesh of the Risen Lord. At the end of the novel, “Between the Savior and the Sea,” author Bob Rice retells the story of Thomas and his encounter of divine mercy. In this work of plausible fiction, based on the New Testament and tradition, the unbelieving Thomas calls the other apostles crazy as they drag him to the Upper Room. Bumping into someone, he grabbed the apostle’s tunic to push him aside. But the tunic came open, revealing a bare chest. And on that chest was a wound. And in that wound was a beating heart. Never before had the world encountered the beating heart of God in this way until that first day of the week, when He made a new beginning of the apostolic faith, a fresh start with those men chosen to set the world ablaze with the Spirit given to them at Pentecost. We are the apostles of today, chosen and sent. May the Eucharist be our nourishment, may our fidelity be our strength, and may the one banner of Christ and His Church unite us.[hr]
Readings for The Mass of Easter Sunday: Acts 4: 32-35 Psalm 118: 2-4, 13-15, 22-24 1 John 5: 1-6 John 20: 19-31[hr] Father Rodriguez, parochial vicar at Most Precious Blood, Long Island City, was ordained to the priesthood for the Brooklyn Diocese on June 7, 2008.