Sunday Scriptures

Divine Mercy Moves Us From Fear to Fire

By Sister Karen Cavanagh, C.S.J.

THE GREAT 50 DAYS of Easter fill our reflections and our prayers with the movement from fear to fire. A new fire burns in the hearts of Jesus’ disciples as they recognize Him as the Risen Messiah, the Son of God.

The Gospels find Jesus appearing to them and readying them for His mission to the world. The readings from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles present the Christian community of the new Church as it seeks to do what communities are supposed to be about, namely caring, sharing, teaching, healing, forgiveness and mercy. These Sundays place before our hearts what it’s all about.

The Divine Mercy devotion began in 1935, but it was in the year 2000 that St. John Paul II declared this first Sunday after Easter to be Divine Mercy Sunday throughout the world. It is believed that this Sunday was chosen because the readings always speak of the outpoured mercy of God in Christ. Pilgrimages, processions, conferences, novenas and Holy Hours are offered for the salvation of the world through the intercession of the heart and mercy of Jesus Christ. On this Sunday, thousands of Catholics will join in these devotions and we will hear those mercy readings proclaimed at Mass.

The growing awareness of my own human weaknesses and of God’s amazing and steadfast presence in my life has shown God’s Divine Mercy to be a powerful support in my journey.

Narrow View

When I was a child, and for too long a time, I limited mercy’s meaning to be solely forgiveness. I sought God’s mercy when I sinned or failed, when I imaged a God Who was angry or displeased with me. This limited image or belief comes through a lens of shame or a fear of lost love. Yes, mercy is forgiveness (thank God) but it is oh so much richer. It’s God’s love, embrace, benevolence, generosity, tolerance, blessing, kindliness, tenderness, forbearance, favor, clemency, mildness, sympathy and grace that support us in the journey. It is this very name and life of God in us that we pray for today. God is mercy.

We see this in today’s first reading. In the first Christian communities we hear and see that no one is without, everything is for everyone, all are welcomed and all are supported. These days, however, this is so often far from the experience of our world, our countries and cities, our neighborhoods and at times, our Church or families. It seems that we live in a world of persistent anger, destruction and hunger for power. It appears to be one where the degree of violence toward a neighbor has become the measure of power. The evening news is seldom good news.

Need Each Other

As a world family, as a religious family and as natural families we need each other and we need to come to God together. We see this clearly in today’s Gospel with Thomas’ experience. The Risen Jesus appears to the still-frightened disciples and Thomas is not there. We don’t know where Thomas was that first Easter Sunday night. He may have been hiding with his own sense of guilt or failure. Perhaps he was seeking a possibility for future work. Maybe he was lost and drowning in his own sorrow. Maybe he was paralyzed with fear for his life. We don’t know why but what we do know is that he was not with the others.

The Gospel tells us that while away from his community he could not and did not hear Jesus’ words of forgiveness and peace. Apart from them he did not experience the Resurrection and a newfound faith in the Risen Christ. It was when he came back that he could hear the greeting of peace, receive the Holy Spirit and have the courage to proclaim, “My Lord and my God.”

He then not only knew forgiveness but also was embraced with the outpoured gifts which Divine Mercy presents. He touched and was touched by the grace of God’s life within himself. This, too, is God’s mercy for the “Thomas” within each of us.

Our second reading reminds us that, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God… keeps God’s commandments … and testifies to God’s spirit with their lives.”

A Different Way

This challenge is always a call to a different way of being in the world and in all of those other “communities” of which we are a part. God calls us to love beyond our own capabilities. We are given God’s Spirit and commissioned to live it in our lives.

In the beginning of Acts, Luke describes the newborn Christian community with idyllic language. Writers call this the “honeymoon phase” in a community and in relationships. We’ve all experienced that with new beginnings. The moments seem to have a special grace where mistakes are excused, hurts forgiven and forgotten and everything seems possible. Slack is cut and we offer kind words as we place the others’ needs first. What happens as the years go on? Keep reading the Acts of the Apostles.

What happens now when we forget who we are and Whose we are? When we forget who we are, the commandments become less clear in our actions. When we really lose sight of Whose we are, they become burdensome.

At this time in our history, when fear and division could take power, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, witnesses with his life that saving message of mercy. Today’s readings urge us to welcome God’s Divine Mercy and be that for each other.

Readings for the Sunday Of Divine Mercy                        

Acts 4: 32-35

Psalm 118: 2-4, 13-15, 22-24

1 John 5: 1-6

John 20: 19-31

Sister Karen Cavanagh, C.S.J., a trained spiritual director and retreat facilitator, is a pastoral associate/family minister at St. Nicholas of Tolentine parish, Jamaica.