By Elise Anne Allen
ROME (Crux) — Celebrating Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis said the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity to practice mercy toward the poor and those who are suffering, particularly in the aftermath.
Noting that much of the world is preparing for a “slow and arduous recovery” from the crisis, the Holy Father cautioned that as things move forward, “there is a danger that we will forget those who are left behind.”
“The risk is that we may then be struck by an even worse virus, that of selfish indifference,” he said, saying this attitude is spread “by the thought that life is better if it is better for me, and that everything will be fine if it is fine for me.”
“It begins there and ends up selecting one person over another, discarding the poor, and sacrificing those left behind on the altar of progress,” he said, insisting that the pandemic is a reminder to everyone that “there are no differences or borders between those who suffer. We are all frail, all equal, all precious.”
“May we be profoundly shaken by what is happening all around us,” he said, adding, “the time has come to eliminate inequalities, to heal the injustice that is undermining the health of the entire human family!”
Pointing to the day’s Gospel reading from John, in which the disciple Thomas does not believe that Jesus had actually appeared, the pope said, “On this feast of Divine Mercy, the most beautiful message comes from Thomas, the disciple who arrived late.”
“He was the only one missing. But the Lord waited for Thomas,” he said, noting that Jesus appeared to the disciples again with Thomas present, allowing Thomas to touch the wounds marking where he had been nailed to the cross.
“Mercy,” he said, “does not abandon those who stay behind.”
Pope Francis celebrated Sunday Mass in Rome’s Santo Spirito church, which is dedicated to the devotion to Divine Mercy, on April 19, marking the 20-year anniversary of the canonization of Saint Faustina Kowalska and the institution of the Feast of Divine Mercy, celebrated the first Sunday after Easter and instituted by St. John Paul II in 2000.
Due to the coronavirus lockdown and restrictions on public gatherings, including ecclesial events, in Italy, the Holy Father’s Mass and praying of the Regina Coeli Marian prayer were livestreamed, as were his Holy Week and Easter liturgies.
In his homily, Pope Francis noted faced with Thomas’s disbelief in the day’s Gospel passage, Jesus “starts all over,” by returning to the same spot he had appeared to the others and allowing Thomas to touch his wounds.
“God never tires of reaching out to lift us up when we fall. He wants us to see him, not as a taskmaster with whom we have to settle accounts, but as our Father who always raises us up,” the pontiff said.
Noting how in one of St Faustina’s visions Jesus had asked her to give him her failings, Pope Francis urged faithful to ask themselves, “Is there something I still keep inside me? A sin, a regret from the past, a wound that I have inside, a grudge against someone,” or “an idea about a particular person” that perhaps isn’t true but is hard to let go of?
“The Lord waits for us to offer him our failings so that he can help us experience his mercy,” he said, noting that even though the disciples had abandoned Jesus on the night of his arrest, Jesus appears to them and offers them peace and mercy.
Pointing to the pandemic, Pope Francis said that just as the disciples were faced with their own failings after abandoning Jesus on the night of his arrest, the current crisis is a moment in which humanity has “experienced our frailty.”
“We need the Lord, who sees beyond that frailty an irrepressible beauty. With him we rediscover how precious we are even in our vulnerability,” he said.
Pope Francis said the early Christian community both received mercy and lived it. Quoting scripture, he said, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need.”
“This is not some ideology: it is Christianity,” he said, noting that in Thomas was the only one from the early Christian community that was “left behind,” as he wasn’t there when Jesus first appeared. But the others waited for him and were there with him when Jesus appeared again.
April 19, Pope Francis said, “the opposite seems to be the case: a small part of the human family has moved ahead, while the majority has remained behind.”
When it comes to global inequalities and problems that need solving, there are many who brush these off, insisting that it is not up to them personally to care for the poor or those in need.
However, quoting a line from the diary of Saint Faustina, the pontiff said that, “In a soul that is suffering we should see Jesus on the cross, not a parasite and a burden.” God, he said, gives each person “the chance to practice deeds of mercy, and we practice making judgements.”
“To everyone: let us not think only of our interests, our vested interests. Let us welcome this time of trial as an opportunity to prepare for our collective future,” the pope said, “Because without an all-embracing vision, there will be no future for anyone.”