by Rev. Stanley J. Krempa
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (Jesus) said to them again. "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and he said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe." Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
This Sunday speaks to us of Godís mercy. Reflection on Godís mercy is as ancient as the Psalms, as old as St. Johnís account of blood and water flowing from Christís side on the cross, as traditional as the First Friday Sacred Heart devotion and as contemporary as Divine Mercy Sunday in our parish churches.
The mercy of God needs great emphasis today. There is a story of a priest whose sermon was lengthy. After one parishioner remarked that his sermon reminded her of Godís mercy, his pride was deflated when she added, ďI thought it would last forever.Ē Sermons come to an end; Godís mercy does not.
St. John Paul II once cautioned that mercy is almost forgotten today. It has disappeared from our public discourse. In fact, today mercy is almost considered a dirty word, a sign of weakness rather than strength, a symptom of softness rather than hard justice, a dreamerís folly rather than a realistís response.
Yet, imagine a society or community without mercy. If strict justice guided all our reactions to others, the result would be a society that is cold, hard, mechanical and unforgiving. We need mercy. In fact, when you think about it, justice, to be justice, needs to be seasoned with mercy.
In todayís Gospel reading, Jesus comes to the apostles on that first Easter Sunday night. They met Him in fear because they knew they had failed the Lord. Now, they expected judgment. Yet, Jesusí first words to them were, ďPeace be with you.Ē Then they realized in those words that He had forgiven them. The Lord then repeats, ďPeace be with you.Ē He then breathes on them and conveys to them the power to bring to others the very forgiveness they had received from Him.
That breath, the gift of the power to forgive, has traveled through the centuries as an essential part of the churchís sacramental life, passing from the Upper Room in todayís Gospel to every generation and to the ends of the earth and into every confessional.
Our world today needs mercy. Divisions within society can tear us apart. The absence of mercy can cause societies, families and friendships to be ruptured indefinitely.
It is not only society as a whole but we, as individuals, who need not only sacramental forgiveness but forgiveness in our daily life. Without forgiveness, without mercy, we carry around with us unnecessary burdens. Without mercy and forgiveness, we linger at the difficult intersections of our life long after others have moved on. Without forgiveness and mercy, we remain trapped by the past and are unable to move into a new future.
Mercy is more than forgiveness. It is also about compassion, helping others on the journey of life when they have made mistakes, when they have sinned, when they are damaged by others or burdened by disabilities. Mercy draws us out of our personal zone into the wider world of those around us in need of help.
Divine Mercy Sunday and the accompanying Divine Mercy devotion have two dimensions.
The first is to realize, appreciate and receive Godís mercy. We know of judgment but need to be reminded of Godís mercy that rehabilitates and sets us free. Godís mercy is a mercy that heals as the apostles did in todayís first reading.
The second dimension of the Divine Mercy devotion is to show mercy. Here, quite frankly, is where many people ďget off the bus.Ē As much as we want Godís mercy, expect it and plan on it as we look for confession times in our parish bulletin, we often are unwilling to show mercy to others. That is the challenge of the Divine Mercy devotion to each of us. St. Augustine used to refer to the petition of the Lordís Prayer that asks God to forgive us as we forgive others as the ďterrifying petition.Ē
Divine Mercy Sunday and the Divine Mercy devotion call us to show to others the same mercy we seek from God. Mercy, both received and given, not only makes us Christian. It keeps us human.
Mercy is not a symbol of weakness, but a sign of strength.
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