We’re a week removed from Holy Week, from all that went wrong: the abandonment of Jesus’ friends, his arrest, suffering and death. Today’s Gospel follows up that mess, as Jesus suddenly appears to his friends, where they were gathered like frightened bunnies. Instead of anger or laying on the guilt, he simply says, “Peace be with you….Receive the Holy Spirit”. This is the very definition of mercy: receiving something good, even when it’s not deserved.
It’s a curious thing that Jesus shows them his wounds, and that he bears them at all. These are not exactly the wounds, as we contemplated them on Good Friday, wounds that were born of our sins. As Jesus was Resurrected, so his wounds were also transformed. St. Gertrude the Great (D. 1302) once describe her vision of Jesus and how he extended his hand to her, revealing his wounds like radiant jewels—mercy.
It’s no accident that Pope John Paul II—back in the year 2000—established this as Divine Mercy Sunday. But part of this goes back to Poland, where he was born and raised. He knew the story and the writings of Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun and mystic who lived during his lifetime. Her writings describe that when she was 25 years old, one Sunday night she was in her cell alone and saw Jesus before her for the first of what would be many occasions. His right hand was raised in blessing and his left was touching his garment, just above his heart. Red and white rays emanated from his heart, which were to symbolize the blood and water that poured out of him from the cross. As he had shown her this image of himself, he wanted the world to know of God’s mercy, to change hearts, to change the world, and so he directed her to have someone paint this image.
Though not without difficulties, she did as instructed. She had the image made, describing what she saw to the artist as best she could. When she saw his finished painting Faustina cried, because it wasn’t close to being as beautiful as she seen in real life. But Jesus later consoled her, "Not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush is the greatness of this image, but in My grace." Faustina also wrote a diary of all that Jesus revealed in that image about God’s mercy: our need for it, our need to trust in it, and our need to be merciful to others. To be clear, it’s not that nobody ever knew of God’s mercy before Jesus spoke to Faustina, but clearly Jesus wanted us to experience it in a new way.
Moved by all this as a young man, Pope John Paul II wanted the world to truly know what God’s mercy means for us. In 1980 he wrote his second encyclical, Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy). He echoed what so many theologians before him had proposed: that mercy is the greatest attribute of our infinite and perfect God, and that we are proof of it. He said that the Church is authentic in her mission when she proclaims God’s mercy, when she brings people close to the sources of His mercy.
And as he says in Dives in Misericordia, “Therefore, the Church professes and proclaims conversion. Conversion to God always consists in discovering His mercy, that is, in discovering that love which is patient and kind as only the Creator and Father can be” (DM, 13). That’s the primary reason there is a Christian Church in any part of the world and it’s the primary reason for St. Joseph parish in Issaquah—to help us receive and live in God’s Divine mercy.
The Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation are two of the most powerful ways of receiving and living in that mercy, but we can partake in either without actually receiving it. How? As John Paul II said, the only thing that can keep us from God’s mercy is our unwillingness to give ourselves over to it, to allow it to change us. We must have a true intention and desire to be affected and changed. And we must always recognize it as a gift greater than we deserve.
Some of us are trapped in the realities of past sins. Some of us are trapped in patterns of sin that we can’t leave behind. As he did with the disciples, Jesus would want to come to us with his transformed wounds, to heal ours. Let him. But some of us are too preoccupied to even bear in mind our sins and how we need God’s mercy. Our very ignorance is the barrier that keeps us from being lifted up in his mercy.
But we exist also to make it known to those around us. How? For sure, by proclaiming it, but also by modeling it. As I have heard it said, part of the benefit of receiving God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is so that we can learn to be more merciful ourselves. So as a disciple of Jesus, do the people around—strangers, people in traffic, your siblings, your coworkers, your exasperating family members—do they see God’s mercy in you? Do they get better than they deserve, or do you tend to merely mirror the behavior of those around you? We all want things to be better—for our families, for our world. It begins with us. As Jesus told us, “Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
And as this same Lord told Faustina,”Humankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy.” For the sake of His sorrowful Passion….have mercy on us and on the whole world.