On Holy Saturday afternoon, I made a visit to a prison and that visit turned out to be very effective. The intention was to have a reflective moment with the prisoners on suffering and its salutary value. While interacting with the prison officials afterward, I discovered, most regrettably, that some are serving prison terms on account of their inability to meet up with fines imposed on them as options in place of the various prison terms they are serving. When I inquired further, I was told that there are some serving as much as one year and above on the grounds of not being able to pay fine options like: N3,000.00 ($15), N5,000 ($25), N10,000 ($50) and so on.
Touched by the above incredible situation, I was able, by God’s grace, to settle the fine options of about four inmates and they were afterward set free from the prison. You can actually imagine the magnitude of their joy at their freedom which was totally not on account of their efforts; it was by God’s grace that they received mercy. By God’s grace we receive favors we don’t deserve and by His mercy, we do not get the punishment we deserve. God is gracious and merciful and He releases His mercy upon us in various unimaginable ways and through unimaginable events and people. God’s mercy reaches out to us in spite of our numerous failures.
“The Name of God is Mercy” as Pope Francis eloquently attested in the first book of his pontificate where he, among other things, established that mercy is the foremost attribute of God. If we cast an active look back on the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ we see nothing but DIVINE MERCY written boldly.
It was actually Divine Mercy that can adequately describe the coming of Jesus Christ in our midst. It was Divine Mercy that moved him to die for us even when we were still sinners (Romans 5:8; Psalm 78:32). That same Divine Mercy brought about his resurrection because if he did not rise from the dead we could have been at loss with vain hope (1 Cor.15:12-14).
Today being the Second Sunday of Easter, we commemorate Divine Mercy and this is the reason why today is rightly called Divine Mercy Sunday. The celebration was named by Pope John Paul II at the canonization of St. Maria Faustina on April 30, 2000. According to Pope John Paul II: “…It is the Sunday of thanksgiving for all goodness God has shown us in the whole Easter mystery”. Rightly too, the psalmist today invites us to: “give thanks to the Lord for He is Good and His love endures forever”. On this Sunday which brings to a close the Easter Octave, we celebrate the convergence of mysteries and graces of the Holy Week and the Easter Week. Divine Mercy Sunday provides us with a concise overview of God’s mercy in the whole plan for our salvation.
If one looks around the world one would discover that one of the problems facing our world is disaffection and inattention to mercy. The surging uprisings and the spate of terrorism around our globe are end products of lack of mercy and pardon. God not only sent his Son to die on account of our sins and canceled our debt, but he also granted us pardon and mercy. No wonder that on this day, our Lord in his commissioning told the apostles to forgive sins (John 20:22); that is to grant pardon. This is an indication that with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Divine Mercy has been granted to us. It is one of the indications of the sacrament of penance through which our sins are forgiven and we are granted mercy and pardon.
We need Divine Mercy in our lives as it leads us to Divine Peace. From the Gospel Reading of today (John 20:19-31), we gathered that after our Lord Jesus Christ was arrested, bullied, killed, and buried, the apostles were devastated and scattered (Zech.13:7). However the resurrection was meant to mark a turning point for them (to bring them back from where they have been scattered (Isaiah 54:7) but they were still afraid, confused, faithless, and lacked peace. Peace according to St. Augustine is a tranquillity that comes from order and order is the proper arranging of all parts. This means that peace results when things are properly ordered within and outside of an individual.
From what happened when Jesus Christ was arrested one could attest to the fact that the apostles lost every sign of order as they lost hope and were ultimately disturbed; peace went on vacation and they were scattered (Matt.26:31). They actually took refuge in the upper room where they locked the doors for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). The upper room became for them a comfort zone; but how long will they continue to be inside a locked room? Often we build upper rooms for ourselves not for prayers like on the day Pentecost (Acts 2:1) but for hiding on account of fear; when we lack inner peace.
Coming to them on the evening of the resurrection day, the initial words of our Lord to them captured the situation they were in. To them, he said: “Peace be with you!” This phrase should be understood as addressing their situation. Jesus couldn’t have wished them peace if they were enjoying peace. Hence he meant to tell them to replace their troubled minds and confused heads with peace from the power of the resurrection. When our Lord appeared to them he said “peace be with you” not just once but twice and yet one more time after eight days when the doubting Thomas was present.
The emphasis on PEACE showed its expediency. It is also understandable that one challenge led to the other. With the absence of peace, the apostles became hopeless and faithless. It needed the physical presence of Jesus Christ who had paid the price and brought Divine Mercy to lead them out of fear into faith from devastation to peace. There is actually a link from disillusion to fear and lack of divine touch and connection. We could thus say that there was at that point the absence of faith, peace, and divine mercy but the resurrection of Jesus was meant to lead them to the realization of all these divine benefits.
Our Lord Jesus Christ came to undo our past and restore our losses. By the power of his resurrection, our fear is defeated and our faith is renewed. Thomas in the gospel of today stands as a representative of our doubt and faithlessness. He was not around the first time our Lord appeared to the others. We are not told where he went. He missed that first encounter with the risen Lord; we also remember that on that first meeting our Lord breathed on them and said “receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:21). After he also sent them on the mission to evangelize and forgive sins.
Being absent from the encounter with Christ and the reception of the Holy Spirit of God (though he was lucky to be present on the day of Pentecost Act 2:1ff), Thomas was not renewed with others so he continued to live in the past condition of fear, doubt and lack of peace. No wonder he stood his ground that he would not believe unless he sees and touches. This is contrary to the divine injunction that our faith should be certain even when we have not seen it and should also be an assurance of the things we hoped for (Heb. 11:1ff). In spite of his doubt, Thomas was not excluded from Divine Mercy.
When we are disconnected from God through our absence from the sacraments and from hearing the word of God, we live in fear and lack the needed peace. When we are disconnected from God we run the risk of being unable to receive the infusion of the Holy Spirit and the divine commissioning. Like Thomas, we fall into doubt and disbelief because we missed the divine action. The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the highest expression of divine mercy which began with his death on the cross which marked the paying off our debts and our liberation from sin and death.
Let this day be ripe enough for us to reflect on God’s enduring mercy upon our lives. We were lost in sin and missed the divine route, but God went in search of us to bring us back to Himself. Divine Mercy went in search of us despite the fact that we erred so much. Today, we are reminded that we need to be bearers of the message of Divine Mercy by being merciful ourselves. Oftentimes, we expect God to forgive us as quickly as possible, but we hoard the mercy we ought to show to others when they fail us. As we expect God to forgive us our sins, we should also be ready and willing to forgive others for their failure even as we pledge this whenever we recite the Lord’s Prayer (Matt.6:12). With the availability of God’s mercy on us, we are expected to show mercy to others (Luke 6:36). Furthermore, our Lord Jesus Christ assures us that they are blessed who are merciful for they shall obtain mercy (Matt. 5:7).
The Divine Mercy we receive from God should provoke human mercy from us. Often we feel that family and friends have hurt us so deeply and so badly that we have no room again for mercy. Let us remember that like Judas we often betray our Lord Jesus Christ, like Peter we often deny him like Thomas we often doubt him, and like the rest of the apostles we often desert him but here we are receiving Divine Mercy. Let us also take some time to recall and reflect on the pains our Lord Jesus Christ had to pass through in order to save us and win for us, Divine Mercy. None of our hurts and pains could be compared to that of our Lord Jesus Christ. He paid the ultimate price for us on the cross and declared: “tetelestai” (IT IS FINISHED; PAID IN FULL); that means we owe nothing again! Often times when we forgive people we do so halfway not totally and this is wrong. Just as God’s mercy for us is whole and entire, our mercy for others should also be total.
As we celebrate and receive the Mercy of God today, let us remember that someone somewhere requires our merciful love and forgiveness. Let us also become active bearers of God’s message of Divine Mercy which is a facility that is open to everyone. Do have an enriching Sunday and an awesome week ahead.