Back in October 1938, less than a year before the beginning of World War II, a nun named Faustina died of tuberculosis at the age of 33 in a convent in Krakow, Poland. During her life, she had regular visions of Jesus who spoke to her of his Divine Mercy and urged her to spread devotion to his divine mercy. She communicated these words of Jesus to her bishop. She also warned him of the coming war which she said would be terrible. After her death and the beginning of the war, the bishop remembered her prediction about the war and permitted public devotion to an image of the Divine Mercy. However, because of the war and then the Soviet invasion and Communism, religious practice was often suppressed, and this prevented the spread of the devotion to the Divine Mercy. It wasn’t until 1978 under Pope St. John Paul II that the Vatican formally approved this devotion, and this 2nd Sunday of Easter has been declared Divine Mercy Sunday in accordance with Our Lord’s wishes as expressed to Sr. Faustina, who was canonized in 2000. The Lord also taught a prayer to St. Faustina which is called the Divine Mercy Chaplet. As its name suggests, it is a prayer asking the Lord for mercy for ourselves and for the whole world. And the world is very much in need of God’s mercy.
But fortunately, God is not stingy about giving us his mercy. He desires to share it with us. But he never forces himself on us either, so we shouldn’t hesitate to ask him for it. And on this 2nd Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, our readings give us reminders of God’s infinite mercy.
Throughout the Easter season, we hear from the Acts of the Apostles, in which is recounted the spread of the Church, the community of believers in the Risen Jesus, first in Jerusalem and then throughout the eastern Roman Empire. We hear how God sent his Holy Spirit upon the disciples on the feast of Pentecost. The fear that they had had is suddenly gone, and the apostles begin to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, doing what Jesus did during his time on earth, proclaiming the Gospel message of salvation, healing the sick, casting out demons, performing works of mercy. So in our first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear how word has begun to spread about the miracles performed by Peter and the other apostles, and just as in Jesus’ life, people bring “the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits” to them, so that even their shadow might fall upon them and they would be healed. Through the apostles, God is bringing about incredible things in the world. His fragile, little Church on earth is starting to grow, despite all the odds being against it.
And then in our Gospel reading, we are taken back to the evening of the day of Jesus’ resurrection, when he suddenly appeared to the apostles. This was the first time he appeared to them as a group after his resurrection, and the first time he was with all of them since they had fled from him in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he died. But rather than scold them for running away that night, Jesus greets them by saying, “Peace be with you.” And then he continues the commissioning of his apostles which he had begun at the Last Supper by breathing on them and saying to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Eucharist, giving his Body and Blood to the apostles for the first time and telling them to do the same in remembrance of him. And now, after his resurrection, he institutes the great sacrament of God’s mercy, the sacrament of confession or reconciliation. Right here we have the scriptural basis for this sacrament. Jesus shares his Holy Spirit with his apostles and in doing so gives them the power to forgive sins.
Because he has already died on the Cross for us and for our salvation, he has obtained the forgiveness of sins for the human race, which we could never obtain on our own. And now he has given this power to forgive sins to his apostles. What a great sign of God’s mercy this is. Despite our sins, despite humanity’s lack of faithfulness, despite the lack of faithfulness of even his closest followers, God desires to forgive. He knows that we are weak. He knows that we have all been affected by original sin, and he desires to give us a remedy.
Again, this is not something we could ever achieve on our own. What could we possibly do to make up for our sins, or the sins of humanity? What good deed could we do? What could we give God to make up for them? As we have seen, none of the animal sacrifices made by the Jewish people throughout the centuries were able to bring about true forgiveness of sins, but rather acted only as a sign or a symbol. But now we have the real thing, because God has given it to us.
Sometimes we might fall into one or another camp, either not thinking we really do anything wrong, or maybe nothing that’s really “that bad”, and thinking that we don’t really need God’s mercy. Some might even object at times to hearing about things like sin and repentance – why focus on these things, they might ask. Or on the other hand, some might feel that they simply cannot be forgiven; they might wonder how God could possibly forgive them for what they’ve done, or maybe doubt that He would even want to. They might hear about God’s mercy but think that it doesn’t apply to them.
Neither one of these attitudes is correct. We are all in need of God’s mercy because none of us are perfect. If we don’t think we do anything wrong, we probably need to take a closer look. Sins like pride, jealousy, greed, and even hatred can manifest themselves in very subtle ways. If you have a spouse, just ask them if they think you’re perfect! I’m sure he or she can share something with you!
And if we are convinced that God can’t or won’t forgive us, we have to remind ourselves of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus’ suffering and death is greater than, yes, all the sins of the entire world. There is no sin that is greater than God’s mercy. We have to remind ourselves of what we heard in our Gospel today, how he gave his apostles the power to forgive sins. Don’t be discouraged by your sinfulness; certainly it is necessary to feel sorrow for one’s sins, but do not let that keep you away from the sacrament of reconciliation. God’s mercy is greater than our sins.
Let us never hesitate to turn to the Lord to ask for his mercy. Not only for ourselves, but for others, and for our entire world. Yes, God permits us to ask for mercy on behalf of others too. Our world is always in need of God’s mercy, and our age is no different from any other in that regard. And his mercy is a gift that He freely gives us, out of the abundance of his infinite love for us.