“And the beat goes on….” It’s very frustrating for all of us when it comes to Sunday worship when we cannot be worshipping together in church. At least we, as priests, can celebrate the Sacred Mysteries privately in church, while you, the faithful, must watch from a distance via live-streaming and you-tube broadcasting (or some similar means). But take heart. This Second Sunday of Easter will be a unique opportunity for many of us to benefit from much-needed graces during this difficult time of the pandemic, even though we’re stuck at home. For the past 19 years, the Catholic Church has celebrated this 2nd Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. Pope St. John Paul II extended this devotion to Catholics throughout the world on the occasion of the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska, who had received a series of private revelations from Jesus on the subject of His Divine Mercy, one of which was His desire to establish a Feast of Mercy to be celebrated on the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Speaking of this feast day, Our Lord told St. Faustina: “On that day, the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.” Even though we are unable to receive Holy Communion in its physical forms because of the Coronavirus, our Holy Father has included it this year to those who make a Spiritual Communion, fulfilling the other requirements. We have Drive-thru Confessions every Saturday to assist in fulfilling the penitential aspect of the requirements for a plenary indulgence.
These words of invitation by Our Lord to experience the profound depths of love and mercy are extremely appealing and have been embraced with enthusiasm by the faithful throughout the Church. Much attention is given to the remarkable benefits received by those who devoutly participate in the devotional practices connected with Divine Mercy Sunday, benefits which draw us into a deeper union with Our Risen Lord at the conclusion of this Octave of Easter. While we rejoice in the powerful gift that is made available to us on this day, the Church has never ceased to insist on making sure we know of living the graces received by practicing mercy.
In his homily for the canonization of St. Faustina, the first saint canonized in the Great Jubilee Year that began the Third Millennium of Christianity, Pope St. John Paul II said the following: “It is important then that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called “Divine Mercy Sunday.” In the various readings, the liturgy seems to indicate the path of mercy which, while re-establishing the relationship of each person with God, also creates new relations of fraternal solidarity among human beings. Christ has taught us that “man not only receives and experiences the mercy of God, but is also called ‘to practice mercy’ towards others: ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’(Mt 5: 7)” (Dives in Misericordia, # 14). He also showed us the many paths of mercy, which not only forgives sins but reaches out to all human needs. Jesus bent over every kind of human poverty, material and spiritual.
This rest of the story of Divine Mercy, that of practicing mercy, is explicitly mentioned by Our Lord in His revelations to St. Faustina, as He told her: “Yes, the first Sunday after Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to our neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to absolve yourself from it.”
Our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, continues to drive this message home, particularly during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. He ardently insists on the importance of not just seeking mercy, but also sharing it, encouraging the Church to reflect on and practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Speaking about these works of mercy, particularly as they are presented in Chapter 25 of the Gospel of St. Matthew, the Pope reminds us that “we cannot escape the Lord’s words to us, and they will serve as the criteria upon which we will be judged.”
These two sides of the story of Divine Mercy are complementary to one another, for the graces that we receive free us from the attachments to our own selfish ways of living, so that we can better serve the needs of our brothers and sisters. Let’s be mindful of this as we celebrate the day dedicated to the message of Divine Mercy. May our hearts be open to receive the graces that Christ and His Church offer to us today, and may we then live those graces with greater intensity as we spread this message to the world around us through works of mercy rooted in our love of God and neighbor.