30 March 2008 2nd Sunday of Easter
Acts 2, 42-47; Peter 1, 3-9; John 20, 19-31
The word of the day is empathy. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the ability to identify mentally with a person… and so understand his or her feelings.” This is the experience when we become aware of our unity with one another. It is empathy that builds community. You see, empathy is broader than sympathy or compassion. When we identify with persons who suffer, we are sympathetic or compassionate with them. But empathy covers not just those who are in pain, but those who are also happy — we rejoice wholeheartedly with them. When we empathize we identify with everyone else in the full range of emotions: we cry when they weep, we struggle when they strive to be better, we jump for joy when they are happy. We share their feelings, because they, too, like us feel.
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us about the effect of the Resurrection on the disciples and the first Christians. They formed a sharing and worshipping community. They held everything in common, selling their possessions and dividing them equally among all according to their needs. And they met together at the temple area, and broke bread in their homes. At the root of this is their love of God and neighbor. They could empathize with those who are in need, and so they are able to understand and share their feelings. This led them to surrender their possessions and trust in Divine goodness.
Despite the growing individualism in the present world, there is a growing desire for unity and cooperation. Empathy that stems from our awareness of our solidarity with one another forms a sharing spirit. It eventually leads us to the common good. Practically, the common good means that what is good to ourselves is also good for the community. If I know what is best for me, I also know what is best for others.
The 2nd Sunday of Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday. We are, in many ways, celebrating the Mercy of God (not we asking for mercy!). The focus is this quality of Jesus which we should emulate. Mercy is possible because of empathy. Jesus promoted the spirit of sharing by forming small groups of believers who shared what they have. The devotion that they have, as illustrated by the first reading, springs from a mutual concern for the common good. In the 2nd reading, Peter reminds the community to be steadfast in their faith, amidst all sorts of trials. And what restores faith and joy in a community? It is mercy. When Jesus came to the room with the disciples, He greeted them with “Peace” — saying that all is well, despite Peter’s denial, Thomas’ doubt, or the disciples abandoning Him. He has given His mercy. One can only be truly merciful if one can put oneself in another’s shoes.