19 April 2009 Divine Mercy Sunday
Acts 4, 32-35; Psalm 118; 1 John 5, 1-6; John 20, 19-31
In the first Sunday of the Easter Season, we celebrate the mercy of God, which is both His characteristic and at the same time what He has done to us. Mercy involves an identification with our human condition, meaning, we are able to be merciful when we put our feet on the shoes of the other. And thus, by truly understanding the person who has inflicted us pain, we are able to be merciful to them whom we can actually punish or harm. By mercy, we withdraw or control our power to avenge. Thus, mercy is about love, than retribution. This is what God has done.
Robert Barron, in his article, The Christian: Missionary of Hope, writes about the theology of hope of the Catholic theologian, Hans von Balthasar. Barron said, “In the cross of Jesus Christ, in the suffering of the Son, the Father identifies radically with the greatest agony of his human creature. God feels the limit of physical torment, but even more powerfully, he senses the full extent of psychological and spiritual pain… Jesus understands what it means to be in despair, embraces from within, the feeling of hopelessness … the torment of being forsaken by God.” (Chicago Studies, 1994). This is how God shows to us the extent to which He would show mercy to us.
To what extent? Just as Jesus was rejected by those whom He dearly loved, God’s mercy and forgiveness goes to those who have denied him such as atheists, agnostics, nominal Christians. It includes those who disown God when it is convenient to them as Peter who denied Him for fear of being punished or rejected. This includes those who would participate in Sunday masses when they are up to it, or when they have time, or when they have no choice but to go with the family to avoid punishment. Just as Jesus was persecuted, God forgives those who inflicts pain and causes death such as murderers and criminals. Just as Jesus was dead, God’s mercy goes to those who are “dead” — those who do not have command over their life by reason of addiction or by fear such as those who are voiceless and powerless in our society. Think of the worst people or the most horrible act, and yes, God’s mercy goes out to them.
When the heart of Jesus was pierced and opened by the soldier’s lance, blood and water flowed. For Balthasar, God opens his heart most fully and makes his life-blood available to all. In the vision of Ezekiel, life-giving water flows from the temple; and thus Jesus’ body as the Temple, the water and blood (1 John 5, 6) that flows from His body will quench our thirst for peace and for hope. It all finds its source on the pierced side of Jesus: compassion, as Barron would write, is born. This is in fact, the effect of the Resurrection as recounted by the Gospel today. When Jesus appeared to the community in the Upper Room, He said, “Peace be with you.” The risen Lord is the bearer of peace to the community who once lost hope as the disciples on the way to Emmaus; who were grieving and afraid as the community of disciples in the locked room; or who were in darkness, confusion and doubt as Thomas.
Mercy therefore gives another a new lease on life; you can put it, gives another hope. When we forgive another, we are saying that we are hoping that the other would turn out better, because we have released them from the bondage of guilt. Such is God’s mercy on us: He gives mercy on everyone, seventy-times-seven, repeatedly and infinitely. Thus we are given the chance to return to God as many as there are numbers. We are never outside of the love of God. Barron writes, “There is, literally, no power in creation that is greater than, or outside the grasp of, Trinitarian compassion, and hence there is no place or time or event or circumstance that can finally come between us and God.” This is what St. Paul said that nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus.
How do we live out Divine Mercy? Hans von Balthasar says that we have to begin with the truth that the identity of Christians is rooted in Christ’s obedience to the Father in His suffering, death and resurrection. And therefore, we should be in the process of imitating Christ in obedience to the Father. The second reading tells us that we who believe should love God and keep his commandments (1 John 5, 1-6). The concrete example to emulate is in the first reading: the community of believers in Acts tells us that they were one in heart and mind, as they bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus by holding all possessions in common and thus no needy person was among them. If we are to live out Divine Mercy, it is therefore inevitable that we have to work for justice: we have to make sure that our novenas and devotions to the Divine Mercy will translate into food on the table.