Sunday Sermon for April 8, 2018, Divine Mercy Sunday, Year B
Readings: Acts: 4:32-35; 1 Jn 5:1-6; Jn 20:19-31
In the Gospel reading today we hear about two different aspects of Divine Mercy. First, we hear our Lord granting the Apostles the authority to forgive sins. This is truly the essence of Divine Mercy. We often think of mercy as letting someone off the hook because we see movies where an outlaw is begging for mercy when justice is about to be levied against him. While this may invoke a merciful disposition on the part of the person imposing the act of justice, mercy is not the opposite of justice nor is it a failure to impose justice when the law has been violated.
Mercy is defined as the readiness to relieve the defect of another out of a sense of loving good will. God’s mercy is His benevolence insofar as it removes our tribulations, especially those caused by sin. What we see in the Gospel is that forgiveness of sin is not merely an act of mercy, it is also an act of justice: Jesus forgives, but He also shows St. Thomas the cost of that forgiveness as He extends His hands and invites Thomas to put his finger in His wound.
Another aspect of mercy is demonstrated in our Lord’s kindness to Thomas. Rather than reprimanding Thomas for his lack of faith, Jesus is most kind in His disposition toward the doubting Apostle. Thomas comes to faith in the resurrection when he sees Jesus with his eyes and examines His wounds, but he comes to a far greater faith in the divinity of Jesus which he cannot see with his eyes when he proclaims Him Lord and God. Although Thomas may be behind the other Apostles in believing the events of Easter when the others said they had seen the Lord, Thomas suddenly leaps forward to profess our Lords divinity.
It did not take long for all the Apostles to believe fully in the Person of Jesus as Lord and God. They spread the Gospel of our Lord to everyone and the hearts of many were converted to faith in Jesus. This faith encompassed everything from His birth from a Virgin, through His teaching and example, to the Paschal Mystery of our Lord’s death, resurrection and glorification. So profoundly moved were the people that St. Luke tells us in the first reading that they were of one mind and heart. This unity was not based on some emotional sentiment; it was based on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.
St. John gives us insight into this unity when he says the way we know we love the children of God is by loving God and obeying His commandments. He states succinctly that the love of God is this: that we keep His commandments. So, if the early Church was of one heart and mind, it was because they shared the same faith and the same love for God and for one another. It also means they had to act toward others as God acted toward them. In other words, they had to show mercy.
Even if a group is of one heart and mind, they are still human and they still sin. People have different personalities, some of which grate against one another. People have different tastes and styles, so there may not be full agreement in such matters. It is in these areas where mercy needs to be shown. If the first Christians were of one heart and mind it is not because they were all the same or because they had the same tastes or opinions. It means they practiced true charity toward one another.
In our world, and even in our Church today, there are many who are not of one mind and heart, not only with one another, but with God. Our unity must be in truth and in charity; we cannot compromise the truth in order to be in agreement with someone, but we can always treat others with dignity and charity even when we disagree with them or our personalities clash. Learning from the early Christians, we have to live the life and teaching of Jesus and bear witness to what He said and did in our lives.
We have received the great gift of the objective teachings of the Church so we can have assurance that what we believe is true. However, even among Catholics, due to the crisis in catechesis over the past fifty years, there are many who do not know these basic truths. Even worse, many have rejected the teachings of the Church in order to embrace what the world offers. This is where mercy is required from us. Our mercy and charity may attract others to want what we share: unity of mind and heart with Jesus.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.