The Divine Mercy

Divine Mercy Sunday. Acts 2:42-47; Ps 118:2-4,13-15,22-24; 1Pt 1:3-9; Jn 20:19-31

Since the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, this, the second Sunday of Easter, has been called ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’. The ‘Divine Mercy’ is a devotion centered on the theme of the infinite mercy of God for sinners. The visual focus of the devotion is an image painted under the guidance of Blessed Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who had an inspired vision of blood and water radiating from the pierced heart of Jesus Christ. Blessed Faustina saw these white and red rays coming from Christ as an ‘ocean of mercy’ for the whole world. Pope John Paul II strongly encouraged this devotion; he even died on Divine Mercy Sunday three years ago as if God was using the time of his death to underline the significance of this devotion. Out of respect for the memory of this great Pope, I want to devote this homily to the theme of the Divine Mercy.

So what do we mean by ‘mercy’? St. Augustine tells us (City of God, IX, 4) that mercy is heartfelt sympathy for the distress of another person, a grief that impels us to help the person if we can and should do so. The word ‘mercy’ takes its name from the Latin word ‘misericordia’, or ‘miserum cor’, which means ‘a sorrowful heart’. So mercy means having a sorrowful heart for the unhappiness of another person. Forgiving those who wrong us is clearly one of the works of mercy, but mercy encompasses much more than forgiveness. All kinds of material and spiritual help can be called ‘works of mercy’, whenever such works are motivated by a sorrowful heart for the unhappiness of another. Jesus repeatedly warns us that we need the capacity to experience such sorrow, because we cannot enter heaven if we lack mercy.  The Fifth Beatitude is, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7), with the implied warning that the unmerciful shall not obtain mercy. The problem for the unmerciful is not only that they violate God's justice. The real problem is that a heart that cannot sorrow for the unhappiness of another is a heart that is incapable of relating to another person. Such a heart is hardened or ‘frozen’, curled up on itself: a soul that persists in this state at the hour of death will enter hell. So we need mercy, specifically the Divine Mercy, to enter heaven.

If, then, mercy is so important for salvation, how do we obtain it? How is a hardened heart melted? Like everything in the Christian life, the virtue of mercy is a gift of God. We cannot perfect ourselves, but we can choose to co-operate with the graces that God offers us. As these graces come to us principally through prayer and the sacraments, the first duty of a Christian is to stay close to Christ. God may also use suffering to help perfect us, to pierce our hardened hearts, to give us hearts of flesh rather than of stone. There are also, however, special prayers to the Divine Mercy, prayers which are especially powerful for transforming our hearts. The most important of these prayers is the following, “O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of mercy for us, I trust in you.” It is good for us to learn and to recite such prayers regularly to the Divine Mercy.

Finally, the Church offers a special  gift on this Sunday of a plenary indulgence. A plenary indulgence is a complete liberation of the soul, not only from sin, as in Confession, but also from all the punishment associated with sin. The conditions are the following: to go to Confession, to go to Communion, to pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, to have the will to break with sin (including venial sin) and to take part in the prayers and devotions held in honor of the Divine Mercy. You fulfill most of these conditions simply by praying here at Mass today. I shall lead a short prayer to the Divine Mercy at the end of Mass. So the only other conditions you need to fulfill are to go to Confession and to have the will to break with sin. I encourage you to make the most of this opportunity.

“O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of mercy for us, I trust in you.”   

Fr. Andrew Pinsent, St. Ambrose Church, St. Louis, 30th March 200

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