Divine Mercy Sunday: True Mercy

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ACTS 2:42-47; PS 118: 2-4, 13-14, 22-24; 1 PT 1:3-9; JN 20:19-31

John Paul II, who died on this Sunday nine years ago and will be canonized on it this year, dedicated the Sunday after Easter to a meditation on Divine Mercy. The readings show us what a rich conception of mercy Easter gives us.

Perhaps we equate mercy with leniency, not holding people accountable. But this is far too passive. The Latin word for mercy means “a heart for the suffering.” The Greek word is related to almsgiving. True mercy doesn’t just let people go. It embraces them, and heals them.

***

The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, shows us mercy in action in the early Church. They shared “all things in common” and “divided them among all according to each one’s need.” But the heart of this sharing is the word “common,” from the root word koinonia, or communion. They shared because they were in communion with one another.

“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life [literally, to koinonia, communion], to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” Their communion was fruit of common faith: belief and trust in a common Lord. It led them to Eucharistic communion, “the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

The early Church – and real Catholic doctrine, from the Eucharistic theology of the Fathers and of Thomas Aquinas to the theology of the “people of God” in Vatican II – has an intense sense that union with God creates union with one another. In the ecclesial politics of the late twentieth century, people devised an opposition between seeing the Mass as “table fellowship” and seeing it as “sacrifice.” That’s just a false opposition. It is table fellowship because it is sacrifice: to be in union with God is to be in intense union with all those to whom he unites himself.

“They devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes.” As much as they could, they still participated in the Temple, the common worship of Israel. That union of a nation gathered in worship meant much to them – and to the Church’s continual understanding of itself as the true Israel, the holy nation.

But it led them even more deeply to the Eucharist, “breaking bread in their homes.” Note again the double union of the Eucharist: it was in their homes, first, because Jesus had given an even more intense communion than that of the Temple. They wanted more, beyond even the intense common worship of the Temple. But in a second sense, their homes were a place of fellowship, of union also with one another.

Union with God makes union in the Church. This is the heart of mercy.

***

Divine-MercyOur reading from the First Epistle of St Peter takes us deeper into the Christological roots of this communion. “In his great mercy he gave us a new birth to a living hope . . . an inheritance . . . kept in heaven. . . . . In this you rejoice.”

In his intense love, his intense mercy, God didn’t just leave them alone, he poured his joy out for them. The root of the the apostle’s communion is an intense joy, that looks to heaven. They can be patient with one another because of this overflowing joy.

“You may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith” may be proved. The real question in both suffering and acts of mercy is where our joy is. The apostles shared with one another, and were willing to suffer persecution, because in having God, they had everything. They feared no loss. Mercy is rooted in joy.

***

Our reading from St John’s Gospel takes us even deeper into the heavenly roots of this joy, by taking us to the person of Christ.

“On the evening of that first day of the week,” Easter Sunday, “when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”

Peace is the fruit of Jesus standing in our midst. Jesus settles their fears. Jesus joins them together.

“Receive the Holy Spirit,” he says, “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” – actually, “sent away from them.” Jesus is mercy because Jesus is an overflowing goodness, and a joy, and a communion infinitely beyond our stupid divisions. Where Jesus is there is peace, and mercy, and forgiveness, because where Jesus is there is communion, the communion of the Father and the Son, and the communion of the Body of Christ, the Church.

***

Think of a place where you have trouble being merciful. Can the joy of Jesus overcome that?

John Paul II, who died on this Sunday nine years ago and will be canonized on it this year, dedicated the Sunday after Easter to a meditation on Divine Mercy. The readings show us what a rich conception of mercy Easter gives us.

Perhaps we equate mercy with leniency, not holding people accountable. But this is far too passive. The Latin word for mercy means “a heart for the suffering.” The Greek word is related to almsgiving. True mercy doesn’t just let people go. It embraces them, and heals them.

***

The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, shows us mercy in action in the early Church. They shared “all things in common” and “divided them among all according to each one’s need.” But the heart of this sharing is the word “common,” from the root word koinonia, or communion. They shared because they were in communion with one another.

“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life [literally, to koinonia, communion], to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” Their communion was fruit of common faith: belief and trust in a common Lord. It led them to Eucharistic communion, “the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

The early Church – and real Catholic doctrine, from the Eucharistic theology of the Fathers and of Thomas Aquinas to the theology of the “people of God” in Vatican II – has an intense sense that union with God creates union with one another. In the ecclesial politics of the late twentieth century, people devised an opposition between seeing the Mass as “table fellowship” and seeing it as “sacrifice.” That’s just a false opposition. It is table fellowship because it is sacrifice: to be in union with God is to be in intense union with all those to whom he unites himself.

“They devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes.” As much as they could, they still participated in the Temple, the common worship of Israel. That union of a nation gathered in worship meant much to them – and to the Church’s continual understanding of itself as the true Israel, the holy nation.

But it led them even more deeply to the Eucharist, “breaking bread in their homes.” Note again the double union of the Eucharist: it was in their homes, first, because Jesus had given an even more intense communion than that of the Temple. They wanted more, beyond even the intense common worship of the Temple. But in a second sense, their homes were a place of fellowship, of union also with one another.

Union with God makes union in the Church. This is the heart of mercy.

***

Our reading from the First Epistle of St Peter takes us deeper into the Christological roots of this communion. “In his great mercy he gave us a new birth to a living hope . . . an inheritance . . . kept in heaven. . . . . In this you rejoice.”

In his intense love, his intense mercy, God didn’t just leave them alone, he poured his joy out for them. The root of the the apostle’s communion is an intense joy, that looks to heaven. They can be patient with one another because of this overflowing joy.

“You may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuiness of your faith” may be proved. The real question in both suffering and acts of mercy is where our joy is. The apostles shared with one another, and were willing to suffer persecution, because in having God, they had everything. They feared no loss. Mercy is rooted in joy.

***

Our reading from St John’s Gospel takes us even deeper into the heavenly roots of this joy, by taking us to the person of Christ.

“On the evening of that first day of the week,” Easter Sunday, “when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”

Peace is the fruit of Jesus standing in our midst. Jesus settles their fears. Jesus joins them together.

“Receive the Holy Spirit,” he says, “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” – actually, “sent away from them.” Jesus is mercy because Jesus is an overflowing goodness, and a joy, and a communion infinitely beyond our stupid divisions. Where Jesus is there is peace, and mercy, and forgiveness, because where Jesus is there is communion, the communion of the Father and the Son, and the communion of the Body of Christ, the Church.

***

Think of a place where you have trouble being merciful. Can the joy of Jesus overcome that?

eric.m.johnston

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