Second Sunday of Easter: The Mediation of Mercy and the Sacred Heart of Jesus


ACTS 5:12-16; PS 118: 2-4, 13-15, 22-24; REV 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; JN 20:19-31

The Sunday after Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday, a new feast created by St. John Paul II, in response to a call by St. Faustina Kowalska. It is a wonderful feast – but it takes some unpacking.

It should be said, first, that feasts do not come from one visionary alone. Take the Sacred Heart. People associate devotion to the Sacred Heart with St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a nun in France in the seventeenth century. She did indeed call for such a feast.

But she didn’t make it up. Devotion to the Sacred Heart was already important in the Middle Ages. And the Church didn’t accept it merely because Margaret Mary said so. It was providing insight into the needs of the time – more on that in a minute. This doesn’t mean Margaret Mary is bad or unimportant – in fact, it points out that Margaret Mary had both a great grasp of the Tradition and an inspired eye for the needs of her time. She is a great saint – but she is a great saint because she was not suggesting wild ideas.

Similarly, St. Faustina has important insights that we should hear. But those insights are important not because she made them up, but because she didn’t. And the Church’s articulation of those insights take them beyond St. Faustina, into the teaching of the Church. Divine Mercy is the Church’s feast, not just St. Faustina’s. That’s why St. Faustina is a saint: because she preaches the Catholic truth.


Now, there is reason to be hesitant about the Divine Mercy devotion, if not rightly understood.

The key problem is abstraction. Divine Mercy has in many ways supplanted devotion to the Sacred Heart. But the Sacred Heart focused on the person of Jesus, particularly the union between his divinity and humanity. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is not abstract, it is personal and it is intensely incarnational.

Divine Mercy, by itself, runs the risk of becoming an abstraction. To be specific, the danger is that “mercy,” apart from Christ, can lead us to think that our conversion doesn’t matter. People tend to think that mercy means God overlooks our sins. To the contrary, God’s mercy is in healing us and converting us.

The Sacred Heart, being so intensely human, reminds us that God’s mercy restores our humanity. It reminds us of the need to love. It reminds us of the humanity of Jesus, and of his virtues. We pray, “make our hearts like unto thine” – which is the right understanding of mercy, the opposite of God just overlooking our sin.

It is important that our devotion to Divine Mercy maintain this incarnational, human element.


St. Faustina, of course, helps us. Her image of Divine Mercy (above) shows that Divine Mercy is a commentary on the Sacred Heart, and on the sacraments – not a replacement for them. In the image, Jesus does not overlook us, he looks intently on us – and the sacraments pour forth from his Sacred Heart to heal our sins and unite us to his glory.

St. Faustina also gives us the Divine Mercy chaplet, which reminds us of “his sorrowful passion,” the pouring out of his Heart on the Cross, and of the Eucharist, “the body and blood, soul and divinity of your dearly beloved Son.”

And underlining it all are the words, “Jesus I trust in you.” St. Faustina does not let us turn Divine Mercy into an abstraction. It is another insight into the Sacred Heart of Jesus.


So too the Mass that the Church gives us. The Feast is placed on the octave of Easter Sunday. As Pope Francis has said, it is thereby “dedicated to the glorious wounds of the risen Jesus.” Like the image, it points us not into abstraction but into Easter.

The reading from Acts tells us of grace mediated by the apostles, as Peter’s shadow brings healing to the humanity of the sick. The second reading, from Revelation, has us falling before the feet of him who “was dead, but now [is] alive forever and ever” – embracing the feet of the Risen Lord. And the Gospel has Doubting Thomas probing the wounds of the Risen Christ and the Apostles given the ministry of Confession: “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,” “Peace be with you.”

The Divine Mercy comes to us through the sacraments of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Mercy is no abstraction, it is union with Christ, crucified and alive.

What does the Heart of Christ teach you about Divine Mercy?

A Baptismal Meditation on Easter

grunewaldchrisreThe heart of Easter, of course, is the reading of the Gospel accounts of Christ’s resurrection – or rather, the impact of that resurrection on those who discovered it.  But what does it mean?  What do we discover when we discover the Resurrection of Christ?

We can perhaps better understand Easter if we understand that, in another sense, the heart of Easter is Baptism.  Historically, that is the reason for the celebration.  In the early Church, every Sunday celebrated the Resurrection – but Easter (originally tied more to Passover) became the time to baptize catechumens.  We noted at the beginning of Lent that the pre-Easter season, too, was originally about the catechumens.

In the Middle Ages a strange thing happened: the Easter Vigil withered away, and gradually became a sort of liturgical odd duck on Holy Saturday morning.  The reason, again, seems to have been the catechumens – once there was no one to baptize, Easter Vigil lost its original significance, though Easter was still celebrated as, by now, the center of the cycle of Christ’s mysteries.

The Easter Vigil was restored to Saturday night only recently, by Pope Pius XII, in 1951 – both as part of a rediscovery of liturgical spirituality, and as a rediscovery of the catechumenate.

In fact, I recently learned that the Church’s liturgical norms specifically say that baptized non-Catholic Christians should NOT be received at Easter Vigil (as I was!), precisely because it undermines the centrality of Baptism in that Mass.  (And, indeed, undermines the doctrine of Baptism, by confusing the radical rebirth which is Baptism with the less radical reception into full communion of those who are already baptized.)


Though the Gospel is central, as Christ is radically central, the interpretive key to Easter is in the New Testament readings.

At the Vigil, the great reading that follows the Gloria is from Romans 6: “we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

Absolutely essential to Paul’s understanding of the Paschal mystery – at the very center, in fact, of Christianity itself – is what Augustine calls the “two resurrections.”  There is the resurrection of the body – but also the resurrection of the soul.  Christ promises to raise up our body, yes – but far more important, far more central, is that he raises up our soul, from death in sin, to life in Christ.

Easter is not primarily about bodies, it is about souls.  “Our old self was crucified” – not bodily, but spiritually, in Baptism – “with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.  The death he died, he died” not primarily in the body, but  “to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

The Epistle for Easter morning, from Colossians, repeats the same theme: “If you have been raised with Christ” – in the soul, by Baptism, though we have not yet risen bodily from the dead – “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. . . for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  No, we have not yet received the resurrection of the body – but we have received the resurrection of the soul.

That is the joy of Easter: we find that God has the power to raise up, not only our bodies, but our sinful souls.


The readings at the Vigil all attest to this great reality.  They go through salvation history, yes, but they speak above all about the resurrection that Christ will bring to our souls.

This is most clear in the later readings, from the prophets.  The seventh, Ezekiel, says, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you.”  The waters of Baptism give new life to the soul.

The sixth, from Baruch, says, “O Israel, why is it that you are in the land of your enemies?”  Why do we dwell in death?  “Learn where there is wisdom, where there is strength, where there is understanding.”  Find conversion in Christ: this is the message of Baptism and repentance.

In the fifth, Isaiah asks: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?”  The solution is not a deeper focus on the body – that is what is crucified – but, “Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good.”  Catechumen, be converted by God’s holy Word!  Renounce the empty promises!

And in the fourth, Isaiah says, “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will gather you,” likening their situation to Noah and the flood.  We have been abandoned to sin and death – but Christ rescues us, by conversion: “All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the prosperity of your children.  In righteousness you shall be established.”  Not only in bodily life, but in the life of the soul.


The first three, more narrative readings teach the same things.  Creation culminates in the image of God, and God’s blessing of man.  God did not only make our bodies, he made our souls.  God who can lift up the body can lift up our souls as well.

At the sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham says, “The Lord will provide.”  Abraham has absolute trust in God’s provision for him – and lives the coresponding life of conversion.

And in Exodus, “the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea,” as we walk through Baptism, “the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.  Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians,” as he saves us from sin.

In what areas do you doubt God’s power to bring resurrection to your soul?

“Friday after the Second Sunday after Pentecost”: The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Resting-on-Heart-of-Christ Tomorrow we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The dating of the feast, “the Friday after the second Sunday after Pentecost,” is a bit obscure. But following the logic of last week’s meditation on the feast of Corpus Christi, we can see how profound this liturgical celebration is.

All of life radiates out from the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. Through the Easter season we celebrate the joy of Christ’s victory. Beginning at Ascension, the fortieth day, we enter into the novena of the Holy Spirit. Christ has gone to heaven only to radiate his presence, his Spirit, into his Church. The pair Ascension-Pentecost celebrates this fulfillment: he ascends precisely to make the Church itself his body, enlivened by his Spirit.

The octave of Pentecost, the pair Pentecost-Holy Trinity, leads us into the heart of our divinization. The Spirit we are given at Pentecost is the Spirit of the Trinity, the Spirit who is one with the Father and the Son, who is himself the oneness of the Father and the Son.

Holy Trinity is important as the completion of Pentecost, because the doctrine of the Trinity is precisely the teaching that the Christ who saves us and the Spirit he gives us are nothing less than one with the Father. The Father gives us nothing less than unity with himself.

Holy Trinity means the Spirit is one with Christ: nothing less than his own Spirit. And Holy Trinity means Christ and the Spirit are one with the Father – and so too our redemption is nothing less than being brought into full union with the Father. Anything less than this is less than the true Gospel: he gives us nothing less.


But we are still celebrating the Paschal mystery of his Cross and Resurrection. We are celebrating its radiating out, celebrating our being drawn into the Cross at Pentecost.

Immediately after the octave of Pentecost, we begin our celebration of Corpus Christi. As we said last week, Corpus Christi is the very first Thursday after we finish that celebration of the giving of the Holy Spirit. As soon as we are able, we return to Holy Thursday, and we recall that the night before he died, Jesus gave us precisely the gift of union with himself, and particularly union with him on the Cross. This celebration continues the celebration of the radiance of Christ. He gives himself to us so that we can be united to him.

Corpus Christi, too, gets its octave, its full week – and then the very next opportunity we get, the Friday after that week-long meditation on Christ giving us union with himself through the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, immediately we celebrate the next aspect: the Friday of the Sacred Heart. The timing, “Friday after the second Sunday,” etc., is not so obscure after all. Except that we might call it, “the very first Friday after Corpus Christi, which is the very first Thursday after the octave of Pentecost.”


This Friday is the “next step” in two ways. First of all, we are walking again through Holy Week – though this time focusing on its most central results for us, instead of on Jesus’s own experience of it. Now that we have completed the celebration of Easter-Pentecost, we spend a week on Holy Thursday – and the very next day, we enter into Good Friday.

Just as Corpus Christi is on a Thursday to draw us into the unity between the Eucharist and the Last Supper, the Sacred Heart is on a Friday to show that this is all about Good Friday: Christ on the Cross. We enter into the wound in Christ’s side, the wound in his heart.

St.-Gertrude-the-Great-3-231x300The Sacred Heart took off as a liturgical feast after the visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the seventeenth century. But it rests on earlier medieval devotions. In the wondrous thirteenth century, St. Gertrude envisioned laying her head near the wounded heart of Jesus, as St. John had laid his head on the breast of Jesus the night before he died, and entering into the passion of his love.


In a second sense, this Friday is another step, not through Holy Week, but into our ordinary time. From the Eucharist, we enter into the love of Jesus. This is the culmination. This is what it’s all about: Good Friday, Easter, the Ascension, Pentecost, the Eucharist. It all culminates in becoming one with his loving heart.

How could we spend some time near the heart of our loving Savior?

Corpus Christi: The Thursday after Holy Trinity

Corpus-Christi-Holy-Quotes-Sayings-Wallpapers-Messages-SMS-3Today is the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ – or it would be, if it didn’t get shunted off, in most of our dioceses, to Sunday.

(The argument is that in rural and under-staffed parishes, a major feast day requires a coordination of many part-time workers, which is just too hard to pull off during the week. Theoretically, I think it’s a shame to lose the sense that yes, the liturgy can and should interrupt our work week! But practically, we should always be willing to give our pastors the benefit of the doubt, just as we want the benefit of the doubt for the challenges of our own vocations. If they say they can’t make Corpus Christi happen on Thursday, we should be merciful with them.)


Now, this “Thursday after Holy Trinity – which is the Sunday after Pentecost . . . which is the seventh Sunday after Easter” is such an odd way to schedule things that it deserves our attention.

Corpus Christi is on Thursday because Thursday is the day of the Last Supper – way back during Holy Week. In our weekly rhythms, where Friday we remember the Cross, Saturday Mary’s waiting, and Sunday the Resurrection, Thursday too can be marked by a remembrance of the Last Supper, one of the key moments in the history of salvation.

Corpus Christi relives Holy Thursday, but under a particular aspect. So much is going on that night: we are anticipating the Lord’s death, entering the Triduum, recalling the institution of the priesthood, washing feet. But of course we are also recalling the institution of the Eucharist. And that particular aspect is worthy of a second run of Holy Thursday, another Thursday where we specifically recall the giving of Christ’s Body.

That’s why we celebrate it (or, in theory, would celebrate it) on Thursday.


But why now? Why this particular Thursday?

The simplest answer is that now it’s Ordinary Time, and there’s nothing else to compete with. This gets close to the answer – though let us note that strictly speaking, that’s really wrong. In fact, in Ordinary Time what it competes with is the orderly reading of the Bible. That’s what will get wiped out by moving it to Sunday. That was, in fact, a key point in the liturgical reform of Vatican II: we should try to live Ordinary Time well, not run it over with other feasts and exceptions. In one sense, the Thursdays in Easter are more “open” to getting bumped by Corpus Christi than is Ordinary Time.

Yet the real reason this reliving of Holy Thursday comes so long after Holy Week is precisely so that we can live out each part of the paschal mystery. Easter deserves its fifty days. And more to the point, Corpus Christi is not part of Easter.

In one sense, Corpus Christi is part of Holy Week – and in another sense, it is part of the time after Pentecost, the time of the Church, Ordinary Time. Corpus Christi, in fact, celebrates Holy Week radiating out into Our Time: Holy Thursday, and the whole Paschal Triduum, made present to us today.


Pentecost is the fulfillment of Easter, the radiating out of the heart of Christ into his Church. At the end of his forty days, Christ goes up to heaven – and then launches us on our way, with Pentecost.

Holy Trinity is the completion of Pentecost. In fact, Pentecost used to have an octave, an eight-day celebration, so that Holy Trinity is simply the last day of Pentecost. (Vatican II simplified some of these things: let’s just emphasize the fifty days of Easter, not fifty days, then seven more, etc. The same thing happened before Lent: the old season of Septuagesima, the pre-Lent preparation for Lent, was lovely . . . but let’s just focus on the forty days.)

Holy Trinity, for all its mysteriousness, is simply a celebration of the Father and the Son being one – and the Spirit they send us being part of that unity, so that Pentecost comes from the Father and the Son, and unites us back to them.

Corpus Christi is only four days later, the Thursday after Holy Trinity. After we have completed the Easter mystery with Pentecost-Holy Trinity, we take the very next Thursday, the first Thursday back into the ordinary year, to return to Holy Thursday, and find in it the source of our union. We find in Corpus Christi, in fact, the primary place where we receive the Holy Spirit, our entrance into the unity of Father and Son.

How could we better meditate on the unity between Easter, Pentecost, and the Mass?

Ordinary Time

Catholic_Bible_Study_Roman_CatholicI don’t know for sure that it’s true, but I have heard that we call it “Ordinary Time” because what defines this season of the Church is reading through the Bible “in order.” Whether or not that’s the source of the name, it is the most fitting description of the season we resume today.

Starting today, daily Mass returns to the two-year cycle in which we read straight through Matthew, Mark, and Luke (with the removal of only small sections that would otherwise be duplicated) every year, and large sections of the Old and New Testaments every other year. (John gets scattered throughout every year, but not in order.) Sunday Mass now continues reading in order through this year’s one of those three Gospels (Matthew), and a somewhat orderly succession of other readings to match.


We might think of this as “ordinary” in contrast to the “interesting” seasons of the Church. But this “orderly” reading of Scripture should actually be considered the “normal” way of the Christian life, with the other seasons only added to highlight it.

Imagine how this might have developed. (The sources on this are somewhat murky, but this exercise in imagination does seem to match roughly the actual historical development of the Lectionary.)

Imagine you are in a community in which the Gospel of Matthew is read, in order, throughout the Sundays of the year. You would read, perhaps, about half a chapter each week. Obviously the Sunday when you read the Passion (in this scheme, it would be pretty near the end of the year) would be given some special prominence. So too would the Sunday when you read the great Gospel of the birth of Christ.

Easter – the Sundays of the Passion and of the Resurrection – would obviously be the high point. If someone wanted to join the Church (as was an especially important part of the early life of the Church), you might tell them Easter is the Sunday to do it. And then you might give them a season of preparation before that – Lent. And in time, you might say, this makes good sense. Why don’t we all take a season to prepare for the Sundays when we read the Gospels of the Passion and the Resurrection. And so you insert a mini-season into Ordinary Time. And then, perhaps, you add another season afterward, to welcome the neophytes into the Church, to help them celebrate – the Easter season.

Eventually, you might match those seasons with similar, short seasons of preparation and celebration for reading the Gospel of Christ’s Birth. And you might move those Sundays to match the seasons: the darkness of Christmas, the new birth of Spring.


The point is, all of this is grafted on to Ordinary Time. It is not that we have “real” liturgical seasons, and then these other non-seasons. To the contrary, the heart of the Lectionary, and of the passage of the Church’s year, is the orderly reading through the Gospels. The other seasons are only added to spruce up that orderly reading. Ordinary Time really is the normal way of the Christian life.


Now, you may know that Ordinary Time is “new” after Vatican II. For many many centuries before the Council, the Lectionary was the same every year; it read a very small part of the Bible (less than 4% of the Old Testament – plus lots and lots of Psalms – and 11% of the New Testament, and 22% of the Gospels), with most weekdays just repeating the previous Sunday’s readings, and nothing exactly in order. The new Lectionary, by contrast, gets through about 14% of the Old Testament (we read nothing like all of it, but a lot more than before, and a good sample) and 55% of the New Testament (plus 90% of the Gospels).

But to understand Vatican II’s reform of the Lectionary, we must understand two things. First of all, the evidence does point to earlier lectionaries that were much more like the modern one: this is a restoration, not an innovation. Second, traditional Catholic spirituality – the spirituality of the middle ages, especially – could afford to have less Scripture at Mass because it was assumed that anyone who had a spiritual life spent vast amounts o f time reading Scripture outside of Mass!

Vatican II’s reform of the Lectionary, then, is not a novelty, but a reboot, a return to traditional Catholic spirituality. “Orderly” reading of the Bible is the normal path of Catholic spirituality. Only because we have forgotten that does the new Lectionary try to draw us back, through this wonderful emphasis in the Lectionary on reading and savoring every verse.

Where is the Bible in your spirituality?