Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, the 1st Sunday after Easter as Jesus designated it to be. Before we get into the details of how and when this feast began, let's look at the definition of mercy. What do you define mercy to be? If you define it to be forgiveness, you're correct. If you define it to be compassion, you're correct. If you define it to be kindness, again you are correct. If you define it to be love, you are correct. We know Jesus to be rich in mercy in that he lived a life of mercy, one filled with kindness, compassion, love and forgiveness. Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus provided us with the ultimate example of how to live a life filled with mercy.
According to the Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, Jesus himself originated this feast by way of visions/apparitions to St. Faustina back in 1931 while she was in a convent. She was born in Poland in 1905 and like St. Therese, the Little Flower she only lived until she was 23 and died of TB. Like St. Therese she provided us with a real treasure for our Spiritual life. St. Faustina was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000 on Divine Mercy Sunday. By her life she showed how to keep our faith and hope fixed on God who is rich in mercy.
In 1931 St. Faustina in a vision Jesus told St. Faustina to paint the image of him as he appeared to her and to include this, "Jesus, I trust in you", at the bottom of it. That image is like that one in this frame. He directed her to have it solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter and to have that Sunday designated "Divine Mercy" Sunday. The image represents the Jesus risen from the dead. who brings peace to us by way of providing us the ultimate example of how to live a life filled with mercy at the price of his whole life, culminating with his passion and death on the cross. As you can see in the picture, Jesus right hand is raised in a blessing and his left hand is over his heart from which rays of blood and water flow from the heart which was pierced with a spear. Jesus told her, "the pale ray stands for the water which makes us righteous and the red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls". The water which makes us righteous, that is, being right with God and meeting the standard of what is right and just, is Baptism. The whole image is symbolic of the mercy of God. Jesus said, "The image is to be a reminder of My mercy, because even the strongest faith is of no avail without works."
Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us how the early Christians practiced mercy, more specifically the Corporal Works of Mercy, namely Feeding the Hungry, Clothing the Naked, Sheltering the Homeless, Visiting the sick and imprisoned, burying the dead and seeing Jesus in everyone. The New Testament gives us evidence of how Jesus lived both the Corporal Works of Mercy and the Spiritual Works of Mercy, namely Instructing the Ignorant, Correcting Sinners, Showing Patience to Sinners, Forgiving Others, Comforting the Afflicted, Praying for the Living and the Dead. Examples of his Corporal Works of Mercy include the feeding of 5000 at the Sermon on the Mount and visiting Peter's mother-in-law and raising Lazarus and the centurion's daughter from the dead.
Just as in the early Church there are current examples of Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy here in our parish and as well other significant ones reported in recent media accounts including those performed by Pope John Paul II and President Reagan going to the jails and personally forgiving the men who tried to kill them. Do you remember that concerning the Amish community in Pennsylvania where a man went into one of their grade schools, sent all the boys out and proceeded to line 10 girls up against the wall and kill all 10 of them and then killed himself. The Amish community understandably mourned their daughters for a short time but before they buried them they went to the widow of the man who killed their daughters and comforted her in her time of bereavement for the loss of her husband and forgiving him for his heinous actions. Can you imagine yourself in that situation putting the Spiritual Word of Mercy, forgiving others and comforting the afflicted ahead of the Corporal Work of Mercy burying the dead. In all three of these cases those involved needed to put aside their anger and human desire to get revenge and answer God's call to follow the example of Jesus and the early Christians and practice the needed Spiritual Work of Mercy, forgiving others. Jesus did it, these three did it and with the grace of God each one of us can do the same.
Today on this Divine Mercy Sunday our prayer needs to be to ask God to open our hearts that we may receive his Spiritual Work of Mercy in the form of the Holy Spirit and have the strength and determination to follow Jesus' example as Pope John Paul II, President Reagan and the Amish community and practice both the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy to the best of our ability.