Remembering Who We Are
Read April 27, 2014 (Second Sunday of Easter) Mass readings at USCCB.org.
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This weekend, the Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday. This devotion finds its inspiration in the visions and writings of Polish nun Sister Faustina Kowalska. According to sister, Jesus told her, “Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the prayer, Jesus, I trust in you.” Years later, on the Second Sunday of Easter of 2000, at the Mass for the St. Faustina’s canonization, Pope John Paul II proclaimed it as Divine Mercy Sunday throughout the Church. Some people object to Divine Mercy Sunday being celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. The objection usually goes something like this. “We just spent 40 days in the penitential season of Lent, leading up to the joy of Easter. Why are we suddenly focusing on our sinfulness again? Didn’t we do enough of that during Lent to last us for a while?” This objection, however, misses the close tie between Easter and Divine Mercy, and perhaps even the whole point of Divine Mercy altogether.
Our sinfulness should always be before us. How could it not be? If we forget that, we forget our very nature, which is good — made in the image and likeness of God — but also fallen. We bear the effects of Original Sin in our humanity. While we desire to travel in a straight path, our fallen nature constantly encourages us to drift off course. When we lose sight of this reality, we forget our need for God, for only by cooperating with His grace do we find our way back when we stray. When we forget our nature, everything becomes relative; all paths are basically equivalent. The concept of sin evaporates, so whichever path we’re on is of no eternal consequence. We don’t need God, and we certainly don’t need Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross.
Without Good Friday, what’s the point of Easter Sunday? There is none. See how things can fall apart? The basic misconception here is that Divine Mercy Sunday calls us to a disordered pre-occupation with our sins, which is nonsense. Rather, we are called to rejoice in the saving work of Jesus Christ, which, in spite of our fallen nature, gives us real hope — the hope of eternal life — as long as we don’t forget who we are. Today’s gospel reading gives us a fair illustration of what we’re like when we do forget, when we lose hope. The Apostles are huddled together in fear with the doors locked. Now, they may have had good reason to be afraid. The One who they believed was God Himself had been killed, and they probably figured they were next.
Still, despite the fear and the locked doors, Jesus enters. He says, “Peace be with you,” and He breathes His spirit into them. He gives them something they could never acquire on their own — a peace that surpasses the fear of death. He gives them genuine hope. Aren’t we just like the Apostles sometimes, especially when we know we’re not living as we should? We retreat into ourselves, maybe out of the fear of being judged or exposed. We try to lock the doors of our heart to Jesus — the One who can heal us, the One whose mercy is greater than our sins, the One who can give us genuine hope if we cooperate with His grace. The life that was lost in sin is regained when Christ breathes His spirit into us, just as he did for the Apostles in the Upper Room.
The other way we lose hope is by forgetting that we’re essentially good. God, who needs nothing, in his infinite generosity made us for friendship with Him, to share in His divine, abundant life. We’re made for goodness, beauty, joy, and Truth. We must take care not to lose sight of that, either. But this is precisely what had happened in communist Poland in the late 1970s, when Pope John Paul II was elected to the papacy. Poland at the time was very much like a locked room, with its inhabitants cowering in fear.
Yet, less than a year following his election, the new pope planned a trip to his homeland. The Polish government allowed it, only because they thought they could use it to their advantage. Either they would demonstrate that this Polish pope had no impact on their ability to govern and oppress, or they would crush any uprising by force and blame the resultant suffering on the pope. Instead, what happened was completely unexpected. The Pope’s visit, and particularly his message of love and peaceful resistance, is credited with ultimately bringing down European communism. Millions turned out to see the pope, who told them, “Be not afraid.” In response, they chanted, “We want God!” and that’s exactly who they got. Through Pope St. John Paul II, whose canonization the Church celebrates this weekend, Jesus broke through and awakened the Polish nation to the truth of its inherent dignity. He gave them hope.
Our goodness and our sinfulness — these two realities we must hold in tension. So, I have a challenge for you. Get a Divine Mercy image if don’t already have one. It can be as small as a prayer card. Commit to spending 15 minutes a day praying with it for the rest of Easter. Those rays that emanate from Jesus’s heart, just as the blood and water poured forth from His side, should remind us of His wounds, which symbolize our sins. But those rays should also remind us of shower of mercy Jesus wants to rain down upon you and me and all of mankind.
Jesus, I trust in you.
Pope St. John Paul II, pray for us.