This Sunday is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. This feast was instituted by Pope John Paul II on the Second Sunday of Easter of the Jubilee Year 2000 during the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska. St. Faustina was a Polish nun who received visions from Jesus, including the now-familiar image of Divine Mercy. Today, the devotion to the Divine Mercy is among the most popular and widespread in the Church.

The significance and relevance of this devotion is best captured in the words of Pope John Paul II. “What is mercy if not the boundless love of God, who confronted with human sin, restrains the sentiment of severe justice and, allowing Himself to be moved by the wretchedness of His creatures, spurs Himself to the total gift of self, in the Son’s cross …?
Who can say that he is free from sin and does not need God’s mercy? As people of this restless time of ours, wavering between the emptiness of self-exaltation and the humiliation of despair, we have a greater need than ever for a regenerating experience of mercy.”

Pope Benedict XVI further adds, “Mercy is the central nucleus of the Gospel message; it is the very name of God, the Face with which he revealed himself in the Old Covenant and fully in Jesus Christ, the incarnation of creative and redemptive Love.”

St. Thomas Aquinas defines mercy as compassion in regard to someone else’s suffering. This makes the feast of Divine Mercy a most fitting culmination of the Easter octave. Easter marks the victory of Christ over sin and death, a victory he won for us by his own death and resurrection. He died in our stead so we may live. Indeed this is the greatest act of mercy in history. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that those who believe in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16)

The gospel poignantly illustrates this merciful love of Jesus. For fear of the Jews, the apostles lock themselves in a room when Jesus suddenly appears in their midst. One can imagine the variety of feelings they must have: fear of seeing a ghost, shame for having abandoned Jesus, guilt of betrayal… Jesus simply greets them, “Peace be with you!” No accusation, no blaming, not even a sign of disappointment or regret. All he does is give them peace, his own peace.

Then he shows them his hands and his feet. What for? So that in his wounds the apostles may see themselves. In the wounds of Jesus we see ourselves, our sinfulness and the extent of our sinfulness. This he does not to prick our conscience and make us feel guilty. He shows us his wounds so that we may realize that if our sins are such that we can cause the death of God’s only Son, his love is infinitely much greater and more powerful than our sinfulness. By our sin, we kill God and he responds with his forgiving love. He turns his death into our life, and his perdition into our salvation. Such is the mercy of God.

Once again, Jesus greets his apostles, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Breathing on them he continues, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Jesus gives his peace to his apostles that they too may give that peace to others. Such is the law of the kingdom. A gift freely received is to be freely given. Thus, with every gift comes not only a responsibility, but also a mission.

Two days ago, I confirmed 104 high school students of St. Scholastica’s Academy. Citing today’s gospel, I told them in confirmation they too would receive the breath of Jesus, the Holy Spirit. Jesus breathes his Spirit on them so that they may be able to live as true children of God and also fulfil their mission as disciples of Christ. What mission? To share what God gives them, his peace, his forgiveness, his love and his mercy.

The Spirit is the love of God that has been poured into our heart (Rm 5:5) so that it may overflow to those around us. Our mission then is to bring God’s love to others. While the bishops and the priest have a particular mission of bringing God’s love and forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation, every disciple of Christ is equally sent to be a bearer of God’s love and mercy. Mercy is compassion in regard to those who are suffering. How many are suffering from all kinds of affliction: physical, spiritual, moral, emotional… and they are all around us.

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