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Children of the Father of Mercy, Source of Peace

Second Sunday of Easter – Sunday of the Divine Mercy – Year A – April 23, 2017

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Roman Rite
Act 2, 42-47; Ps 118; 1 Pt 1, 3-9; Jn 20, 19-31
Ambrosian Rite
Act 4.8 to 24; Ps 117; With 2.8 to 15; Jn 20, 19-31
1) Sunday of Mercy[2], the «second name» of love.
«What is mercy? Nothing else could be said that «a misery housed in the heart.» “When the misery of others touches and affects your heart, that’s Mercy «(Fr. David Maria Turoldo). This mercy is possible when we believe in God who is Love and has mercy «as a middle name,» as St. John Paul II wrote in the Encyclical Dives in Misericordia.
If it was this holy Pope who officially gave the title of ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’ to this Second Sunday of Easter, it is useful to point out that the reason for it can be found, at least implicitly, in today’s Gospel, where it is said that the Redeemer enters the Upper Room and, appearing to the Apostles, gives them peace and the task of «managing» forgiveness and reconciliation, that is, the mercy of God that Jesus manifested in his earthly life. In fact, to the paralytic man, before lifting him up, He says «Son, your sins are forgiven» causing some surprise because only God can forgive sins. But Jesus is truly God, so he can forgive divinely. To his disciples he says that God is like a good shepherd who goes to look for the lost sheep, or the father who forgives the son who had gone with half the inheritance, and uses great patience with the other son who is angry. Jesus recommends mercy in the Lord’s Prayer (… forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors), to forgive seventy times seven, and to recognize the sin from the sinner. Moreover, not limiting himself to only give beautiful teachings, from the cross He even said: «Father forgive them for they know not what they do.»
Once risen, He entrusted to his Church the mission to announce, live, celebrate and spread the divine mercy which He has so much recommended and practiced.
In this way the Risen One reveals the meaning of the Church. Jesus wanted to announce – to all men and in all times -the gospel of his death and resurrection, the salvation brought by him, freeing from death and sin all who believe in Him. The Redeemer sends his apostles to proclaim God’s mercy[3].
This mercy comes from a God who is a Father tenderly firm and paternally loving.
2) Faith as the condition to be forgiven and have life.
The passage of today’s Gospel also tells what the condition for receiving the Paternal Mercy is. The evangelist declares to have written «so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing you may have life in his name.» And just before, telling the famous episode of the unbelieving Thomas called by the Risen Lord to touch his wounds, the Evangelist reports the comforting and at the same time disturbing words of the Risen Lord: «Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Faith, then, is the condition for being forgiven and «have life.»
For this, at the beginning of today’s Mass, on behalf of all the faithful, the priest prays: «God of everlasting mercy, inflame the faith of your people as at the Easter celebration, increase in us the grace you have given us, so that we understand the inestimable riches of the Baptism that cleansed us, of the Spirit that has given us new birth, and of the Blood which has redeemed us «(Collect). It is through faith in the Gospel and through Baptism that we «buy» salvation, that is, the forgiveness of sins and the gift of new and true life.
If «with faith we invoke it, mercy is granted to us; while we profess it alive and real, it truly transforms us. This is a fundamental content of our faith that we must preserve in all its originality: before that of sin, we have the revelation of the love with which God created the world and all humans. Love is the first act by which God reveals himself and comes to us. Therefore let’s keep our hearts open to the trust that we are loved by God. His love always precedes, accompanies and remains beside us despite our sin «(Pope Francis, Apostolic letter Misericordia et miseria, November 20, 2016).
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Missionary of Charity is the example to live this faith and to believe in love. For Christ, she did all she has done. To those who asked what Christ was for her, Mother Teresa said, «Who is Jesus for me? Jesus is the Word made man, the bread of life, the victim offered for our sins on the cross, the sacrifice offered for my sins and those of the world, the word that must be proclaimed, the truth that must be told, the road that must be traveled, the life that has to be experienced, the light that must be made shine, the love to be loved, the joy that is to be shared, the sacrifice that must be offered, the peace that must be given, the bread of life that must be eaten, the hungry to be fed, the thirst that must be quenched, the naked to be dressed, the lonely man to be comforted, the unwanted to be liked, the addict who needs help, the prostitute to be subtracted from the danger and to be supported, and the convict to be visited. »
Saint Teresa was so certain of the risen Christ that often said: «Never let your worries grow so far as to make you forget the joy of the risen Christ.»
Joy, the gift of the risen Lord, is a sharing in his own joy. There are not two different joys, one for God and one for man. It is always, in either case, a joy that has its roots in love. This joy is not in the absence of the Cross, but in understanding that the Crucified is risen. Faith enables a different reading of the Cross and of the human drama. Peace and joy are both the gifts of the Risen and traces to recognize him. But it is necessary to break the attachment to oneself. This small, great nun was certain of Heaven, where she longed to go, but she was equally certain that already here on earth we can be with Jesus and communicate his joy by loving our neighbor as God loves him, and to serve him as He serves him. In this way this Saint was Missionary of the merciful Charity. It is not important that we do the great things she did, the important thing is that we do small things with great love.
God is love. The revelation of his love is Christ: He, as the Son, reveals to us the Fatherhood of the Father. As a Man, He reveals his spousal love for the Church.
The consecrated virgins, who fully dedicate themselves to Christ as the reason for their life, respond to this love in a special way. As St. Leandro of Seville writes «for the consecrated virgins Christ is everything: husband, brother, friend, part of the inheritance, reward, God and Lord» (Regula sancti Leandri, Introductio).
Consecrating themselves to the Bridegroom[4] Christ, the Virgins fully share the mission of mercy that goes to the extreme gift of self in the way of charity. These women prove that we do not need to scatter in many secondary or superfluous things, but to focus on the fundamental reality, which is to encounter Christ, his mercy and his love, and to love the neighbor as he loved. It is an encounter with Christ that is also worship and gift of themselves to Him. Saint John Paul II wanted to reiterate this, writing: «In the [consecrated] virginity … it is expresses the radicalism of the Gospel: to leave everything and follow Christ” (Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem, 20), loving Him and taking His mercy to our neighbor.
Patristic reading
Saint Augustin of Hippo (354 -430)
Sermon 121
Mary Magdalene had brought the news to His disciples, Peter and John, that the Lord was taken away from the sepulchre; and they, when they came thither, found only the linen clothes wherewith the body had been shrouded; and what else could they believe but what she had told them, and what she had herself also believed? “Then the disciples went away again unto their own” (home); that is to say, where they were dwelling, and from which they had run to the sepulchre. “But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping.” For while the men returned, the weaker sex was fastened to the place by a stronger affection. And the eyes, which had sought the Lord and had not found Him, had now nothing else to do but weep, deeper in their sorrow that He had been taken away from the sepulchre than that He had been slam on the tree; seeing that in the case even of such a Master, when His living presence was withdrawn from their eyes, His remembrance also had ceased to remain. Such grief, therefore, now kept the woman at the sepulchre. “And as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre.” Why she did so I know not. For she was not ignorant that He whom she sought was no longer there, since she had herself also carried word to the disciples that He had been taken from thence; while they, too, had come to the sepulchre, and had sought the Lord’s body, not merely by looking, but also by entering, and had not found it. What then does it mean, that, as she wept, she stooped down, and looked again into the sepulchre? Was it that her grief was So excessive that she hardly thought she could believe either their eyes or her own? Or was it rather by some divine impulse that her mind led her to look within? For look she did, “and saw two angels in white, sitting, the one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.” Why is it that one was sitting at the head, and the other at the feet? Was it, since those who in Greek are called angel» are in Latin nuntii [in English, news-bearers], that in this way they signified that the gospel of Christ was to be preached from head to foot, from the beginning even to the end? “They say to her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” The angels forbade her tears: for by such a position what else did they announce, but that which in some way or other was a future joy? For they put the question, “Why weepest thou?” as if they had said, Weep not. But she, supposing they had put the question from ignorance, unfolded the cause of her tears. “Because,” she said, “they have taken away my Lord:” calling her Lord’s inanimate body her Lord, meaning a part for the whole; just as all of us acknowledge that Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, our Lord, who of course is at once both the Word and soul and flesh, was nevertheless crucified and buried, while it was only His flesh that was laid in the sepulchre. “And I know not,” she added, “where they have laid Him.” This was the greater cause of sorrow, because she knew not where to go to mitigate her grief. But the hour had now come when the joy, in some measure announced by the angels, who forbade her tears, was to succeed the weeping.
2. Lastly, “when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing Him to be the gardener, saith unto Him, Sir, If thou hast borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto Him, Rabboni, which is to say, Master.” Let no one speak ill of the woman because she called the gardener, Sir (domine), and Jesus, Master. For there she was asking, here she was recognizing; there she was showing respect to a person of whom she was asking a favor, here she was recalling the Teacher of whom she was learning to discern things human and divine. She called one lord (sir), whose handmaid she was not, in order by him to get at the Lord to whom she belonged. In one sense, therefore, she used the word Lord when she said, “They have taken away my Lord; and in another, when she said, Sir (lord), if thou hast borne Him hence.” For the prophet also called those lords who were mere men, but in a different sense from Him of whom it is written, “The Lord is His name.”1 But how was it that this woman, who had already turned herself back to see Jesus, when she supposed Him to be the gardener, and was actually talking with Him, is said to have again turned herself, in order to say unto Him “Rabboni,” but just because, when she then turned herself in body, she supposed Him to be what He was not, while now, when turned in heart, site recognized Him to be what He was.
3. “Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; to my God, and your God.” There are points in these words which we must examine with brevity indeed, but with somewhat more than ordinary attention. For Jesus was giving a lesson in faith to the woman, who had recognized Him as her Master, and called Him so in her reply; and this gardener was sowing in her heart, as in His own garden, the grain of mustard seed. What then is meant by “Touch me not”? And just as if the reason of such a prohibition would be sought, He added, “for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” What does this mean? If, while standing on earth, He is not to be touched, how could He be touched by men when sitting in heaven? For certainly, before He ascended, He presented Himself to the touch of the disciples, when He said, as testified by the evangelist Luke, “Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have;”2 or when He said to Thomas the disciple, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and put forth thy hand, and thrust it into my side.” And who could be so absurd as to affirm that He was willing indeed to be touched by the disciples before He ascended to the Father, but refused it in the case of women till after His ascension? But no one, even had any the will, was to be allowed to run into such folly. For we read that women also, after His resurrection and before His ascension to the Father, touched Jesus, among whom was Mary Magdalene herself; for it is related by Matthew that Jesus met them, and said, “All hail. And they approached, and held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him.”3 This was passed over by John, but declared as the truth by Matthew. It remains, therefore, that some sacred mystery must lie concealed in these words; and whether we discover it or utterly fail to do so, yet we ought to be in no doubt as to its actual existence. Accordingly, either the words, “Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father,” had this meaning, that by this woman the Church of the Gentiles was symbolized, which did not believe on Christ till He had actually ascended to the Father, or that in this way Christ wished Himself to be believed on; in other words, to be touched spiritually, that He and the Father are one. For He has in a manner ascended to the Father, to the inward perception of him who has made such progress in the knowledge of Christ that he acknowledges Him as equal with the Father: in any other way He is not rightly touched, that is to say, in any other way He is not rightly believed on. But Mary might have still so believed as to account Him unequal with the Father, and this certainly is forbidden her by the words, “Touch me not;” that is, Believe not thus on me according to thy present notions; let not your thoughts stretch outwards to what I have been made in thy behalf, without passing beyond to that whereby thou hast thyself been made. For how could it be otherwise than carnally that she still believed on Him whom she was weeping over as a man? “For I am not yet ascended,” He says, “to my Father:” there shalt thou touch me, when thou believest me to be God, in no wise unequal with the Father. “But go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father.” He saith not, Our Father: in one sense, therefore, is He mine, in another sense, yours; by nature mine, by grace yours. “And my God, and your God.” Nor did He say here, Our God: here, therefore, also is He in one sense mine, in another sense yours: my God; under whom I also am as man; your God, between whom and you I am mediator.
4. “Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples, I have seen the Lord, and He hath spoken these things unto me. Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus, and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when He had so said, He showed unto them His hands and His side.” For nails had pierced His hands, a spear had laid open His side: and there the marks of the wounds are preserved for healing the hearts of the doubting. But the shutting of doors presented no obstacle to the matter of His body, wherein Godhead resided. He indeed could enter without their being opened, by whose birth the virginity of His mother remained inviolate, “Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord. Then said He unto them again, Peace be unto you.” Reiteration is confirmation; for He Himself gives by the prophet a promised peace upon peace.4 “As the Father hath sent me,” He adds, “even so send I you.” We know the Son to be equal to the Father; but here we recognize the words of the Mediator. For He exhibits Himself as occupying a middle position when He says, He me, and I you. “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” By breathing on them He signified that the Holy Spirit was the Spirit, not of the Father alone, but likewise His own. “Whose so-ever sins,” He continues, “ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever ye retain, they are retained.” The Church’s love, which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, discharges the sins of all who are partakers with itself, but retains the sins of those who have no participation therein. Therefore it is, that after saying “Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” He straightway added this regarding the remission and retention of sins.
5. “But Thomas, one of the twelve, who is called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe. And after eight days, again His disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and put it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God.” He saw and touched the man, and acknowledged the God whom he neither saw nor touched; but by the means of what he saw and touched, he now put far away from him every doubt, and believed the other. “Jesus saith unto him, Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed.” He saith not, Thou hast touched me, but, “Thou hast seen me,” because sight is a kind of general sense. For sight is also habitually named in connection with the other four senses: as when we say, Listen, and see how well it sounds; smell it, and see how well it smells; taste it, and see how well it savors; touch it, and see how hot it is. Everywhere has the word, See, made itself heard, although sight, properly speaking, is allowed to belong only to the eyes. Hence here also the Lord Himself says, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands:” and what else does He mean but, Touch and see? And yet he had no eyes in his finger. Whether therefore it was by looking, or also by touching, “Because thou hast seen me,” He says, “thou hast believed.” Although it may be affirmed that the disciple dared not so to touch, when He offered Himself for the purpose; for it is not written, And Thomas touched Him. But whether it was by gazing only, or also by touching that he saw and believed, what follows rather proclaims and commends the faith of the Gentiles: “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” He made use of words in the past tense, as One who, in His predestinating purpose, knew what was future, as if it had already taken place. But the present discourse must be kept from the charge of prolixity: the Lord will give us the opportunity to discourse at another time on the topics that remain.
1 (Ps 68,4,
2 (Lc 24,39,
3 (Mt 28,9).
4 (Is 26,3, margin.
[1] In the Encyclical Dives in Misericordia, St. Giovanni Paolo II explains the two Semitic words that are underlying the word «mercy» «: to give new heart to those who are in a state of misery.
The first word is hesed. It refers to a promise, therefore it invokes a loyalty within an alliance like the spousal one. It is a love that speaks of radical, mutual and promised solidarity. It is a love that becomes demanding and knows the rage of jealousy. Two lovers are jealous.
The second word is rahamin. Its root are in the word rehem, uterus. It speaks of maternal tenderness, of love for the fruit of the womb. It reminds us of the fatherhood of God in Hosea 11: a loving fatherhood, a firm tenderness. God loves tenderly as a mother and, as a father, is at the same time a strong leader, overcoming all cultural categories that tend to allocate firmness to the father and sweetness to her mother.
[2] In 1992, John Paul II instituted the feast of Divine Mercy and decided that it has to be celebrated today, Second Sunday of Easter, also known as «White Sunday» because those who had been newly baptized lay down their white robes they wore during the Easter Vigil after having received the baptism.
[3] Profound mystery and tremendous responsibility! God chose to need men to reach other men. Moreover, He ratifies their decisions in advance. It is also true that, He assures them the Holy Spirit, that is the constant divine assistance, but the thought that God’s mercy is delivered in fragile and unworthy human hands, shakes the veins and the wrists of those called to administer it.
[4] The expression «marriage with God,» fits better a woman. The Christian virgins were considered, since ancient times as brides of Christ. It can be said that they represent, in the most appropriate and complete way, the quality of the bride of Christ that is attributed to the Church. In the consecrated virgins this relationship of bride to Christ is personified. In fact, the virginal consecration gives to this relationship its value. The virgin who gives all her heart to Christ, renounces a human spouse to take the Lord as her bridegroom. In marriage there is the implementation of the marriage of Christ and the Church, as St. Paul says (Eph 5:28). In virginity this implementation is total, because Christ becomes the Bridegroom, without the mediation of a human spouse. Thus, the Church’s bond of spouse with Christ reaches its greatest depth.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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