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Archbishop Follo: The Peace of the Risen One Fills our Hearts with Mercy

With the invitation to implore the divine mercy through which each one of our miseries becomes a place of profound and true love.

Second Sunday of Easter (or Sunday of Divine Mercy) – Year C- April 28th, 2019

Roman Rite
Acts 5:12-16; Ps 118; Rev 1:9-11A, 12-13, 17, 19; Jn 20:19-31

Ambrosian Rite
Acts 4:8-24; Ps117:Col2:8-15; Jn20; 19-31

 

1. Mercy is the love of God who loves and forgives the sinners.

Eight days ago, at Easter, we thanked the Lord who with his resurrection showed that his love is stronger than death and sin.

Today we celebrate this love that reveals itself, is implemented as mercy in our daily existence and urges each of us to have “mercy” towards the Crucifix. In fact, the life of the good Christian consists in the holy desire of God, loving him and his neighbor and even the “enemies”.

Christ reveals not only that God is Love, but that God is mercy because He not only loves man but the Risen One shows that He loved the guilty man. God has not only good children but also rebellious ones, beings who are not worthy neither useful nor pleasant in themselves nor good to Him.

He has loved and loves those who are farthest from him and the most miserable, the most adverse and the worst. This love was prodigious not only in itself and for the intimate happiness of God, but also for the undeserving beings who are its inexplicable object of love. God, paternally loving the sinner, gives an example of supreme goodness saving him with recreating forgiveness. Mercy bows over evil not for it to remain and or justice to be won, but rather for justice to be recomposed in its rights and have its claim. God loves the bad person not because he is such, but to make him a good one. While pushing mercy to the point of canceling the fatal consequences of sin, God restores the absoluteness of the moral law bringing the sinner back to it.

This singular relationship between mercy and justice is one of the most profound and most clearly resolved problems of Christianity. No one thinks that God’s mercy, announced as it should be and revealed in its source and in its term, which is Love, is complicit with evil and weakens the strength of the moral imperative. Mercy manifests to everyone that it alone can recover the lost good to repay the evil done and to generate new forces of justice and holiness.

Today as then, the liturgical celebration is not simply a commemoration of past events, nor even a mystical and interior experience, but essentially an encounter with the risen Lord, who lives in the dimension of God, beyond time and space. Nevertheless, he makes himself truly present amid the community, speaks to us in the Holy Scriptures and breaks for us the Bread of eternal life. Through these signs we live what the disciples experienced, that is the fact of seeing Jesus and at the same time not recognizing him. It can also happen to us to touch his body, a real Eucharistic body that gives peace.

In this regard, it is useful to recall what the Gospel says, namely that Jesus, in the two apparitions to the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room, greets them several times saying “Peace be with you” (Jn 20: 19.21.26). The traditional greeting, with which we wish each other hope and peace, becomes here a new thing: it becomes the gift of the peace that only Jesus can give because it is the fruit of his radical victory over evil. The “peace” that Jesus offers to his friends is the fruit of God’s love that led him to die on the cross and to shed all his blood as a gentle and humble Lamb “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). This is the reason why Saint John Paul II wanted to name the Sunday after Easter Sunday of the Divine Mercy with a very precise icon: that of the pierced side of Christ from which blood and water come out, according to the eyewitness testimony of the apostle John (see Jn 19: 34-37). Now Jesus is risen and from Him the Easter sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist spring forth: those who approach them with faith receive the gift of eternal life.

This Sunday’s Gospel shows how the Risen Lord helps to confirm this faith in the Apostle Thomas and in each of us, who like this apostle want to meet Christ by touching him. This Gospel passage, in fact, shows the merciful goodness of Christ, who – to help the faith of St. Thomas the Apostle, appears a second time and asks him to put his finger into His pierced chest from which blood and water had come out. (Jn19, 34)

Today we are asked to remember the encounter of an incredulous man who could put his hand into Christ’s chest. From Christ’s heart pierced by sin surges the wave of mercy. Even if our sins were dark as the night, divine mercy is stronger than our misery. Only one thing is needed, that the sinner leaves ajar the door of his heart…God will do the job.

Saint Faustina Kowalska wrote that everything begins in His mercy and everything ends in His mercy.  For this reason, Saint John Paul II had dedicated the Second Sunday of Easter to the Divine Mercy.

In fact, today’s liturgy, starting with the first prayer, is a liturgy of mercy. Undoubtedly Saint John Paul II decision was inspired by the private revelations of Saint Faustina who saw two rays of light, a red one which represents blood and a white one which represents water, coming out from the chest of Christ. If blood recalls the sacrifice of the cross and the gift of the Eucharist, water recalls baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Jn 3:5; 4:14; 7:37-39).

Through the pierced chest of the crucified Christ, divine mercy reaches humanity. Jesus is “Love and Mercy personified” (Saint Faustina Kowlaska, Diaries 374). Mercy is the “second name” of Love (Dives in Misericordia, 7) caught in his most deep and tender meaning and in his ability to take charge of every need and, above all, of the need of forgiveness. “The great wound of the soul is the great mercy of God” (Saint Eusebius).

Jesus “uses” the ointment of his chest’s sore to cure Thomas’s heart, which has been wounded by incredulity. The medicine of his mercy is greater than human sins. He goes to Thomas, to his disciples and to every one of us and doesn’t ask “What did you do?” but “Do you love me?” as He did to Peter on the lake’s shore after the resurrection. The answer that Peter and we have is our pain, but that’s enough for Him. In the same way, He did with Peter, He confirms us in his merciful love, a love that liberates, heals and saves.

We are poor and fragile things, but we can rejoice if we say,” My God I trust you” (as suggested to Saint Faustina by Jesus; Diaries, 327) because the announcement of this mercy is the source of gladness: Jesus is mercy. He is the envoy by the Father to let us know that the supreme characteristic of the essence of God is mercy.

We should ask ourselves if we are always conscious of the fact that we live because of God’s mercy and of his charity that gives us life, freedom, love, hope, forgiveness and all graces. We should also ask ourselves if we practice charity. Charity is a fact that touches the roots of man’s life because it is acceptance of the way of living of Christ, who “for your sake became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). It is the acceptance that Christ is the richness of our life and that we must follow him without regretting what we leave behind. (Mt 19, 21)

Charity/ mercy is not pure and simple philanthropy, but it is the love for Christ that we reach through our poorest brothers: “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25).  Therefore, Christ accepts that the most expensive perfume is “wasted” on him instead of being sold to get money for the poor. Christ is the valid foundation of every love for the poor.

 

2. Mercy as vocation

Saint Thomas, touching the man and recognizing God, “My Master and my God”, believed and was confirmed together with the other disciples in his vocation to announce the Gospel of mercy. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”. From now on the “wind” of God carried the disciples to the limits of the earth and to martyrdom. Like in a new creation, the Spirit of the Resurrected makes the disciples able to do something unheard of before: to forgive sins. They go to all because men and women in every part of the Earth need mercy and forgiveness.

Even pain is reversed: since Christ is resurrected “all the pain of the world is not the pain of agony but the pain of childbirth” (Paul Claudel). Then life can be lived as a feast. The Resurrected offers imagination and courage to create the “new thing”. Human ideologies and utopias break against the rock of death. Jesus opens the doors of the Christian hope that doesn’t disappoint and does not resolve to a “wish denied”.  No cross, no test, and no drama can take away peace or extinguish the joy which comes from the Resurrection.

The Easter of the Resurrection shows that death wins only for “a little while” and does not have the last word.

Our vocation, like the one of Thomas and the apostles, is to announce the Gospel of Mercy and to tell about the Father’s mercy through the ability of forgiveness and remission of sins (for the ones of us who are priests). Everybody, the lay people and priests, is called to be yeast of mercy.

If we listen to the Gospel, the expression” gracious and merciful is the LORD” (Ps 111:4) who with indescribable goodness gave us his only Son, our Redeemer, becomes clearer.

Being able through the Church to experience the love with which God had loved us (Eph 2,4), let’s welcome his mercy and let’s proclaim him inside the Christian community and in the world. We are called to be yeast of mercy in the world’s dough. We do not belong to the world; we belong to Christ and we share his mission to be yeast of mercy to resurrect the world.

We have an example of this in the face of Jesus’ Mother which is reflected in the face of the consecrated virgins who try to follow the divine Master and to be a sign of divine mercy and tenderness for the humankind.

Let’s follow the invitation of Pope Francis: “let’s learn to be merciful with everybody. Let’s invoke the intercession of the Virgin who had in her arms the Mercy of God made man’ (Pope Francis, Angelus, March 14th, 2013) and who was the first to contemplated Jesus Christ, the face of the Father’s mercy (see Id. 11 April 2015). Therefore, Pope Francis never tires of repeating that “the first name of God is mercy” (January 12, 2016 – these are some of the many quotations in which Pope Francis speaks of mercy, the last is that of 19 April 2019).

Mercy is God’s love in excess by which the consecrated Virgins live, donating themselves completely to Christ. It is the measure filled and overflowing beyond justice, neither commensurate to the merit of the other person nor to their own interests. They evangelize through mercy because, like Mary, in virginity, they welcome the dead Christ in their lap and proclaim His forgiveness.

They are sure of the Emmanuel, of the “God with us”, to whom they offer their life to be with him, Holy Bread of mercy who forgives and renews life.

By experiencing God’s forgiveness and always forgiving, we become certain that His power is greater than our weakness. We are certain of the “God with us”. Joy can come only from this certainty, only from the certainty of “God with us”. We must ask ourselves if we are always aware that we live for the mercy of God, for his almsgiving, which gives us life, freedom, love, hope, forgiveness and all graces. The mercy of Christ through them continues to be a gift of life and of a life lived in Christ, with Christ for Christ-Mercy.

The consecrated virgins are called in a special way to be witnesses of this mercy of the Lord, in which man finds his own salvation. These women keep alive the experience of God’s forgiveness because they have the awareness of being saved people, of being great when they recognize themselves as small, and of feeling renewed and wrapped in the holiness of God when they recognize their own sin.

In this way, they give the example that the humble recognition of their own misery allows a full trust in the mercy of God and in his love that never abandons.

To help you think about charity and to practice it, I’d like to point your attention to the etymology of the word” Alms,” the list of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and a reading from Saint Gregory of Nyssa.

 Alms: comes from the Greek elemosyne, mercy, compassion (towards the poor, charity. From the same origin: eleemon= merciful, eleos= piety, eleeo= to be merciful) The meaning is: what we give to the poor because of charity.

        The Church – using the Bible but also its millennial experience- summarizes the positive attitude towards to ones who are in need with two lists of works of mercy, the corporal and the spirituals ones:

Corporal Works of Mercy: 

  1. To feed the hungry
  2. To give drink to the thirsty.
  3. To clothe the naked.
  4. To harbor the homeless.(also loosely interpreted today as To Shelter the Homeless)
  5. To visit the sick.
  6. To visit the imprisoned (classical term is “To ransom the captive)
  7. To bury the dead.

Spiritual Works of Mercy:

  1. To instruct the ignorant.
  2. To counsel the doubtful.
  3. To admonish sinners.
  4. To bear wrongs patiently.
  5. To forgive offenses willingly.
  6. To comfort the afflicted.
  7. To pray for the living and the dead.

Using twice the number seven for the lists, the Church intends to give to it the symbolic value it has in the Bible. In the number whose meaning is completeness, it is expressed everything that concerns help toward the poor. We are urged to exercise a concrete love toward the neighbor in need.

Saint John recommended to the first Christians: “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth”. (I John 3:18) and Saint James wrote: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding you”. (James 1:22).

 

Patristic reading

Saint Gregory of Nyssa – Homely on the Beatitudes-

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Compassion is loving identification with those in misery. Just as hardheartedness and malice originate in hate, so compassion flows from love, for without love compassion cannot exist. In fact, if one wanted to dig into the distinctiveness of compassion, one would find two qualities: a growing attitude of love combined with an understanding of the emotional ache of another. It is not unusual for our friends and our enemies to be willing to share in our prosperity, but the willingness to share in our misfortune is unique to those who are governed by loving kindness. I think most people would agree that practicing a life of love is the best way to live. Compassion is the deepening of love. As such, compassionate persons are truly blessed since they have reached the high point of goodness

Is it advisable, having a realistic view of our situation, to be only concerned with the misfortunes of others? Shouldn’t we also feel compassion for our own heart, as we consider our current situation, and what we have lost? … We don’t have compassion on ourselves because we are oblivious to our real situation. We are like the mentally ill, whose disorder renders them unconscious to their disease. If we did wake up to both our past and present situation—as Solomon says, the wise know themselves—we would continually have compassion on our souls, and this disposition of spirit would attract the compassion of God. That is why it says, ‘Blessed are the compassionate, for they will receive compassion.

About Francesco Follo

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