Mercy is God’s charity
What I’d like to underline regarding this Sunday’s Gospel is the fact that, in order to help Saint Thomas’ faith, Jesus appears to the disciples 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 was allowed to 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 Blessed John Paul II had dedicated the Second Sunday of Easter to Divine Mercy.
In fact today’s liturgy starting with the first prayer is a liturgy of mercy. Undoubtedly John Paul II’s 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, 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 makes free, 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 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). This is why Christ accepts the fact 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.
Mercy as vocation
Saint Thomas in touching the man and in 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, 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, 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, are 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 to us his only Son, our Redeemer, becomes clearer.
In 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 sign of divine mercy and tenderness for 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).
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.
Experimenting God’s forgiveness and forgiving always, 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 and joy can come only from the certainty of the “God” within. We should ask ourselves if we are conscious of the fact that we live because of God’s mercy, of his charity that gives life, freedom, love, hope, forgiveness and all graces. Through them Christ’ mercy continues to be the gift of life, of the life lived in Christ, with Christ and for Christ-Mercy.
To help you thinking 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.
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. See the reflections I’ve proposed for the First Sunday of Lent, February 17th, 2013.
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:
To feed the hungry
To give drink to the thirsty.
To clothe the naked.
To harbour the harbourless. (also loosely interpreted today as To Shelter the Homeless)
To visit the sick.
To visit the imprisoned (classical term is “To ransom the captive)
To bury the dead.
Spiritual Works of Mercy:
To instruct the ignorant.
To counsel the doubtful.
To admonish sinners.
To bear wrongs patiently.
To forgive offenses willingly.
To comfort the afflicted.
To pray for the living and the dead.
In 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, everything is expressed 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).
Acts 5:12-16; Ps 118; Rev 1:9-11A, 12-13, 17, 19; Jn 20:19-31
Acts 4:8-24; Ps117:Col2:8-15; Jn20; 19-31
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Monsignor Francesco Follo is permanent observer of the Holy See to UNESCO, Paris.