A reflection on the Readings for Sunday, April 7, 2024 — The Second Sunday of Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday. When available, the audio version of this homily will be posted here. To listen to Fr. Satish Joseph’s homily for Easter Sunday, click here.

It would not be an overstatement to say that Jesus revolutionized religion. First of all, it is unheard of that an all-powerful God would endure betrayals and insults, undergo beating and bruising, tolerate false accusations and judgments, and subject himself to the type of shameful death reserved for criminals, all to redeem a sinful humanity. What kind of religion is a religion that worships a God hanging on a cross?

But Jesus did something equally revolutionary after his resurrection. Jesus revolutionized mercy. Today’s gospel reading reveals God’s intentions. Jesus took the power that belongs to God alone – the power to forgive sins – and shared it with other human beings. Forgiveness is God’s prerogative, but Jesus shared it with his disciples when he said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained.” It would be reasonable to say then, that Jesus revolutionized ‘mercy’.

Today, the Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday. In the year 2000, at the canonization of Sr. Faustina Kowalska, Pope John Paul II declared that the Second Sunday of Easter would henceforth be commemorated as Mercy Sunday. To reflect more deeply on mercy, I am relying on a 1980 encyclical of Pope St. John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia (“Rich in Mercy”). This reflection is not comprehensive, but I would like to take three points from the encyclical and place them before you for reflection.

Jesus: The Face of God’s Mercy

John Paul II begins his encyclical with divine revelation (what God has revealed to us). One of the central aspects of our faith, he says, is not only that Jesus was the Son of God, but that Jesus also revealed God. The very first words of John Paul’s encyclical are, it is “God who is rich in mercy” whom Jesus has revealed to us as Father. Since Divine Mercy is celebrated on the second Sunday of Easter, John Paul connects the entire event of Holy Week to God’s mercy. He says, “God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (no. 1).

This mercy of God is not simply a concept. John Paul says that Jesus’ message of mercy preserved a particular divine-human dimension (NO. 3). In other words, Jesus becoming human is itself an act of God’s mercy. And then we have Jesus’ relationship with humanity. In his own suffering and his relationship with the unfortunate and sinners, Jesus incarnates the God who is “rich in mercy.” Jesus, then, is the face of God’s Mercy. Pope Francis carries this thought forward in his very first book he published as pope, The Name of God is Mercy. As you know, Pope Francis has faced much flak to put mercy in the forefront of his ministry. But, in this, he follows scripture and the work of his predecessors.

Justice and Mercy Meet

After describing God as “rich in mercy” John Paul II then goes on to solve the complex dynamic between God’s mercy and God’s justice. For many people, one of the greatest blocks to understanding God’s mercy is the question of God’s justice. If God is indeed all mercy, then is there no retribution for sin? Does not justice require punishment for sin?

Surprisingly, John Paul II derives his answer from the Old Testament, which we often think presents a sterner image of God. He says, “Even the Old Testament teaches that although justice is an authentic virtue in man and signifies the transcendent perfection of God, nevertheless, love is ‘greater’ than justice; greater in the sense that it is primary and fundamental.” (no. 4)

“Love conditions justice and justice serves love,” says John Paul. The primacy and superiority of love is a mark of the whole revelation – and is revealed precisely through mercy. John Paul goes on to strengthen his insight by giving the illustration of the prodigal son in the New Testament. Even though the prodigal son squanders his dignity as the son, the father’s mercy restores him his dignity as a son. It is this kind of mercy that is revealed on the cross and through the resurrection. “The cross and the resurrection of Jesus,” John Paul writes, “shows that love is more powerful than death, and more powerful than sin.”

This has implications for us. No matter what, we will never run out of God’s mercy. Period.

The Mercy of God: The Mission of the Church

Mercy is a two way street. On the one hand the Church receives God’s mercy, but then, John Paul II calls the mission of mercy the greatest task of the church. He says, “The church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy” (no. 13). John Paul sees the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation as the places where people can experience mercy is a unique way, that is, “the love which is more powerful than sin.” Therefore, the Church professes and proclaims conversion; conversion understood as discovering the mercy, the love, the patience and the kindness of a God who is Creator and Father.” He continues, “The church must consider it one of her principal duties to proclaim and to introduce into life the mystery of mercy revealed in Jesus Christ” (no. 14). In John Paul’s vision, the church must also practice mercy and appeal for God’s mercy.

Sr. Faustina points to this in the recording her visions. Jesus said to her: “Yes, the first Sunday after Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for me. You are to show mercy to our neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to absolve yourself from it” (Diary 742). Let us continue Christ’s mission of revolutionizing Mercy.

The Eucharist is a Sacrament of Mercy. The Eucharist is a celebration of God’s mercy. As encounter Mercy face-to-face in the Eucharist; as we receive Mercy in Bread and Wine, may we ourselves become the face of Mercy in our world. Amen.

Image: By HistoryIsResearch – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47971233

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Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.

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