The feast of Divine Mercy was established on April 30, 2000 by Pope John Paul II, at the canonization of Saint Mary Faustina Kowalska, through whom the Lord requested that the Second Sunday of Easter be reserved to celebrate God’s mercy which is ever-flowing, notwithstanding our unfaithfulness. The Lord is perennially faithful and his mercy is always more than sufficient to cover our sins. As St Paul has it, “where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Rom. 5:20).In one of her visions, Jesus said to Saint Faustina: “I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of my tender mercy are open…. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus, showing mercy to his Apostles who all deserted him just days earlier, commissions them as ministers of his mercy: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained” (John 20:23). Through the sacrament of reconciliation, the unbounded ocean of God’s mercy overruns our iniquities and rescues us from guilt and shame; and we too are called to be people of mercy as the following story reveals. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, there was an old soldier with a limp who begged for alms from village to village, which he hated to do. One evening, he made his way to church in a certain village. He was willing to accept donations from the church-goers whom he despised for believing in a God that would permit all the atrocities of the revolution. The next morning, he was met by the priest who invited him in for breakfast, which he accepted because of hunger and the kindness on the priest’s face. He stayed there for several days and the priest remained very kind all through.
This beggar had never experienced so much love although he had never been so miserable. Eventually, he asked for confession and one of his sins stood out. He used to be the most trusted servant of a noble family whose head had unsuccessfully rebelled against the revolution. His wife and six children entrusted their lives and fortunes to the servant but, for love of money, he betrayed them, and each was beheaded, except for the youngest son who managed to escape without a trace. Tearfully, the old man finished his confession and the priest gave him absolution, pulled him up and embraced him. But as he lifted his eyes, the man saw a picture on the wall – that of the family he had betrayed, and, in shock, he pulled back and asked the priest: “Who are you?”“Where did you get that painting?” And with a smile, the priest responded: “I am the youngest son of that family, my friend. And I forgive you.”
Dear friends, our greatest treasure as Catholics is the revelation of Christ as the perfect expression of divine mercy, the only force strong enough to penetrate the walls of pain, anger, fear, and resentment that surround our hearts. Unquestionably, God’s mercy is infinitely greater than that of the young priest, because it is sealed in the blood of his only Son, and there can be none greater than that. By his death, Jesus unleashed on the world a flood of mercy, and since this flood has yet to reach every heart, we are invited to become its channels. Today’s feast is a reminder that God’s mercy is without end, and we too must learn to be merciful. Pope St. John Paul II saw forgiveness as a necessary ingredient for peace on earth. As he put it, real peace “is not just a matter of structures and mechanisms. It rests, above all, on the adoption of a style of human coexistence marked by mutual acceptance and a capacity to forgive from the heart. We all need to be forgiven by others, so we must all be ready to forgive. Asking and granting forgiveness is something profoundly worthy of every one of us. Forgiveness, in its truest and highest form, is a free act of love.”
Therefore, is there someone who has hurt you “beyond pardon”? Is your relationship so broken you think it is irreconcilable? Have you been betrayed by someone you loved and trusted so much that you are struggling to trust again? Is your life dominated by feelings of anger, disappointment, cynicism, indifference, envy or resentment? Are you giving in to anger, bitterness and despair? Are you still troubles by the guilt of your past life and you think all hope is lost? Then, today’s feast is for you! It is a day to drink from the fountain of divine mercy and to be a channel of the same fountain to others.
Brethren, the infinite magnitude of divine mercy challenges us to forgive one another of our trespasses no matter the harm caused. Refusing to forgive others indicates a lack of gratitude for the blood that was shed for us. The light of God’s forgiveness cannot shine through our lives when our hearts are locked against forgiving those who have offended us, especially those who do not know, and those who do not care. True discipleship means radically obeying the commands of the Lord to love and to forgive everyone who has trespassed against us. It was Lewis B. Smedes who rightly said that forgiveness “happens inside the person doing the forgiving. It heals our pain and resentment before it does anything for the person we forgive; they might never know about it.”
Today is a great opportunity to seek forgiveness for our mistakes, to forgive others, and to forgive ourselves. And so, with St Faustina, we pray: “For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” Amen!