Divine Mercy Sunday

Divine Mercy Sunday

Solemnity; Liturgical Color: White

True power pardons

In the Nicene Creed, we say that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father. When a judge walks into a courtroom, the bailiff announces, “All rise,” and the judge sits in judgment. In his see city, a bishop rests in his cathedra, and in his palace, a king reigns from his throne. A president signs legislation while seated at his desk. The chair is a locus of power. The power that emanates from such seats of authority judges, condemns, and sentences. Today’s feast reminds us, though, that authority also exercises power by granting mercy. When a judge pronounces innocence, the sentence is no less binding than one of guilt. The absolved exits the court into a new day, ready to begin again. And when the priest’s voice whispers through the screen, “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” guilt evaporates into thin air. The purest and truest expression of power is the granting of mercy.

Mercy is a superabundance of justice, not an exception to it. When faced with a wound to the common good, those responsible for repairing the damage do not have two contrary options: justice or mercy. Justice and mercy are not mutually exclusive. Mercy is a form of justice. Mercy does not ignore the tears to the fabric of the common good slashed by crime and sin. Rightful authority notes the torn fabric, weighs the personal responsibility of the accused, and distributes justice precisely by granting mercy. Mercy does not turn a blind eye to justice, but fulfills its obligations to justice by going beyond them. After all, one cannot be absolved of having done nothing. Similarly, where there is no guilt there is no need of mercy. When justice calls out, two words echo back off the hard walls: “condemnation” and “mercy.” Mercy runs parallel to, and beyond, the path of condemnation. This is the mercy we celebrate today, the mercy whose greatest practitioner is God Himself. Because He is the seat of all authority, God is also the seat of all mercy.   

God plays many roles in the life of the Christian—Creator, Savior, Sanctifier, and Judge. Our Creed teaches us that God the Son, seated at the Father’s right hand, “will come in glory to judge the living and the dead,” both at the particular and at the final judgment. At that moment, it will serve us nothing to state, in excusing our sins, that “God understands.” Of course God understands. To state “God understands” is just another way to say that God is omniscient and all powerful. “God understands” implies that because God knows the powerful temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, that He could not possibly judge man harshly. Yet “God understands” is a lazy manner of exculpating sinful behavior. When nose to nose with God one second after death, the repentant Christian should plead, instead, “Lord, have mercy.” Faced with the scandalous behavior of a friend or relative, the response should again be “Lord, have mercy.” Appealing to God’s mercy will melt His heart. Appealing to His knowledge will not.

The private revelations of Jesus Christ to Saint Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun and intense mystic who died in 1938, are the source of the profound spirituality of today’s feast. Sister Faustina was a kind of Saint Catherine of Siena of the twentieth century. She lived a regimen of fasting, meditation, liturgical prayer, and close community life that would have crushed a less resilient soul. But Faustina persevered, amidst debilitating illnesses, sisterly jealousy, and respectful but questioning superiors. Her diaries are replete with the starkest of language from the mouth of Christ, showing that moral clarity precedes the call for mercy. Sister Faustina faithfully recorded Christ’s manly commands in her diary. One of these commands expressly desired that the Divine Mercy be celebrated on the Sunday after Easter. In an age old pattern familiar to an ancient Church, Saint Faustina’s private revelations were challenged, filtered for theological truth, sifted for spiritual depth, and granted universal approbation by the only Christian religion which even claims to grant such. In the soundest proof of their authenticity, the profound simplicity of the Divine Mercy revelations and of their related devotions were intuitively grasped and adopted by the Catholic faithful the world over.

Pope Saint John Paul II first inserted today’s feast into the Roman calendar on April 30, 2000, the canonization day of Saint Faustina. Saint Pope John Paul II was also canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2014. And so the Church’s third millennium was launched with a new devotion that quickly eclipsed many older ones, a new piety rooted in the most ancient truths, a fresh appeal to a side of God that had not been fully understood in prior ages. Divine Mercy is the new face of God for the third millennium, a postmodern Sacred Heart. This is the God who leans in and waits with bated breath for us to whisper through the screen, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.” This is the God who at the end of time, whether our own time or all time, waits to hear from our lips those few prized words “Lord, have mercy.” Having heard that, He need not hear anything more. And having received that, we need not receive anything more.   

Divine Mercy, do not hold our sins against us. Be a merciful Father who judges us in the fullness of Your power, punishing when needed, but granting mercy when we need it more, most especially when we are too saturated with pride to request it.