[Homily: Divine Mercy Sunday, 2013. Monastery of the Pink Sisters, Tagaytay]
Easter is the greatest celebration in the calendar of the Church. Some, of course, thinking of Simbanggabi, Midnight Mass, gift-giving and Noche Buena, may prefer Christmas. But in the history of Salvation, where God the Father works out a plan of our redemption, Christmas is but a step towards Easter, as is, nine months earlier, an arguably more profound feast, the Feast of the Annunciation; here, what is celebrated is not only an Angel’s message that Mary is to play a pivotal role in the salvation drama and her “fiat”, but the Incarnation itself – the metaphysically outrageous event where the Divine Word takes on human flesh. The Incarnation, however, is itself but a step in the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan. Easter is the great feast of our Redemption, and arguably the most beautiful of the Church’s liturgies, with the Easter Vigil celebrating the Risen Christ as the new fire, the Alpha and the Omega, the Lord of Time Eternal and Time Present, the Paschal Candle representing Jesus ablaze, the Column of Fire that breaks the darkness, the Savior who in his suffering, death and resurrection redeems us. In the exuberance of the “Exultet!”, the command to rejoice, the Church, recalling the sin which warranted for us our Redeemer, incredibly proclaims, “O happy fault … O necessary sin that merited for us such a Redeemer!” Nine readings follow, then the renewal of baptismal vows, leading us to the Eucharistic celebration and its joyful Halleluias.
In the Philippines, the Easter Vigil is complemented by the immensely popular pre-dawn Salubong, where the joyful procession of Light, led by the Risen Christ, meets the procession of sorrow, led by the mother in tearful mourning. In their encounter, an angel of light lifts the shroud of grieving from Mary, turning her grief into rejoicing, as she embraces her Risen Son.
The Easter celebration is so great, the joy so intense, that for the longest time, the liturgical books nicknamed this Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter, “Low Sunday.” This Sunday always paled next to the high celebration of Easter.
Soon after the turn of this millennium, however, Pope John Paul II, inspired by the graces granted the Polish visionary, Sr. Faustina Kowalska, lifted “Low Sunday” to the height of Divine Mercy Sunday. Fittingly so. At the end of the Easter Octave, the full, eight-day liturgical celebration of Easter, the Church looks back at the Paschal Mystery, the suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord, indeed all the events leading to this, and sums it all up in a grateful celebration of the Lord’s divine mercy.
For has not all this been a commemoration of the Father’s compassion expressed in his Son? In the “Meditation on the Incarnation” of his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius invites the exercitant to view our world as God does before his plan of salvation unfolds. It is a good exercise for us to do that even today – to try by God’s grace to enter God’s mind as he looks on our contemporary world with its breathtaking skyscrapers and putrid slums, its magnificent cars and miserable traffic jams, with its powerful politicians and warring nations, with its material wealth and spiritual aridity, its cultural sophistication and social superficiality, its love, lust, philanthrophy and violence, everywhere, bright and overpowering lights as people yet grope about in darkness, confusion, and near despair. The meditation invites us to enter into the mind of God as he regards this world, with “some laughing, others crying, some well and others sick, some living and others dying.” We know: his is not a mind of rejection, anger, disgust, abandonment. It is rather the opposite: his is a mind of understanding, ongoing acceptance, outgoing love, and divine compassion. He does not turn his back on this prodigal world, but empties himself and runs to embrace it. It is in the Father’s compassion that the Word becomes flesh, that the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes is lain in the manger, that the Kingdom of God is proclaimed, that he heals the sick, raises the dead, preaches the Good News to the poor, that he takes on the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, the activism of the Zealots, the sacrilege of the vendors, that he overturns the money tables in his Father’s profaned temple, and embodies the Way, the Truth and the Life on the Cross. In accepting willingly his suffering and death, His Passion is the Compassion of his Father, divinity “suffering with humanity” – redeeming us by pulling us to himself, loving us, by bringing us back to His embrace.
It is in this incarnated compassion that the Lord in our Gospel wishes us peace. Peace – not the dead peace of the graveyard, but the vibrant peace of life having vanquished death. Peace – not the complacent peace of the “perfect” who have somehow come to think they have never sinned nor can ever sin, and so strut arrogantly in chronic judgment of others, but the awed peace of the sinner, who now knows himself forgiven. Peace – not of the sinner who has earned his forgiveness, but the peace of the sinner who knows he can never deserve the forgiveness he’s received. Peace not because in the Passion and Death of Jesus the insulted Justice of God is finally placated, but peace because in the Passion, Death and Resurrection, God’s justice is the gratuity of his mercy – his compassion. As Pope Benedict said, in his love for us, and desire to redeem us, God does the unthinkable. “God’s passionate love for his people – for humanity – is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great it turns God against himself, his love against his justice” (DCE,10). His justice is overwhelmed by his love; his justice is overtaken by his by divine mercy, his Compassion.
God wishes us peace. Incredible? Hard to believe? Thomas had a hard time believing the Good News as related to him by his fellow apostles. Give me an empirical proof before I believe, he demanded. “Let me put my finger first in his wounds; let me put my hand into his side.” Before I believe, stop the violence in my life, others may demand. Stop the Alzheimers’ in my body! Stop the doubts that torture me about the reality of your presence in this discouraging world! Stop the disrespect for human dignity as ideologies and doctrines are imposed! Stop the ongoing destruction of the forests, the mountains, the rivers and the seas for values inimical to our people and contrary to the common good! Stop the screeching cacophony that disturbs our desperate attempts at prayer! Even to the doubters, the confused, the infirm, the hurt, the outcastes, the disillusioned, the cynics, the exasperated, our Lord shows himself to be compassionate. Was it not for this purpose that he came? Was it not for these that he came? In his own time, he appears to Thomas, takes him where he is. He works with his doubt, and leads him to faith.
We pray repeatedly, “Lord, have mercy.” But before we utter this prayer, God is already showing us mercy. Looking back over the Easter celebration, let us be profoundly aware of that. As Pope Francis said in his Easter Message, “…renewed by God’s mercy, let us become agents of his mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.” God shows us compassion first, as those who are reflective know: God’s compassion is true and palpable in our lives. In response, let us ourselves be merciful to those whom he loves, if we can do so with inner joy. As he has forgiven us our debts, let us forgive others their debts, if we can do so with inner freedom. As he has gratuitously forgiven us our trespasses, let us not be stingy in forgiving the trespasses of people in our lives, if we can do so with interior magnanimity. Why the ifs? Because we cannot be compassionate in resentment, miserliness, sadness, and bitterness. We cannot be forced to compassion. The joy of Easter is knowing ourselves saved in the Lord’s gratuitous divine mercy, and our wanting to share the joy; it is only in this inner, liberating Easter joy – Easter consolation – that our compassion is free and genuine for others. It is only in this quiet compelling contagious Easter joy, that our compassion is one with the Cross of the Resurrected Lord. Without the Cross, there is no Easter joy.
If in honesty you doubt this joy is yet yours, pray, pray, pray that the Risen Lord may approach you and say, “Put your finger in my wounds, your hand in my side. Believe me: it’s me! Do not be afraid. I live. I love. You, I love. Come, follow me!”