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Mercy is Love in Action
There is a story about Pope Benedict XV. He was the Pope during the First World War and its turbulent aftermath (1914-1922). One time, when he appeared on the Vatican balcony to impart his blessing, a fanatic drew a pistol, aimed at the Pope, and pulled the trigger. The gun failed to fire. Guards quickly captured the criminal. Later, he was brought before the Pope. The man expressed regret that the gun did not fire. The Pope calmly declared, “I can tell you why your gun failed. You were in the crowd and I had blessed you also, my son.” Then he added, “Go home now. Your wife and children must have heard of this and are worried.” The Pope ordered him released. (J. Maurus)
The Pope’s edifying example was clearly in imitation of the Lord Jesus. The disciples betrayed Jesus – they ran away just when he needed them the most. And now they were huddled together in one room, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. But what really troubled them was the news about the resurrection of their Master. They were ashamed to face him and afraid to be reprimanded by him. But when he appeared to them, he did not have any trace of bitterness, anger or accusation against them. His greeting was, “Peace!” Then he breathed on them the Holy Spirit and gave them power to forgive others as well. Some of them, especially Thomas, entertained doubts, but he patiently led them to the truth of his resurrection. There was no reprimand and condemnation, but only an abundance of mercy, forgiveness and love.
What is truly amazing is that this experience of forgiveness and mercy from the Risen Lord moved and inspired his followers to do likewise. In the first reading, we hear about the wonders done by the apostles in the name of Christ out of mercy for those who are suffering. And through the service of the Church, this has continued on to this day in the world. Sinners receive God’s mercy and pardon through the sacrament of Confession in the Church. Countless hospitals, hospices, orphanages, schools, and various charitable institutions have been established by the Catholic Church as concrete expressions of the mercy of God for the poor and the underprivileged.
But as we look around us, the picture is not that encouraging. The news about the sexual abuses of children by some priests fills us with so much pain and sorrow, not only for the victims and their families, but also for the fact that such shameful acts directly contradict the Gospel of mercy. It is so sad to see Christians hurting one another, being caught up in the vicious circle of violence and vengeance, instead of reconciliation and peace. Indeed, selfishness has made us calloused and insensitive of the needs and pains of others. Our proud egos have made our hearts hard and unforgiving to people who wronged us. In short, we are so far from the Gospel values of love, mercy and forgiveness. Now, more than ever in the Church and in the world, we need mercy.
It is truly fitting, therefore, that the Church designated this second Sunday of Easter as the Feast of Divine Mercy. It is a great opportunity for us to reflect on God’s loving mercy for us and how we ought to respond to it.
The resurrection of Jesus is essentially linked to his great mercy; his victory is the fruit of his Passion. That is why in his appearances after his resurrection, Jesus showed his hands pierced by the nails, and his side torn open by the soldier’s lance and from which flowed out blood and water. He purposely did not erase these cruel wounds as concrete proofs of his great mercy for the entire humanity that won our victory over sin and death.
Pope John Paul II, in his homily in Rome during the canonization of St. Faustina on April 30, 2000 declared: “Jesus shows his hands and his side to the Apostles. He points, that is, to the wounds of the Passion, especially the wound in his heart, the source from which flows the great wave of mercy poured out on humanity.”
The ancient Jerusalem Catecheses puts it beautifully: “It was not we who actually died, were buried and rose again. We only did these things symbolically, but we have been saved in actual fact. It is Christ who was crucified, who was buried and who rose again, and all these have been attributed to us. We share in his sufferings symbolically and gain salvation in reality. What boundless love for men!” (Office of Readings, Thursday in the Octave of Easter).
And so we joyfully sing in the Responsorial Psalm: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.” In some translations it says, “For his mercy endures forever.” Love and mercy are one and the same. The other name for love is mercy, when it is directed towards sinners, the rejected and the unlovable. The word “mercy” comes from the Latin word “misericordia”, a combination of the words “miser” (poor, wretched) and “cordia” (“cor” means heart). Etymologically, it means having a heart for the poor and suffering, or better still, to have a heart willing to suffer for others. Mercy is what the world and the Church needs now more than ever. It is the only effective way to reconciliation, unity and peace.
A young man was coming out from Church after Easter Mass. The priest was at the door shaking the hands of his parishioners. Seeing the young man, he pulled him to the side and said: “Young man, you need to join the Army of the Lord!” The young man replied, “But Father, I am already in the Army of the Lord!” “But”, the priest insisted, “how come I don’t see you in Church except Christmas and Easter?” The lad whispered, “Father, I am in the Secret Service!”
As Christians, we are the light of the world. We are not supposed to be hidden. We ought to be seen and known as bearers of the light. In this world enveloped by the darkness of the culture of death, where materialism and egoism reign supreme, let us be shining examples of God’s love and mercy. Jesus said: “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt. 5:16).
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002