Divine Mercy sums up the story of Lent, Easter Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Tuesday, May. 03, 2011 -- 9:38 AM
Under the Gospel Book by Bishop Robert C. Morlino
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

This past Sunday was a wonderful celebration in so many ways. And the Gospel from Sunday — the second Sunday of Easter — was simply spectacular.

In John 20:19-31 we see Jesus appearing to the Apostles in His risen body and using the greeting, “Peace be with you.” The peace Jesus means, of course, is the peace of heaven — that “Shalom,” that total well being, which is part of heavenly joy and heavenly rest. The peace that Jesus means is the peace of heaven itself.

Jesus died so that sins may be forgiven

And what does Jesus say after that? “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” An essential part of the heavenly peace and joy, and the whole point of Jesus’ death and resurrection, is the forgiveness of sins! Jesus’ body was broken and His blood was poured out so that sins might be forgiven, so that there might be mercy. Essential to the heavenly “Shalom,” contained in Jesus’ greeting, is that His mercy is poured out upon us, that sins are forgiven.

 

It’s largely with this Scripture passage in the background that the liturgical tradition developed wherein the bishop greets the people, in the name of Christ, saying, “Peace be with you!” That greeting is reserved to the bishop because, in the person of Christ, the bishop also gets to say to his priests at ordination, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” The bishop, as a successor of the Apostles, is privileged to hand on that great power of the endless mercy of God which takes concrete form in the Sacrament of Penance and in the forgiveness of sins.

 

The core of sin manifest in Thomas

There is a wealth in even the first few lines of this past Sunday’s passage from John’s Gospel. I’ll touch on just one other point, which is, what is the core of sin? Through John’s telling of the story in this Sunday’s Gospel we see an example of the core of sin manifest in Thomas.

Thomas says, basically, “unless these conditions are fulfilled, I will not believe!” Somehow the Word of God is not quite good enough for Thomas at that moment. “Fulfill these conditions, God,” he says, “and then I’ll believe.” At that moment, Thomas is trying to place himself in charge and he isn’t focused on the fact that faith is a free gift. Faith for Thomas is something that he will accept, when he’s ready, depending on the fulfillment of certain conditions.

St. Paul says, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Rm 14:23),” and gives us a very clear definition of the core of sin. We see that core of sin brought to life in the story of “doubting Thomas” (who became a great saint, a great believer, a great missionary!).

So, this past Sunday we learned about the peace of Christ and what that means, we learned that an essential element of that peace is the experience of the Mercy of God in the Sacrament of Penance, and we learned that the core of sin is, in fact, placing my own conditions for offering a faith response.

Importance of Divine Mercy Sunday

It should be very clear, then, why this past Sunday was also Divine Mercy Sunday. The Sacrament of Penance is all about mercy. We find mercy, day-by-day and step-by-step, in the Sacrament of Penance, given to us as essential to that heavenly peace that Christ wants us to have. Divine Mercy is not somehow a distraction from the Second Sunday of Easter. No, Divine Mercy sums up the whole story of Lent and Easter.

Through Lent, Holy Week, and Easter we celebrate Mercy all along, and on the last day of the Easter Octave, that notion is brought to the fore. All of us have desperate need of that mercy. A devotion to the Divine Mercy is not some sort of unique devotion to this or that area or to this or that parish. It is an essential devotion based on the very core of our faith, for the Universal Church, and it needs to spread through our parishes, and with God’s help, it will.

Blessed John Paul and Mercy

And, of course, the one who brought the Universal Church to understand the need for the devotion to Divine Mercy, was Pope John Paul the Great, who was named “Blessed” also on this past Sunday. Blessed John Paul the Great’s second Encyclical Letter was all about the mercy of God the Father, the need to live out the receiving and giving of mercy as a guide for our whole journey as followers of Jesus Christ.

Mercy was what it was all about for Blessed Pope John Paul. He was not playing politics when he worked together with President Reagan to bring about the collapse of Communism in a non-violent way. Pope John Paul knew from his own experience that those people under Communist rule had seen no mercy in 40 years, and if ever there needed to be an outpouring of mercy, it was in the world of those oppressed — particularly by Communist regimes. The Holy Father wasn’t playing politics — he was the generous minister of the superabundant mercy of Jesus Christ. He lived for that, he died for that, he is Blessed today, for that.

So as we pray today for the Divine Mercy to help us in ways that we need so much, let us also beg the intercession of Blessed Pope John Paul, that we may truly find for ourselves the way of life that receives and gives mercy as our highest priority.

Heart of Jesus, Font of endless mercy, have mercy on us! Blessed Pope John Paul, pray for us! Praised be Jesus Christ! He is Risen! Alleluia!