On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:19-20)
This second Sunday of Easter we celebrate the feast of the Divine Mercy. This year it is a particularly special day for us Catholics as Pope Francis canonizes two of his predecessors, Sts. Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. Early reports indicate that the festivities in Rome will bring record numbers of pilgrims to the Eternal City. Some estimate that this will be the largest gathering of Christians in one place ever! In commemoration of these historic canonizations, this week I will reflect on Pope John Paul II’s legacy with regard to today’s feast, and later this month, I will consider the legacy of Pope John XXIII in light of the Easter season.
Since preaching and teaching the great mercy of God was one of his favorite and foundational themes, Pope John Paul II has been called the “Divine Mercy Pope.” In Christ’s revelations to the Polish mystic and nun, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, Pope John Paul II discovered the great motto which is at the heart of the gospel: “Jesus I Trust in You.” In his encyclical specifically written on God’s mercy, he reveals the power and personal affection for this devotion: “The Message of divine mercy has always been near and dear to me…one which I took with me to the See of Peter and which it in a sense forms the image of this Pontificate.” In his writings and homilies, he describes God’s mercy as “the answer to the world’s problems;” for when we entrust our cares, anxieties and sorrow to the divine mercy, trust is formed. We are familiar with the famous first words of the Pope John Paul II as he echoed Christ’s greeting to the apostles: “Do not be afraid.” Yet fear is not easily overcome, for the forces of fear in our live can be plentiful. We fear the loss of loved ones, the loss of employment, the loss of security and admiration. Such fears can paralyze. In the face of such fears, Pope John Paul II reminds us “…mercy is Christ’s great response to fear.” He is a God who forgives and when we experience his mercy, trust grows in our heart. It is trust which extinguishes the fires of fear. The generosity of God’s mercy gives us the confidence to overcome our fear and trust in Him.
On 3 April 2000, Pope John Paul II beatified and canonized Sr. Faustina Kowalska in Rome, and not in her native Poland, to underscore that Divine Mercy is for the whole world. Moreover, he took the occasion to surprise the Catholic world by establishing Divine Mercy Sunday (the feast day we celebrate today) as a feast day for the entire Church. At the end of his homily, he delightful remarked, “This is the happiest day of my life.” Providentially, Pope John Paul II died on the Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday (the evening before the feast day), five years after inaugurating this feast of mercy. It is not surprising that, before he died, the Great Mercy Pope left us a message for Divine Mercy Sunday, which was read after the Mass that had been celebrated for the repose of his soul: “There is nothing more man needs than Divine Mercy – that love which is benevolent, which is compassionate, which raises man above his weakness to the infinite heights to the holiness of God. Those who sincerely say ‘Jesus, I trust in You’ will find comfort in all their anxieties and fears.” In this Easter season, let us call down the full abundance of Lord’s mercy on ourselves, our families and our community that we might always trust in his care and providence.