Almost twenty years ago, St. John Paul II designated the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. He did this to help deepen Catholic awareness and appreciation of the gift of God’s mercy. In instituting Divine mercy Sunday, the Holy Father also showed the connection between the resurrection and mercy. In order to understand Easter and the resurrection we have to embrace forgiveness.
There is not a single person in who doesn’t want mercy. It's something we've all experienced and even begged for at one time or another. Kids, you know how much you shoot for mercy when you’re grounded. For whatever reason your parents tell you that the car, the xbox, the computer, the phone, or TV are off limits. Naturally, when you are grounded these are some of the things that you want to do the most. Which one of you doesn’t ask “Mom, please, can’t I just watch my favorite show?” or “Dad, I know I am grounded but all of my friends are going out tonight and they asked me to go with them?”
Those of us who drive know the horrible feeling when we look in the mirror and see a police car behind us with the lights on. The feeling of dread and doom as the officer approaches often turns into a plea for mercy and forgiveness. “Officer, I did not realize how fast I was going,”, "I didn't see that stop sign", or “I thought the light was still yellow.”
Many of us might also know how the desire for mercy springs up after flunking a test. We suddenly find ourselves asking the teacher for a chance to retake the test, earn extra credit, or be graded on a curve. This is especially true when we feel like it wasn't our fault; maybe we had a game the night before, we were sick, or the teacher asked unreasonable questions.
In each of these cases, we desire mercy; we want a break even if we don’t technically deserve one. And often people go easy on us. Any one who has driven away after being pulled over with a mere warning knows how good mercy feels. The same could be said for those cases when a teacher grades a test mercifully or our parents ease up on us when we are grounded.
I vividly remember one of my first experiences of mercy. I was a mere lad of 6 or seven and while I was playing outside, I broke our neighbor’s window. I was devastated. I had no money to pay for the window and there was no way to fix it either. I ran into the house distraught and told my mom; then I waited for the police to show up. I figured jail was the only way I could pay the penalty for breaking a window. A short while later my mom came and told me that I was not going to jail. Our neighbor told me not to worry about the broken window at all and he was not angry about it. Let me tell you, this small act of mercy took the weight of the world off my shoulders.
Of course, these examples of mercy are only a taste of the mercy God has for us. Our mercy towards each other is shown by words and actions. God’s mercy is so powerful it actually became a person: Jesus Christ. Jesus is the mercy of God who came to save us from sin and death. He did not have to become man, suffer, and die. He had no sin; but he suffered and died because of his merciful love for us.
As Christians, the celebration of the Easter resurrection is inseparable from mercy. In the resurrection of Christ, God’s mercy is fulfilled; sin and death are defeated forever. The message of Divine Mercy Sunday is that God is offering each of us the freedom over sin and death. Just as he opened his arms on the cross, Christ waits with open arms to give you and me mercy. But he will not force it on us; we have to meet him halfway.
Do we take advantage of opportunities to receive mercy? As Catholics, we have the wonderful sacrament of reconciliation, where God wipes away our sins. Do we go and encounter Christ in this sacrament of forgiveness or do we put it off month after month and year after year? Don’t wait any longer!! Christ wants to heal you if you just approach him!! We can’t fully appreciate and understand the joy of the resurrection if we are not receiving God’s mercy on a regular basis.
But mercy is not simply about receiving; it must also be given. Think of it as a two-way street; in the gospel, Jesus reminds us we will be forgiven to the extent that we forgive others. Some of us have people in our lives who are waiting for our unconditional forgiveness. Some of us might be withholding mercy because of grudges, past hurts, or pride. We cannot become people of the resurrection until we show mercy to all those in our lives: friends and enemies, those we enjoy being with and those people who drive us crazy. Our lives must become a continual cycle of giving and receiving mercy over and over and over until it becomes part of who we are.
Living mercifully is difficult and we will need God's help to do it properly. When we step out of church we will be faced with opportunities to give and receive mercy. For some of us this challenge may seem overwhelming. There might be many things we have to do in order to become merciful. Let’s resolve to start with small things, perhaps a kind word when we are losing our patience, a compliment to someone we don’t necessarily care for, or letting someone go before us in line. If we commit ourselves to the practice of mercy every day then we will truly understand the joy of Easter and the meaning of the resurrection. May we reflect Divine Mercy to everyone we encounter this week, knowing that God will repay it many times over in forgiving the wrongs we have done.