The second Sunday of Easter has been celebrated as the feast of Divine Mercy since the canonization of Rev. Sister Faustina in 2000 by Pope John Paul II. She was a powerful advocate of divine mercy and her mission was to spread the message of the goodness and the mercy of God to the world: “Jesus is merciful, he is the son of God, and he is the God of mercy.” The readings for this Sunday discuss God’s mercy, the necessity for trusting Faith and the need for the forgiveness of sins. A year ago our Holy Father, Pope Francis, announced “The Year of Mercy.” Though the Year of Mercy is over, the Church invites us to continue to celebrate God’s mercy and become agents of mercy in our everyday lives.
The first reading, taken from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, describes the faith of the early Christians and their relationships with God which resulted in caring for others. In this short reading we see four important elements: the teaching of the apostles, the communal life, the breaking of the bread, and the prayer. The reading describes how the community continued to grow even after Peter and John had been ordered by the leaders in Jerusalem to stop preaching in Jesus’ name. Although they had been ordered not to preach, they boldly bore witness to the Resurrection of Jesus. Nothing could stop them from preaching the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus, but at the same time they continued to care for others, especially the poor. Because of their care for the poor, the reading says, there was no needy person among them.
In the second reading, Saint John addresses the community and calls them as his “beloved.” For John, one’s faith and loving actions result in our becoming children of God. John placed particular emphasis on faith, because he wanted people to know and understand the truth of the Resurrection. To be a believer means keeping the commandments, adhering to the Christian teachings, to understand and to be faithful to God’s revelation in Jesus, His beloved Son. John further says that belief in Jesus as Son of God leads us to victory over sin and darkness.
The Gospel reading describes the fear of the apostles after the death of Jesus. When Jesus died, the disciples became faithless and disappointed and went into hiding. Recognizing their fear and genuine love for the Lord, Jesus appears to them and offers them peace; not condemnation nor punishment, but peace. Thomas, in his uncompromising honesty, demanded a personal vision of Jesus, and physical contact with the risen Jesus as a condition for his belief. Thomas had not been with the apostles when Jesus first appeared to them. As a result, he refused to believe until he verified Jesus’ resurrection with his own eyes. This, however, should serve as a warning to us. It is difficult to believe when we do not have a personal relationship with the Lord and do not strengthen ourselves with the fellowship of other believers. When the Lord appeared to the apostles later, He said: “Blessed are those who have not seen but have believed.” Thomas was able to overcome his doubts by seeing the risen Jesus. We may not be able to see Jesus like Thomas, so how do we profess our faith? Paul has advice for us. He says, “Faith comes from hearing” (Rom. 10:17). We are very fortunate today as we have many more opportunities to hear and experience the good news about Jesus than the early Christians did.
Having strengthened their faith, Jesus gives the apostles an important responsibility: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” The healing ministry of the Church reminds us of God’s care for us and His mercy, in spite of our weaknesses. Let us ask God our Father to open our hearts so that we may receive His Mercy and the gift of faith.
Faith enables us to see the Risen Lord in everyone and gives us the willingness to render to each other our loving service, just as the early Christians did. One significant way the Church celebrates God’s mercy throughout the year is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. According to Saint Teresa of Calcutta, a practical way of growing in faith is prayer. She says, “If we pray, we will believe; if we believe, we will love; if we love, we will serve. Only then we put our love of God into action.”