On the feast of Divine Mercy, we let God define us
April 16, 2020
By ARCHBISHOP GEORGE J. LUCAS
In addition to not being able to celebrate the Easter Vigil with a congregation this year, I also missed the privilege of baptizing the catechumens – now called the elect – who have been preparing for initiation into the Catholic Church. In most of our parishes, we will celebrate these baptisms when we are able to come back together in our churches.
Since the earliest days of the church, Easter has been a particularly appropriate time to celebrate the baptism of new members. In the waters of baptism, these neophytes die to the old life of sin and are reborn into the life of grace. The dying and rising of Jesus is made effective in them in a personal and powerful way. They have moved from darkness into light, from being outcasts to adopted sons and daughters of God, full members of the household of faith.
It is customary for those of us who already enjoy membership in the church to renew our baptismal rejection of evil and our profession of the Christian faith at Easter. Perhaps you were able to do that at home as you watched the celebration of Easter Mass electronically. If not, I encourage you to do this sometime in the Easter season. It is done with a series of questions on Easter Sunday, and if you don’t have access to these, reciting the creed will do just fine.
When we reflect on the powerful events celebrated at Holy Week and Easter, as well as the effects of those events in our own lives, we cannot help being overwhelmed by the mercy of God. The Sunday after Easter has been designated Divine Mercy Sunday. We hear again the invitation to open ourselves to the love of God in Jesus Christ which is available at every moment to heal and reconcile us.
Pope Francis reminds us that Jesus is the face of God’s mercy, the personification of mercy. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the plan of God becomes clear. Even though we deserve to die in our sins (and be dead forever), God has intervened in human history and in our own lives to save us. God does this not through a mechanism or a series of tasks on our part, but rather in the person of Jesus. When we let Jesus into our lives, we experience the healing of God’s mercy and the freedom to live as God’s children.
The death and resurrection of Jesus show both the depth of God’s love for us in our sinfulness, and the power of God to free us from sin. Those saving events happened only once. The church has been established so that we can encounter the crucified and risen Jesus in our time and experience divine mercy now, when we need it.
The saving waters of baptism are a powerful sign of God’s mercy as we are incorporated into the church, the living Body of Christ. We are children of Adam and Eve, but God has not turned his back on us. He claims us as his own and promises us an eternal inheritance in Christ. When we die, the same symbols – water, the white garment and the paschal candle – are used in the funeral liturgy. We recall God’s promise at baptism and we ask God’s mercy now for the fulfillment of the promise for the brother or sister who has died.
Between baptism and death, the mercy of God flows freely through the church’s sacraments. In the Eucharist, in a particular way, we encounter the merciful Lord. He invites us into a profound communion with him; he strengthens the bonds of communion among us in the church. Jesus knows us, and he wants to be close to us anyway. We receive Communion, not as a prize for being good; rather it is a source of strength for us in our weakness. We try to be as well-disposed as we can be, but we are never worthy, as we say each time we prepare to receive the Lord. The privilege of sharing in the Eucharist is always a gift of God’s mercy.
Another sacrament that we count on to sustain us along the way is the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. That we have this opportunity for forgiveness and grace is a potent sign of God’s ongoing mercy. We admit to our sorrow that after God claims us as his daughters and sons in baptism, we have traded that dignity for momentary willfulness or pleasure. Our sins hurt us and our relationship with God, and they usually harm others in the process. The devil tempts us to give up on ourselves, but God in his mercy never gives up on us.
I have a vivid memory of my first confession in 1956. I have long ago lost count of the many times I have gone to confession since, to reclaim my baptismal dignity. I continue to learn, despite much evidence to the contrary, that I am not the sum of my faults. This is the powerful gift of Divine Mercy: We are not to be defined by our faults.
On the feast of Divine Mercy, we once again let God define us. We let God have his loving way and are reconciled to him and the church. It will be an unusual celebration, as all of our feasts have been this season. It has not been so easy to celebrate the sacrament of penance recently. But don’t worry, God’s mercy is more powerful than COVID-19, and it is being offered freely in the church during the pandemic, as Pope Francis has assured us.
Some are able to get to confession these days, but many are not. On Divine Mercy Sunday, resolve to celebrate the sacrament when you can, ask God for the gift of mercy now and be confident. God who has given his Son for our salvation is not going to let a virus come between him and his sons and daughters.
Peace to you in the risen Christ.