Acts 4:32-35, I Jn 5:1-6, Jn 20:19-31
A TIME magazine issue in 1984 presented a startling cover. It pictured a prison cell where two men sat on metal folding chairs. The young man wore a black turtleneck sweater, blue jeans and white running shoes. The older man was dressed in a white robe and had a white skullcap on his head. They sat facing one another, up close and personal. They spoke quietly so as to keep others from hearing the conversation. The young man was Mehmet Ali Agca, the pope’s attempted assassin; the other man was Pope John Paul II, the intended victim. The pope held the hand that had held the gun whose bullet tore into the pope’s body.
In the cell, unseen in the picture, were the pope’s secretary and two security agents, along with a still photographer and videographer. John Paul wanted this scene to be shown around a world filled with nuclear arsenals and unforgiving hatreds. The Church has always used paintings, sculpture and architecture to communicate spiritual meanings. This was a living icon of mercy.
The pope had been preaching forgiveness and reconciliation constantly. His deed with Ali Agca spoke a thousand words. John Paul’s forgiveness was deeply Christian. He embraced his enemy and pardoned him. At the end of their 20-minute meeting, Ali Agca raised the pope’s hand to his forehead as a sign of respect. John Paul shook Ali Agca’s hand tenderly.
When the pope left the cell he said, “What we talked about must remain a secret between us. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.” This is an example of God’s divine mercy, the same divine mercy whose message St. Faustina witnessed.
Dear friends! On the Second Sunday of Easter of the Jubilee Year 2000, at the Mass for the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska, Pope John Paul II proclaimed to the world that “from now on throughout the Church this Sunday will be called Divine Mercy Sunday.”
Today’s scripture readings are centered on the theme of mercy. In Psalm 118 we sing three times, “His mercy endures forever.” The Gospel, from John 20:19-31, begins with the risen Christ appearing to the apostles on Easter night. Jesus calms his disciples by saying and giving them “Peace.” He shows them the scars of his Passion, his wounded hands and side. His glorified body retains the evidence of his saving work through his suffering, death and resurrection.
He fills them with joy and again says to them—and produces in them—“Peace.” Then he breathes on them and explains what the divine breathing means with the words, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” He gives the apostles the power of God’s mercy for the sinner, the gift of forgiving sins from God’s treasury of mercy. The other texts speak of healing and give the assurance there is nothing to fear.
The news is filled with illustrations of mercy—or the need for mercy—in our world. One of the most moving stories came to us on October 6, 2006, when an armed man entered an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. He chased out the little boys and lined up the 10 little girls in front of the blackboard. He shot all of them and then killed himself. Five of the girls died. After the medics and police left, the families of the fallen came and carried their slain children home. They removed their bloody clothes and washed the bodies. In each home they emptied a room of furniture except for a table and chairs. They sat for a time and mourned their beloved children.
After a while they walked to the home of the man who killed their children. They told his widow they forgave her husband for what he had done, and they consoled her for the loss of her spouse. They buried their anger before they buried their children.
Amish Christians teach us that forgiveness is central. They believe in a real sense that God’s forgiveness depends on their extending forgiveness to other people. That’s what the mercy of God is all about.
The gospel command, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” demands that we show mercy to our fellow human beings always and everywhere. We radiate God’s mercy to others by our actions, our words, and our prayers. Let us remind ourselves repeated today that It is mainly through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that we practice mercy in our daily lives and become eligible for God’s merciful judgment.