Ever since this day, 17 years ago, this Sunday has been known as Divine Mercy Sunday.  Pope St. John Paul II declared the Sunday after Easter to be celebrated in this way when, in April of the year 2000, he canonized a Polish nun by the name of St. Faustina, making her the very first saint of the third millennium.

St. Faustina was living in a convent in Poland in the year 1935.  It was not a good time for the Polish people.  They were in between two World Wars, and the country of Poland had been the main battleground between Germany and Russia.  They didn’t even have a sovereign nation of their own.  It was in this context that God spoke to this humble nun and gave her a message to deliver to the entire world.  This message was one of mercy.

Over the course of the next several months and years, St. Faustina kept a diary of the things that God would say to her in prayer.  In her dreams, God asked her to write down this prayer: “Eternal Father, I offer you the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.  For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us.”

But that’s only the beginning.  Sister Faustina also saw in her dream the image of Jesus walking towards her, extending his hand in blessing, with rays of red and white light emanating from his Sacred Heart.  Under Jesus was a scroll with the words, “Jezu, Ufam Tobie,” or “Jesus, I trust in you.”  Sister Faustina then commissioned an artist to paint, in careful detail, this image she had seen in her dream.  And this is the Image of Divine Mercy we see before us at this altar.

Jesus steps gently forward, coming towards the viewer to offer his mercy.  The rays of light coming from Jesus signify the blood and water that flowed from the side of Christ on the cross.

Last Saturday I spoke about the symbolism of the blood and water flowing from the side of Christ.  The water—a symbol of baptism.  The blood—the Holy Eucharist.  As we all know, it is thru baptism and the Eucharist that new members are born into the Church.  Thus, the Church is born from the side of Christ, just like Eve was born from the side of Adam.[1]

This image should be burned into our memory as we continue our celebration of Easter, for it is by Christ’s atoning death on the cross and the sacraments that he gave to his Church that we gain access to God’s mercy.

Now on to today’s Gospel…

I’ve already spoken about Thomas, called Didymus, and how he was present for the raising of Lazarus, but now has a hard time believing in Christ risen from the dead.  So I want to focus on a different theme today.

What I think is remarkable about this particular gospel, and that which is most pertinent to the celebration of Divine Mercy, is the first third of the passage.  You see, this is the first appearance of the Risen Lord to the Apostles.  Up to now, they had only heard from the women who saw the empty tomb and then encountered the Risen Lord on the way to tell everyone.  The ten Apostles in the room rejoiced!

It’s significant that this is their first meeting with the Risen Lord.  Because what is the very first thing Jesus does for his Apostles after rising from the tomb?  He gives them the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins!

By the gift of the Holy Spirit, he breathes life into his Church, just like in Genesis the Father breathed into Adam’s nostrils and gave him life.[2]  So now, Christ gives breathes life into his Church.

And by the authority to forgive sins, Christ institutes the Sacrament of Penance.  He gives them the ability to forgive in the name of God Almighty!  What a gift!  I wonder, though, if we recognize what a gift this is.

Consider that, when Christ was still walking around on Earth before his Passion, he was going all around healing people on the Sabbath, forgiving people in the name of God, and presenting himself as the Son of God.  For the Jews, all of these actions were extremely blasphemous.  We take it for granted because we believe Jesus was the Son of God, but for them, no one could forgive sins but God himself.  And here is this man, Jesus, presuming to forgive in God’s name.  Blasphemy!  That’s why they conspired to kill him.

But Jesus really is the Son of God, and he proved it by rising from the dead.  And what’s more, he now gives his authority to forgive sins to his chosen ministers—to the Apostles, to their successors, the bishops, and to those who the bishop ordains, his priests.  All too often today, we make ourselves our own judge and jury.  We presume upon the mercy of God instead of asking for mercy.  We avoid the confessional for years on end.

In seminary, I would meet beggars on the street all the time.  I want to tell you about two of them.   The first I met outside the church of St. Lawrence.  He asked for money for food, but when I offered him food, he couldn’t receive it.  He assumed I would have mercy on him, but he wanted mercy on his terms.  In the end, he was unable to receive an act of mercy.

Then there was another beggar named Luminizia who I would see just about every day on the bridge.  She asked for food, and was grateful to receive just enough to feed her kids for the day.  She didn’t abuse the generosity of the donor.  She was able to receive mercy.

For me, these two beggars were like the two thieves on the cross next to Jesus.  One of them mocks Jesus while the other begs forgiveness.  One is hard of heart, resentful and stubborn, while the other is contrite, and so is able to receive mercy.  They were both guilty of the same crime, and they both deserved the punishment they received.  But because of his contrition, the repentant thief was absolved by Jesus.

Christ desires so much for us to be reconciled with the Father.  This is the whole reason he came to Earth and dwelled among us.  This is his mission—to heal the divide between God and man.  To offer us Divine Mercy.

That’s the message with which St. Faustina was charged to deliver to the world.  We, who are in need of God’s mercy, must make frequent use of the sacrament of Penance, and pray for mercy upon the whole world.

I encourage you, today, to take ten minutes to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  If you don’t know how, there are some pamphlets and prayer cards on the back table, or you can always look it up online.

I close today with a quote from St. Faustina’s journal: “Let souls who are striving for perfection particularly adore my mercy, because the abundance of graces which I grant them flows from my mercy.  There is no misery that could be a match for my mercy.”

[1] Genesis 2:22

[2] Genesis 2:7