I led Divine Mercy devotions and celebrated Mass this afternoon at Sacred Heart Croatian Parish in Milwaukee. Here's what I said in my homily.
Divine Mercy Sunday is a celebration in response to a request from Jesus Himself. After His resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven, Jesus appeared from time to time on earth. The first such appearance was to Saul and it's recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. A millennium later, in 1210, He appeared to an eighteen year old woman, Blessed Juliana of Liege. He asked her to have a feast celebrated in honor of His Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, what we now celebrate as Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. Then, in 1673, Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary and revealed His Heart on fire with love for humanity. He asked that a feast of reparation for the ways in which humanity had ignored His love revealed in the Eucharist be celebrated on the Friday after Corpus Christi. In the 1930's Jesus appeared again to a Polish nun, St. Faustina, and after revealing that His greatest attribute was mercy, asked that the Sunday after Easter be celebrated as a feast in honor of Divine Mercy. He asked that an image of Himself be painted with the words "Jesus, I trust in You."
When Jesus appeared after His ascension into heaven His message was always one of merciful love. This is the mercy we see in today's Gospel when Jesus appeared to His disciples on the first Easter Sunday and then a week later. Jesus wants to be known and to be loved. To truly know Him means to love Him. The natural response to knowing one is deeply loved is to love in return.
People sometimes ask me: Doesn't devotion to Divine Mercy take away from devotion to the Sacred Heart? This question almost makes it sound like there's a competition between the Sacred Heart and Divine Mercy. The answer is "No." These are just different ways of expressing God's love. Devotion to Divine Mercy takes nothing away from devotion to the Sacred Heart. St. Faustina's Diary makes it clear that the two devotions are related. The mercy of Jesus is revealed through His Sacred Heart. The image He asked St. Faustina to have painted shows red and white rays, symbolic of the blood and water that flowed from His pierced Heart, emanating from His Heart. Just as devotion to the Sacred Heart takes nothing away from devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, but is a further expression of it, so too with Divine Mercy. In the Blessed Sacrament we meet the Risen Lord, touch His wounds, and sense the beating of His Heart, as Blessed Pope John Paul said in his Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum Domine. There, in His Eucharist Heart, we find mercy, divine mercy.
All these devotions have their origin in one devotion--God's devotion to us. God is devoted to humanity, so devoted that He was willing to share our life and our death, even to the point of a terrible death on a cross. God devoted to us and our devotion is simply a response to His.
Ultimately our response is not so much one of feeling but of action. When Jesus appeared to Saul He asked why he was persecuting Him. He asked Saul to stop this persecution and to be merciful to His followers. So too for us: the merciful love of Jesus calls us to acts of love, to works of mercy.
When Jesus appeared to His disciples He said "Peace be with you." Then He sent them to continue His work, saying, "As the Father has sent me so I send you." Jesus was sent to reconcile humanity to the Father. We are sent to carry on His work of reconciliation and healing. Jesus empowers His Church to carry on His work by breathing on the apostles the Holy Spirit. Here we see the Sacrament of Reconciliation. All of us, sharing in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, are called to carry on His work. We do that when, after confessing our sins, we do penance. We make reparation for our sins and the sins of the world. Our prayers and penances and sacrifices repair the damage of sin and bring healing and balance into the world. Only in this way will we have the community described in the first reading, when everyone held everything in common and prayed and broke bread together.
This is why prayers and sacrifices for the conversion of sinners are so important. They carry on the work of reconciliation that Jesus gave to the Church on that first Easter evening.
Why is conversion so important? Because it is the condition for mercy. After breathing the Spirit on His disciples Jesus said: "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." This almost sounds like there are conditions to mercy. Yet, God's love and mercy are infinite and unconditional. How is it that some sins are retained?
Freedom. Mercy, like love, cannot be forced. The only limit or condition on God's mercy is the one we put on it. God is always ready to forgive, but in order for true reconciliation to take place His mercy must be received. Forgiveness may be given but unless it is received, reconciliation does not take place. Mercy is offered but not accepted. In that case there is no reconciliation, no forgiveness, and the sins are "retained." Unless we recognize that we have sinned and need mercy, we cannot receive the mercy that God offers to us.
Therefore, we pray for conversion, for the recognition of sin, for sorrow for sin, and for the acceptance of God's mercy. Only then will we be truly free.
Jesus wants our freedom. He wants our love and our confidence in His love. He wants us to say to Him: "Jesus, I trust in You. Not in myself. Not in the stock market or the price of oil. Not in doctors and medications and cures for every illness. Not even in my family or my friends. You. Only in You, do I trust, Jesus. Why? Because You are mercy. You created us for heaven and your mercy is the only way, the only means by which we can attain this goal."
We will, as our second reading from the First Letter of Peter tells us, be tried and tested, just like Thomas. In that way our faith will be purified and strengthened. And through it all we rejoice because we have "an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven." We "rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy" because we are attaining the goal of our lives and our faith--heaven. And all this is possible because of Divine Mercy.