We rushed to see the empty tomb when we heard. We huddled with the Apostles in the upper room, fearful about our future as we mourned. We stood speechless, our hearts beating wildly, as he passed through the closed doors and granted us peace. Our souls were burning with excitement as he proved to us that his glorified flesh was not illusory but true flesh indeed. He is Risen! Alleluia!
The Resurrection came through the cross. Our redemption was won through the shedding of his blood. The gates of Heaven are open to us because Christ conquered death and made new life possible. As his followers – his disciples – we are meant to live with this Easter joy all the days of our lives.
This year, we have a special reason for rejoicing. We were blessed by the canonizations of Popes Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II.
Saint John Paul II was a tremendous champion for Divine Mercy. Saint Faustina was beatified and canonized during his pontificate, and our celebration of Divine Mercy has its prominent place in the life of the Church because of him.
Mercy is essential to our faith, and Pope Francis has kept this message of mercy front and center during his pontificate. In his general audience of March 27, 2013, the Holy Father painted a vivid picture when discussing the parable of the prodigal son:
God always thinks with mercy: do not forget this. God always thinks mercifully. He is the merciful Father! God thinks like the father waiting for the son and goes to meet him; he spots him coming when he is still far off. What does this mean? That he went every day to see if his son was coming home: this is our merciful Father. It indicates that he was waiting for him with longing on the terrace of his house.
As Christians, we don’t believe in a God who stands idly by, but Our Father does all he can to connect with us, to find a piece of our heart that seeks redemption – even if only a sliver remains because of our choices and pain.
In the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, this theme is continued: “[W]henever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. . . . Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another ‘seventy times seven’ has given us his example. . . . No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew.”
How many abandon the faith because they feel unworthy? How many, perhaps some in our own homes, feel abandoned by the world and have lost a sense that God is ready to make them whole, to wash away the stain of sin and restore them to their place as a treasured daughter or son? God is relentless in seeking us out no matter our condition.
Even when we willingly accept God’s mercy, he does not desire for us to bask in its glow and then do nothing more. In the Gospel of St. Matthew, chapter 18:21-35, Jesus describes a king who decides to settle his accounts with his servants. Facing the loss of everything, a servant who owes him a large sum has his debt forgiven after pleading his case to the king. Even though he receives great mercy, that unfeeling figure turns around and deals harshly with another servant who owes the forgiven man a much smaller amount. He did not live out the mercy he himself received. Not surprisingly, the king severely punishes the servant when he learns of his lack of mercy.
Unlike this wicked man, our encounter with God’s mercy is meant to so fill us with his love that it flows out to every person we meet:
An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first, and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy.
Evangelii Gaudium, 24. We cannot be satisfied as a Church until every corner of the world has been filled with the joyous light of Christ. Until then we cannot rest! Christians who live this spirit will soon find that they are addicted – addicted to becoming channels of God’s mercy and love to the world.
This column has been adapted, in part, from a Lenten reflection on Pope Francis given by Mr. Rohlena on April 9, 2014. Also appeared in the Colorado Catholic Herald on May 2, 2014