The Shrine of Divine Mercy, “Jesus I Trust You” & Tomb of St. Maria Faustina, Łagiewniki, Poland.
Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:27-28.
Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.
It was on this remarkable occasion that Jesus was uniquely addressed as “My Lord and my God”, and this by someone who had questioned everything that had happened since the crucifixion of the Lord. For Thomas, this was nothing less than a paradigm shift, a moment when everything changed; total doubt was replaced with total belief. In a way, of course, he had no choice. Confronted by the very man he had denied existed, and it is hard not to have some sympathy with that position, there stood Jesus, very much alive, and still bearing the very marks by which he had died! Jesus’ reaction was not to scoff or ridicule Thomas’ doubt but to change the event into a teachable moment: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed”, namely all of us! And so, in some way, we have come upon the Lord’s mercy, a quality of the Lord strongly commemorated today.
My preferred definition of mercy is compassion on someone who does not deserve it, and it could be said that this scene is an example of it. Thomas was quite definite in his disbelief, stating “I will not believe” until he had personally put his finger into the nailmarks! When the Lord appeared before him, and invited him to do exactly that, Thomas was, not surprisingly, overwhelmed. Jesus did not scoff at him, make rough jokes about his attitude or behave in any other way, save mercifully. There is something deeply gentle about mercy. It is the opposite of pain; it is an acceptance of the person who has committed the unacceptable, thereby bringing peace not discord. It is, as they say, acceptance of the person, not the behavior. For some on the receiving end, this might alter their lives altogether, as it did with Thomas. It seems even the American Psychological Association, after conducting a monthlong study, came to support this ideal. “Acts of kindness” were deliberately shown to workers who were not deserving of such, and there was a “snowball effect” in that many of those on the receiving end began to be part of “virtuous circles” in their work environment. Another way to look at challenging situations where offensive or challenging behavior by certain people is seen as, perhaps, the best they can do or be. It might not be my best, but maybe it is theirs. Consequently a bit of compassion might go a long way, even though it is a massive challenge to the one being merciful. But who said mercy was easy?
St. Maria Faustina, the inspiration behind Divine Mercy Sunday, a nun of the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, stated that in a private conversation with Jesus, the Lord said “My mercy is greater than your sins, and those of the entire world”. In fact, she stated that Jesus said that mercy was the greatest attribute of God! That caused a bit of a crisis, until it was discovered that the same claim had been made by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Well, a case can be made that mercy springs directly from love, and God is the God of Love, and hence mercy is the direct consequence. It means no one is beyond the mercy of God. It was in one of those revelatory conversations with Jesus that St. Maria Faustina heard that Divine Mercy should be celebrated on the Sunday after Easter. Easter rejoices in the triumph of life over death, of grace over sin.
On this first Sunday after Easter it is as if the Lord is calling us to initiate this reality into action. Mercy is therefore a major step that we can all take in looking for opportunities we may have in putting the strength of mercy into use. We can look into our relationships seeking those who might benefit from the quality of mercy: those we have avoided; those we have little time for; those who have nothing good to say. You know what I mean. The next time we encounter them, we are Christ to the world, facing Thomas who has denied us. What would Jesus do?? The image of the Divine Mercy reveals two outpourings, red and bluish white, representing blood and water. You will recall that is what happened when Jesus on the cross was pierced by a lance. For us, our sin was washed away with water and the life blood of the Savior offers us eternal life and happiness.
The Original Painting of the Divine Mercy, Kazimierowski 1934, Shrine of Divine Mercy, Vilnius, Lithuania.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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