An Easter Season Reflection on Divine Mercy
“The simplest and most practical lesson I know… is to resolve to be good today, but better tomorrow.”
The Octave of Easter is a continuation of Easter day liturgically. In the liturgical readings that week, we read again and again of the encounter of the Risen Lord Jesus, present in his glorified body, with those whom he had known in his earthly body. And we see that there is continuity and discontinuity between the glorified body of the Lord Jesus and that of his earthly body. His disciples, his apostles, those who knew him well, at first do not recognize him. They seem to recognize him through faith — and, indeed they are called to faith, but it seems always at the initiative of the Risen Lord Jesus.
Indeed, it is the encounter with the Lord Jesus who, through his word and actions, is made known.
He is made known through his word, because he is the Word through whom all things were made. We see this in his encounter with the Magdalene that we read about in Tuesday of the Octave of Easter’s Gospel — he calls her name “Mary” and she recognizes him.
He is also made known through his actions. Recall, for instance, the breaking of the bread with the disciples whom he met on the road to Emmaus, as we read in Wednesday of the Octave of Easter.
On Thursday of the Octave of Easter, the rubber hits the road, if you will. The Lord Jesus encounters those who knew him best — the Apostles. Imagine what it must have been like for the Apostles. Just imagine what it would have been like for them, hiding in that room in the days after the passion, the death, and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. The reports were coming in from Mary Magdalene, the apostle to the Apostles, that the Lord was risen, truly risen.
Certainly the Apostles were overjoyed with this news. But I’d bet that, mixed in with that joy, there was also a certain amount of fear, a little bit of apprehension. After all, what would Jesus say to them? I mean, each of the Apostles, in their own ways, betrayed Jesus. It wasn’t just Judas, who sold the Lord out and then despaired. It wasn’t just Peter, who explicitly denied even knowing the Lord Jesus three times. Every single one of them failed Jesus. In his hour of need, when he asked them to watch and pray with him was he underwent his agony in the garden, they couldn’t even do that; they fell asleep. When the Lord was about to be taken away by the guards, they all scattered, like frightened children. In his passion on the Cross, only John the Beloved and the women, his Blessed Mother and the Magdalene remained.
Three long years, they were with Jesus. The Word made flesh imparted to them the words of eternal life. These first priests of the New Covenant gathered with him in the Cenacle and were the first to receive the bread of life and chalice of salvation. And still, they failed. They ran. And now Jesus was back.
What would he do when he met them? Would he have righteous indignation? He had every right to say, “You all left me; You all abandoned me; How dare you?” And yet, when the Lord Jesus appears, he says four little words. When he stands in their midst, he says four very different words than what I would have said to these guys. Jesus, meek and just and humble of heart, stands there in his glorified body and says four little words: Peace be with you.
He says this, for he is in their midst and he himself is peace. Jesus says this because he is the Divine Mercy. Mark’s Gospel tells us a little more bluntly, “He rebuked them for their lack of faith and for the hardness of heart in not believing those to whom he had appeared.” But the Evangelists say absolutely nothing about any words of rebuke that the Lord Jesus could have said to Peter and the others about their abandonment of him. He forgives them.
The Lord’s gift to us is his peace. It is part and parcel of the very nature of God as the Divine Mercy. Mercy has become quite the catchphrase today. God bless the daughters of Venerable Catherine McAuley, the Religious Sisters of Mercy, who were into mercy before it became hip and cool.
Did you ever notice the cross that’s worn by the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan? The mercy cross is a simple cross, made of black wood, on a simple black cord. In the center of the cross, in the midst of the black, is a smaller white cross. When I asked one of the sisters to explain it to me, she mentioned that the white represents God’s mercy in the midst of the black, which signifies the misery of humanity. The mercy of God in the midst of humanity’s misery — that is the place that the Lord Jesus who is mercy made flesh is, and no more so than when he appears in his gloriously risen body.
What then is mercy? Mercy is the ability to see all with the eyes of Christ. It is recognizing that all of us are creatures in the loving hand of the Creator; it is recognizing the need in each and every one of us for the loving embrace of God. In Hebrew, a word that corresponds to mercy is hesed, God’s loving kindness, his faithfulness. It is part of God’s very nature and it is the foundation of the covenant. When we show mercy to others, we participate in the very life of God. Seeing with the eyes of mercy means to give practical assistance to all those in need.
The Lord’s gift is peace. It is mercy — divine mercy. How can we show mercy to all those whom we encounter? How can we, each in our own vocations (clergy, religious, laity) and states in life (clerical, consecrated, married or single) be the mercy of God in the misery of mankind? We can start by examining ourselves, freeing ourselves from any and all grudges, past hurts and resentments. This is not an easy process and, indeed, might not even be possible.
Can we recognize that we have been hurt by others, and that we may have been carrying around the hurt for years? Can we address it with the ones who have hurt us, if possible, or at least acknowledging it to ourselves if it’s not possible?
Can we acknowledge that we have hurt others — inadvertently perhaps, but hurt nonetheless — and deal with the fact that we need mercy and forgiveness too?
Four little words: “Peace be with you.” Venerable Catherine McAuley writes: “The simplest and most practical lesson I know… is to resolve to be good today, but better tomorrow. Let us take one day only in hands, at a time, merely making a resolve for tomorrow, thus we may hope to get on taking short, careful steps, not great strides.” Continue to take those short, careful steps, practically seeing Christ and then being Christ to one another. This is the way of mercy.