Faith, Mercy and Our Relationship With Christ

User’s Guide to Sunday, April 19: Divine Mercy Sunday

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Sunday, April 19, is the Second Sunday of Easter/Sunday of Divine Mercy. Mass readings: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 30: 2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13; 1 Peter 1:3-9; and John 20:19-31.

Today we celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter, which, after St. John Paul II’s proclamation in the year 2000 —  20 years ago — has come to be known in the universal Church as Divine Mercy Sunday.

As the last day of the octave of Easter (the eight days that we take to observe this most holy celebration of the Lord’s resurrection), this day serves as a continuation and completion of our celebration of Easter Sunday. It is fitting that this celebration should focus upon the reality of God’s mercy so strongly, for there is perhaps no better display of Divine Mercy than Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

Not only did the Second Person of the Trinity take on human flesh, suffer and die for humankind, but he also appeared after his resurrection in order to strengthen the still-weak faith of his people. Instead of ascending immediately to the right hand of the Father, Christ continued to display his merciful solicitude for his followers. How, precisely, is this a display of God’s mercy? We might turn to St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the Church’s preeminent theologians, for an answer. In his Summa Theologiae, Aquinas explains that where God seeks to bestow perfections upon people in order to expel defects within them, it belongs to his mercy (ST, I.21.3, corp.). Now, although the apostles had viewed the empty tomb and began to believe (John 20:1-9), the faith of the nascent Church was still imperfect. On the one hand, the apostles were still living in fear and were somewhat uncertain about what the empty tomb meant, and on the other hand, there were some among them — most notably Thomas — who professed a kind of active resistance to believing in the Resurrection (John 20:24-25). It was this defect of faith that Christ sought to dispel, and his interactions with his followers after his resurrection comprise a demonstration of his enduring mercy.

The Gospel reading today depicts for us the personal way that Christ dispelled this defect of unbelief. As the Evangelist describes the Resurrection appearances in the Upper Room, Christ is very intentional about appearing to all of the apostles. The first time that he appears before them, Thomas is not present, and as a result he apparently does not receive the same gift of faith through the Holy Spirit as the others did (John 20:21-23). Now, had Christ left it there, the other apostles would certainly have spread the news of the Resurrection, and the Gospels would have still been written.

However, Thomas’ defect of faith would not have been remedied. Thus, Christ makes a second appearance in the Upper Room for his sake, and this teaches us a lesson about the deeply personal nature of Christ’s merciful love for each of us.

Christ did not save us as a faceless mass of humanity, nor did he give his Church the gift of faith as an impersonal global institution. Rather, Christ’s gift of faith and bestowal of merciful love are given through a personal relationship with him to each member of the Church. Although we might not receive these gifts in precisely the same mode as the apostles did — for we receive them through the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, not directly through an interaction with the Resurrected Christ — we do receive the same gift of faith and the same merciful love that dispels any weakness in our faith. Therefore, we, like the apostles, are enabled by the mercy of Christ to enter into an ever-deeper relationship with our God.

Dominican Father Jordan Schmidt is an instructor in sacred Scripture  at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception

at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.