Editor's Note: This column has been updated since it went to press.
Sunday, April 12, is the Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday (Year B).
Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31
To understand the power of Divine Mercy Sunday, we have to understand the tragedy of sin in our lives. After all, if sin is not a big deal, then neither is mercy.
When we sin, we offend God. When he has mercy on us, he does not simply shrug his shoulders and say, “Forget about it.” Justice must be paid — and Jesus Christ paid it.
It is easy to see why justice must be paid if we look at notorious sinners. We cannot imagine Adolf Hitler or Osama bin Laden coming before God only to be greeted with, “Don’t worry about it.”
But the same is true of all sin.
When someone harms us, we see very clearly the injustice of it. When someone takes what is ours, we don’t want them to just say, “Sorry,” we want them to give it back. This is how our health-insurance companies, the Internal Revenue Service and our employers work. What is owed must be paid; what we have earned we expect to receive.
By analogy, in our relationship with God, everything we have is a gift from him; we owe it all back. If we use our possessions, our talents and our will to insult him or to place ourselves as a higher priority than him, or serve the will of the devil instead of God’s will, our infractions cannot simply be shrugged off.
What is owed must be paid.
The beauty and joy of Divine Mercy Sunday is only made possible by the horror and sorrow of Good Friday.
When Jesus stood before the high priests and Pilate, he did not defend himself. He could not defend himself — because he made himself guilty of our sins.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes St. Francis of Assisi to explain who killed Christ: “We must regard as guilty all those who continue to relapse into their sins. Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for he is in them) and hold him up to contempt” (598).
“Demons did not crucify him,” said St. Francis. “It is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.”
Today, being grateful for Divine Mercy, we should thank Jesus for not overlooking our misdeeds.
Thank him for standing in our place to pay what we owed. Thank him for taking on a crushing burden so great that it made him sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, and cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” from the cross.
Thank him for sacrificing himself his whole life long so that we would not have to suffer the consequences of our shameful, selfish abuse of his gifts.
As the Gospel relates, we can be forgiven because “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name” and through — as the second reading and Divine Mercy remind us — “water and blood.”
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.