The Fullness of Mercy
4/1/2019Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori
Our need for repentance and forgiveness is confirmed, not negated, by Christ’s victory over sin and death
MANY YEARS AGO, I asked a pastor to host a diocesan celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday in his parish. His answer was disappointing. Even though this devotion is endorsed by the Church and was avidly promoted by St. John Paul II, he thought that it contrasted with the joy of the Resurrection. “Begging for mercy, going to confession — all those penitential things belong to Lent, ” he said. “At our parish, Easter is a time for rejoicing! ”
I sometimes ponder that priest’s response, which was based on a faulty, and all-toocommon, understanding of the Easter mystery. It is as if our need to do penance, seek forgiveness and ask for mercy vanishes in the twinkling of an eye at the end of Holy Week. With the dawn of Easter, we might think, comes the unconditional love of the Savior, a love that affirms us without challenging us, a love that makes few if any demands on the way we live our lives.
Such a misunderstanding can surface even in the lives of very faithful Catholics who take the discipline of Lent very seriously. For example, a person may have fasted during Lent, but come Easter Sunday and beyond, life becomes a smorgasbord of self-indulgence. Another may have given up gossip, but come Easter Monday, the dirt is dished. In other words, Easter is seen as a time for rejoicing that our Lenten penance is over, signaling a return to business as usual. I don’t think that’s what the Church has in mind for the Easter season.
Paying close attention to the liturgy itself, we see a different picture. Scripture, liturgy and doctrine hold together as one dynamic movement the incarnate Lord’s suffering, death, resurrection and exaltation in heaven. These events in Christ’s life are known as the paschal mystery; the word “paschal ” or “Pasch ” refers to the Lord’s passage from death to life. Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, took upon himself the sins of humanity. He then made the passage from death, a death that epitomized our sinful condition, to the glory of the resurrection. In his merciful love, he triumphed over sin and death and opened the way of mercy for the whole of humanity.
Easter does not presume that we sinful human beings no longer need God’s mercy, but rather that in the crucified and risen Lord, divine mercy is abundantly available. The Lord loves us with a love stronger than sin and death! He has made possible our exodus from the death of sin to the new life of grace and, ultimately, to the fullness of life in heaven. This is why we rejoice even as we continue to seek his mercy.
The Lord has won the victory by his cross and resurrection, and the question confronting each of us is whether or not we will participate in this victory. In other words, will we allow the Lord in his grace and goodness to engage our freedom? Will we allow the Lord’s victory to be applied to our sinfulness, to wound our hearts with love, to reach our inmost soul where the darkness of sin still lurks? Or will we remain disengaged in the face of such tremendous love and allow our own love to remain superficial?
On Divine Mercy Sunday, the Gospel relates how the risen Lord appeared before the Apostles and gave them the power to forgive sins. There is no better day to go to confession. On Divine Mercy Sunday, the Divine Mercy chaplet is prayed in common. What a wonderful way to express our need for the Lord’s mercy! Divine Mercy Sunday also includes eucharistic adoration and Benediction. What a beautiful opportunity to allow the risen Lord, truly and substantially present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, to gaze upon us with the look of love, the look of mercy!.
This Easter season, may we know the fullness of joy because we experience the fullness of mercy.