Mercy is the antidote we need
A reflection for Divine Mercy Sunday, Year B
by Deacon Eric Gurash
On this Divine Mercy Sunday, established by Pope Saint John Paul II not long before his death, we enter today into the Gospel of John who presents an encounter with the resurrected Christ steeped in mercy. The Risen Christ appears in the locked room where his disciples are imprisoned in their fears and doubt – overwhelmed, we can imagine, by guilt and shame. In this prison-like space of darkness and fear, he speaks to those who rejected him and ran from the cross and, much to their surprise, offers not condemnation, but Shalom, peace, and the fullness of life.
Revealing the wounds he still bears on their behalf, he offers not only forgiveness but a share in his abundant mercy to the fullest extent; as he has graciously covered them with his mercy, so now they shall be agents of mercy in his name.
John Paul II established this feast as a much-needed antidote near the end of the 20th century, a period that has come to be known as one of the most violent centuries of all time. It was a time marked by two world wars, genocides, and nuclear arms races that threatened the destruction of us all. It was a time, too, marked by a sharp rise in wealth for a few privileged nations, while much of the Global South was wracked by poverty and famine. The world was in great need of both a reminder of the heart of mercy that defines the love of God and of our great commission as Christians: to be agents of this life-giving mercy in the world around us.
As we have entered into this third decade of the 21st century, we find ourselves in no less need today. Wracked as we have been by a global pandemic of unprecedented proportions, the plight of the poor, the marginalized, and the vulnerable, often forgotten in the midst of our angst, is no less poignant.
Within our Christian churches, our politics, communities, and families, we are experiencing rampant alienation and polarization around issues of health, of safety, of faith and reason, of the sharing of resources within our countries and around the world, and the difference between compassionate care and medically induced death. In the midst of a time of great and universal need within the whole human family, we have in many ways lost sight of the inherent dignity and value of each human person and that basic truth of our human condition: that we are indeed our brothers and sisters' keepers.
In this context, we might see the image of the first Christian communities as depicted in today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles as an example of overly idyllic naiveté. Yet there is something deeply compelling about the free, radical giving and spirit-filled love for the other that we read about today. It resonates in hearts that long for connection and for radical freedom and life in abundance. It is, I would propose, a longing for precisely that which the human person was created for, and much like John Paul II recognized in the 20th century, this mercy-filled life of connection, compassion, and care for those most in need is the very antidote our world needs today.
This is what each individual, each Christian community, each neighbourhood and nation should be striving for. That kind of society that ensures first and foremost that those who are in greatest need are looked after, not just in ways that keep them clinging to life but helping us all to discover the abundant life we have been given and that all persons have been created to enjoy. The community we see in Acts is a community bursting with the light, the life, and the radical love of the Gospel. Bursting, in fact, with hearts filled with divine mercy.
This day, too, the Church reminds us that around the world, the newly baptized, still reveling in their newness and this new life within the body of Christ, are given their first lesson in this Christian way of mercy. With the scent of chrism still fresh on their skin, they are schooled today in this lesson of abundant grace and commissioned into mercy at the feet of the Master. And we, the baptized, are invited to find our own renewal of faith through the influx of ardour and vigour that they bring. Together we are sent, from the Easter banquet table, as ambassadors of Christ's abundant love and mercy into a world that needs this light so dearly and deeply.
The readings for Divine Mercy Sunday (Second of Easter), Year B, are
1 John 5:1-6
Ordained as a permanent deacon in June of 2018, Eric Gurash is a former radio personality and convert to the Catholic faith. He is a certified spiritual director, popular speaker, and retreat leader. Having spent 14 years in full-time parish ministry, he now serves as deacon for Holy Trinity Parish in Regina, Saskatchewan, and Director of Communications and Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Regina, where, among other duties, he co-hosts their weekly Thinking Faith podcast.