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Eight days

Divine Mercy Sunday

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

The second Sunday of Easter marks the end of the Octave of Easter. For eight days beginning on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection we celebrate with special intensity the central event in the history of the universe and in our lives. Jesus Christ who had died on the cross emerges victorious from the sepulcher having destroyed the power sin and death had over us, opening up for us the possibility of full participation in His divine life for all eternity.

There are three things that separate human beings from God, namely, nature, sin, and death. God´s nature is divine and ours is human. By the Incarnation of the second person of the Most Holy Trinity, human nature has been irrevocably united to divinity in the person of Jesus Christ, true God, and true man.

Sin, human actions that are contrary to goodness, truth, the natural order, are contrary to divine nature and divine will. Therefore, they separate us from God because He is holy, He is goodness, truth, and beauty themselves. By His Passion and Death on the cross, Jesus Christ assumes in his person the consequences of all sin accumulated through the centuries, washing away our sins and remitting our guilt.

Death all human beings face separates us from God who is eternal and immortal. By His Resurrection, Jesus Christ has destroyed the power of death. He emerges victorious from the sepulcher because He is God. Since He is also man, His victory is the victory of human nature, the very same nature He shares with us and is present in every single human being that exists, has existed, or will exist. As a popular Easter hymn proclaims, “today is a day of victory and glory… Christ emerges strong and beautiful from death.”

Since the great jubilee of the year 2000, because of a felicitous initiative of pope St. John Paul II, this Sunday is designated as Divine Mercy Sunday. The events we celebrate with special intensity on this day remind us of the radical, definitive, and overwhelming triumph of the love of God over everything and anything that is opposed to it. It is worth remembering that St. John Paul II died in the evening of Saturday, April 2, 2005, the first vespers of Divine Mercy Sunday. It is as if the Lord would have desired to validate his emphasis on divine mercy that has also heavily influenced the pontificate of his two successors. Benedict XVI made the proclamation of the love of God and charity the central axis of his pontificate. Pope Francis in continuity with his immediate predecessors continues along the same path.

Every year, on this eighth day of Easter, the Church proposes the same Gospel for our meditation. It is so because the passage from the Gospel according to St. John that we have heard this Sunday narrates events that took place exactly on the eighth day after the Resurrection of the Lord. The disciples, except Thomas, had an encounter with the Risen Lord. However, they remain fearful and locked in the room. That may be one of the reasons why Thomas struggles to believe what they are telling him.

How is it possible that having had an encounter with the Risen One who has breathed His Spirit on them and given them power to forgive sins they remain locked in a room paralyzed by fear? If they had truly received the Spirit from the Risen Teacher, would it not be more appropriate for them to go out on the streets to bear witness to what they had seen and heard? That may also be the reason why the Lord invites them to touch His wounds and His side, so that the physical contact with Him, may dispel Thomas´ doubt and fill with courage and audacity the fearful disciples who remain locked in as if everything remained the same.

We are Christians because we have had an encounter with the Risen One. It is true that our emotions and feelings are as fleeting and changing as those of the disciples, but it is no less true that by Baptism we have received the gift of divine life and grace. Our relationship with Christ is one of love. As such, it involves our will and our intellect too, not just our emotions and affections. That is why we can know goodness and act accordingly, acknowledging our falls, our weaknesses, having recourse to forgiveness from God and our brothers and sisters whenever it may be necessary.

These days, I am reading a book by Fabrice Hadjadj on the Resurrection of Christ which has enabled me to get interesting insights. Commenting on the episode of the bribing of the guards deployed by the sepulcher that took place after the Resurrection, this French author points out that we often concentrate on Judas´ betrayal for thirty pieces but tend to overlook that the guards received a large amount to keep quiet about what they have seen and heard. He asks himself and the reader: What is worse, to betray Jesus Christ and hand him over to death or having witnessed His resurrection to deny it? I have to admit that I had never thought about the passage in Matthew 28 on those terms.

It is true that when we sin, we betray Jesus, we hand Him over to death and we also deny His resurrection. Do we not deny His resurrection too, when we do not bear credible witness to our encounter with Jesus Christ and paralyzed by fear or other considerations, our lives deny in fact the Resurrection of Him whom we have encountered, whom we confess to be the living God present in our midst? We may assent with our intellect to the truths of faith yet prevent them from going out from the enclosure of our minds, our will, and our hearts to transform our lives and the world around us.

The Second Vatican Council examined the modern phenomenon of atheism and pointed out that one of main causes of it was the counter witness of Christians. Perhaps one of the causes of the profound crisis of faith in our times is the lack of credibility of the Christian message because of our timid testimony to the Resurrection of Christ.

Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, present in our midst, encourages us to apostolic audacity, to live our faith without triumphalism, yet without fear, bearing constant and consistent witness to His Resurrection by the way we live in Him, because of Him and for Him.

PS: A technical problem caused the late publication of this column; I beg your forgiveness.

Fr. Roberto M. Cid