The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on April 15, on Divine Mercy Sunday, at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.
As most of us know, seven years ago, this Second Sunday of Easter was given a new name. On May 23, 2000, the Congregation for Divine Worship decreed that "throughout the world, the Second Sunday of Easter will receive the name Divine Mercy Sunday, a perennial invitation to the Christian world to face, with confidence in divine benevolence, the difficulties and trials that humankind will experience in the years to come."
We are the Church assembled in prayer, each one of us a disciple of the Crucified yet Risen Lord Jesus. He is standing now in our midst the way He stood in the midst of the first disciples on Easter night and again a week later, as today's Gospel account reminds us. Yes, we are His disciples; we belong to Him from the moment of our baptism. Today, the Risen Jesus is reminding us that we are both recipients and evangelists of His divine mercy.
Truly, we are recipients of divine mercy! Why did Jesus rise from the dead? Was it not to shower the world with His divine mercy? He reveals His mercy to us in today's Gospel scene, which is truly taking place now among us. The first disciples were gathered in fear and terror behind locked doors. Jesus suddenly stood in their midst, saying, "Peace be with you." Not only did He greet them with peace, but He gave them His peace. We too are sometimes gripped by fear or terror, if not physically and emotionally, at least sometimes spiritually. Our sins hold us captive and cause us to be afraid. Jesus comes to us just as we are, not only greeting us with words of peace, but actually bringing us peace and new freedom. How? By meeting us through the Sacrament of Divine Mercy, the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation, which He instituted on that first Easter night. Again, today's Gospel scene makes this clear: "He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.'" As Jesus told Saint Faustina, "Speak of My mercy. Tell souls where they are to look for solace, that is, in the Tribunal of Mercy. When you go to confession, know this, that I myself am waiting for you in the confessional; I am only hidden by the priest, but I act in the soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of Mercy."
Jesus also gives us His mercy each time we are drawn into the Renewal of His Dying and Rising in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. His Word in the first part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word, speaks to us in so many different ways of His enduring mercy, and His true and real Presence in the second part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, is Mercy made flesh, embracing us, feeding us and strengthening us.
In today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we heard that "many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles." A tangible sign of God's mercy was given us in the apparitions of Jesus to Sister — now Saint — Faustina. He appeared to her precisely to make tangible and real His divine mercy. Moreover, He told her to have an image made of His divine mercy: "Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You. I desire that this image be venerated throughout the world."
How privileged I am to bless at the end of this Mass the Icon of Divine Mercy. Today, this Icon, along with five smaller replicas, will begin a pilgrimage among the parishes in our diocese. How fortunate we are in the Diocese of Arlington to have this icon, commissioned especially for us by the Polish artist, Anna Sekowska. This artist fasted and prayed during the time in which she created the icon for us. Many of you may know that the original icon is displayed in Krakow, Poland, where our beloved Pope John Paul II dedicated the whole world to Divine Mercy on April 30, 2000, when Sister Faustina was canonized.
Thus far, 34 parishes within our diocese have agreed to host the icon, beginning with the Cathedral parish. The five smaller images of divine mercy will go to five families within the parish. For one week, the icon will be venerated in that particular parish. Parishioners will be asked to pray for peace and healing within each family. Through this outpouring of divine mercy, our families will be strengthened and made holier, which in turn will enable our diocesan family likewise to be stronger and holier.
Yes, we are the recipients of divine mercy as we pray over God's Word in the Scriptures; as we celebrate the sacraments, especially Penance and the Holy Eucharist; and as we venerate the Picture or Icon of Divine Mercy in our parishes and our homes.
Now, what we receive we are also to share. So, we are to be evangelists of divine mercy! The servant of God Pope John Paul II was deeply devoted to the divine mercy revealed by Jesus to Sister Faustina and he wrote: "It is not a new message [the message of Divine Mercy] but it can be considered a gift of special enlightenment that helps us to relive the Gospel of Easter more intensely, to offer it as a ray of light to the men and women of our time." Yes, announcing God's mercy is truly to bring a ray of light — and hope — to our brothers and sisters.
In today's second reading from the Book of Revelation, John is told to "write on a scroll what you see." Jesus told Saint Faustina to write about what she saw: Jesus revealing His divine mercy. We too must write what we see, writing with the witness of our lives to His mercy, proclaiming that mercy to family members, co-workers, parishioners, neighbors — to everyone!
What the Risen Jesus said to the first disciples, He says to us: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." He sends us to be evangelists of divine mercy. We do this especially by praying and interceding for those estranged from His Body the Church and for those separated by disunity or lack of the knowledge of God. We do this also by reaching out to the poor and needy among us, whether that be of body, mind or soul. Yes, in many and different ways, we are the evangelists of Divine Mercy, offering to others the mercy we have ourselves received.
Pope John Paul II once observed: "Mercy is an indispensable dimension of love: it is, as it were, love's second name." You and I are both the recipients and the evangelists of divine mercy, that love of God made visible in Jesus Christ, Crucified yet Risen. Therefore, we must not only sing but live the psalm refrain we prayed a short time ago: "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love — His mercy — is everlasting!"
There is much more to this Sunday than a recently decreed new name! This Sunday gives us a new opportunity to be what the Risen Lord Jesus invites us to be: recipients and evangelists of His divine mercy! Amen! Alleluia!