"….the Church must consider it one of her principal duties-at every stage of history and especially in our modern age-to proclaim and to introduce into life the mystery of mercy, supremely revealed in Jesus Christ." (Dives in Misericordia, 14). In his 1980 Encyclical Rich in Mercy, St. John Paul II lays out what it means to say that our God is a God rich in mercy and what that means for us in the world.
The Second Sunday of Easter is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. It is a day that is given to us by St. John Paul II to reflect on the Mercy of God. Throughout the Easter Season, the Mercy of God is on full display. God, in His mercy, suffered and died for us. God, in His mercy, paid the debt for our sin. God, in His mercy, broke the bars of death and wants nothing more than for us to be with Him in eternity. God, in his mercy, loves us, completely and totally.
We are called to share that mercy with those around us. However, it is often easy to spiritualize mercy. To make it just about God's mercy at the end of time. However, mercy has a practical, pastoral, and immediate dimension to it: "It is not easy to love with a deep love, which lies in the authentic gift of self. This love can only be learned by penetrating the mystery of God's love. Looking at him, being one with his fatherly heart, we are able to look with new eyes at our brothers and sisters, with an attitude of unselfishness and solidarity, of generosity and forgiveness. All this is mercy!" (Homily for the Canonization of Sr. Mary Faustina Kowalska, 5).
We live in a world that seems a bit short on mercy and love. We live in a world where it seems easier to be quick to judgment and anger. We live in a world where it seems at times mercy itself has expired. Even in 1980 St. John Paul II knew this to be the case: "Modern man often anxiously wonders about the solution to the terrible tensions which have built up in the world and which entangle humanity. And if at times he lacks the courage to utter the word "mercy," or if in his conscience empty of religious content he does not find the equivalent, so much greater is the need for the Church to utter his word, not only in her own name but also in the name of all the men and women of our time." (Dives in Misericordia, 15).
However, the message of Easter, and the message of Divine Mercy Sunday, is that is not the case: The opening prayer for the Chaplet of Divine Mercy says "You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Font of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself upon us." In Jesus Christ the whole world has access to the mercy of God.
St. John Paul II ends his Encyclical Rich in Mercy with words that can provide us with comfort, but also with a challenge: "In the name of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, in the spirit of His messianic mission, enduring in the history of humanity, we raise our voices and pray that the Love which is in the Father may once again be revealed at this stage of history, and that, through the work of the Son and Holy Spirit, it may be shown to be present in our modern world and to be more powerful than evil: more powerful than sin and death. We pray for this through the intercession of her who does not cease to proclaim "mercy...from generation to generation," and also through the intercession of those for whom there have been completely fulfilled the words of the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."( Dives in Misericordia, 15)
Rebecca Spellacy is the Associate Director of Liturgy for the Office of Formation for Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Toronto.