Before Mass: It’s Divine Mercy Sunday – big deal, right? What is this Divine Mercy anyway? What makes it different than normal Mercy?
Many of us know the basics about this Feast – but if I asked you to explain it, chances are you couldn’t – I mean – it seems so obvious, and yet… what IS Divine Mercy?
Let me get the basics out of the way now, then we’ll try to answer that question in the homily: in the year 2000, John Paul II set the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. The teaching centers around Sr. Faustina, a visionary from Poland during WWII. You may have seen this picture- which shows rays coming from the Heart of Jesus – and the picture includes the phrase, Jesus, I trust in You. There is a Divine Mercy chaplet which is prayed by millions across the planet, and a special Novena which runs from Good Friday to today. Even IF you are familiar with most of that, you’d probably still have trouble answering: what Is DIVINE MERCY – and what’s that have to do with ‘Jesus, I trust in You’?
To understand Divine Mercy – we first need to understand several words: Justice, Mercy, Grace, and Divine Mercy. These are all words we throw around at church and few of us could probably articulate exactly what they mean, how they’re different from each other- and how they are a part of each other.
Imagine you drive an old junker of a car. One day, while driving to work, it breaks down…you start freaking out!!! You’re gonna be late for work…and you’ve already been late twice this month because of this STUPID CAR…. You’re afraid you’re going to lose your job. So you walk and even jog a couple blocks to a gas station to see if they can help, you are freaking out! You notice a car sitting at the pump with the keys in it and nobody around. You know it’s not right to steal the car…but did I mention you’re freaking out!? You don’t want to lose your job, so you jump in the car and take off. As you pull away, you notice a bald guy in a suit running up behind you waving his hands and yelling.
As you pull in the parking lot at work, you see the red lights pull up behind you and you’re arrested and taken off to jail. The next day, on the way to the courthouse, you’re practicing your speech….gee your honor, I’m really sorry…no…I’m SOOO sorry…over and over you practice – but as soon as you enter the courtroom, your heart sinks. You recognize the judge…it’s the same bald guy you saw in your rearview mirror yesterday….YOU STOLE THE JUDGE’S CAR!
You know your goose is cooked. You hang your head. You want to disappear into the carpet. You know you did wrong and you know you deserve the maximum sentence – and the Judge surely won’t go leniently on you since he has been PERSONally offended. You decide to just confess and get it over with… You say, “Judge, I am sorry, I have no excuse – and I ask you to simply give me what I deserve”.
The judge looks at you across the desk, takes off his glasses and says – Lady, you broke the law of this country which I am personally sworn to uphold. The law clearly states that Grand Theft Auto carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Since I am a just judge, I’m gonna give you exactly what you deserve. …and he hammers his gavel and announces the sentence…20 years in prison.
What do you think – is that fair? Did you get what you deserve? That is justice – giving what is owed to you. The judge didn’t care why you stole it or who you are or who you know – if the law says X then you get X – that is justice. What could be better than Justice? How about Mercy...
What is Mercy? Put yourself back in the courtroom. Just like before, you recognize the judge and once again your heart sinks. You simply confess and say, “Judge, I am truly sorry, I have no excuse – but I ask you to please be merciful”.
The judge looks at you across the desk, takes off his glasses and says – Lady, you broke the law of this country which I personally am sworn to uphold. The law clearly states that Grand Theft Auto carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. That’s what you deserve, but I can tell that you’re truly remorseful for what you’ve done, so I’m suspending the sentence and you’ll be on 2 years probation with only a $1000 fine to pay for court costs. And he hammers his gavel.
You’re jaw drops – you’re amazed – this judge is great! Instead of giving you what you deserved (justice), he gave you the minimum sentence allowed by law (mercy)! Notice the judge COULD have sent you to prison for 20 years – but because you were sorry for what you had done, he gave you less punishment than you deserved. That is Mercy. Pretty good stuff, right? What could be better than Mercy?...
How about Grace: Put yourself back in the courtroom, Just like before, you recognize the judge and once again your heart sinks. You say, “Judge, I am truly sorry, I have no excuse – but I ask you to please be gracious”.
The judge looks at you across the desk, takes off his glasses and says, Lady, you broke the law of this country which I personally am sworn to uphold. You’ve also personally offended me by taking MY car. However, seeing that you’re sorry for your crime and have begged not just for Mercy, but for Graciousness, I will show you how Gracious I can be. The law clearly states that Grand Theft Auto carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Since I am Gracious, I am dropping the charges. Not only that, but I realize you’ve been driving an old junker of a car, and that’s why it broke down, so, I’m writing here a personal check for $25,000. Buy a new car and don’t be late for work again.
You have just experienced Grace. Grace is receiving what you didn’t deserve. A favor. An un-deserved and un-earned gift. Notice because the Judge was the one who was offended, he has the right to drop the charges! Whereas Mercy is not receiving the punishment we deserve, Grace is to receive a blessing we didn’t deserve. The Grace of God is what saves us - notice that there is nothing we could ever do to earn or deserve what Jesus did for us on that cross. It's pure grace - a free gift. What could be better than Grace? Could it be Divine Mercy?
So – what is DIVINE MERCY? Is it Justice? Mercy? Grace? I think it is ALL of the above. Divine Mercy is a combination of – because God gives us what we need most. Sometimes we NEED to spend a night in jail so that we learn from our mistakes. Sometimes we need to be cut some slack and shown mercy. And of course, God’s grace is given to us every moment of every day.
God will go to any length to give us what we need... in the Gospel, Thomas needed to stick his finger in the nail holes in order to be able to believe... and Jesus was willing to let him! In the first reading, there were signs and wonders - and many people needed to see those signs in order to believe. Some of those signs weren't what we might think - I know at least two people who had fallen dead at the feet of Peter - that was a sign too. Not all signs and wonders look like blessings.
Divine Mercy gives us what we need. That’s sometimes a hard pill to swallow – because it might not look like a blessing at the time. The best example I can think of was when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, death and suffering entered the world and they were thrown out of the garden of Eden…. Now – was that a punishment or a blessing? I’ve always thought it was a punishment, but look at it this way: once suffering entered the world, God did not want us to suffer forever – so he took Adam and Eve away from the Tree of Life. Death was actually a mercy of God, as it limits the years of suffering we must endure.
Divine Mercy is mercy – but it may not seem like it at the time. It comes down to Trust. Spiritual writers for centuries have tried to say it in many ways, but it boils down to this: everything that happens to us is either sent by God or allowed by God. If we trust that God always has our best interest at heart – and He does – then we can trust at any moment that whatever is happening at this moment is Divine Mercy at work. That can be SUCH a hard pill to swallow. That’s why the bottom of the picture says, ‘Jesus, I trust in You’.... so we can practice saying that every day.