The Lord has truly risen, alleluia.
Year: B(I). Liturgical Colour: White.
Divine Mercy Sunday
Since 2000, the second Sunday of Easter has also been known as Divine Mercy Sunday.
Here are some extracts from a sermon given by Pope John Paul II on the occasion of the canonization of Sister Faustina Kowalska on 30 April 2000 (Vatican web site
Today my joy is truly great in presenting the life and witness of Sr Faustina Kowalska to the whole Church as a gift of God for our time. By divine Providence, the life of this humble daughter of Poland was completely linked with the history of the 20th century, the century we have just left behind. In fact, it was between the First and Second World Wars that Christ entrusted his message of mercy to her. Those who remember, who were witnesses and participants in the events of those years and the horrible sufferings they caused for millions of people, know well how necessary was the message of mercy.
Jesus told Sr Faustina: “Humanity will not find peace until it turns trustfully to divine mercy.” Through the work of the Polish religious, this message has become linked for ever to the 20th century, the last of the second millennium and the bridge to the third. It is not a new message but 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.
What will the years ahead bring us? What will man’s future on earth be like? We are not given to know. However, it is certain that in addition to new progress there will unfortunately be no lack of painful experiences. But the light of divine mercy, which the Lord in a way wished to return to the world through Sr Faustina’s charism, will illumine the way for the men and women of the third millennium.
It is important then that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called “Divine Mercy Sunday.” In the various readings, the liturgy seems to indicate the path of mercy which, while re-establishing the relationship of each person with God, also creates new relations of fraternal solidarity among human beings. Christ has taught us that man not only receives and experiences the mercy of God, but is also called to practise mercy towards others: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” He also showed us the many paths of mercy, which not only forgives sins but reaches out to all human needs. Jesus bent over every kind of human poverty, material and spiritual.
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!
Sr Faustina Kowalska wrote in her Diary: “I feel tremendous pain when I see the sufferings of my neighbours. All my neighbours’ sufferings reverberate in my own heart; I carry their anguish in my heart in such a way that it even physically destroys me. I would like all their sorrows to fall upon me, in order to relieve my neighbour.” This is the degree of compassion to which love leads, when it takes the love of God as its measure!
It is this love which must inspire humanity today, if it is to face the crisis of the meaning of life, the challenges of the most diverse needs and, especially, the duty to defend the dignity of every human person. Thus the message of divine mercy is also implicitly a message about the value of every human being. Each person is precious in God’s eyes; Christ gave his life for each one; to everyone the Father gives his Spirit and offers intimacy.
This consoling message is addressed above all to those who, afflicted by a particularly harsh trial or crushed by the weight of the sins they committed, have lost all confidence in life and are tempted to give in to despair. To them the gentle face of Christ is offered; those rays from his heart touch them and shine upon them, warm them, show them the way and fill them with hope. How many souls have been consoled by the prayer “Jesus, I trust in you,” which Providence intimated through Sr Faustina!
And you, Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole Church, obtain for us an awareness of the depth of divine mercy; help us to have a living experience of it and to bear witness to it among our brothers and sisters. May your message of light and hope spread throughout the world, spurring sinners to conversion, calming rivalries and hatred and opening individuals and nations to the practice of brotherhood. Today, fixing our gaze with you on the face of the risen Christ, let us make our own your prayer of trusting abandonment and say with firm hope: Christ Jesus, I trust in you!
Other saints: Saint George Preca (1880 - 1962)
George was born in Valetta, Malta, growing up not far from the Carmelite Shrine church there. At the age of four, he nearly drowned in the Grand Harbour, but was rescued by a passing boatman. When his family later told the story they would joke that he had been rescued from the waters, like Moses. George, recalling that the rescue had happened on the 16th July, feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, attributed his rescue to the protection of the same Lady. As a young man, George was enrolled in the Carmelite scapular and later joined the Third Order. Attracted to the service of the priesthood, George joined the seminary and was ordained a priest in 1906, inspired by a personal mission to convert the world.
Early on, Father George (‘Dun Gorg’ in Maltese) noticed the lack of genuine faith education amongst the young people of Malta. Their religion was built around festivals and formalities, with little connection to their interior lives and a truer following of Jesus. His vision for something more and his lived integrity attracted a circle of young men around him who gathered for prayer, discussion and ultimately to work as lay missionaries in parishes and villages around Malta. His society was known as MUSEUM, which stood for Magister, Utinam Sequatur Evangelium Universus Mundos, or “Master, would that the whole world would follow the Gospel.” A society of laymen who would teach the catechism to the people while receiving instruction themselves was unheard of at the time, and it took twenty-five years and much tension with the Church authorities (including at one point the closure of the Society’s houses) before the Society’s existence was officially approved. It continued its work throughout World War II even in the places where members fled from the violence as refugees.
Dun Gorg continued preaching and writing, drawing on the rich spiritual writings of Carmelites Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, as well as his models as a Third Order Carmelite, Elijah and Mary. He had a flair for making Carmelite thoughts, teachings and traditions clear and simple for working people. In 1951 Malta celebrated the Seventh Centenary of the Brown Scapular, with Father George at the forefront. In the same year the Carmelite Prior General, Killian Lynch, formally affiliated him to the Carmelite family.
He composed the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary in 1957. He died in 1962, and was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on 3 June 2007, being described as “Malta’s second father in faith” after St Paul. Today the Society has over a thousand members and is responsible for the teaching of some 20,000 young people in the Maltese islands, the UK, Australia, Peru, Albania, Kenya and the Sudan.
Today's Gospel: What did Thomas disbelieve?
The evangelists are scrupulously careful not to over-interpret the facts. Their job, as they see it, is to report, ours is to believe and, believing, understand. Part of our trust in the story of the Transfiguration, for example, is the fact that no moral is drawn directly from it. It is, as a narrative element, entirely pointless, and the only possible reason for including it in the Gospel story is that it actually happened.
In today’s Gospel, the story of Thomas leaves open an interesting question: what exactly was it that he refused to believe?
Thomas might simply have been refusing to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. ‘When a man is dead, he is dead’. This, after all, is the attitude of the Jews and the Romans. But it is not what John says. John reports that the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord,’ and Thomas replied, ‘Without physical proofs, I refuse to believe’. There is no actual mention of rising from the dead as being the point at issue.
Consider a hypothetical pure, spiritual religion – something that fits well with what we think “religious” means when we aren’t really thinking. In such a religion, spirit is perfect, matter is imperfect (even if we remember to stop short of actually calling it evil). One might even say, spirit is relevant, matter is irrelevant; or spirit is real, matter is unreal.
On such a “spiritual” view, God’s condescending to become incarnate is already a big thing to swallow – which is why so many early heretics (concerned above all for the dignity of God) denied it. Another way of making the Christian story decent was to maintain (as some people did) that the real Jesus was whisked away by angels before the Crucifixion, and a phantom “Jesus” “suffered” in his stead.
But there is more, and this is where Thomas comes in. Even if one has watched the whole thing happen, or looked into the eyes of people who have, and can have no doubts about what did happen on Good Friday, there is still one resort left for those who believe above all in the purity of Deity. Jesus, having gone through the whole sorry business of suffering in the body (indeed, the even sorrier business of being in a body at all) brings the whole story to an end by rising from the dead – but rising from the body, not in it. Rising, he points us up towards – and, going up, he leads us into – a future in which, having left the body and all its inherent imperfection behind, we too can dissolve into pure Spirit.
That is all very spiritual and enlightened, but it is not the Christian story.
What the other disciples told Thomas, and (arguably) what he refused to believe, was that Jesus had resurrected into a bodily existence – a risen body, indeed, but a body nevertheless. The lesson Jesus taught to Thomas directly, a week later, was (in that case) not that he had risen, but that he had risen in the body.
The consequences are cosmic in scale. The body, it turns out, is not something to be superseded, or a mistake to be got out of with relief. Rather, it is a thing to be perfected, a thing we are going to be in for all eternity. Heaven will be full of bodies.
Whatever it was that Thomas disbelieved, his story reminds us that we have to remember not to over-spiritualize ourselves, but to establish relations with our own (and others’) bodies on the correct, healthy footing. Christians do not have bodies, Christians are embodied beings. Yes, it is true that on death we leave this body behind; but what this brings us to is just a lame, truncated, provisional, transitory state that lasts only until the general resurrection restores us as whole beings on a new level – one which, today, we can only point vaguely towards, or talk about in metaphorical terms, as St Paul does. But whatever our final state is, it is definitely a wholeness of body and spirit.
And that conclusion leads all the way back to our own existence here on earth and the way we should live it. The thing is, because I do not have a body (as a toy to be played with, or a garment that can have anything done to it without affecting the real me), whatever I do with or to my body, I do with or to myself. The same argument applies to you. It is impossible for me to do anything with or to your body, because you do not have one either: I can only do it, whatever it is, with or to you, yourself. From drinking to drug-taking to fornication, the separation of ‘my body’ from ‘me’ is an illusion. The reality is that what I do to my body, I do to me. My “lost weekend” is not lost, cut out, gone as if it had never been: it is just as much part of my life as all the other days of my life are. If we can rid ourselves of the illusion of separation and understand ourselves as a body-and-spirit whole, many temptations begin to be seen in their true light; and the Church’s teaching about carnal matters becomes, not something to be believed out of respect for authority, but the most obvious thing in the world.
The term ‘Theology of the Body’ is a new one, introduced by Pope John Paul II, but it is only bringing out the truth has always been there, the truth that Thomas had to be shown to make him believe it.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430)
Augustine was born in Thagaste in Africa of a Berber family. He was brought up a Christian but left the Church early and spent a great deal of time seriously seeking the truth, first in the Manichaean heresy, which he abandoned on seeing how nonsensical it was, and then in Neoplatonism, until at length, through the prayers of his mother and the teaching of St Ambrose of Milan, he was converted back to Christianity and baptized in 387, shortly before his mother’s death.
Augustine had a brilliant legal and academic career, but after his conversion he returned home to Africa and led an ascetic life. He was elected Bishop of Hippo and spent 34 years looking after his flock, teaching them, strengthening them in the faith and protecting them strenuously against the errors of the time. He wrote an enormous amount and left a permanent mark on both philosophy and theology. His Confessions, as dazzling in style as they are deep in content, are a landmark of world literature. The Second Readings in the Office of Readings contain extracts from many of his sermons and commentaries and also from the Confessions.
Liturgical colour: white
White is the colour of heaven. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate feasts of the Lord; Christmas and Easter, the great seasons of the Lord; and the saints. Not that you will always see white in church, because if something more splendid, such as gold, is available, that can and should be used instead. We are, after all, celebrating.
In the earliest centuries all vestments were white – the white of baptismal purity and of the robes worn by the armies of the redeemed in the Apocalypse, washed white in the blood of the Lamb. As the Church grew secure enough to be able to plan her liturgy, she began to use colour so that our sense of sight could deepen our experience of the mysteries of salvation, just as incense recruits our sense of smell and music that of hearing. Over the centuries various schemes of colour for feasts and seasons were worked out, and it is only as late as the 19th century that they were harmonized into their present form.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||(1 Corinthians 15:3-5) ©|
Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures; he was buried; and he was raised to life on the third day, in accordance with the scriptures. He appeared first to Cephas and secondly to the Twelve.
|Noon reading (Sext)||Ephesians 2:4-6 ©|
God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy: when we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ – it is through grace that you have been saved – and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus.
|Afternoon reading (None)||Romans 6:4 ©|
When we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.