Today, we join the whole church in commemorating the Divine Mercy of Our Father in Heaven. This feast, Divine Mercy Sunday, was established in 2001 by Pope John Paul II so that we might take time after the joyous celebration of Easter to reflect on the mercy that God has shown to us through the death and resurrection of His son. Although the celebration of the Feast of Divine Mercy is relatively new, the roots of this feast reaches throughout the history of Christianity.
In our Gospel today, we see the disciples locked in a house. They're terrified because they just saw their master, their teacher, brutally tortured and killed by the religious and civil leaders of their land. They're terrified that these leaders will come after them next, so they go into hiding. They gather in a house and lock the door. They want to hide, they want to get out of sight so that they won't be next.
All of a sudden, their teacher who they thought was dead and whose body had been stolen appears to them. They're amazed, they're frightened, they're terrified. What does our Lord say? “Peace be to you.” What an amazing thing to say. This simple phrase, “Peace be to you”, really shows the heard of the Christian mystery. It shows why Christ died and rose again: to bring peace to our lives.
Now, this is not saying that we're going to have an easy life. We know that there are struggles in life. We all have challenges that we have to deal with. In our second reading today, St. Peter says that we may have to suffer through various trials so that our faith may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We will have to struggle, we will have to face the challenges that come to us, but Our Lord promises us peace, he promises us mercy.
This is what this feast is all about. It is all about realizing in joy the mercy that has come to us through the death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the celebration of the fact that through Christ's death and resurrection, we have been adopted as God's children. We no longer are isolated from him in sin. We are now his adopted children, and can now inherit eternal life. This should bring us great joy, and should also bring us great peace.
How should we react to this mercy? Other than the great joy that this brings, how else should we receive God's mercy, to Our Lord's call for peace? The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that the early disciples devoted themselves to the teachings of the apostles and the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. The early Christians reacted to this message of mercy by giving up everything. They were willing to sell everything they had and give it to be distributed to those in need. Most of us who are Christians are not called to sell everything we own and give it to the Church for redistribution, but how many of us would be willing to do that? Fortunately, we have many brothers and sisters who have entered religious orders who are willing to give up everything, and even close themselves off from the world to enter into a spirit of prayer and sacrifice for all our sakes.
Even if we're not called to give away everything we own, all of are called to serve the poor. The first reading also reminds us that we are also called to gather on a regular basis, weekly at a minimum, for the celebration of the Eucharist within the Mass. Whenever the New Testament uses the phrase, “the breaking of the bread,” it is referring to the Eucharist. Likewise, we are called to be committed to “the prayers.” In the first reading, this would be regular periods of prayer throughout the day. This practice has carried over to our day in the Liturgy of the Hours, a form of prayer which priests, transitional deacons, and those in religious life are committed to praying at regular periods throughout the day. The Liturgy of the Hours is not exclusively for those in religious life, but is open to and encouraged for all members of the Church. Not everyone is able to take the time or has the desire to pray in this manner, but all are called to spend some time throughout the day in prayer. This might be praying a rosary on the commute to or from work, taking short breaks throughout the day to say a Hail Mary or Our Father silently, even just looking for opportunities to say, “Thank you, Lord, for your mercy and love!” It doesn't even have to be a memorized prayer, just a brief prayer from the heart.
Because of the mercy that God has shown to us, adopting us as sons and daughters through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ, we now have the opportunity to inherit eternal life. This mercy is best expressed in our Lord's blessing, “Peace be with you.” May we be able to say with the psalmist, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.”