Today we Catholics celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, a devotion that began with the visions of St. Faustina Kowalska, and which was officially recognized by Pope John Paul II in 2001. As Deacon Rafal explains this week, St. Faustina was allowed to experience a vision of hell; her account is truly terrifying, but also gives way to the infinite love and mercy of God. Thus we recognize two approaches to the holy life. A meditation on the horror of sin and separation from God should make the thought of sin repellant to us, while a consideration of God’s love and forgiveness should make us yearn for him all the more.
I think it’s fair to say that our fellow citizens are experiencing a deep sense of separation: not hell by any means, but the unnatural disconnection from the everyday life of society, with all its joys, frustrations, and opportunities. Several members of our parish have been touched by the fallout of the Coronavirus: the sickness of a loved one, the helplessness of staying at home, and the desire to be present—flesh and blood—to our neighbors in school, at work and in the community. Easter by definition is a day of unbridled joy, yet Deacon Rafal and I could sense a palpable emptiness when celebrating the Mass without the people of St. Mary’s in the pews. Yet as Cardinal Dolan has pointed out, “empty” can mean one of two things: empty as in “something is simply not there” and “something is gone because it lives elsewhere.” Such is the emptiness of Christ’s tomb.
If you are like me, you have a soft spot for St. Thomas, who demands evidence of Jesus’ resurrection in order to believe. We’d in good company. St. Gregory the Great was quite sympathetic to Thomas, and thought that this story is for our benefit. He writes: “It was not an accident that that particular disciple was not present. The Divine Mercy ordained that a doubting disciple should, by feeling in his Master the wounds of the flesh heal in us the wounds of unbelief. The unbelief of Thomas is more profitable to our faith, than the belief of the other disciples; for the touch by which he is brought to believe, confirming our minds in belief, beyond all question.” Did the early disciples have some advantage over us? St. John Chrysostom declares: “If anyone says, Would that I had lived in those times, and seen Christ doing miracles! Let him reflect: Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
So many souls find it difficult to cope with the strain of this emergency: why, they ask, would a good God allow such a thing? Evil, whether natural or moral, is a principal argument against his existence. Indeed, why does the resurrected Jesus rise with the scars of his Passion?
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that these scars help us find in our own scars, our own suffering, “a certain dignity, and a certain kind of beauty,” in our hearts, a deeper faith, and in our souls, a true appreciation of just how mercifully we have been treated. If God is good, what is his answer to suffering? Friends, you and I are that answer. Blessed Easter to you all!