His mercy endures forever. (Psalm 118)
The Solemnity of Easter lasts for eight days–a week and a day, from Sunday to Sunday. It is the biggest feastday of all, too big for just twenty-four hours.
On the eighth day of Easter in the year 2000, Pope John Paul II declared that this day is ‘Divine Mercy Sunday.’ He declared this while he was canonizing St. Faustina Kowalska, the nun who had seen the vision of Jesus with rays of merciful love pouring out from His Heart.
When the Pope declared that the eighth day of Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday, he noted that none of the prayers or readings of the Mass needed to be changed. From the beginning, from the first eight days after our Lord rose from the dead, the Solemnity of Easter has been the feast of divine mercy.
When the Lord Jesus spoke to the Apostles after He rose from the dead, He commissioned them to preach His message. The message is: Repent of your sins, and be forgiven!
The Apostles obeyed. When St. Peter preached to the citizens of Jerusalem, he addressed the very people who had stood in front of Pontius Pilate’s praetorium and clamored for Christ’s crucifixion. St. Peter spoke to these enemies of Christ and said, “You denied the holy and righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. The author of life you put to death…Repent, therefore!”
Dear brothers and sisters: If we want to keep this holy feast, the feast that lasts for a week and a day, the feast of the Lord’s Resurrection, the feast of Divine Mercy—if we want to keep this feast in sincerity and truth, then we must acknowledge that we are the very citizens to whom St. Peter spoke.
We crucified Christ. We sinners crucified the Lord of glory.
He died for every little mean thing we ever did, for every cowardly, selfish lie we ever told, for all the petty, nasty, obtuse nonsense we fall into all the time. We sinners crucified Him, along with the citizens of Jerusalem and the Roman soldiers.
But: before we despair…Here is the message of the feast we keep: Repent, and be forgiven.
Our sins are not the end. The Lord’s death is not the end. Repent, because there is a better future. Repent, because there is hope. Repent, because Satan is not really in charge, even though it seemed for a moment like he was.
The innocent man we killed with our sins is not dead. He has risen from the dead. He is alive. He is alive to forgive us. He quickly forgives us when we beg for mercy. We can start fresh.
The Lord Jesus knows that we were more stupid than malicious when we killed Him. On the cross He prayed for us: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
St. Peter said the same thing in his sermon: “You acted out of ignorance when you made the Christ of God suffer.”
If we had known that our sins would crucify our Lord, we would not have done them. He knows that. He forgives. His mercy is bigger than our self-centered foolishness.
He does not want to punish; He does not want to condemn. He wants to heal. He wants to take us, who are small, and make us big like Him. He wants to take us, who are silly, and make us wise like Him. He wants to take us, who are nothing but dust and ashes, and make us glorious and immortal like Him.
The Lord Jesus gave the Apostles the message of repentance. It would have been for naught, though, if He hadn’t also given them the power and authority to absolve from sin.
“Receive the Holy Spirit,” He said to them. “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven.”
No burden is heavier than sin. Nothing stoops our aching backs like walking around guilty before Almighty God. Unrepentant sinners can’t quite stand up straight. Sinning is the most exhausting thing. It tires out the body and the soul.
So: How about us tired, slouching sinners—how about we clear our consciences by going and confessing our sins to a priest? How about we believe that the words of our Savior are actually true, and that any validly ordained priest can lift the burden of sin off our backs and absolve us from our guilt? How about we actually put our faith in this truth? The Catholic Church has it right. Mercy is not between “me and God,” it is between “me, God’s priest, and God.”
The main thing to remember is this: God is merciful above all. His power is His mercy. God makes the sun come up, even though we don’t deserve it. He gives us the air we breathe, even though we don’t deserve it. And He forgives us our sins through the ministry of His Church.