The Paschal Christ: The Living Sign of Divine Mercy
Let us take another look at the Master. You too may find yourself now hearing his gentle reproach to Thomas: ‘Let me have your finger; see, here are my hands. Let me have your hand; put it into my side. Cease your doubting, and believe;’ and, with the Apostle, a sincere cry of contrition will rise from your soul: ‘My Lord, and my God!’ I acknowledge you once and for all as the Master. From now on, with your help, I shall always treasure your teachings and I shall strive to follow them loyally.
Friends of God, 145
“Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Pope St John Paul II in his 1980 encyclical letter “On The Mercy of God,” Dives In Misericordia, observed that modern man is uncomfortable with the idea of mercy. He says, “The word and the concept of ‘mercy’ seem to cause uneasiness in man.” The Pope explained that advances in technology have made man feel as though he is master of the world. He feels so much in control, so powerful, that it seems primitive to call upon God for mercy, as though people were asking for something outmoded, something that they have ceased to need.
We are not strangers to that world of which the Saintly Pope speaks. We ourselves are involved with it on a daily basis. How much have we been influenced by its mentality? For example, if we hear about the desert monks of Christian antiquity, or of modern ascetics, continuously repeating the Psalms, or the “Jesus Prayer,” it might very well make us feel uneasy, because it seems “excessive.” The Jesus Prayer is a confession of Christ as Savior of sinners and a confident plea for His mercy: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. The Psalter itself is a fabric woven throughout with cries for mercy.
Among the Saints, both ancient and modern, it has never seemed excessive to long continually for God’s mercy, and to plead for it on one’s own behalf, as well as for the whole world. St Josemaria himself often referred to the Christian’s “uninterrupted” dialogue of prayer as evidence of an authentically Christian interior life (cf. The Forge, 572).
In 1873 Blessed John Henry Newman made a similar observation to that of John Paul II. In an address to seminarians, he said that they would eventually be sent as priests into a world that was unique from any past age. No former age has had what the modern world has: the quality of being simply unreligious. Man is rationalistic, self-sufficient, and content to depend upon no “higher power.” Such a world drops mercy from its vocabulary.
From a Biblical point of view, Dr Scott Hahn has observed that even where there has been widespread idolatry, as we read about in the Scriptures, there was at least a veneer of religion covering the sinful practices, the superstitions, of the idolaters. They were ostensibly worshipping Baal, Ashtaroth, Apis, etc. Now modern people don’t even bother with the veneer.
On this first Sunday after Easter, we have an encounter with the risen Lord that should unsettle us a little. Maybe we cannot and should not avoid feeling uneasy at our Savior’s invitation: “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” For all of our sinfulness, for all of our rationalizations, for all that we have picked up from the modern mentality which always places self at the center of everything, today Jesus commands us to touch Him, to put our fingers and hands into His wounds. He will not let us go until we do this.
We should not look upon this Gospel scene as though we were mere spectators at a drama. After all, when the Lord blesses those “who have not seen and have believed,” He means us. He calls each of us by name, as He called Thomas, to come forward, to touch, to see. We are asked to face the uncomfortable truth that we share responsibility for those wounds, but that He wants us to seek our healing in them: “By his wounds you have been healed” (2 Pt 2:24).
Jesus is drawing us in spirit into the upper room today, inviting us to place ourselves before Him, and to ask ourselves: What kind of love is this? What kind of mercy is this, that embraces the very ones who inflicted the wounds?
This is God’s mercy; this is how He loves. It is not something we’re supposed to “get over” or understand quickly and then move on. It is the subject of a lifetime’s contemplation and gratitude, and of eternal praise besides: “The mercies of the Lord I will sing forever” (Ps 89:1). It is what drives the Saints to think of almost nothing else, to praise as they praise nothing else, and to be merciful, as they have been shown mercy.
Divine mercy is the great revolution that transforms our often complicated and fragmented lives. As we experience the uneasy inner tension between feelings of guilt and the desire for holiness, Christ’s wounds reveal the bridge between sinfulness and sanctity. His wounds simultaneously proclaim the remedy for sin and the justification for every holy aspiration.
This is powerfully shown when the risen Lord appears in the midst of the Apostles. Even though He is surrounded by ashamed and frightened men, Jesus does not come looking for apologies; He comes looking for faith and trust. The only accusation that He levels against the disciples is that they do not believe in Him. Nor does He reproach them for being sinners. He does not blame them for abandoning Him, nor for being the cause of the wounds in His body. Divine Mercy does not operate in that way. Mercy is freely given; it does not need to humiliate the sinner, to be overbearing, or accusatory. It simply asks us to believe what is often hardest: That we are loved and forgiven as freely as that.
Newman says that ultimately our only response to the Divine Mercy is to surrender to it confidently. We cannot defend ourselves or explain away anything. He even says that, “We must put aside the idea of finding a remedy for our sin,” as though we could make things right on our own. We just need to be repentant, and to surrender ourselves to Christ’s mercy. For as St John Paul says in the same encyclical: “The Son of God… in his Resurrection… reveals himself as the inexhaustible source of mercy, of the same love that… is more powerful than sin. The paschal Christ is the definitive incarnation of mercy, its living sign….”
On this Divine Mercy Sunday, we should “read” this living sign closely by contemplating the Savior’s wounds, which He keeps eternally on His body for our sake. The merciful Lord, according to St Thomas Aquinas, “endeavors to dispel the misery of [others], as if it were his.” The One who has taken our sins upon Himself has earned the right to command us to approach, to touch, to find healing for our own misery.