April 6, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

Love and radical mercy are the fruits of Easter joy

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“God’s essential attribute is love, since love is what obtains among the three divine persons from all eternity. Mercy is what love looks like when it turns toward the sinner.” 
(Bishop Robert E. Barron)

The Second Sunday of Easter is called Divine Mercy Sunday. That suggests a very close connection between our experience of the Lord’s resurrection and the great gift of divine mercy that has been given to us sinners through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Bishop Robert E. Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, has written an insightful reflection on “true mercy” in his book, Vibrant Paradoxes: The Both/And of Catholicism.

According to Bishop Barron, mercy cannot be understood properly unless it is seen in the context of human sinfulness. “To speak of mercy is to be intensely aware of sin and its peculiar form of destructiveness.” God’s mercy doesn’t cancel out, or minimize, the awful wrongs done by us—any more than Jesus’ words of forgiveness on the cross made the horrors committed on Good Friday somehow less serious.

Quoting one of Pope Francis’s favorite metaphors, Bishop Barron says that to speak of mercy “is to be acutely conscious that one is wounded so severely that one requires not minor treatment, but the emergency and radical attention provided in a hospital on the edge of a battlefield.”

God’s mercy acknowledges the seriousness of our sins. That’s why his response is so radical. Nothing less than the passion, death and resurrection of God’s only Son could heal the wounds inflicted on the world by human sinfulness.

We can rejoice during this Eastertime because God’s mercy has freed us from the power of sin and death. But as is always the case, our newfound freedom, which was purchased at so great a cost, brings with it a grave responsibility. We must respond to the great gift of God’s mercy by loving God and all his children in return. Even more, we must show mercy to others just as God has been merciful to us.

Scripture readings for the Second Sunday of Easter call our attention to the consequences of our freedom as children of God redeemed by the blood of the cross. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 4:32-35), which describes the community’s provision for anyone in need, can seem like an idyllic picture of peace and justice obtained once long ago never to be repeated. But as we are told in the First Letter of John (1 Jn 5:1-6), the only true sign of our identity as Christians is the extent to which we love God and his children. We are like Christ to the extent that we imitate him—loving others by feeding, healing, clothing and, yes, forgiving their trespasses against us.

The Gospel for Divine Mercy Sunday (Jn 20:19–31) places the responsibility for forgiveness squarely in our hands: Whose sins we forgive are forgiven, and whose sins we retain are retained. We can cooperate with our merciful God by being generous and compassionate toward those who sin against us, or who do evil to others (sometimes in God’s name). Or we can withhold forgiveness out of a sense of vengeance or hardness of heart. Clearly this is not what God wants, but he has given us the freedom to choose.

The “both/and” of Catholicism sees justice and mercy as two sides of the same coin. We followers of Jesus Christ are called to be Easter people—joyful and generous, merciful and just, peacemakers and (sometimes) disturbers of the peace who call one another to move outside our comfort zones. This is why Pope Francis speaks of divine mercy as a form of reaching out to people who are on the margins of human society economically and politically, as well as those who are cut off from God, the spiritually poor.

Why should we reach out to those who have been marginalized? Because the joy of Easter calls us to unite, to be one family, to share all things in common, to love God and each other and, perhaps most difficult of all, to forgive one another.

God knows the seriousness of our sins. He cares deeply about our mental, physical and spiritual well-being, and he spares no effort to treat our wounds and save us from our self-destructive ways. That’s why he has given us the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) as a special means of celebrating his divine mercy made available to us through his sacramental grace.

This Easter season, let’s be especially conscious of our responsibility to forgive others as God has forgiven us. Let’s pray for God’s mercy and the grace to be merciful toward all. †

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