On this Sunday, now also known as Divine Mercy Sunday, the focus of the Word is on God’s compassion toward sinners, which means, if we are to accept the words of Scripture, all of us human beings. In his 2001 homily on this April Sunday, Pope John Paul II pointed to the revelations of a Polish nun, Sr. Faustina Kowalska, whom he had canonized in 2000, as “the appropriate and incisive answer that God wanted to offer to the questions and expectations of human beings in our time, marked by terrible tragedies…. Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity at the dawn of the third millennium.” [https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/homilies/2001/documents/hf_jp-ii_hom_20010422_divina-misericordia.html].
Long before Sr. Faustina’s revelations and Pope John Paul’s endorsement of her devotion, extending it to the entire Church in 2002, the 14th-century Dominican mystic, Meister Eckhart, extolled divine mercy as “the highest and purest acts God is capable of.” [Sermon 7, Walshe translation.] He declared in one of his most memorable sermons, “God’s highest work is mercy, and this means that God places the soul in the highest and purest place that she can attain to, into space, into the sea, into a bottomless ocean, and there God works mercy. Therefore the prophet said “Lord, have mercy on the people that are in thee,” drawing on his favorite verses from the prophet Hosea [Hosea 2:23].
Looking at the world today, not least compared to 1931 Poland or 14th-century Germany, there is certainly evident need for mercy, not only God’s mercy, but its fruit, a vast increase of human compassion toward each other, especially toward the poor, the defenseless, and those victimized by war, disease, and the violence born out of ignorance and hard-heartedness. Addressing the wounds of hunger, ignorance, want, and disease has from the earliest times been collectively known as “the works of mercy.” In Matthew’s gospel, they provide the heart of Jesus last sermon (Matt. 25:31-46). Today we are increasingly aware of the desperate need for active compassion toward the wider world of Creation as well – the animals and plants and the whole living planet itself, all now under threat because of selfishness, greed, and indifference.
As Jesus taught, the measure of our compassion is the compassion we show to others, which is the heart of forgiveness. Today’s readings underscore this in the story of “Doubting Thomas,” whose disbelief is overwhelmed by a simple act of kindness. “Come, see. Touch me and believe.”
Saving the world begins with forgiveness, the work of a merciful heart.