April 23, 1995

Divine Mercy Sunday

Pope John Paul II celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday in Holy Spirit Church, the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Rome. (L’Osservatore Romano, English Edition, April 26, 1995).

Be Apostles of Divine Mercy (L’Osservatore Romano, May 3, 1995)

"The mystical experience of Blessed Faustina Kowalska and her cry to the merciful Christ belong to the harsh context of our century’s history," the Holy Father said on the Sunday of Divine Mercy, 23 April, as he celebrated Mass in the Roman Church of the Holy Spirit "in Sassia."

1. "Peace be with you!" (Jn 20:19).

The risen Jesus said these words twice on appearing to the Eleven in the Upper Room, on the evening of the very day when he rose from the dead. The Lord, as the Evangelist John testifies, showed them His hands and His side, to confirm in their presence the identity of His body, as if to say: this is the same body that two days ago was nailed to the cross and then laid in the tomb; the body that bears the wounds of the crucifixion and the stab of the lance. It is the direct proof that I have risen and am alive.

From the human point of view, this observation was difficult to accept as Thomas’ reaction shows. On the evening of the first appearance in the Upper Room, Thomas was absent. And when the other Apostles told him they had seen the Lord, he firmly refused to believe them: "Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into His side, I will not believe" (Jn 20:25). From these words it can be seen how important Christ’s physical identity was for the truth of the Resurrection.

When the Lord Jesus, on the eighth day — like today — entered the Upper Room, he addressed Thomas directly, as if to satisfy his request: "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" (Jn 20:27). Faced with such proof, the Apostle not only believed but drew the ultimate conclusion of what he had seen and expressed it in the highest and briefest profession of faith: "My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20:28). In the presence of the Risen One, the truth both of His humanity and of His divinity became clear to Thomas. The One who had risen by His own power was the Lord: "The Lord of life does not know death" (from a Polish Easter hymn).

Thomas’ confession ends the series of witnesses to Christ’s Resurrection which the Church presents during the Octave of Easter. "My Lord and my God!"Replying to these words, Jesus, in a certain sense, discloses the reality of his Resurrection to the future of all human history. In fact, he says to Thomas: "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed" (Jn 20:29). He was thinking of those who would not see him risen, nor eat and drink with him as the Apostles had (cf. Acts 10:41), and yet would believe on the basis of eye-witnesses’ accounts. They are the ones, in particular, to be called "blessed" by Christ.

I live forever that man may share in immortal life.

2. "Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the one who lives" (Rv 1:17).

There is a certain analogy between the appearance in the Upper Room especially that of the eighth day, in Thomas’ presence — and the eschatological vision St. John speaks of in the second reading from Revelation. In the Upper Room Christ shows the Apostles, and especially Thomas, the wounds in His hands, His feet and His side, to confirm the identity of His risen and glorious body with the one that was crucified and laid in the tomb. In Revelation, the Lord introduced Himself as the First and the Last, as the One from whom the history of the cosmos begins and with whom it ends, the One who is "the firstborn of all creation" (Col 1:15), "the firstborn from the dead" (Col 1:18), the beginning and the end of human history.

His identity, which endlessly pervades the history of men, is formulated with the words: "Once I was dead, but now I am alive for ever and ever" (Rv 1:18). It is as if he had said: In time I was dead. I accepted death to remain faithful to the very end to the Incarnation through which, remaining the Son of God consubstantial with the Father, I became true man in everything except sin (cf. Heb 4:15). The three days of my Passion and Death, necessary for the work of Redemption, remain in me and in you. And now I live forever and, with my Resurrection, show forth the will of God who calls every man to share in my own immortal life. I have the keys of death with which I must open earthly tombs and change cemeteries from places where death reigns into vast spaces for the Resurrection.

3. "Do not be afraid!" When on the island of Patmos Jesus addresses this exhortation to John, He reveals His victory over the many fears that accompany man in his earthly existence and especially when He is faced with suffering and death. The fear of death also concerns the great unknown which it represents. Could it be a total annihilation of the human being? Do not the severe words: "For you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Gn 3:19) fully express the harsh reality of death? Thus man has serious reasons to feel afraid when he faces the mystery of death.

Contemporary civilization does all it can to distract human attention from the inescapable reality of death and tries to induce man to live as though death did not exist. And this is expressed practically in the attempt to turn man’s conscience away from God: to make him live as through God did not exist! But the reality of death is obvious. It is impossible to silence it; it is impossible to dispel the fear associated with it.

Man fears death as he fears what comes after death. He fears judgement and punishment, and this fear has a saving value: it should not be eliminated in man. When Christ says: "Do not be afraid!", He wants to respond to the deepest source of the human being’s existential fear. What he means is: Do not fear evil, since in my Resurrection good has shown itself stronger than evil. My Gospel is victorious truth. Life and death met on Calvary in a stupendous combat and life proved victorious: "Dux vitae mortuus regnat vivus!":"Once I was dead, but now I am alive for ever and ever" (Rv 1:18).

4. "The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone" (Ps 117 [118]: 22). The verse of the responsorial psalm in today’s liturgy helps us to understand the truth about Christ’s Resurrection. It also expresses the truth about Divine Mercy, revealed in the Resurrection: love gained the victory over sin, and life over death. In a certain sense, this truth is the very essence of the Good News. Therefore Christ can say: Do not be afraid!" He repeats these words to every man, especially to those who are suffering physically or spiritually. He can justifiably repeat them.

Sr. Faustina Kowalska heralded God’s mercy.

Sr. Faustina Kowalska, whom I had the joy of beatifying two years ago, especially understood this. Her mystical experiences were all focused on the mystery of the merciful Christ and are a remarkable commentary as it were on the word of God presented to us in this Sunday’s liturgy. Sr. Faustina not only recorded them, but sought an artist who could paint the image of the merciful Christ just as she saw him. An image which, together with the figure of Blessed Faustina, is an eloquent testimony to what theologians call "condescendentia divina." God makes himself understandable to his human interlocutors. Sacred Scripture, and especially the Gospel, confirm this.

Dear brothers and sisters, Sr. Faustina’s message follows these lines. But was it only Sr. Faustina’s, or rather, was it not at the same time a testimony given by all those who were encouraged by this message in the cruel experiences of the Second World War, in the concentration and extermination camps, and in the bombings? The mystical experience of Blessed Faustina Kowalska and her cry to the merciful Christ belong to the harsh context of our century’s history. As people of this century which is now coming to an end, we would like to thank the Lord for the message of Divine Mercy.

5. Today in particular, I am pleased to be able to give thanks to God in this Church of the Holy Spirit, "in Sassia" attached to the hospital of the same name and now a specialized center for the pastoral care of the sick as well as for the promotion of the spirituality of divine mercy. It is very significant and timely that precisely here, next to this very ancient hospital, prayers are said and work is done with constant care for the health of body and spirit. As I express again my satisfaction to the Cardinal Vicar, I also address a grateful thought to the titular, Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini. I greet the Bishop of the western sector, the rector and the other priests, the sisters and all of you, dear faithful, who are present here. I would also like to convey fraternal wishes to the patients of Santo Spirito Hospital, as well as to the doctors, nurses, sisters and all those who help them every day. I would like to say to all: trust in the Lord! Be apostles of divine mercy and, following the invitation and the example of Blessed Faustina, take care of those who suffer in body and especially in spirit. Let each one feel the merciful love of the Lord who comforts and instills joy.

May Jesus be your peace!

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever!" (Heb 13:8)

Contemplating him in the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection, let us repeat together with this Sunday’s liturgy:

"Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever!"