Almost everyone has a story about a wedding reception gone bad. In fact, there is probably a variation from every wedding. Someone has too much to drink; someone can’t keep an age-old animosity at bay; or someone’s “plus one” gets into a raised-voice political argument over dinner.
When these occurrences are included in comedy, we can all nervously laugh because we have seen them too often. We also nervously laugh because we know there is a contradiction between the true joy to be celebrated on a wedding day and these sad intrusions.
In recent years, some in the church have struggled to understand the designation now given to the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. Their thinking essentially reflects a discomfort with the perception that, so soon after the profound grace and joy of the Easter, we are pressed to return to a focus on the need for mercy.
By this, it is felt, we unduly return to a focus on our sinfulness. Such a focus is thought more proper to Lent than to the final day of the Octave of Easter. It just seems that in the days when our celebration of the Resurrection should be its most vivid, like a bad reception guest, someone or something intrudes and undermines the joy.
While the desire to keep the joy of the Resurrection at the forefront of our minds and to dwell most especially on the forgiveness of sin made possible only by Christ are to be relished, to draw our focus to God’s mercy in our lives undermines neither. In the glossary appended to my copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “mercy” is succinctly defined as the loving kindness, compassion or forbearance shown to others.
Just over a year ago, in a homily at daily Mass, Pope Francis offered thoughts about God’s mercy becoming more real and more vivid in our own lives. “If we act in this way,” he explained, “how many good things will follow: we will truly be men!” Furthermore, “with this attitude of repentance we will be more capable of being merciful, because we will feel God’s mercy for us.”
In the Our Father, in fact, we do not only pray “forgive us our trespasses.” We also pray “forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us”. (L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly ed. in English, n. 12, 21 March 2014)
This pope, who is fast becoming the Pope of Mercy, highlights for us that a consideration of Divine Mercy is not about a revisiting to the lists resulting from our Lenten examinations of conscience. Instead, in acknowledging a receipt of God’s mercy as a result of the Resurrection, we must substantially conform our lives to ways of kindness, compassion and forbearance.
If such are fruits of our celebration of Easter, who can say we are harming the joy or dousing the grace? In fact, as the final day of the Octave of Easter, is it not appropriate to see in this celebration of mercy the lived transition from the proverbial Easter break, back into the necessities of a lived faith in everyday life?
The First Letter of St. Peter tells us, “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pt 2:24). Again, mercy is not about the recounting of the sins; it is about how we live our lives in freedom from sin. Certainly, in the Resurrection we live our lives differently in relation to Christ. But also to be seen by a needy world from the Christian is a life lived differently in relationship to others because of the Resurrection.
When he declared the upcoming Year of Mercy, Pope Francis offered as one of his reasons for the extraordinary jubilee that “I have often thought about how the church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy.” The Holy Father might just as easily have called us to make clear our witness to the Resurrection, or our witness to Christ. Both are wonderful and each should be powerful and obvious in our lives. But neither would be seen, felt or heard apart from mercy – received and shown.
In this Octave of Easter, when the joy of a great celebration of sacrificial love and commitment still burns in our hearts, let us not fear that something will go wrong at the reception which follows. Let us instead feel the gift of God’s Divine Mercy embracing us, and heed the call of mercy to conform our lives to Christ. In this way, we will continue to be heralds of hope!