In the great Jubilee Year 2000, Pope St. John Paul II canonized a mystic Polish nun to whom in the course of his priesthood he had great devotion and love. Her name was Faustina Kowalska. Sr. Faustina popularized a pious devotion that emphasized God’s loving mercy over his just judgment. In time, as the devotion and prayers associated with this devotion spread, it greatly impacted the life and ministry of a young Polish priest by the name of Karol Woytila. In his own life Fr. Karol experienced time and time again, the loving mercy of God that carried him through the early death of both his mother and father as well as his only brother, the ravages of the Nazi occupation of his beloved homeland during World War II, to the eventual rise of communism that would replace one type of political tyranny with another in Poland. Through it all, the loving mercy of God would carry this priest onward to eventually becoming a bishop and then to the amazement of the world, to be elected as the Bishop of Rome in October 1978, the first non-Italian in 455 years.
The span of his papacy left its indelible mark on the Church as he extended his visible presence throughout the world as the most traveled Pope in history. Amid the phenomenal years of his lengthy papacy, John Paul endured an assassination attempt and then, in his final years, bore courageously, the ravages of Parkinson’s disease – a disease that slowly robbed him of his once robust vitality. Yet, it was the loving mercy of God that carried him heroically and courageously through each of these chapters in his life.
As we continue to bask in the glory and hope of the Feast of the Resurrection, we hear the very first words of the risen and glorified Christ as he greets his followers who are imprisoned in their fears and doubts in that upper room. He first speaks the word, ‘Peace’ to them. From our all too human perspective we could easily imagine how Jesus after suffering the cruel and torturous death of a common criminal on the cross, might have spoken the word, ‘Revenge’ to vanquish all those complicit in this cruel crime. But no, Jesus speaks a greeting of peace and then goes on to speak of ‘Forgiveness,’ as he imparts the ability to grant that soul-healing reality to his followers. “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them…”
As Isaiah the prophet reminds us, “God’s ways are not our ways.” While it is so common for us in the face of the cruelties of life to focus on what our ethical tradition calls ‘retributive’ justice, where retribution becomes the hallmark of justice, crudely interpreted in ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ mentality, Christ has come to teach us a new way of living. For the justice of Christ is restorative. It is a justice rooted in his unfailing love and unconditional mercy to heal and make new. Countless stories in the New Testament lay before us the image of Jesus as he responds to the dark side of humanity. In the midst of the ugliness of humanity’s sinfulness, Jesus refuses to let any person be defined by their darkest moments. In the eyes of the Savior each and everyone one of us is worthy by virtue of God’s amazing grace of forgiveness and God’s unfathomable mercy and love. For it is a mercy and love that is there to restore, renew and make whole, the original glory with which each of us have been created as a beloved child of God.
So central is this foundational theme of God’s restorative mercy and love to the Good News of Christ, that, in 2015, Pope Francis solemnly proclaimed an Extraordinary Holy Year of God’s Mercy. In the document announcing that special Holy Year, our Holy Father stated that the church’s"very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.” Pope Francis stated that "It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters.” "Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope."
In many respects, for us as Christians, every year should be a ‘year of mercy’ as we are called to enflesh the good news of Christ for the transformation of our world.
Continuing our Easter rejoicing and grateful for the call that we have received from the Risen Lord to be signs of God’s mercy and hope in our broken world, let us pray for the courage to take up this challenge anew. Let us pray for the grace and the strength to resist the all too easy temptation toward revenge and retribution in the face life’s cruelties. Faithful to the one whose name we bear as Christians, may we, like our Christ, let mercy, forgiveness and understanding be the healing that our broken world so desperately needs as together we work to renew all things in Christ our Risen Savior.