Today, Sunday in the Octave of Easter, was renamed in the year 2000 as “Divine Mercy Sunday” in the Roman Catholic Church. I didn’t pay much attention to the new attribution. I was much more interested in the continuation of the Easter season, which we know to be the 50 days stretching from Easter to Pentecost. I have been aware of the great popularity of this new designation and wondered at the reasons behind what seemed to mimic and then overshadow the event at Fatima in the early 20th century. Pope (now “Saint”) John Paul II moved quickly to canonize Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun (see internet accounts) whose visions have been verified by the Church and place a significant focus on the mercy of Christ.
As events of this new century have become more and more challenging, I have come to understand more deeply the popularity of this feast. A search of the word “mercy” in any lexicon is a worthy activity for a quiet Sunday afternoon… One can find all sorts of reasons to amplify the meaning of what some of us learned in our youth as a “beating of the breast” cry for God’s forgiveness of our sins.
My favorite definition, offered in this blog more than once and attributed to Cynthia Bourgeault’s study, leads us to an old Etruscan word, merc, having to do with some sort of exchange, as seen in words like merchant and merchandise. We can see it, as Cynthia did, as a “divine exchange,” growing into a “fierce, bonding love” that sees a connection with God that is unbreakable.
I am led today, therefore, to a fuller appreciation of the word and the importance of the quality of mercy in my life—both as a virtue to be practiced in my relationships with others, and a welcome gift from others when I fail to be my best self. If you need a guide for today, I recommend reflection on the first lectionary reading from the Acts of the Apostles (4:32-35):
The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that their possessions were their own, but they had everything in common…There was no needy person among them for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.