In the first reading, we read how the early Christian community was “united, heart and soul; no one claimed for his own use anything that he had, as everything they owned was held in common.” Indeed, “None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from them, to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any members who might be in need.” This was how united they were, taking care of each other’s needs and sharing the same love for God, the same vision and values of the gospel.
They were able to love so freely and unconditionally because they had encountered the power of the love of the Risen Christ in His passion, death and resurrection. If the Lord had conquered hatred and death through His resurrection from the dead, what is there for them to be afraid of since even death is overcome. (cf Rom 8:37-39)
In response to God’s love for them in Christ Jesus, they in turn could love each other the way that God loved them. This is what St John wrote, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been begotten by God; and whoever loves the Father that begot him loves the child whom he begets.” It is true in life that we love those whom we love and those whom they love. So if we love God the Father, then St John says, we should also love His Son. And if we love His Son, we will also love those whom the Son loves. And who does He love? He said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25:40)
As a consequence, the early Christians were living as the first faith community in history. They were deeply in love with God and as a consequence, in love for each other. Caring for each other, looking after each other’s interests rather than one’s own, sharing all that we have is what will make this world a better place. Where there is genuine love and sharing, there will be peace and unity. And what do we all wish for if not a world and a society that is gracious, caring, loving and united. Such is the dream of every man and woman. This is the ideal world that we are called to build.
But the ideal world is far from the reality. The truth remains that we are living in a very wounded world. Even for those of us who are baptized and the elect, they would fall into sin, often not by choice but out of human weakness. The Old Adam does not die completely when we are baptized but latent and sleeping in us, waiting to resurrect when we are not conscious of God’s presence in us. Because of our disoriented will which is not healed completely after baptism, even though our sins are forgiven, we will still be inclined to sin. Our fears and selfishness will surface. We will still have to continuously struggle against sin. That is why love is not sufficient to build a community because our love is imperfect.
Over and above love, we need mercy to build a new community. This was why in the first Sunday of Easter, we celebrated new life through the love of God expressed in His passion and resurrection. The second Sunday of Easter we focus on Divine Mercy. Mercy is more than compassion by caring for the poor and the hungry. Mercy means compassion and forgiveness for those who fail in Christian charity, honesty and integrity. This was what Jesus did upon His resurrection. The disciples were hiding in shame of Jesus and in fear of their enemies. They were hiding behind closed doors. But Jesus came to bring them out of their fears by extending His forgiveness and offering them the gift of peace. Twice, He greeted them, “Peace be with you!” Peace comes from forgiveness.
Today, many of us are also locked up in our fears, manifested in resentment, anger, coldness of heart, retaliation, backbiting and gossiping. That is why we are vindictive and revengeful. We are also imprisoned by our insecurity because we feel our interests are at stake. We see others as our competitors and even enemies rather than as fellow collaborators or better still, our brothers and sisters who care for us more than they care for themselves. So how can we break out of the walls that we have erected for ourselves?
The truth is that unless we have encountered His divine mercy, we cannot show mercy the way He showed us. We need to first receive His divine mercy. This was what the Lord did for the disciples. After reconciling them with Himself, He said, “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.” Without receiving His unconditional mercy for our sins, we cannot forgive those who sin against us. A case in point was the apostles of our Lord. We read in the gospel, Thomas was adamant in not believing what the rest of them said about the fact of the resurrection. They did not judge him but showed great tolerance for his incredulity. This was because they had already encountered Jesus’ mercy. Indeed, the early Christians could exercise mercy because they were moved by God’s mercy. (cf 1 Pt 1:3f)
How, then, can we receive this divine mercy today? St John wrote, “Who can overcome the world? Only the man who believes that Jesus is the Son of God; Jesus Christ who came by water and blood, not with water only, but with water and blood; with the Spirit as another witness – since the Spirit is the truth.” Water is a symbol of baptism, blood a symbol of the Eucharist, and the Spirit of truth and witnessing is given in the Sacrament of reconciliation.
To enter into Divine Mercy, we must be like Jesus who, at His baptism, identified with us sinners even though He was without sin and need not be baptized. (cf 2 Cor 5:21) But He did it so that He could carry our sins in His body. (1 Pt 2:24) Indeed, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Pt 2:22f) That was how Thomas was converted when he saw the wounds of Jesus. Thomas believed not because He saw the Risen Lord but he was overwhelmed by Christ’s love for him through the wounds that He suffered for them. He was overcome more by God’s mercy and love than the sight of Jesus. And his immediate response to the wounds of the Crucified Lord was, “My Lord and my God!” In Christ crucified, God’s mercy is power in love.
We too must be identified with the sufferings and sinfulness of our fellow brothers and sisters. We should not be judgmental and unforgiving for their negligence and sins. We are all human beings and we sin now and then. We should therefore be empathetic and tolerant of each other’s faults and weaknesses. This is what a gracious society is all about, not just caring for each other but accepting each other’s human frailties and encouraging each other on the road to holiness of life.
The second way to celebrate the Divine Mercy is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This explains why the Lord, after His resurrection, empowered the apostles to remit sin. “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those who sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.” This is the most powerful form of healing of the human soul, more than any amount of counselling and psychiatric treatment we can have. The soul will have no peace unless he or she feels that God has forgiven him or her. The priest, as the representative of Christ, offers that forgiveness in His name and assures us of His unconditional love and mercy. The priest is called to be the Father of mercy and compassion when he celebrates the sacrament of reconciliation. He is called to be the image of God’s forgiving love. Hence, we must not deprive ourselves of this Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially the new baptized. They should frequent this sacrament so that they can encounter God’s mercy.
Finally, we can experience God’s mercy through the Eucharist. That was what the early disciples did. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42) By celebrating the Eucharist together, we are joined to Christ and His Church, especially through the Word of God and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Receiving the Eucharist with thanksgiving and gratitude brings about a change of heart in our lives. Listening to the Word of God that is preached and shared will ignite us to live like Christ. This explains why receiving the Eucharist brings about the forgiveness of venial sins through the strengthening of spiritual life. But equally important is that we need the Christian fellowship to keep us united in mind, soul and heart. This happens through the sharing of the Word of God and the mutual love of the community.
So let us build the Christian community into a sacrament of love and unity despite our imperfections and sinfulness by exercising mercy and compassion towards each other. In the creed, we say the Church is Holy because of Christ, but we are sinners becoming and growing to be more like Him. So let us be signs of God’s mercy and compassion to each other through our compassion for the poor, the sick, the marginalized and for those who have sinned against us. Through such signs, they may “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this they may have life through his name.”