Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Divine Mercy Sunday Year A 2017

Familiar as we may be with Victor Hugo, Quasimodo applies less to the Hunchback of Notre Dame than to the Sunday in the Octave of Easter. It is Quasimodo Sunday--taken from the first word of the Introit[1]. Alternatively, it is Dominica in albis which refers to the de-robing rite of the Neophytes who for 8 days had worn the white garment of their baptism. These white covers or albs, a powerful witness to the baptismal vows, are to be kept in the Cathedral treasury.

We know today as Divine Mercy Sunday, though what it feels like is, the “Sacred Heart of Jesus update 2.0”. We already have a devotion to the Heart of Jesus, popularised with the help of the Jesuits, by St Margaret Mary Alacoque. But now, the last day of the Easter Octave, the spotlight has shifted to the Mercy of God, a devotion promoted by St Faustina Kowalska. When the Feast of the Divine Mercy was instituted, it felt as if JPII arbitrarily imposed his predilection for an approved private revelation of a Polish sister unto the universal Church. However, the Collect[2] does validate St JPII's decision proving that he was not at all capricious. The opening prayer links the annual recurrence of Easter with God's eternal mercy, beseeching that He keeps our hearts so inflamed that we may never forget the work of Redemption brought by Christ for all of us.

The setting up of Divine Mercy Sunday does strike one as having stumbled upon God's mercy, when in reality, the devotion is not a novelty. The emphasis on God's mercy has always been there.

Hosea encouraged Israel not to allow fear to separate us from God. Isaiah reminded us that God has carved us into the palm of His hand and that even if a mother should forget her child, He will not forget us. Covenantal history in sacred scripture is truly a chart of God's mercy extended to humanity and each time we failed to remember that God loves us, He comes to reassure us.

Just like the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus arriving at a time when the Church was afflicted by the Jansenist movement. In hoping to combat moral laxity, Jansenism stressed moral rigorism, which inevitably ended up denying human free-will and God's grace. The result can only be either despair or depravity since what one does has no effect whatsoever on one's salvation. When Man is incapable of disposing himself to God's mercy, religion becomes frightening and its embrace will be suffocated by scrupulosity. 

A more balanced approach to God's mercy is captured poetically by the Psalmist: "Justice and mercy have embraced". But, since nature is tainted, a wedge has been driven between mercy and justice. It would appear that man after Adam lives in fear that God's justice may be too exacting and therefore unmerciful, that he needs to lobotomise them.

But in every narrative of God's mercy towards humanity, justice is never far away. For example, together with trusting in the tender heart of Jesus, the call is issued at the same time toward reparation. In other words, reforming one's life follows in tandem with approaching the merciful altar of God. The recently passed Year of Mercy, echoing the Collect for today's Mass, was a call to remember the font (of baptism) we have been washed in, and so, was an entreaty to open our hearts to the fount of God's mercy.

Drinking at the fount of God's mercy is at the same time, an invitation to reform one's life because God’s mercy always moves us forward and upward--or heavenward.

Sadly, either we are unable to hear this or maybe we do not want to hear this. The secular world appears incapable of grasping the notion that enjoying God’s mercy is also a call for repentance. Instead, what it hopes to hear is how mercy may be applied especially to couples who are excluded from Holy Communion. If God were really that forgiving, then proof of that should be found in His accommodation to human frailty. As a corollary, if God is that merciful, should not the Church be more compassionate?

In a way, mercy has become a "get-out-of-gaol" card minus the consequences of sin and freedom. It is true, according to St Thomas, that justice without mercy is cruelty. But, in our case, mercy without justice becomes the mother of dissolution. So, in practice, a pastoral approach that minimises the reality of sin and its consequences, under the guise of being merciful, will result in confirming those living in sin to stay where they are. This is not surprising because for a good number of decades now,  we have inhaled the aroma of therapy which stresses affirmation more than redemption. Since, no one is supposed to judge, this indulgent idea of accommodative mercy synchronises closely with the present age of narcissistic entitlement. In short, God owes it to us and He better delivers.

Today is also known as "Low Sunday", a name probably derived from the Sarum Rite to contrast it with the high festivity of Easter Resurrection. It renders this Sunday almost unimportant and perhaps confirmed by low Church attendances in places where obligation is limited to Christmas and Easter. Thus, Mercy Sunday highlights the seriousness of Easter because it draws us to dwell on God's merciful love not as an indulgence to stagnate where we are but to appreciate mercy as a grace whereby, like the Neophyte divesting themselves of the white garment of baptism, it prompts our eagerness to forgo sin so as to enlist in the campaign of continued conversion to Christ whose death gained for us a life that is eternal.


[1] Quasimodo—Like newborn infants, you must long for the pure, spiritual milk that in Him you may grow to salvation. Alleluia. (1 Pet 2: 2).
[2] Collect: God of everlasting mercy, who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast kindle the faith of the people you have made your own, increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed, that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed. Through our Lord Jesus Christ….