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Jesus Christ, the Personification of Mercy

On the Readings for Sunday, April 19, 2020, the Second Sunday of Easter/Divine Mercy Sunday

Detail from "The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (Incredulità di San Tommaso, 1601-02) by Caravaggio [Wikipedia]

• Acts 2:42-47
• Psa 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
• 1 Pet 1:3-9
• Jn 20:19-31

As a young boy I enjoyed playing Little League baseball. On a couple of occasions, while playing a lesser opponent, our team would be so far ahead that the “mercy rule” took effect, meaning the game would end before all nine innings were played. This was meant to spare the other team embarrassment and to ensure the game ended in a timely manner.

Ordinary mercy involves having compassion and pity on another person. It usually assumes a certain relationship between those who have power and those who are powerless. It is based on the recognition, at some level, of the dignity of those who have less and who are vulnerable. Divine mercy goes even deeper and farther—so deep and far, in fact, that we cannot fully comprehend it. It flows from the heart of Jesus Christ, who not only has pity on us sinners but willingly allowed Himself to be disgraced, beaten, mocked, and killed for our sake.

In the language of sports, the crucified Christ was a “loser” so that we might, by His gift and grace, win eternal life. I say “loser” because we know, as today’s Gospel explains, that while Jesus lost His life by giving it up on the Cross, He was restored to life by the Father. Saint Gregory the Great wrote of the doubting Apostle Thomas, “It was not an accident that that particular disciple was not present,” referring to Christ’s first appearance to the frightened disciples in the locked room (Jn 20:19-24). “The divine mercy ordained that a doubting disciple should, by feeling in his Master the wounds of the flesh, heal in us the wounds of unbelief.”

It is tempting, I think, to sometimes look down on the Apostle Thomas, as though we would have readily accepted the witness of the other apostles. Perhaps. But the other disciples, at the first appearance of the risen Lord, also needed to see the hands and side of their Lord. In other words, Thomas asked for the same verification that Christ has given the others. As Saint Gregory indicates, Thomas’s doubt was used by God as a means of mercy for our sake, for the Christian faith is rooted in the historical event of the Resurrection and in the first-hand witness of those who saw, touched, and spoke with the risen Christ.

In April of 2000, Pope John Paul II officially established this second Sunday of Easter as the Sunday of Divine Mercy, recognizing the private revelations given by Jesus to Saint Faustina Kowalska. Saint Faustina saw two rays of light shining from the heart of Christ, which, He explained to her, “represent blood and water.” Reflecting on this vision and Christ’s statement, John Paul II wrote, “Blood and water! We immediately think of the testimony given by the Evangelist John, who, when a solider on Calvary pierced Christ’s side with his spear, sees blood and water flowing from it (cf. Jn 19: 34). Moreover, if the blood recalls the sacrifice of the Cross and the gift of the Eucharist, the water, in Johannine symbolism, represents not only Baptism but also the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 3: 5; 4: 14; 7: 37-39).”

The divine mercy, then, involves the sacrificial self-gift that God offers to us, flowing from the heart of the Father, demonstrated in the death of the Son, and given by the power of the Holy Spirit. John Paul II, in his encyclical Dives in Misericordia—“On the Mercy of God” (Nov 30, 1980)—wrote that Christ “makes incarnate and personified [mercy]. He himself, in a certain sense, is mercy.”

In seeing Christ, man sees God and is able to enter into life-giving communion with Him. This beautiful truth is the focus of today’s epistle, written by Saint Peter, which speaks of the great mercy given by the Father through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Life, of course, is not a game, nor is divine mercy a rule. It is a reality, a gift from the heart of Jesus Christ.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the March 30, 2008, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1190 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. He Was a Loser

    He was a loser
    A looser in the tradition of great losers of this world
    Like Vincent he was tormented
    by the depth of compassion he felt
    towards those he met
    whose needs smacked him in the face
    His empathy for others
    was a generous response to the pain in his own being

    His life long search to find a home
    a community of accepting accomodating individuals
    whose passions would compliment his own
    who could stretch the boundaries of relationship
    beyond their own social cultural comfort zone
    left him yet again
    like an unhealthy child of a debt ridden third world nation
    picking the scab of his festering untreated wound

    Like Jesus
    whose calling
    led him down a one way street to a painful death
    his destiny seemed unavoidable

    Being misunderstood
    by the false assumptions of others
    added a few kilos to his backpack

    Yet he was a realist
    not some dreamer lost in a fantasy of idealism
    To him his quest for greatness
    found expression in acknowledging the sacredness
    of the most ordinary things in his and others lives

    He was a Nelson Mandella
    who was never released from prison
    to shine in the fulfilment of his dream

    I used to see him often
    He even stayed at my house once
    I could feel his pain
    I knew his joy

    I wish he was still with us
    and we shared his priorities
    But we didn‘t let go
    and be vulnerable in that way

    We let that rare opportunity
    Pass us by

    C. Hallam 2002

  2. Divine mercy goes even deeper and farther—so deep and far, in fact, that we cannot fully comprehend it (Olson). This is where the Mystery of God’s infinite good, his merciful love is unfathomable for the human intellect. How deep that love is that the mockery, foul contempt, murderous hatred was endured for us to “reveal” as the Liturgy says “the depth of his love”. Personally I couldn’t find it within myself to forgive my murderers, ‘after’ my death by rising from the dead for their sake. That we [his murderers you and guilty collectively because of our sins] might know the inscrutable depth of that love and be drawn to love him. It can only by the gift of his grace that we can approach an understanding and be willing to emulate. The glory returning to Him alone. Jesus’ act possesses its own intelligibility. Why of itself it reveals itself and in turn reveals the hearts of men, what must be the ultimate truth either denied sealing our condemnation or accepted gaining our salvation.

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