The fullness of Easter Joy is captured by the vivid description of Easter as the eighth day of creation. In Christ’s rising, the world experiences the first day of a new creation. In 2000, Saint John Paul II designated the 2nd Sunday of Easter (the final or 8th day of the Easter Octave) as “Divine Mercy Sunday” and called it the “hermeneutical crown” of the final day of creation. Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation, and so Divine Mercy becomes the key to understanding the joy of Easter.
Last Sunday’s Gospel scene gives us insights into this mystery of the Divine Love of Jesus. He comes in the midst of locked doors, fear and lack of trust. A Chinese lore asks a riddle: if you want to reach someone, do you teach, tell a story or offer a greeting? The answer: offer a greeting. Without your greeting being received, no story or teaching will bear fruit. So, Jesus gives his greeting: “Peace.” “Shalom.” “Be whole and at one with your God, with each other and within yourself.” All is contained in that one word: “Peace.”
Saint John Paul summed up the Divine Master’s word of peace and look of compassionate love in one word: mercy. We are told that, when the love of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit reaches frail and sinful humanity, that love takes the form of mercy. Like a drop of water from the heavens that reaches the ground and becomes dew in the morning mist, so God’s love for His creation touches our fragile and sinful hearts in the way we need: mercy.
If you travel back in time to the 1930s in Eastern Europe, you will find a world full of fear. With Nazi German cruelty growing and atheistic Communism in the Soviet Union on the rise, fear and suspicion abounded. With two forces of godlessness on the rise, it is not surprising that a lone voice from an unsuspecting place would be given by God as a counter sign of God’s mercy.
The voice was that of a contemplative woman religious and her diary remains to tell her story so simply and so powerfully. On October 5, 1938, a young religious by the name Sister Faustina (Helen Kowalska) died in a convent of the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Cracow, Poland. She came from a very poor family that had struggled hard on their little farm during the terrible years of WWI. Sister had had only three years of very simple education. Hers were the humblest of tasks in the convent, usually in the kitchen or the vegetable garden, or as a porter.
On February 22, 1931, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ appeared to this simple nun, bringing with Him a wonderful message of Mercy for all mankind. Saint Faustina tells us in her diary under this date:
“In the evening, when I was in my cell, I became aware of the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One hand was raised in blessing, the other was touching the garment at the breast. From the opening of the garment at the breast here came forth two large rays, one red and the other pale. In silence I gazed intently at the Lord; my soul was overwhelmed with fear, but also with great joy. After a while Jesus said to me, ‘paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the inscription: Jesus, I trust in You.’”
She was firm in her determination to follow the instructions. Even after her own failure to put paint to canvas successfully, she was able to direct an artist and even in her simple faith, to correct the artist when he did not get it right.
The painting is that magnetic image of our Lord Jesus from whose Sacred Heart flows blessings depicted in rays of light. It is that image that countless millions of believers view as they pray at 3:00 p.m. each day, first to His Father, “Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.” Then in litany-fashion, with eyes on His sacred wounds, believers pray: “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
This devotion to Divine Mercy and the Chaplet prayers continue to draw many to the Mercy of God. Just two months ago my friend and coworker, Bruce Crawford, died at the age of 48. Just weeks before, he had witnessed to his faith at the funeral of his dear mother who preceded him in death. He spoke of praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet with his mother and of the habit he had formed of praying this prayer at 3 p.m. each day. At the visitation the night before his mother’s Mass of Christian Burial, he prayed the chaplet with the faithful who gathered. God’s mercy surrounded Bruce in this life and, I feel sure, ushered him into eternal glory – on what was for him the 8th day of creation.
As we witness to the 8th day of creation in the Resurrection of Jesus, may we voice with similar devotion the words of St. Faustina: Jesus, I trust in You.