Divine Mercy Sunday - April 7, 2024

As children, my siblings and I were afraid of the dark outside. Leaving each room would take us to an open hallway where we could see the darkness of the night and hear the wind blowing on the trees. Our fear of darkness was to be blamed in part on the adults because they told us that if we were not good, “el coco” would come to get us. El coco is a familiar figure in Latin American cultures, whose origin goes back to Spain and Portugal. El coco has been used there to encourage good behavior and obedience in children.

I recalled that fear of darkness this week as I reflected on the Divine Mercy image, which shows the Risen Lord against a dark background. This dark background represents the darkness of sin, especially the sin of killing the Son of God. The Risen Lord is the light of the world whose light illuminates the darkness of sin.

On this second Sunday of Easter, we celebrate in the liturgy the moment when the Risen Lord came from the land of the dead to meet his disciples. The disciples were then in the darkness of fear and sin, in the darkness of doubt and sadness.

The disciples were indeed in the darkness of fear. They were not only afraid of the Jews, who could persecute them for being the Lord’s companions. They were, I suggest, especially afraid of the Lord himself, whom they had abandoned when he needed them the most. The disciples were also in the darkness of sin. They had not been faithful to the Lord, except John who stood at the foot of the cross. The head of the group, embarrassingly, had denied the Lord three times.

In addition, the disciples were in the darkness of doubt. They had not fully believed the holy women who told them that the Lord had been raised from the dead. For eight days Thomas went without seeing the Risen Lord with his own eyes. Finally, the disciples were in the darkness of sadness, the sadness of mourning and death.

The dark background in which the Risen Lord walks in the Divine Mercy painting is the background of our world, the background of our lives. The disciple’s darkness is also our darkness.

Like them, we also fear giving testimony to our belief in the Lord and are afraid of the world and culture. Like them, we may also fear the Lord because we do not know him. We may fear his punishment because we continue to live in sin, and we dread the moment when we must face him perhaps lacking contrition and conversion. Like the disciples, we also sin, sometimes in great ways as when we deny the Lord with words and actions. Like the disciples, we also doubt even though we hear the Churches’ teaching on the Lord’s resurrection and Real Presence in the Eucharist.

The Risen Lord in the Divine Mercy painting walks in the direction of the viewer, in the direction of each one of us. The paschal Christ has his right hand, raised to the height of his shoulder, with his fingers upright and freely lie close together, imparting a blessing. He does not come toward us as someone who wants to take revenge on and destroy those who have not been faithful to him.

The paschal Christ in the painting has his left hand with thumb and index opening his white garment somewhat around his heart, from which rays come out in various directions, especially toward us, the viewers. The rays on the viewer’s right are pale or colorless and on his left are red. The pale rays stand for the water of baptism which makes souls righteous. The red rays stand for the Blood of the Eucharist which is the life of souls. These two types of rays are issued forth from the depth of the Lord’s tender mercy when his agonized heart was opened by a lance on the cross as John tell us in his gospel.

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, the Church invites us to focus on the mercy displayed on the Lord’s death and resurrection, which is the fount of the Holy Spirit by whom our sins are forgiven and who provides us the joy of having been forgiven. Like Thomas, the Church invites us to accept the Lord’s mercy and express it with words and actions. “My Lord and my God” professed Thomas. The Church, the Lord’s believers, have borrowed Thomas’ words for centuries to express our acceptance of our Redeemers’ mercy.

Let us humbly ask the Risen Lord to grant us his grace to accept his mercy especially in the sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation.