The devotion to experience Christ as Savior, The Anchor, April 05, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
The Anchor
Putting Out Into The Deep
April 05, 2013

On Sunday, Pope Francis in his Easter greeting before his solemn blessing for the city and the world (Urbi et Orbi), said that greatest Easter wish would be for “every heart” to recognize that “Jesus is risen, there is hope for you, you are no longer in the power of sin, of evil! Love has triumphed, mercy has been victorious! The mercy of God always triumphs!”

His choice of saying “every heart,” rather than“every mind,” was intentional. Many might recognize this truth intellectually, but they may not yet truly embrace it; and they have to grasp it with their heart to experience the true joy of the resurrection that Jesus wants to give us.

Francis invited everyone to “accept the grace of Christ’s Resurrection,” and then defined that grace as the transformation that occurs when we receive God’s mercy in our hearts so deeply that we begin to share it: “Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of His love to transform our lives, too; and let us become agents of this mercy.”

These are powerful words as we approach Divine Mercy Sunday as the culmination of the Easter Octave on Sunday.

This connection between Easter and the assimilation and sharing of God’s mercy Jesus Himself will underline at Mass on Sunday in the Gospel we’ll hear.

Jesus’ first act upon appearing to His Apostles was to wish them peace and then make them capable of bringing peace between God and human beings out to the world. “Just as the Father sent Me, so I send you,” He declared, and we know that the Father sent Jesus into the world as the Lamb of God to take away the world’s sins. He breathed on them the power of the Holy Spirit — since only God can forgive sins — and said, “Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven; those whose sins you retain are retained,” setting up the essential structure of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. The only way the Apostles, their successors and their priest collaborators would know which sins to forgive and retain would be if people told them their sins.

Jesus did this all on Easter Sunday night because the way we experience His Resurrection is through Reconciliation. He emphasized this connection in the Parable of the Prodigal Son when the father said: “My son was dead and has come back to life again.” Every Reconciliation, therefore, is meant to be a resurrection.

That’s why it’s so fitting that Divine Mercy Sunday be the exclamation point on the joy of the Easter Octave.

One of the reasons why, I believe, that Divine Mercy is not just another devotion, is because it is essential for the true joy and reality of Easter to penetrate our hearts and for us to relate to the Lord as He desires and deserves to be loved.

It wasn’t enough in the 12th and 13th centuries, for example, for the truth about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist to be grasped intellectually. Jesus desired that this reality pass from our heads, to our hearts to our knees, and through Blessed Juliana of Liège, Father Peter of Prague, St. Thomas Aquinas and other instruments, brought about true Eucharistic piety and appreciation for Christ in what He would later call the “Sacrament of love.” The feast of Corpus Christi, Eucharistic adoration, 40-hour devotions and other practices were all born from this desire of the Lord, not because He was a hypersensitive narcissist who wanted our attention and appreciation — far from it! — but because He wanted to transform and bless us through our taking His real presence seriously.

He did the same thing with His mercy, first through stimulating devotion to His Sacred Heart and then, in the 1930s, through His apparitions to St. Faustina Kowalska, asking her to bring to the world His desire for us to recognize our need for His mercy, come to receive it in the way He established, and, having been transformed by it, begin to share it with others.

In a world with so much unexpiated guilt leading to ceaseless cycles of violence, vengeance, hatred, and interpersonal and international wars, Jesus candidly declared that the world will not have peace until it turns to receive and share His mercy. Jesus established five practices by which we could grow in love of Him as Mercy Incarnate. These are practices that are destined to lead not only to personal renewal, but parochial and ecclesial renewal — and through ecclesial renewal, to bring about the renewal of the world.

The type of renewal by God’s mercy that Pope Francis talked about on Sunday in St. Peter’s Square has been one of the central ideas of his approach to the faith throughout his life.

We examined last week how he discovered his own vocation as a 16-year-old boy through his experience of God’s mercy in the confessional and how, through his motto “Miserando atque Eligendo,” he is announcing to the world that the Lord chooses us to be His disciples precisely through looking at us with a glance of loving mercy.

An authentically Christian discipleship begins with our recognition that we’re sinners in need of salvation and the concomitant experience that that Savior looks on us with merciful love.

“For me, feeling oneself a sinner is one of the most beautiful things that can happen, if it leads to its ultimate consequences” the future Pope Francis said in a 2010 book length interview, “El Jesuita.” At the Easter Vigil, he says, we sing “O Felix culpa,” exulting in the “happy sin” that brought us to experience the love of the Redeemer. “When a person becomes conscious that he is a sinner and is saved by Jesus, he proclaims this truth to himself and discovers the pearl of great price, the treasure buried in the field. He discovers the greatest thing in life: that there is someone Who loves him profoundly, Who gave His life for him.”

Many Catholics have sadly not had this fundamental Christian experience, he lamented. “There are people who believe the right things, who have received catechesis and accepted the Christian faith in some way, but who do not have the experience of having been saved.”

He then gave a powerful metaphor of what the authentic experience of God’s mercy is like. “It’s one thing when people tell us a story about someone risking his life to save a boy drowning in the river. It’s something else when I’m the one drowning and Someone gives His life to save me.”

That’s what Christ did for us to save us from the eternal watery grave of the deluge of sin, a truth we celebrate with jubilation on Divine Mercy Sunday. That’s what we should celebrate every day of our life, just like someone whose life has been saved by a hero would never be able to forget his Savior or thank Him enough.

Unfortunately, he said, “There are people to whom you tell the story who don’t see it, who don’t want to see, who don’t want to know what happened to that boy, who always have escape hatches from the situation of drowning and who therefore lack the experience of who they are. I believe that only we great sinners have this grace.”

The experience of God’s mercy — which the Divine Mercy devotion fosters — helps us to experience who we really are: Unless we see ourselves as great sinners rescued by the merciful, life-giving love of our Savior, we don’t yet grasp who God is, who we are, and how to have life to the full.

The future pope defined himself in “El Jesuita” as a “sinner who has been loved by the mercy of God in a privileged way.” And he’s seeking to help us all to see ourselves through the same lenses.

That’s the path to our living our faith with as much joy and self-giving as we’ve all been marveling to see in Francis.