Bishop's Column

The reciprocity of mercy

This Sunday, the octave of Easter, when the Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday, we should be thankful for the forgiveness the Lord has freely bestowed upon us.

And we have good reason to be thankful.

Each of us is a sinner.

But by our baptism and through the continual reception of the sacrament of penance and the sacrament of the holy Eucharist, through the Church and in our families, we've all to come know the merciful love of God's forgiveness.

Divine Mercy Sunday, however, is more than a chance to thank God for his merciful love. Divine Mercy Sunday is a challenge - an exhortation - to reflect the mercy of God toward others.

Showing mercy to another person is far more difficult than thanking God for the mercy he has shown us.

But this is exactly our vocation as Christians.

Divine Mercy Sunday began with the visions of a young Polish nun, St. Faustina Kowalska. In 1931 she was recovering from a long illness when Jesus appeared to her. He was wearing a white garment with rays of white and red emanating from his heart. These rays, St. Faustina would later report, represented "blood and water. The white ray stands for the water that makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the blood, which is the life of souls."

Jesus instructed St. Faustina to paint this image with an inscription at the bottom: "Jesus, I trust in you."

Trust in Jesus Christ is the key. We can trust him to forgive our sins. But we can also trust him to give us the grace to forgive others - and to discover the reciprocity of merciful love. We can trust him to give us the grace and strength we need to show mercy to others.

The Christian vocation, said Blessed John Paul II, consists in "the constant discovery and persevering practice of love." Mercy should be the consequence and source of this love.

In the encyclical "Dives in Misericordia" ("Rich in Mercy"), Blessed John Paul II observed that when we show mercy to others, we receive mercy from those who accept it. For the Christian, mercy is not a unilateral act, an act of pity or philanthropy. We extend mercy and others receive it. True mercy draws us into relationship with one another - the relationship that Jesus himself desires with us.

True mercy allows us to build relationships of love. In a true act of mercy, both parties - the donor and the receiver - are necessary. Mercy makes us essential to one another. This is the reason why Blessed John Paul II wrote that "merciful love is supremely indispensable between those who are closest to one another: between husbands and wives, between parents and children, between friends; and it is indispensable in education and in pastoral work."

This year, on Divine Mercy Sunday, I pray that all of us will commit to giving and receiving mercy. Doing so will strengthen our marriages, our families, our friendships. Engaging in the reciprocity of mercy will teach us to love in the image of the Blessed Trinity. It will help us to receive and be transformed by the mercy of God.

Mercy, ultimately, is about restoring and strengthening relationships. I pray that this Divine Mercy Sunday, we may grow stronger in our relationships with one another and stronger in our relationship with Jesus Christ, our merciful redeemer.

Most Rev. James D. Conley, S.T.L., is Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Denver.

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