The Lord has truly risen, alleluia.
Year: C(II). Liturgical Colour: White.
Divine Mercy Sunday
Since 2000, the second Sunday of Easter has also been known as Divine Mercy Sunday.
Here are some extracts from a sermon given by Pope John Paul II on the occasion of the canonization of Sister Faustina Kowalska on 30 April 2000 (Vatican web site
Today my joy is truly great in presenting the life and witness of Sr Faustina Kowalska to the whole Church as a gift of God for our time. By divine Providence, the life of this humble daughter of Poland was completely linked with the history of the 20th century, the century we have just left behind. In fact, it was between the First and Second World Wars that Christ entrusted his message of mercy to her. Those who remember, who were witnesses and participants in the events of those years and the horrible sufferings they caused for millions of people, know well how necessary was the message of mercy.
Jesus told Sr Faustina: “Humanity will not find peace until it turns trustfully to divine mercy.” Through the work of the Polish religious, this message has become linked for ever to the 20th century, the last of the second millennium and the bridge to the third. It is not a new message but can be considered a gift of special enlightenment that helps us to relive the Gospel of Easter more intensely, to offer it as a ray of light to the men and women of our time.
What will the years ahead bring us? What will man’s future on earth be like? We are not given to know. However, it is certain that in addition to new progress there will unfortunately be no lack of painful experiences. But the light of divine mercy, which the Lord in a way wished to return to the world through Sr Faustina’s charism, will illumine the way for the men and women of the third millennium.
It is important then that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called “Divine Mercy Sunday.” In the various readings, the liturgy seems to indicate the path of mercy which, while re-establishing the relationship of each person with God, also creates new relations of fraternal solidarity among human beings. Christ has taught us that man not only receives and experiences the mercy of God, but is also called to practise mercy towards others: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” He also showed us the many paths of mercy, which not only forgives sins but reaches out to all human needs. Jesus bent over every kind of human poverty, material and spiritual.
It is not easy to love with a deep love, which lies in the authentic gift of self. This love can only be learned by penetrating the mystery of God’s love. Looking at him, being one with his fatherly heart, we are able to look with new eyes at our brothers and sisters, with an attitude of unselfishness and solidarity, of generosity and forgiveness. All this is mercy!
Sr Faustina Kowalska wrote in her Diary: “I feel tremendous pain when I see the sufferings of my neighbours. All my neighbours’ sufferings reverberate in my own heart; I carry their anguish in my heart in such a way that it even physically destroys me. I would like all their sorrows to fall upon me, in order to relieve my neighbour.” This is the degree of compassion to which love leads, when it takes the love of God as its measure!
It is this love which must inspire humanity today, if it is to face the crisis of the meaning of life, the challenges of the most diverse needs and, especially, the duty to defend the dignity of every human person. Thus the message of divine mercy is also implicitly a message about the value of every human being. Each person is precious in God’s eyes; Christ gave his life for each one; to everyone the Father gives his Spirit and offers intimacy.
This consoling message is addressed above all to those who, afflicted by a particularly harsh trial or crushed by the weight of the sins they committed, have lost all confidence in life and are tempted to give in to despair. To them the gentle face of Christ is offered; those rays from his heart touch them and shine upon them, warm them, show them the way and fill them with hope. How many souls have been consoled by the prayer “Jesus, I trust in you,” which Providence intimated through Sr Faustina!
And you, Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole Church, obtain for us an awareness of the depth of divine mercy; help us to have a living experience of it and to bear witness to it among our brothers and sisters. May your message of light and hope spread throughout the world, spurring sinners to conversion, calming rivalries and hatred and opening individuals and nations to the practice of brotherhood. Today, fixing our gaze with you on the face of the risen Christ, let us make our own your prayer of trusting abandonment and say with firm hope: Christ Jesus, I trust in you!
In other years: St Fidelis of Sigmaringen (1578 - 1622)
He was born in Sigmaringen in Germany. He joined the Capuchin Friars at the age of 35 and led a harsh life of prayer and vigils. An assiduous preacher, he was ordered by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith to preach orthodox doctrine in the Grisons (part of Switzerland). He was murdered by a Calvinist mob at Seewis on 24 April 1622. See the articles in the Catholic Encyclopaedia
Other saints: St Erkenwald (- 693)
Saint Erconwald [or Erkenwald] was born at “Stallyngeton in Lindsey” (possibly Stallingborough, near Grimsby) in the early seventh century. His father is variously described as Anna or Offa, king of East Anglia, and a pagan. Erconwald was converted to Christianity at an early age by St Mellitus, the companion of Augustine and first Bishop of London [in the continuous line which ended in 1559: see the note at the bottom]. He then converted his younger sister Ethelburga and baptised her, much to the fury of their father. Ethelburga eventually fled her parents’ home with one servant to escape being forced into marriage with a pagan.
In the year 666 Erconwald founded the monastery of Chertsey, on an island in the Thames, apparently at the junction of several kingdoms. It is described as being founded in the reign of King Egbert, King of Kent; the foundation was confirmed, and richly endowed, by Frithwald, viceroy of Surrey, under Wulfhere King of Mercia. The Viceroy put himself and his son under obedience to Erconwald in return for prayers. Wulfhere confirmed this endowment. There is a further charter of Frithwald and Erconwald, to increase the lands of the monastery: the “Limites Terrarum” describes lands in Chertsey, Thorpe, Egham and adjacent parishes now attached to the monastery.
Shortly after this Erconwald founded a convent at Barking in Essex, intended to be a refuge for his sister Ethelburga. The foundation charter, countersigned by Hodilred, King of Essex, provides us with a specimen of the saint’s handwriting. In the course of building the house at Barking one beam was found to be too short, and was pulled out to the correct length by Erconwald and his sister.
Erconwald remained as Abbot of Chertsey until 675 when he was consecrated third Bishop of London by St Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury. St Erconwald appears to have been the first resident bishop, and probably began the building of St Paul’s, although traditionally this was adapted from a pagan temple of old Londinium. In 677 he visited Rome, and obtained a number of privileges for his diocese and monastery from Pope Agatho I.
During his time as Bishop, Erconwald became noted for miracles and for evangelization. He instructed St Neot, afterwards of Crowland Abbey, and the two Kings of Essex, Sebbi and Sigheri, the former of whom afterwards became a hermit in St Paul’s under Erconwald’s successor Waldhere.
In 690 Erconwald was summoned, together with St Wilfrid, to the deathbed of St Theodore. Both ministered to him, but Theodore was more concerned to speak to Wilfrid, whom he wished to succeed him. In 692 King Ine of Wessex mentions his “father Erconwald” who assisted him in codifying the Laws of Wessex.
Thus Erconwald is associated with the Kings of East Anglia, Mercia, Essex, Wessex and Kent, all of whom seem to have had interests centering in the Chertsey area. The King of Sussex, Æthelwealh, was godson to Wulfhere of Mercia, so six of the Seven Kingdoms are involved in his story.
Towards the end of his life Erconwald was confined to a wheelchair, about which many stories are told. On one occasion a raging river parted to allow the Saint to cross in his chair; on another one wheel fell off but the chair miraculously did not upset. After his death many miracles of healing were worked by the same wheelchair.
In 693 Brithwald, Archbishop of Canterbury, consecrated Waldhere as fourth Bishop of London, so it seems likely that Erconwald died in that year, on 30th April. He died while on retreat at Barking Abbey, and there was the usual unseemly dispute over who should have the burying of him, between Barking, Chertsey and London. The Canons of St Paul’s prevailed, and despite a last-ditch attempt by the nuns of Barking, succeeded in capping their miracle with a greater. (The nuns prayed for rain to swell the river at Ilford to make it impossible for the cortege to cross, and to extinguish the candles, but the men of London persuaded the candles to relight, and the river to part again so that they crossed dry-shod.) Despite all this he was buried in a common earthen grave where he remained until 1087 when a fire destroyed the cathedral and everything in it except the coffin containing his remains. These were then translated to a splendid new shrine behind the high altar, where they remained right up to the Great Fire of 1666, despite the depredations of the Reformation. He was venerated throughout the Middle Ages.
Note: A pedant informs us – and we gratefully acknowledge it – that the above notes are not quite correct. There were Bishops of London long before the first Bishop of London. There may have been up to 16 Bishops of London in Romano-British times; then again, there may not. Bishops from York and from London are documented as having attended the Council of Arles in the year 314. Actually, the record says there were two Bishops of London at the Council, which is impossible. One, Restitutus, was “de civitate Londenensi”, “from the city of London”, which seems reasonable enough. The other, Adelfius, was “de civitate Colonia Londenensium” and this may be a mistake for “de civitate Camulodunensium” – “the city of the people of Camulodunum”, or Colchester. Then again, another scholar has argued that he might have been from Caerleon. The history of our own times may one day be as thin as this!
Other saints: Saint Egbert (639-729)
Argyll & the Isles
Ecgberht was an Anglo-Saxon nobleman, probably from Northumbria. In his youth he travelled to Ireland in 664, to study. One of his acquaintances at this time was Chad. He settled at the monastery of Rathelmigisi (Rathmelsigi). His Northumbrian traveling companions, including Æthelhun, died of the plague, and he contracted it as well. He vowed that if he recovered he would become a peregrinus, on perpetual pilgrimage from his homeland of Britain, and would lead a life of penitential prayer and fasting. He was then 25, and when he recovered he kept his vow until his death at the age of 90.
He began to organize monks in Ireland to proselytize in Frisia, in what is now north-western Germany. Many other high-born notables were associated with his work: Saint Adalbert, Saint Swithbert, and Saint Chad.
He had influential contacts with the kings of Northumbria and of the Picts, as well as with Iona, which he persuaded to adopt the Roman dating of Easter. He became bishop of Lindisfarne. He died on the first day that the Easter feast was observed on this date in his monastery, on 24 April 729.
Today's Gospel: What did Thomas disbelieve?
The evangelists are scrupulously careful not to over-interpret the facts. Their job, as they see it, is to report, ours is to believe and, believing, understand. Part of our trust in the story of the Transfiguration, for example, is the fact that no moral is drawn directly from it. It is, as a narrative element, entirely pointless, and the only possible reason for including it in the Gospel story is that it actually happened.
In today’s Gospel, the story of Thomas leaves open an interesting question: what exactly was it that he refused to believe?
Thomas might simply have been refusing to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. ‘When a man is dead, he is dead’. This, after all, is the attitude of the Jews and the Romans. But it is not what John says. John reports that the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord,’ and Thomas replied, ‘Without physical proofs, I refuse to believe’. There is no actual mention of rising from the dead as being the point at issue.
Consider a hypothetical pure, spiritual religion – something that fits well with what we think “religious” means when we aren’t really thinking. In such a religion, spirit is perfect, matter is imperfect (even if we remember to stop short of actually calling it evil). One might even say, spirit is relevant, matter is irrelevant; or spirit is real, matter is unreal.
On such a “spiritual” view, God’s condescending to become incarnate is already a big thing to swallow – which is why so many early heretics (concerned above all for the dignity of God) denied it. Another way of making the Christian story decent was to maintain (as some people did) that the real Jesus was whisked away by angels before the Crucifixion, and a phantom “Jesus” “suffered” in his stead.
But there is more, and this is where Thomas comes in. Even if one has watched the whole thing happen, or looked into the eyes of people who have, and can have no doubts about what did happen on Good Friday, there is still one resort left for those who believe above all in the purity of Deity. Jesus, having gone through the whole sorry business of suffering in the body (indeed, the even sorrier business of being in a body at all) brings the whole story to an end by rising from the dead – but rising from the body, not in it. Rising, he points us up towards – and, going up, he leads us into – a future in which, having left the body and all its inherent imperfection behind, we too can dissolve into pure Spirit.
That is all very spiritual and enlightened, but it is not the Christian story.
What the other disciples told Thomas, and (arguably) what he refused to believe, was that Jesus had resurrected into a bodily existence – a risen body, indeed, but a body nevertheless. The lesson Jesus taught to Thomas directly, a week later, was (in that case) not that he had risen, but that he had risen in the body.
The consequences are cosmic in scale. The body, it turns out, is not something to be superseded, or a mistake to be got out of with relief. Rather, it is a thing to be perfected, a thing we are going to be in for all eternity. Heaven will be full of bodies.
Whatever it was that Thomas disbelieved, his story reminds us that we have to remember not to over-spiritualize ourselves, but to establish relations with our own (and others’) bodies on the correct, healthy footing. Christians do not have bodies, Christians are embodied beings. Yes, it is true that on death we leave this body behind; but what this brings us to is just a lame, truncated, provisional, transitory state that lasts only until the general resurrection restores us as whole beings on a new level – one which, today, we can only point vaguely towards, or talk about in metaphorical terms, as St Paul does. But whatever our final state is, it is definitely a wholeness of body and spirit.
And that conclusion leads all the way back to our own existence here on earth and the way we should live it. The thing is, because I do not have a body (as a toy to be played with, or a garment that can have anything done to it without affecting the real me), whatever I do with or to my body, I do with or to myself. The same argument applies to you. It is impossible for me to do anything with or to your body, because you do not have one either: I can only do it, whatever it is, with or to you, yourself. From drinking to drug-taking to fornication, the separation of ‘my body’ from ‘me’ is an illusion. The reality is that what I do to my body, I do to me. My “lost weekend” is not lost, cut out, gone as if it had never been: it is just as much part of my life as all the other days of my life are. If we can rid ourselves of the illusion of separation and understand ourselves as a body-and-spirit whole, many temptations begin to be seen in their true light; and the Church’s teaching about carnal matters becomes, not something to be believed out of respect for authority, but the most obvious thing in the world.
The term ‘Theology of the Body’ is a new one, introduced by Pope John Paul II, but it is only bringing out the truth has always been there, the truth that Thomas had to be shown to make him believe it.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430)
Augustine was born in Thagaste in Africa of a Berber family. He was brought up a Christian but left the Church early and spent a great deal of time seriously seeking the truth, first in the Manichaean heresy, which he abandoned on seeing how nonsensical it was, and then in Neoplatonism, until at length, through the prayers of his mother and the teaching of St Ambrose of Milan, he was converted back to Christianity and baptized in 387, shortly before his mother’s death.
Augustine had a brilliant legal and academic career, but after his conversion he returned home to Africa and led an ascetic life. He was elected Bishop of Hippo and spent 34 years looking after his flock, teaching them, strengthening them in the faith and protecting them strenuously against the errors of the time. He wrote an enormous amount and left a permanent mark on both philosophy and theology. His Confessions, as dazzling in style as they are deep in content, are a landmark of world literature. The Second Readings in the Office of Readings contain extracts from many of his sermons and commentaries and also from the Confessions.
Liturgical colour: white
White is the colour of heaven. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate feasts of the Lord; Christmas and Easter, the great seasons of the Lord; and the saints. Not that you will always see white in church, because if something more splendid, such as gold, is available, that can and should be used instead. We are, after all, celebrating.
In the earliest centuries all vestments were white – the white of baptismal purity and of the robes worn by the armies of the redeemed in the Apocalypse, washed white in the blood of the Lamb. As the Church grew secure enough to be able to plan her liturgy, she began to use colour so that our sense of sight could deepen our experience of the mysteries of salvation, just as incense recruits our sense of smell and music that of hearing. Over the centuries various schemes of colour for feasts and seasons were worked out, and it is only as late as the 19th century that they were harmonized into their present form.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||(1 Corinthians 15:3-5) ©|
Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures; he was buried; and he was raised to life on the third day, in accordance with the scriptures. He appeared first to Cephas and secondly to the Twelve.
|Noon reading (Sext)||Ephesians 2:4-6 ©|
God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy: when we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ – it is through grace that you have been saved – and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus.
|Afternoon reading (None)||Romans 6:4 ©|
When we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.