Ultimate joy of Easter: the Divine Mercy of God

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Divine Mercy Sunday in the Octave of Easter, 16 April 2023
Acts 2:42-47 ><}}}*> 1 Peter 1:3-9 ><}}}*> John 20:19-31
Photo by author, 08 February 2023.

The ultimate joy of Easter is God’s Divine Mercy, of how his Son Jesus Christ became human like us in everything except sin, searching and finding us to bring us back to the Father by dying on the Cross. Now he is risen, Jesus overflows us with his Divine Mercy right here, right now.

Unlike other religions, Christianity is so unique because it is about God looking for us humans by becoming like us so that we may become like him in Jesus Christ. In Christ, we have come to know and experience God as a person, relating with us in all tenderness and love because he himself had gone through all our pains and hurts, betrayals and disappointments, even death! Read the Bible and you shall see from the Old Testament to the New Testament, we find series of stories of God searching for man, beginning with Adam and Eve who hid after eating the forbidden fruit reaching its highest point in the coming of Jesus Christ who on this second Sunday in Easter came looking again for us represented by the disciples who have gone hiding in a locked room for fears of their leaders who have threatened to arrest them following reports of the empty tomb.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

John 20:19-20, 24-28

“The Incredulity of St. Thomas”, painting by Caravaggio (1601-02) from commons.wikimedia.org.

“The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” But we wonder, what kind of rejoicing was it? It must have been more than the rejoicing of passing the Bar or any board exam. There was something else in their rejoicing if we try to imagine being there on that Sunday evening of the third day.

What do I mean? Have you ever felt being the one actually lost when some friends or loved ones as well valuable things have gone “missing”?

That feeling of being the one actually lost because the “missing” persons and things have never left us entirely but just there waiting to be found and rediscovered like when things get hidden underneath the car seat or misplaced somewhere else and forgotten. Once “found” again, there is that deep sense of joy coupled with a sense of wonder and astonishment because the truth is, it was not us who have found the lost person or thing but they were the ones who actually found us too! Here is a case more profound than the “eureka” experience for we were the ones who were lost and finally found again.

And that’s the rejoicing of the disciples in seeing Jesus again that evening of Easter Sunday! They were the ones who were actually lost and found by Jesus!

Just like us today in many instances in life when we have been running away from God, locking ourselves inside our very selves because of fears, insecurities and false securities, pride and sinfulness, as well as doubts and incredulity, unbelief and disbelief in God and in one another. Like Thomas, many times we have been so unreasonable in our demands for proofs of God and everything, insisting that “to see is to believe” without realizing that it is when we believe that we actually see.

Recall during the ministry of Jesus in Galilee how he kept telling his disciples to search for the “lost sheep” of Israel first and later everyone who have sinned and been away from God. That was Divine Mercy in action. Consider these other concrete expressions of Divine Mercy by Jesus:

At the Last Supper, John told us that Jesus “loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (Jn.13:1); this he proved by washing the feet of the Twelve! He further proved his love the following Good Friday by dying on the Cross and immediately at Easter, to prove his love again, he looked for Mary Magdalene to break the news of his resurrection to his disciples.

Jesus is the one who finds us unaware of his presence like on this second Sunday after Easter when he appeared to Thomas who was so shocked and surprised that all he could tell Jesus was “my Lord and my God”! I doubt if ever had the chance to examine the Lord’s wounds at all!

Next Sunday we shall hear in the gospel how it is always Jesus who searches and finds us when we least expect him like in the opposite directions in life when he walked with the two disciples to Emmaus Easter evening, only to be recognized by them at his breaking of bread.

Last Friday we have heard in the gospel how Jesus again for the third time appeared after finding them in a fruitless night of fishing in Lake Tiberias by telling them to cast their net to the right side of the boat; their nets almost teared with the bountiful catch of fish!

“The Road to Emmaus” painting by American Daniel Bonnell from fineartamerica.com.

In life, it is always Jesus who searches and finds us. We are the ones always getting lost. Many times in life we cry, asking where is God but the fact is he never leaves us, he is always with us, coming to us everyday, especially on Sundays in the Holy Mass where Jesus leads our celebrations.

On Tuesday, I will celebrate my 25th year of ordination to the priesthood. How I got ordained was a long story of getting lost for nine years when I was sent out of the high school seminary after graduation in 1982. I went to college in UST and finished AB Journalism in 1986, working as a writer then a reporter for GMA Channel 7 News until 1991 when I gave my vocation a second chance by entering the seminary again.

All those years from 1982 to 1991, I felt lost and empty despite a promising career with good pay and all the perks that went with it and a sense of security but, deep inside me was a big hole of being incomplete. That was how I went back to God in prayers, then slowly to the Mass and Confessions, and the more I moved closer to God, the more I felt empty yet eager for him that I finally consulted some priests. After a few years of discernment, I decided to leave everything and started anew in God in the seminary in 1991.

It was not easy going back to the seminary but God had such wonderful ways of finding me, even at the nick of time, to save my vocation. My turning point happened during our Ignatian retreat of 30 days when I finally committed myself to God as I felt his love and presence so irresistible, even himself so true. In 1998 with six other classmates, we were ordained priests at the Malolos Cathedral. Again, it was not an easy 25 years with so many times I often felt lost and empty mostly by my own making when I sin. But like before, Jesus in his Divine Mercy has always been the One searching and finding me even in the opposite directions when I hid amid rejections, failures, fears, sadness and weeping.

Like the early Christians in our first reading, I have found God most present in those 25 years as a priest and as an individual in the communal celebrations of the Holy Eucharist, aka, the breaking of bread as I realized too that priestly celibacy is lived in a community not only of priests but with you the laity.

With the responsorial psalm this Sunday as our prayer, “let us give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting” because as Peter tells us in the second reading, God our Father “in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pt. 1:3). Let us rejoice in him who finds us always when we are lost. Amen. Have a blessed week ahead. Say a prayer for me this Tuesday. Thank you.

Prayer I have composed after our 30-day retreat in 1995 that until now, I still pray because it is so personally true. That is Divine Mercy for me. And hope with you too!
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