Divine Mercy Sunday and COVID 19

Decorative ImageThere is a song that I used to like very much when I was a child. It is one that I am sure many of you will recognize. Its words are as follows:

He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

 

He’s got the itty bitty baby in His hands
He’s got the itty bitty baby in His hands
He’s got the itty bitty baby in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

 

He’s got a-you and me brother in His hands
He’s got a-you and me brother in His hands
He’s got a-you and me brother in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

 

He’s got a-you and me sister in His hands
He’s got a-you and me sister in His hands
He’s got a-you and me sister in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

 

He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

The point of this song is pretty simple. It reminds us over and over again, that God holds all of us in His hands and because of His loving care, we will all be fine. As a child, this song made me feel safe and reminded me that the world was in God’s hands and everything would be alright because of His unconditional love and mercy.

This is the way that many of us see the world when we are young. Children really have no control over the world or their lives. For that reason, they have to trust the adults around them and are open to the mystery of God and His love for us. As we grow older, we try to take life into our own hands and imagine that we are in charge of the universe. For many of us adults, the song that we might want to sing most of the time is: “I’ve got my whole world in my hands, I’ve got my whole world in my hands.” We think we are in control and we think that we can save ourselves. There is an illusion in most of our lives that we can plan the future and that we are in control of our own universes.

This is a little bit of the kind of illusion that we see “Doubting Thomas” struggling with in today’s Gospel. He had a plan for the way in which the future would work out. He hoped to follow his friend Jesus to His earthly victory and share in His glory. Once Jesus has been arrested and killed by the Roman soldiers on the cross, Thomas does not know what to do. When he hears that something good has come out of the tragedy of Jesus’ death, that Jesus has risen form the dead, to bring about another kind of Kingdom, Thomas does not want to believe. He refuses to believe unless he can take matters into his own hands and put his finger in Jesus’ wounds and side. It is almost as though Thomas was saying, unless I can take this matter into my own hands and understand it, I will not believe.

Into Thomas’ doubt, Jesus comes with mercy and compassion. Jesus invites Thomas to see Him alive and present in and through the suffering He has undergone. It is so significant that in His risen body, Jesus still has His wounds. His victory over death, does not eliminate His suffering.

As we all now struggle with the uncertainty of the COVID 19 virus, so many of us can find ourselves like Thomas, doubting that God can be present in a world that is suffering so much. The message of Easter, of Divine Mercy Sunday, is that God is very much present to all of us in these difficult days and times. He is present to those who are suffering, to those who are frightened, to the health care workers and to those who have lost a loved one. Like Thomas, we might want to try and take control of the present situation and find a solution or a certain path. It may even be our own effort to take control or understand that is preventing us from seeing God in this situation. If we really want to see God in this situation, we,  like Thomas, need to be willing to see Christ in the midst of the suffering; in the wounds of his people. Christ is to be seen in the midst of the suffering, in our fears, in our losses and in our uncertainty. In fact, if we really wish to see Christ in this situation, I think all of us must be willing to believe that He does have the whole world in His hands. He is present, as Thomas discovered in the wounds in His hands, where He holds each one of us in this time of struggle and difficulty.

The image of the Divine Mercy was revealed to Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska just before the Second World War. Although she died in 1938, she predicted a great war and the suffering that would soon follow. Many turned to the image of the Divine Mercy that was revealed to her in the midst of the great suffering that faced Poland throughout the war. In this image, from the wounded side of Christ, His mercy flowed out to strengthen those who looked on the image to believe that God was with them. Significantly, God’s mercy flows out from the same side of Christ, that Thomas said he needed to place his hand into if he were to believe that Jesus had really risen from the dead. Today, we can look to this same image, to the same wounds of Christ, to learn that God is with us. As we think of our pain and fear, Jesus invites us to a confidence and trust in His mercy that allows us to say with Thomas, as we think about the suffering around us, “My Lord and My God.”

When Thomas saw that Christ was truly risen, and that His wounds and suffering had not destroyed Him, he was able to say “My Lord and my God,” and to experience the peace of Christ. Many Catholics have the custom of saying these same words, “My Lord and my God,” when Jesus appears to us as a Christian community in the Eucharist. It is in the presence of the Eucharist, that we too are invited to share in this peace every time we come to Mass. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear how important it was for the Christian community to come together every Sunday to hear the Word proclaimed and to share in the breaking of the bread. We read in Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to prayers.” For many of us, it is the present inability to gather which is causing us so much pain and this is denying us the comfort that we need from the Lord in the gift of His body and blood. In this sadness, we can take comfort from today’s second reading from the letter of St. Peter, that states: “although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3-9). As Jesus revealed Himself to doubting Thomas after His suffering, so too he will be revealed to all of us through these present sufferings.

As we grow up, we all become more and more self-sufficient. This tends to make us all believe and think that we hold the world in our hands and that we are in control of our own destinies. Most of the time this is an illusion. Our lives are always in God’s hands and ultimately He alone is in control. This reality has been made clear to all of us through the difficult situation of the COVID 19 virus and the uncertainties that are now before us. On this Divine Mercy Sunday, I believe the Lord is inviting all of us, as He invited Thomas, to know that Christ has risen and destroyed death. Through Christ’s mercy, we are invited to see the face of God in our struggles and uncertainties. Just as God’s mercy shines out through the wounded heart of Christ in the image of the Divine Mercy, so His love and mercy awaits all of us in the woundedness and uncertainty of the present tribulations. We, like Doubting Thomas, are invited to look for the face of Christ in the wounds and hurt of this present situation. It is there that we will find Him and encounter His love and mercy.

Jesus does hold the whole world in His wounded hands. It is only there, in His and our suffering and uncertainty that we can find Him and encounter His mercy. If we wish to sing and make our song: “I hold my whole world in my hands,” we will never find Him. If we can make our song, that song of the little child, who can confidently sing that Jesus holds us and the whole world in His hands, then we will find ourselves, like Thomas, saying “My Lord and My God.” And this will give us the same peace and freedom that it gave to Thomas and the Apostles—a peace that will set us free and strengthen us through these present tribulations.

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, may we all know the peace of the all merciful Savior, who is with us always.

Fr. Michael McGourty,
Pastor—St. Peter’s Parish—Toronto.