An army overtook a community where there was a monastery and routed everyone out of the village. The commander asked his lieutenant if the conquest was complete. The soldier replied that there was still one old monk sitting under a tree. The commander stormed to the monastery and confronted the monk: “What are you doing here? Don’t you know that I am the one who has the power to run you through with my sword without batting an eye?” The monk calmly replied, “And don’t you know that I am the one who can let you run me through with your sword without batting an eye?”
The readings on this Divine Mercy Sunday, the second Sunday of Easter, invite us to be like that monk — to put our complete faith in Jesus as risen Lord and calmly live in the newness of eternal life, here and now.
That little story reveals two kinds of power. The first is the power of force, of domination, even violence, so familiar to our beleaguered world today. The second is the power shown by the monk — the power of faith and love that is the only power what will endure.
It is that power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus imparted to his disciples. That power characterizes the new creation Jesus was bringing about, symbolized by the first line of the Gospel, “In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week.”
There are many names for the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures. The name that fits most is the Greek word exousia. This is the power of a little child to melt the hardest hearts. It is this power that God manifested in Jesus from his birth as a little vulnerable child, to his defenceless death on the cross. It is this power, which at first looked like defeat, that in the end was victorious and vindicated by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
We have been given that same Spirit that first of all endows us with the ability to put our complete faith and trust in Jesus as risen Lord. Then the Spirit gives us the power to forgive anyone who has hurt us in any way. Actually, every appearance of Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection was an experience of forgiveness, understanding, compassion and acceptance of their weakness. They had betrayed, denied and abandoned him, yet when he appeared to them there was only mercy and forgiveness, flowing over into peace and joy.
Someone filled with that Spirit is Bishop Angaelos, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom. In an interview with CNN, he stated that he forgave the Islamic State affiliates who boasted of brutally killing 21 of his fellow Egyptian Christians in Libya. He admits that offering forgiveness after such a horrific crime may sound “unbelievable” to some. Still, he says forgiveness is his responsibility as a Christian minister: “We don’t forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts. Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world.” Further revealing his remarkable magnanimity, he asked that the world work to protect not just Christians, but also all vulnerable people.
The Holy Spirit can also give us the power and the security to be generous, to let go of possessions and the need for prestige and control. That is what Jesus demonstrated by washing his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. He was so secure in his intimate relationship with the Father that he could take off his outer vestments symbolizing status, position, power and control, take up a washbowl and towel, and perform a slave’s duty. As John Shea puts it, Jesus “took off the mantle of privilege and transformed it into the apron of service.” And so must we.
The Curé of Ars, St. Jean Vianney, whose motto was to “give everything away,” did this well. He could do that only because he believed that he already possessed all he needed, the love of his God. It is that same love that empowered him to love others by giving them his time, his energy and his possessions.
How fitting it is that we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday with these readings that focus on the merciful love of Jesus, the risen Lord. It is that love and mercy that formed the early Christian community, marked by a love that expressed itself through unity and sharing, so that “no one was in need.”
In the second reading, St. Paul goes to great lengths to try to express the depths of this gift of mercy, love and forgiveness to the world. In the waters of the puny, dirty Jordan River, symbolizing our sinfulness and failures, Jesus made a commitment to shed his blood and give his life for us on the cross. After his resurrection and ascension, Jesus poured out his Spirit on the disciples and transformed them into the church, his own body in the world. Those three witnesses, the water, the blood and the Spirit, all attest to this tremendous gift of eternal life that Jesus freely gives to those who believe in him and love as he did.
The eucharist that we celebrate now is an experience of the divine mercy of Jesus. Forgiven, healed and filled with the Spirit of peace and joy that only Jesus can give, we are sent out to share with others this Good News of the Gospel.
May our celebration empower us to be like that monk — to put our complete faith in Jesus as risen Lord and calmly live in the newness of eternal life by loving all others as Jesus did.
Sylvain Lavoie, OMI, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Keewatin-The Pas, is chaplain at the Star of the North Retreat House in St. Albert, Alta. He continues to live out his motto, Regnum Dei Intra Vos (the kingdom of God is among you), which is his overriding focus and passion.