Divine Mercy Sunday
1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31
I have never seen Jesus the way Thomas does in the Gospel today and the way the other disciples do. But he has come through my walls. He has stood in my midst. I have felt a peace. A breath.
I have never seen Jesus the way St. Faustina did in her beautiful vision, love raying out from his heart like light. But I have felt that light within me. I have felt my own heart swell.
I think this is the way it is for most of us. All praise for all the visions and appearances down through the ages. They are great gifts. But I think that for most of us our experience of Christ is much subtler, much more diffuse, and nothing is more important than realizing this and accepting this, because otherwise we’ll think this is all made up, it’s not true, at least for us. We’ll think that God isn’t here when he’s everywhere—he’s not obvious but he’s everywhere—and blessed are we when we finally know this and feel this.
It’s deep in our tradition, this sense of the presence of Jesus. In the twelfth century St. Bernard wrote that in his own experience of Jesus in prayer, there was, as he put it,
nothing sensational. I don’t see anything, I don’t hear voices. I suddenly feel a warmth and glow in my heart and I know that the bridegroom is there.
A warmth. A glow. In the sixteenth century St. Ignatius describes a moment when he “seemed to see something white, from which rays were coming”—a vision a little like Faustina’s, in fact, but much less clearly defined. It’s a “something” he sees. It’s vaguely, if brightly, white, and even this is more specific than Ignatius usually is. For him the experience of Jesus is much more a matter of feeling and intuition, he can never pin it down or put it into words, and like William Barry, a modern Jesuit thinker, I find this very consoling. Very freeing. “I have no idea how to describe the Jesus I contemplate,” Barry says, “yet I, too, believe that I have encountered him and gained some interior knowledge of him.”
Images like this keep coming up again and again, of a light, a fragrance, a stream. A sense.
I used to think that it was easier to understand God from the perspective of the Holy Spirit than from the perspective of the Son, but I was wrong. Because the Spirit is the Son. The Father and the Son and the Spirit are one, and they are always coming into our lives and taking us up into theirs. It’s the Spirit that “testifies,” the Letter of John tells us today, and “the Spirit is Truth.”
I have never felt the wounds of Jesus. I have never touched the holes in his hands. But I have felt my own wounds. I have felt the wounds of others, and we have to feel them. Blessed are those who mourn, Jesus says, because unless we acknowledge our grief, it consumes us. Blessed are those who weep, because there is reason to weep and to deny that is to reduce the faith to something childish and false.
Recently I wrote a friend that all would be well. She’s been struggling with health problems and problems at her job. I knew that sounded too pious in a way, but I believe it, and when she wrote back she said something really profound, really insightful, and when I asked her she said I could share it.
“All will be well,” she wrote,
but I think that statement hinges on what we place within the word ‘all.’ If by ‘all’ we mean that our relationship to Christ cannot be broken by anything outside of us in and of itself—anything!—then yes, all shall be well.
And then she goes on,
‘All’ doesn’t mean that the pain caused by our sins and faults isn’t real. It doesn’t negate the pain and upheaval brought to us by the decisions of others. ‘All’ also does not mean that the events of this life will turn out in a way that is okay for us.
Our work is to hold the light and hold the darkness and not reduce the one to the other—or not to hold them ourselves, because we can’t, but to trust God to hold them, to make sense of them, to reconcile them, because in him all things hold together. How, we don’t know. That’s the mystery. That’s what we must surrender to.
It’s not that Jesus doesn’t exist. It’s that he is always and everywhere present in a way we never expected. He is far more pervasive. He is woven into the fabric of our lives, what Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, calls a “steady swell of loving presence, always there at work in the center of everything that is,” and this comes close to it for me, too, when I look back on a day or a week and realize that God was always there, just beneath the surface, all around me. In me.
This is the Divine Mercy: “a steady swell of loving presence.”
This is the Divine Mercy, and we feel it in our chest and behind our eyes, like the beginning of tears.
I sensed it between the lines of my friend’s email. Underneath every word.
Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall.
We may hear these words in a few minutes. They’re from the second Eucharistic Prayer, at just the moment of the consecration.
The Eucharist is unique, it’s the source and summit, and yet somehow at the same time it’s like the morning dew.
I can’t explain it. I can’t put it into words.
The dewfall. Ordinary. Beautiful. On every blade of grass.