The First Reading from Acts of the Apostles describes how, as the apostles went out to preach the Gospel message of mercy, people instinctively flocked to hear them – they brought the sick and those in need of healing onto the streets so that even the shadow of Peter might fall on them.
In today’s psalm we gave thanks to the Lord for He is good, and His love and mercy endures for ever!
People still yearn for the message of divine mercy. In a world which sometimes appears dominated by evil, selfishness, violence, greed, we instinctively cry out, “Lord, for the sake of your sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world”. Saint Faustina’s vision of the divine mercy, which is depicted in the well known painting, shows two rays coming from the heart of Jesus – one in red, denoting the blood of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, the other in blue, symbolising the water of baptism. Jesus told her ‘mankind shall never find peace until it turns with trust to my mercy’. That is why the words ‘Jesus I trust in you’ are written at the bottom of the Divine Mercy pictures, inviting us to abandon ourselves trustfully into the merciful hands of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Four years ago, when Pope Francis announced a Year of Mercy, the Holy Father said: “It is obvious that today’s world is in need of mercy and compassion, or rather of the capacity for empathy. We are accustomed to bad news, cruel news and the worst atrocities that offend the name and the life of God. The world needs to discover that God is the Father, that there is mercy, that cruelty is not the way … I believe that this is the time for mercy” (Credere interview, Dec. 2, 2015).
A few weeks ago Pope Francis once more mentioned “mercy” in his message published earlier this month, Christus Vivit (Christ is Alive) to young people of the world. He went so far as to encourage them to weep before the tragedies that face many of their peers. the Pope said:
“Weeping is an expression of mercy and compassion”. Pope Francis invites us to ask ourselves, “Can I weep? Can I weep when I see a child who is starving, on drugs or on the street, homeless, abandoned, mistreated or exploited as a slave by society?” (CV76).
It is heartbreaking to think that our Sri Lankan brothers and sisters in Christ were unable to gather today for Mass today, Divine Mercy Sunday, because of risk to their lives following the horrific bombings of worshippers and tourists on Easter Sunday. These atrocities remind us of the life-threatening conditions of our fellow Christians in many parts of the world. Such oppression and violence against Christians is actually, I am sad to say, on the increase.
In early July I hope to unveil here in the Cathedral a shrine to the former Archbishop of Armagh, Saint Oliver Plunkett and to all those who, like him, faced persecution and martyrdom for the faith. The shrine will honour all the martyrs of yesterday, today and tomorrow, recognising that persecution and martyrdom of Christians does not belong to the past – it is sadly a present day reality for many of our brothers and sisters and this situation is likely to continue, or even get worse into the future.
The witness and martyrdom of so many persecuted Christians around the world challenges us to ask, what does their suffering mean for us? On #RedWednesday last November I offered three suggestions:
- Firstly, the persecution of Christians demands that we be willing to engage in reconciliation and peace building ourselves, including between Christians of different traditions here in Ireland. It is not enough to leave it to our politicians. We must shoulder together the responsibility of transforming relationships and in healing the legacy and pain of our troubled past. This is particularly important for us as all-party talks are about to resume here in the coming weeks, following the violent death of young Lyra McKee.
- Secondly, the plight of persecuted Christians reminds us of the importance of advocating for freedom of conscience and religion which is enshrined in article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. This is true whether for Christians, Muslims or other minorities. We should call on our governments, in these islands, to put on the agenda of their foreign policies, and to demand respect for the freedom to manifest religion or belief, whether in teaching, practice, worship or observance.
- Thirdly, the martyrdom and witness of our fellow Christians invites us to consider how we ourselves witness to our faith in Irish society. Our wounded world needs so much to be healed and enlightened by the Gospel, and we are all called to be prophetic in shining the light and truth of the Gospel of mercy into public discourse here in Ireland concerning the dignity of the human person, about solidarity with the poor, and other peace and justice issues.
On this Divine Mercy Sunday I invite you to pray for the gift of courage for yourselves and for Christians all over the world, especially those who continue to be challenged, attacked, displaced or even murdered for what they believe in. Pray especially for our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka, that in the midst of their grief and pain they can be touched by the mercy and love of God. Amen.
- Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh & Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore, and Primate of All Ireland