Mission of Mercy

2nd Sunday of Easter (A) – Divine Mercy Sunday

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The second Sunday of Easter is celebrated in the Catholic Church as a feast of Divine Mercy. The particular devotion to the Divine Mercy has its inspiration in the writings of St. Faustina Kowalska, an early 20th century Polish nun and visionary. But of course St. Faustina was not inventing anything new. She was simply reminding us of something the Church has always stressed, and that is the necessity of relying upon the mercy of God.
One of my favorite prayers is the simple one called the “Jesus Prayer” which is taken from the tax collector’s prayer in Lk 18:13. All it says is, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. It doesn’t say much, but it says all that needs to be said. It acknowledges Jesus as God. It acknowledges us as sinners. And it asks for the one thing all sinners need from God – mercy.
The gospel reading for the 2nd Sunday of Easter is always John 20:19-31. This reading tells of the first time the disciples saw the resurrected Christ. They were hiding (all except for Thomas), in a locked room, afraid. Suddenly Jesus appears in the middle of them and says, “Peace be with you.” He then does something very special.
He tells the Apostles, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” This is what the word apostle means — “one sent on a mission.” The Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, became Incarnate, took on a human nature, suffered, died, and rose from the dead because He was sent on a mission from the Father. What is that mission? Simply put, it is to reconcile sinners to God. It is rescue mission. It is a mission of mercy. And now Christ sends the Apostles on that same mission.
Jesus then gives them to tools they need to carry out that mission. He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:22-23). Jesus Christ, the Son of God, gives His Apostles and His Church a share in His ministry of forgiveness, and the authority to exercise that ministry. This is why we confess our sins to a priest, who share in this Apostolic ministry. This is what happens every time we enter the confessional and say, “Father, forgive me for I have sinned.” We become recipients of God’s limitless mercy. And as if that were not good news enough, we don’t just receive God’s mercy one or two times. There is no “three strikes you’re out” rule in Catholicism. No, we are able to receive God’s mercy time and time again, as many times as we need it, as many times as we are willing to ask for it.
This great gift of God’s mercy is why the Church sings Alleluia! It is why the psalmist proclaims, “His mercy endures forever” (Ps. 118). It is why the Apostles went out into the world to preach the good news. Because it is good news. It needs to be shouted from the rooftops. God has come to free us from the slavery of our sins. We have sinned against God, but God forgives us in Christ!
And it is why the Church reminds us, on this second Sunday of Easter, of the importance of relying upon God’s mercy. All during the penitential season of Lent we hear messages of repentance. We hear calls to conversion. Our churches may offer extra opportunities for reconciliation. But we don’t leave all that behind now that Lent is over. God’s mercy endures forever. It is timeless. It knows no season. It is ever present. 
The time to receive God’s mercy is now. In the diary of St. Faustina Kowalska, she records a vision of Jesus saying, “He who refuses to pass through the door of My mercy must pass through the door of My justice” (Diary 1146). God leaves that choice in our hands.
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Go to Confession. Seriously. Just Go.

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If we had to summarize the Christian faith in one sentence, we’d say, “Christ died for our sins so that we may be reconciled with God the Father.” But what next?  How does this apply in our lives?

After death comes resurrection.  After Good Friday comes Easter Sunday.  And this Sunday’s gospel reading (Jn 20:19-31) tells what happens to the apostles when they encounter the Risen Christ on that first Easter Sunday.  They were hiding behind locked doors when Jesus appears, and in the midst of their fear, offers them peace.  “Peace be with you,” He tells them, and then after showing them His wounds, suffered for our sake, He does a marvelous thing.  He breathes on them, and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:22-23).

The Son of God grants authority to forgive sins to the apostles. He tells them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Christ passes on His ministry of reconciliation to the Church (2 Cor 5:18), and the Church continues that ministry today through the sacrament of Reconciliation, Confession or Penance.  These three names for the same sacrament each reflect one aspect of what happens in this encounter between the sinner and Christ.  We confess our sins.  We perform our penance.  And we are reconciled to God.  This is a marvelous and beautiful mystery that most of us fail to appreciate.

And why is that?  Why do so many Catholics shy away from this healing sacrament of mercy?  I get it.  It’s no fun to go into a cramped little room and tell someone all the bad things you have done.  No one likes to admit to themselves, let alone to someone else, all of their faults and misdeeds.  But consider this: God already knows all of your sins — better than you do.  By not confessing them, you are not hiding them from God.  You are hiding God from yourself.  By sealing those sins up within yourself, you seal out God.  God wants to dwell within you, but He will not come in uninvited.  You have to let Him in.

Yet the thought of going to confession after a long absence can still seem daunting.  I hate doing the dishes.  Well, that’s an overstatement.  In truth I don’t mind washing dishes. What I hate is when there is a huge pile of them to be done; then it becomes a chore.  If I wash the dishes immediately after each meal, it’s not a hard task.  But the longer I wait, the more dishes pile up, and the more daunting the task seems.  I look at the sink overflowing with dirty plates and pots and pans and think, “Ugh, what a mess!  I can’t deal with all that right now.”  And so I put it off, more dishes pile up, and it only makes the job harder when I finally get around it it.  I may even avoid walking through the kitchen so I don’t have to look at the mess.  I pretend it’s not there, but my pretending doesn’t make the pile of dishes go away.

When our souls get dirty through sin, they need washing, too.  And, just like with the dishes, if you take care of it right away, it’s no big deal.  But the longer you wait, the more the sins pile up, and the more daunting confession seems.  So we avoid it altogether.  We don’t want to confront the reality of how dirty our souls have become.  But what we are avoiding is God’s mercy, the very thing we need!

This is why it is such a good idea to set a regular schedule for confession — and keep to it.  The Church requires us to confess our sins at least once a year, during the Lenten season, but this is the bare minimum.  Pope Francis goes to confession every two weeks.  Some go weekly, which can be helpful especially if you are struggling with an addictive sin.  For most Catholics going once per month or two will be sufficient.  I find that any less often than this, however, and it becomes very easy to forget about and put off until another time — and then, like the dirty dishes, the next thing you know a big pile of sins has built up and separated you from God.

If your first Reconciliation was your last Reconciliation, know you are not alone.  Plenty of college students I speak to have not been to confession since they made their first Holy Communion.  Sadly, many Catholic families have not made reception of this sacrament part of their spiritual lives.  But you can change that.  You can start the practice of regular confession now.

Begin by examining your conscience. Reflect back on your life since your last confession and try to call to mind any time you did something you knew was not right, or that you later realized was wrong. You may find it helpful to use an examination of conscience that provides questions meant to help call to mind your sins (there is a short one in the back of the worship aid and prayer booklet in the pews in our chapel, or you can find many online, including this one for college students). One great thing about keeping the time between confessions to a minimum is that examining your conscience is much easier when it’s been a short time since your last confession.

And then go to Confession. Just do it. Walk in there, kneel or sit down. Make the sign of the cross and then say, “Bless me, Father, I have sinned. It has been [X amount of time] since my last confession.” Then say your sins. If it’s been so long that you don’t remember what to do, just ask Father to lead you through it.  Sometimes we may fear that the priest will be upset with us if we tell him that it has been years since we last confessed, but in fact the exact opposite is true.  He will rejoice to have you back to the sacrament.

Each confession, in fact, is an occasion of rejoicing.  While the act of recognizing and admitting our sins is a humbling thing, it’s only the necessary prerequisite for the purpose of the sacrament, which is repenting from those sins and being reconciled to God through Christ.  Our reconciliation is so important to Christ that He died in order to make it possible, and then came back from the dead to announce it!  
So, tell me again… why are you putting off going to confession?  
“Confession is an act of honesty and courage – an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God.” – Pope St. John Paul II

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The Divine Mercy Chaplet

The Chaplet of Mercy is recited using ordinary rosary beads. The Chaplet is preceded by two opening prayers from the Diary of Saint Faustina and followed by a closing prayer.

1. Make the Sign of the Cross
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

2. Optional Opening Prayers
You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us.

Repeat three times
O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of Mercy for us, I trust in You!

3. Our Father

4. Hail Mary

5. The Apostle’s Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; He descended into hell; on the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

6. The Eternal Father
Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.

7. On the Ten Small Beads of Each Decade
For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

8. Repeat for the remaining decades
Saying the “Eternal Father” (6) on the “Our Father” bead and then “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion” (7) on the following “Hail Mary” beads.

9. Conclude with Holy God (Repeat three times)

Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

10. Optional Closing Prayer
Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.

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Gospel For Today: 2nd Sunday of Easter


In the Jubilee Year of 2000 Pope St. John Paul II declared the second Sunday of Easter to be celebrated each year as a feast to Jesus’ Divine Mercy.  And now 15 years later, Pope Francis has declared another Jubilee Year — a year devoted to Mercy, to be celebrated from Dec. 8, 2015 (the feast of the Immaculate Conception) to Nov. 20, 2016 (the feast of Christ the King).  In his very first Angelus address as Pope, Francis reminded us, “Let us not forget that God forgives, and God forgives always.”  This extraordinary holy year is a needed reminder to the world of God’s great and loving mercy that can be found in the Catholic Church.

Recently I had the pleasure of escorting several students on retreat, the theme of which was “Reasons Why.”  Each student on retreat was asked to reflect on the reasons why they were Catholic.  For some a decision was made to become Catholic as an adult.  For those born into the Church the decision must still be made in adulthood to remain a Catholic.  Why make that choice?  What does the Church have to offer?
When the English writer G. K. Chesterton was asked why he became a Catholic, he famously answered, “To get my sins forgiven.”  Chesterton had a way of getting to the heart of the matter.  Truly, if the Church is stripped down to its core, the only reason for its existence is to mediate God’s mercy to sinners so that they (we) may be reconciled to Him.  That is it.
The whole drama of salvation history has been all about this.  God’s covenant relationship with the people of Israel.  The Incarnation.  All the teachings of Jesus. His passion and death.  His glorious resurrection.  The establishment of the Church.  All this has been about one simple thing: reconciling man to God by means of His mercy.
In our gospel today the Risen Christ appears to the Apostles one week after that first Easter Sunday. They are locked away in a room, hiding in fear.  But Christ does not want them to be hidden.  He does not want them to be fearful.  So He gives them His peace.  And He sends them on a mission.
“Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  And when He had said this He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.  Whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:21-23).  
And so Jesus, the Son of God and the only man possessing God’s authority to forgive sins, passes that authority on to the first leaders of the Church; an authority subsequently passed on to every priest and bishop from that time to this.  This is the origin of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or what is commonly called Confession.  We humble sinners come before the priest, that minister of mercy, to confess our sins.  The priest, not on his own authority but with the authority granted by Christ through the Holy Spirit, conveys God’s forgiveness.  
Elsewhere in scripture St. Paul tells us:
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:18-20).
God wants nothing more than to shower His mercy upon us, but because His mercy comes from love it cannot be forced.  It can only be accepted.  Each time we come to the confessional we accept God’s gift of mercy.  Each time a soul comes back to the Church, God rejoices at the reconciliation.  This is why He established the Church — to open wide the gates of His mercy.
Come through those gates.  Come into the Church, the “community of believers that is one one heart and mind” (Acts 4:32).  To be reconciled to God is to be reconciled to one another.  Mercy is the mission of the Church and mercy is the mission of all in the Church.  The priest is the ambassador of Christ sacramentally in the confessional.  But every Christian is an ambassador of Christ in the world, helping to spread the message of His mercy to all who need it.  To receive God’s mercy is to become yourself a conduit of mercy for others.  Every time you forgive someone in your heart, you are doing God’s work.  Every time you hold anger or hatred in your heart toward another, you are doing the work of Satan.  Do not allow bitterness and anger to gain a foothold in your life.  Be an ambassador of forgiveness.  Show mercy to others, and you will know God’s mercy all the more.
Let us pray for an increase of mercy in the world and in our hearts, today on this day of Divine Mercy, during the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, and for all years to come.
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Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter Break.  The bad news is that the next break is not until Summer break.  The good news is the next break is Summer Break!  For some of you, this will be your last semester at WCU.  We want to honor anyone graduating; if this applies to you and you are interested in participating in a Baccalaureate Mass, please email me.  I would need to know which Commencement you are participating in, approximately how many family/friends you’d have coming, and when they would be arriving in town (i.e. are they coming up the Friday before?).  

We are back in the swing of things at CCM.  Here is this week’s schedule.
  • TUESDAY (today)
    • Adoration in the chapel from noon till 12:30.
    • Community Table volunteer service from 3:30-6:00pm.  Meet at CCM by 3:15 for a ride over.
  • WEDNESDAY (tomorrow)
    • Adoration in the chapel from 5:30-6:15.
    • Evening Prayer (vespers) in the chapel at 6:00.
    • Supper @ the Center from 6:30-8:30.  Jackie and Pasquale are cooking, and our program is being led by Mairenn and Bekka.  They have a special CCM scavenger hunt game night planned for us, so you don’t want to miss this week!
    • Adoration in the chapel from noon to 12:30.
    • Small Group Bible study on the UC balcony from 5:30-6:30.
    • Simply Stitched knitting & crochet group meets at CCM from 8:00-9:30.
    • This Sunday at the 11:00am Mass at St. Mary’s, our own Jessica McLawhorn will be received into full communion with the Catholic Church with the sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist.  Please join us if you can to celebrate with Jessica!
    • This Sunday is also Divine Mercy Sunday.  Our schedule on campus will be slightly different.  We will begin at 4:00pm by praying the chaplet of Divine Mercy together — for those who have never done so, it is super easy and we’ll have guides on hand.  Mass will begin immediately after the chaplet (approximately 4:15 or so).
    • Our Credo discussion after Mass will be about the Eucharist.  Come with questions!
    • Small Group Bible study meets at 10:30pm in Starbucks.

One of the ways we celebrate the end of the year at CCM is with a Fundraising Dinner at St. Mary’s.  It’s a wonderful way to not only raise funding so that our ministry can continue, but also to showcase our students and the good work we are doing. We can’t do the fundraiser without student help!  Our dinner is being catered by Half Past, and they need student volunteers to help pull it all together.  Our dinner is Friday, April 24, at 6:00pm.  We need student volunteers to help prep food the day before (Thursday) and also on Friday afternoon.  We also need students to help set up and decorate the hall at St. Mary’s, to be on hand to serve food and meet & greet our guests.  Finally, we need all the help we can to clean up after.  If you can volunteer to help, please sign up via the Facebook Event we have created for our volunteers.  Thanks!  
Today is Tuesday in the Octave of Easter on the Church’s liturgical calendar.  What does that mean?  Octave means “eight days.”  Major celebrations in the Church year such as Easter and Christmas are celebrated with octaves, meaning instead of just one day we rejoice for eight full days.  Moreover, on the liturgical calendar, these eight days are in many ways treated as one.  So each day this week is Easter Sunday, in a way of speaking.  In praying the breviary, the psalms and antiphons are the same each day this week.  Why celebrate octaves?  Is it because these celebrations are so special they simply cannot fit all in one day?  Partly.  But the octave also points to the reality that Jesus does something very special for the world in His Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection.  The number seven was always very significant for the Jewish people because of the seven days of creation.  Jesus brings us into the “eighth day” of creation — the new creation — which is why Sunday is such a special day for us.  Sunday was counted by the Israelite as the first day of the week.  So for us it is the first day of the new creation — the eighth day.  This is why baptismal fonts traditionally are made with eight sides, because the newly baptized are being brought into this mystical eight day.  Read more about octaves here.
In the year 2000, Pope St. John Paul II declared the 2nd Sunday of Easter (the Octave of Easter) to be a special feast in honor of God’s Divine Mercy.  The devotion to the Divine Mercy had grown since the death in 1938 of Sister Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who had been granted many visions of Christ who spoke of the importance of accepting His mercy.  St. Faustina wrote of these visions and her devotion in her diary, which was published after her death.  From this, the prayer of the Divine Mercy chaplet was introduced to the world.  We will be praying this chaplet together this Sunday at 4:00pm before Mass.  To learn more about the devotion to Divine Mercy, click here.
Until next week!
Pax Christi,

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

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