The death of Christ is the act by which the floodgates of divine mercy are thrown wide open. To talk of God’s mercy means to talk of the death of Jesus. To ask for that mercy and to receive it means to be placed inside the death of Jesus. All the sacraments give us a share in the mercy of Jesus, but it is especially baptism and reconciliation which unite us to his death. When the priest says, “I absolve you from all your sins” then in that very moment the power of Christ’s death enters our deepest souls to cleanse and restore them. This should give us pause for thought before we speak too easily of God’s forgiveness. The cost of it is not our sorrow, however deep, but the death of the Son of God.
The fruit of the Easter Mystery is, then, the divine mercy. Jesus makes that clear in what were practically his first words to the apostles after his resurrection: whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; whose sins you retain, they are retained. But his actual first word to them was peace. While I am sure he wanted to dispel their fear, at a much deeper level he is telling them that his peace, the peace the world cannot give, is the first fruit of his mercy. Going back to the formula of absolution, the priest introduces it by saying to the penitent: “through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace.”
This peace is not just the absence of conflict or fear or worry. It is the presence of Christ and of all the glorious gifts that go with it which are now there for me and in me. Christ’s peace means the healing of my deepest soul, the restoration of my bond of love with him, weakened or broken by my sin. I go to him in utter trust and contrition and ask him to apply to my soul the power of his death. What is that power? It is the breath he breathed on the apostles, none other than the Holy Spirit.
Mercy is the encounter between the God who loves the sinner and the sinner who seeks once again to love God. Mercy is where divine love meets sin through death to destroy it for the sake of the beloved sinner. Divine mercy means there can always be a new beginning, a way back, a hope of recovery, again and again, despite all the odds, no matter how far or how deep the fall. Divine mercy knows there is more to the sinner than his sin, even when the sinner himself cannot see it. Even when the sinner won’t ask for it, does not see the need for it, rejects the existence of it, divine mercy relentlessly knocks at his door like someone obsessed, sick with love for the one who won’t respond.
To make our own the abyss of divine mercy, there is only one thing we need do: die to our pride and open the door. Then the death and resurrection of Jesus will not be for me just calendar events but the most radical and consuming experience of unconditional love I have ever known, can ever know and willever know.