Today’s reflection is in two parts: the first taken directly from the Lectionary readings; the second in view of the Sunday celebration of the Divine Mercy.
Most of us know that the followers of Jesus came to be called “Christians” in Antioch (Acts 11:26). But what were they called before that? Today’s readings take us through several steps by which the disciples of Jesus came to be identified with their mission, and its corresponding name.
Today’s Gospel of Mark recalls the several events which by which Jesus’s resurrection was made known to the disciples. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, who went to tell His disciples, but they did not believe. Jesus appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who returned to tell the disciples, who did not believe. Jesus appeared to the eleven at table and rebuked them for their unbelief. At this point, Jesus commissions them, in a similar way as his parting words at the Ascension, “God into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”
The transformation of the disciples is from unbelief to proclamation. They take up the mission of Jesus and it becomes the single driving force of their lives.
Not surprisingly, we find Peter and John, in the reading from Acts, describing their duty as it has become clearer to them: “It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”
The New Testament word that names this group of Jesus’ disciples is “witness”. Twelve times in the book of Acts, the disciples describe themselves and their companions as “witnesses” to His Resurrection. To be a witness meant that one had accepted the Resurrection of Jesus as the life-giving event of one’s life; and it meant that one was committed to proclaiming the Risen Lord as the living Savior of all people, the Good News.
We, who are living members of the Body of Christ, are still called to be witnesses. We need to proclaim the presence of Christ among us today; we need to express the unquestioned love of God for each one of us by our treatment of one another.
We celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy on the Sunday after Easter, tomorrow. During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has already challenged us to be both agents and recipients of a divine mercy. To whom can I show a divine mercy? How is divine mercy being offered to me?
Because many of us who share these reflections live in the context of religious life and parish life, the grace of mercy is easily received and given among our like-minded friends and parish families.
It is a more challenging effort to break out of the environment of my spiritual family, in order to sow the seeds of mercy in the hard-packed, barren and arid fields of our society’s fringes.
I am thinking back on my visit to a parish in Tennessee last week. One of the parish’s most effective programs is to “feed the hungry,” which it does through its St. Vincent De Paul parish society. Every other Tuesday, in conjunction with Second Harvest, one hundred and forty families come to the parish parking lot to receive a ration of food stuffs which will provide supplementary nourishment for the children and adults in their families. Everyone is welcomed with friendly humor, and genuine interest in the family’s welfare.
We don’t always have to start something new in order to enrich our communities with a divine mercy. Sometimes all we have to do is bring ourselves into the circles of caring and sacrifice that already exist all around us.
May we continue to grow in the grace of mercy given and mercy received during the rest of this Jubilee Year of Mercy!
Fr. Arthur Carrillo, C.P. is the director of the Missions for Holy Cross Province. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.