Today's Gospel presents the distinction between a generic spirituality, which emphasizes our decision for God, and authentic Christian faith, which is the recognition that God has chosen us in Christ. It is God's choice—his election of us in Christ as not only his followers but his friends—that matters most.
I would like to focus my attention this week on the magnificent first reading, taken from the pivotal ninth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. I say pivotal because this is the chapter in which the conversion of Saul is recounted. Hans Urs von Balthasar refers to Paul as one of the great archetypes in the life of the Church, and so we can benefit from a close study of the spiritual lessons from his life and his manner of discipleship.
Our first reading for today proposes a very serious challenge to the inclusiveness and non-judgmentalism that is taken for granted in our culture today. The chief of the Apostles says, “He is the stone rejected by you the builders, which has become the cornerstone. There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” Stay with how uncomfortable this is—because in a way, that’s the point.
On this Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, we remember the dedication of this day by Saint John Paul II in honor of St. Faustina’s vision of Christ, in which the Lord’s heart radiated forth with divine mercy for the world. But what does mercy mean? It designates the suffering of the heart, a type of compassion, a deep, loving identification with people in their suffering. It is the characteristic of God, for God is love. Nothing in the world would exist if it were not, at every moment, loved into being by God—a great act of tender mercy. How is this love made manifest in us? Precisely through following God’s commands and through forgiveness.
Many people enjoy visiting the graves of famous people, from Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, IL to St. Peter in the Vatican. We feel a sense of peace and finality around graves. But the one thing we would never expect in a cemetery is action. Yet that's precisely what we find at the center of Christianity, as St. John recounts in today's Easter Gospel.
Entering Holy Week, we see numerous stirring examples of Jesus' fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies. From the direction he enters Jerusalem to his mode of transport, we find again and again how he is the one intended to reclaim the temple and prove to the world that he is indeed the son of God, chosen to save us through his revolutionary example of love and forgiveness.
Jeremiah 31:31 contains the great prophecy that the Lord will one day place his law within our hearts. In the Old Testament, God's law was written on stone and often appreciated as an imposition, a burden. But Jesus is the Law incarnate, the Torah made flesh. Therefore, when we eat his body and drink his blood, we take the law into our hearts, and thus we realize the prophecy of Jeremiah.
The Divine Love is the great theme of the Bible, but one of the mistakes we can make is to project onto God our way of being. God’s love is unconditional, not fickle and vacillating. His love is hesed, which means “tender mercy.” This love is visible, par excellence, in the Incarnation.
The Temple, for Old Testament Jews, was everything. But St. Paul, who lived for many years in Jerusalem and knew the rituals of the Temple very well, told the Corinthians that their bodies were temples of the Holy Spirit. The account of Jesus cleansing the Temple in this week’s Gospel, brought together with Paul's insight, provides us with with a wonderful Lenten meditation. Let Jesus swing that whip of cords around the Temple of your body; it’s time for a spring cleaning of the soul!