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Bishop Denis’ Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday

3pm: Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow, 07.04.24


Welcome to our Divine Mercy devotions this afternoon here in the Cathedral. Welcome to those who join us virtually through webcam or parish radio.

Divine Mercy devotion is a recent phenomenon, introduced by St. John Paul II twenty-four years ago, at the turn of the millennium, but the understanding of ‘mercy’ has been with us for over two thousand years.

This day used to be known as ‘Low Sunday’, signaling the end of the Easter Octave. The Feast of Divine Mercy reminds us the message of Easter is mercy: “this day you will be with me in paradise[1], the words of Jesus to the good thief.

The first verse of our gospel reminds us “doors were closed[2] – doors closed out of fear, nervousness, anxiety. All of us, need to hear the words: “Peace be with you[3], or as in last evenings Aifreann na Féile honouring the Pan Celtic Festival “Síocháin daoibh!” – reassuring words as our Easter Octave comes to an end.

It is a wounded Jesus who enters that closed room with the disciples; it is a wounded Jesus who stands alongside all of us this afternoon. We are a wounded congregation, all of us are a wounded people in need of his mercy and forgiveness.

So as we gather this afternoon, let us call to mind our sins and pray for God’s love and his abundant mercy …

  • Is tusa Tobar na Trócaire – you are the wellspring of mercy: A Thiarna, déan trócaire. 
  • Is tusa Slí na Fírinne – you are the way of truth:  A Chríost, déan trócaire. 
  • Bí linn i gconaí, ós ár gcomhair amach – be with us always, showing us the way. A Thiarna, déan trócaire. 


Divine Mercy devotion is intimately linked to the three o’clock solemn liturgies of Good Friday, nine days ago. Pope Francis while not in a position this year to physically participate in the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum, offered a prayer at the end of those stations with very powerful sentiments: O Christ, abandoned and betrayed even by your own, and sold for next to nothing; O Christ, judged by sinners, handed over by the leaders; O Christ, tortured in the flesh, crowned with thorns and clothed in purple; O Christ, slapped and beaten, and nailed in excruciating pain to the Cross; O Christ, pierced by the lance that opened your heart[4].

A devotion I recently came across is that of finding healing on the shoulder of Christ. Just for a moment, think back to Good Friday afternoon. Think of the shoulder the Cross rested on, think of the many falls, the stumbles, the beatings that shoulder endured.

I think sometimes we tend to sanitise our image of the cross and Crucifixion, on too many crosses Jesus is nailed through his palms onto the horizontal beam, very few offer perhaps a more authentic depiction with the nails passing through the wrist.

And then the shoulder. We can be sure the weight of the Cross cut through to the bone. For fifteen years in Drogheda I helped organise Outdoor Stations of the Cross. The hour and a half ceremony involved a humongous Cross carried through the town. The Cross was stored from year to year in the towns Fire Station, such was its proportion and size. I always remember how uncomfortably it rested on my shoulders. Indeed from the brief spell of shouldering it a short journey with others from one particular station to the next, I would feel my shoulder for the next couple of days as a blister developed or a compression mark remained.

In Lent I took for Spiritual Reading the beautifully written ‘The Name of God is Mercy[5] coming out of a conversation between an Italian journalist and Pope Francis. If we want to understand divine mercy, this is a must read. Pope Francis speaks of our era being a kairós of mercy, a time of opportunity for mercy. Our world is a wounded world – Gaza, Ukraine, Haiti, Yemen – and so many other theatres of war, rarely or ever alluded to by the Western media. Someone recently asked me was the war in Ukraine over, they hadn’t heard it on news reels for a number of days. Sadly anything but, as too many Ukrainians know.

The much loved Albino Luciani, who became Pope John Paul I and occupied the See of St. Peter for barely one month, when commenting on the Parable of the Prodigal Son reminds us about the Father “he waits, Always. And its never too late … our sin is like a jewel that we present to him to obtain the consolation of forgiveness[6]. What a beauitiful understanding of mercy, what a succinct appreciation of divine mercy.

Sometimes we can fall into the trap of being very hasty to judge others, size up situations, while missing the need we ourselves have for mercy. Divine Mercy devotion reminds us we are not simply called to ask for God’s mercy with trust, as we reflect on the message on every image, ‘Jesus, I trust in you’, we are asked to be merciful ourselves.

I sometimes meet people or indeed have correspondence from them who while they trust in God’s mercy, they show absolutely no whisper of mercy themselves. In one of the messages St. Faustina received from the Lord there is no room for such misinterpretation: “I require you to make acts of mercy, which are to come from your love for Me. You are always and everywhere to show mercy unto your neighbours; you may not withdraw, excuse or absolve yourself from this[7].

At our Chrism Mass less than two weeks ago, I blessed and consecrated oil for the sacramental life of our diocese. One sacrament that perhaps has been neglected in recent years involves no anointing is that of Reconciliation, Confession, the sacrament of God’s abundant mercy. What is required is a clear purpose of amendment, an appreciation that what is confessed is left behind, no longer carried by us. An acceptance that the love of Jesus for us knows no boundaries or barriers.

We all carry with us stuff, things that burden us, wounds and scars, things that may be there from childhood. It’s this baggage we bring to the sacrament of Reconciliation in the grace of a good Confession. Pope Francis reminds us “the confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better”[8]. We go to confession not to get all uptight about our sins but to experience His love and mercy. I hope that always will be your experience.

John’s gospel speaks of the doors being closed, we can assume they were locked. We can imagine the disciples terrified out of their wits. There is an old Irish saying “is giorra cabhair Dé ná an doras” which translates as “God’s help is nearer than the door”. It is a wounded Jesus who walks into the room with the disciples; he is recognized through his wounded condition. When Thomas is invited by Jesus to “put your finger here, and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side[9] he is being told not just to see but to touch the wounds. Touching the wounds is a very significant moment on any road or programme of therapy. May we all recognize our wounds this day. 

[1] Lk.23:43

[2] Jn.20:19

[3] Jn.20:19; Jn. 20:21; Jn. 20: 26

[4] Prayer recited by Pope Francis, Good Friday, 29 March 2024

[5] Pope Francis, ‘The Name of God is Mercy’, a conversation with Andrea Tornielli, Blueboird, UK, 2016.

[6] ibid, pg. 49

[7] St. Faustina, Second Notebook, Paragraph 742

[8] Pope Francis, Weekly Audience, 13 November 2014

[9] Jn.20:27