This Sunday: Mercy, John Paul, and the Beggar Priest

Scott Hahn tells the story about a priest friend of his and Pope John Paul II. The priest was walking through the beggars of Rome on his way to a private papal audience when he recognized one of them: It was a priest he had known in the seminary.

At the papal audience, his homeless friend was much on the priest’s mind, and he blurted out the story to the Pope when they spoke. John Paul surprised him by inviting the priest to dinner — and asking him to bring his old friend.

Near the end of dinner, the Pope’s secretary escorted the priest out of the room, leaving his homeless friend alone with John Paul for 15 minutes.

Later, the beggar emerged from the room in tears.

“What happened in there?” asked the priest.

“He asked me to hear his confession,” said the beggar.

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Divine Mercy Sunday, Year A), Christ breathes on his apostles and gives them the power to forgive sins. It is this power of absolution that the Pope saw in the priest, saying, “My son, once a priest, always a priest. We are all beggars.”

St. Thomas overcomes his crippling doubts through an encounter with Christ. Like him, the priest in the story had succumbed to doubt, even leaving his vocation. In the loving act by the Pope, he rediscovered his faith — and his vocation.

This is Divine Mercy Sunday, the day the Church in a special way promotes the corporal works of mercy: “feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead” (Catechism, 2447). What an example of each of these are the priest and the Pope. At first, he didn’t want to visit the Pope because he had no good clothes to wear, but his friend loaned him clothes. The Pope fed him, of course, but, even greater, he gave him a parish assignment to work with homeless people.

The Pope also exemplified what the Catechism calls the spiritual works of mercy. He instructed the priest in the truths of his own vocation. He advised him back into useful life. He consoled and comforted his worries. He forgave the priest’s abandonment of his vocation and bore his wrongs patiently.

Notice that Jesus also performed each of these spiritual works of mercy for his own apostles in today’s Gospel. They, too, have recently abandoned him, doubted him, and hid away out of fear and worry — until they received his forgiveness and consolation. But he came to them despite it all and invited them back to his side.

Jesus longs to perform the same actions for us.

Today is Easter Sunday 2, the eighth day of the Easter Octave, and, as such, it is as much Easter Sunday as the first Easter Sunday. Today’s readings have always been about God’s mercy, from the Psalm’s declaration, “His mercy endures forever,” to the Gospel’s confession. But now, the Divine Mercy devotion popularized by St. Faustina Kowaska of Poland has brought new attention to the theme of mercy on this day.

The powerful image of mercy that St. Faustina gave us mirrors today’s second reading. The Divine Mercy image, with white and red rays emanating from Jesus’ side, shows him to be the one John writes about: “the one who came through water and blood … not by water alone, but by water and blood.”

It is Christ as depicted in this image, and Christ in the sacrament of penance, that connects this Sunday across the ages to us.

St. John says God knows we love him when we keep the commandments. Those commandments include the works of mercy.

Are there people in our lives who we resent because we believe they have abandoned our family or our faith? Bear their wrongs patiently. If necessary, forgive them.

Are there people in our community who need a helping hand? Serve and ennoble them.

We can say what Pope John Paul II said to the homeless priest who heard his confession: “We are all beggars.”

Photo: Wikimedia commons.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.