The gift of Easter expands well beyond Christ’s glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday.
During the season of Easter — the next 50 days leading up to Pentecost — several gifts are revealed to us that reinforce God’s plan for the salvation of mankind, all of which was done out of His infinite love for us.
God’s ultimate act of mercy was the incarnation of Jesus Christ. From the moment when Adam and Eve sinned, to Jesus’ Passion, death and resurrection, God had a plan for the salvation of human souls. That plan reached a climax when the angel appeared to Mary and asked her to be mother of the son of God.
The sin of Adam and Eve had major consequences, but from the beginning, God’s infinite mercy was poured out upon us, said Sister Mary Kathleen Ronan, a Religious Sister of Mercy of Alma, Michigan. “We would still be in misery, with no hope for salvation if He had not become man,” she said.
Because of God’s love for us, He wants to be in relationship with us. “There’s something about that love that is very connected to His mercy,” she said. “It’s more than we deserve.”
The Church celebrates the feast of Divine Mercy on the Sunday after Easter as a recognition of God’s gift of mercy. Divine Mercy Sunday is a day of prayer where we ask the Lord to renew our trust in His merciful love, so that we might live His message of mercy toward others more fully in our lives.
In His revelations to St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who lived in the 1930s, Christ invokes her to tell the world about His gift of mercy:
“My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. Everything that exists has come forth from the very depths of My most tender mercy. Every soul in its relation to Me will contemplate My love and mercy throughout eternity. The Feast of Mercy emerged from My very depths of tenderness. It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the First Sunday after Easter. Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy” (Diary of St. Faustina, #699).
Jesus speaks of the importance of mercy in Scripture. In the Gospel of Matthew, He speaks of this (Matthew 9:13 and 12:7), using the same words as in the Old Testament, when God said through the prophet Hosea: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes Jesus’ words on forgiveness and mercy, “The parable of the merciless servant, which crowns the Lord’s teaching on ecclesial communion, ends with these words: ‘So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.’ It is there, in fact, ‘in the depths of the heart,’ that everything is bound and loosed. It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession” (CCC, #2843).
God’s mercy for us is a message of hope. There are times when we will feel hurt, injury or offense, said Sister Mary Kathleen, “but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit will experience the power of God abiding in our hearts.”
The hope of the Ascension
Forty days after Easter, the Church celebrates the feast of the Ascension, when the resurrected Jesus returned, body and soul, to heaven. Through His Ascension, Jesus opened the way for the rest of humanity to join Him in heaven, too.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, precedes us into the Father’s glorious kingdom so that we, the members of His body, may live in the hope of one day being with Him forever” (CCC 666).
We are also given the promise that Jesus will one day return to Earth. “While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen Him going into heaven’” (Acts 1:10-11).
This gift of hope — that we may have a place in heaven with our Lord and that Jesus will come again to redeem all to Himself — can help us keep our priorities straight during our lifetime here on earth, said Chris Foeldi, adult faith minister at Ascension Parish in Chesterfield.
“We have to be continually reminded of our hope in Christ’s promises, so that we remain focused on the goal of being eternally with Him,” Foeldi said.
Just like the Church must first journey through Lent and Jesus’ Passion and death before reaching the resurrection and the Ascension, we must also continually work to grow in love and union with our Lord before we can join Him in heaven.
“God’s promise is love, and that’s a great promise to look forward to,” Foeldi said. “We have to respond to that love.”
The best way to prepare to be eternally united with God’s amazing love? Love the others around you right now, Foeldi said. By loving others, we are loving God, and by forming Christ-centered relationships, we can encourage each other along the way.
At Ascension Parish, Foeldi has especially seen the fruits of small faith formation groups. Meeting regularly with a small group of other Catholics striving to grow closer to Christ allows parishioners to “see Christ up close, face-to-face,” and share the everyday joys and challenges of living a life of faith in their families, workplaces and communities, Foeldi said.
“Nobody can do it on their own,” he said. “And the only way we can be authentic is if we are unified with the strength of Christ and His love.”
Journeying together, as Christ’s earliest disciples did, we can live our lives as a testament to the hope Jesus gave us through His resurrection and Ascension: He is preparing a place for us with His Father.
“In our fortification and strength in Christ, we can face even death and do it boldly, knowing that’s not the end,” Foeldi said.
Holy Spirit at Pentecost
Pentecost is a feast of the Church that celebrates the third person of the Triune God — the Holy Spirit, which descended upon the first disciples of Jesus. Pentecost comes at the conclusion of the Easter season. It occurs 50 days after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and 10 days after His Ascension into heaven.
In the story of how the Holy Spirit descended upon the first Christians, a “strong, driving” wind filled the room where the apostles were gathered, and tongues of fire came to rest on their heads, allowing them to speak in different languages so that they could understand each other. Some people thought these early Christians were just drunk, but as Peter described in the Acts of the Apostles, this occurred in the morning and was the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit also gave the apostles the other gifts that were needed to go out and preach the Gospel to all nations. It fulfills Christ’s promise that the apostles would be “clothed with power” before going out to spread the Gospel (Luke 24:46-49).
After the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, Peter, the Church’s first pope, was inspired by the Holy Spirit to preach to Jews and other non-believers. He also told the people that the Jesus they crucified is the Lord and was raised from the dead, which “cut them to the heart.” Peter exhorted them to repent of their sins and to be baptized. According to the Acts of the Apostles, about 3,000 people were baptized following Peter’s preaching.
Fernanda Thurmond came to know the Holy Spirit in a deeper way through the Brazilian Catholic community here in St. Louis. Thurmond is a coordinator of the Brazilian ministry at St. Joseph Parish in Manchester. She is also on the path to become a missionary with Face de Cristo, which provides formation support for the community’s charismatic prayer group ministry.
It was at a prayer group that she experienced an awakening to the Holy Spirit, which she described as her own “personal Pentecost.”
“I had a moment that something was different for me,” Thurmond said. “I felt the presence of God. I reflected on this promise that God is making to me out of love, and I realized He doesn’t want me to work toward this path of holiness on my own.”
She went from praying to God who she felt was “way outside of me,” to a God who is her advocate and dwelling inside of her. “I went from being a disciple to being a missionary disciple,” she said. She’s since been inspired to share with others that the Holy Spirit dwells within them, too, and that God gives us certain gifts to help make His presence known.
Thurmond has witnessed the conversion of others within the Brazilian Catholic community, including Guilherme Menezes, who was confirmed by Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski in November. Menezes had been baptized Catholic, but wasn’t raised in the faith. After marrying his wife, he realized the Church had something different.
Upon moving to the United States from Brazil in 2019, he and his wife found the Brazilian Catholic community at St. Joseph. He began attending the charismatic prayer group and saw God working inside of him. He also had an encounter with the Lord in eucharistic adoration. Eventually, he felt called to receive the sacrament of confirmation. His daughter, now 2, also was baptized alongside him.
“The encounter is the love you feel with Jesus and know that God loves you,” he said. “I recognized that there is a God who has so much love for us, and it’s for everybody.”