Since The Catholic Transcript is published only monthly, this edition looks forward to Easter even though we are still in the midst of Lent. There is something for our reflection that straddles Lent and Easter very well, and that is the Feast of Divine Mercy.
Since the millennium year 2000, the Second Sunday of Easter (which this year falls on April 27) is also known as “Divine Mercy Sunday.” The origin of this devotion to divine mercy is to be found in the private revelations made to Saint Faustina Kowalska, who was born in Poland in 1905. In 1934, at the wish of her spiritual director, she began keeping a diary, which she entitled “Divine Mercy in my Soul.” It gives a detailed account of profound revelations and extraordinary spiritual experiences, and of how the Risen Christ chose to entrust her with a very special mission; namely, that she should announce to the world what can be described as a “gospel of mercy.” Sister Faustina died of tuberculosis at the age of 33 in 1938 on the eve of World War II, the coming and horrors of which she foretold to others in the convent.
What is the essence of devotion to divine mercy?
The starting point is faith understood as complete and total trust and confidence in Jesus. In a famous painting of Christ made at Saint Faustina’s direction on the basis of her visions, the inscription under the image of Christ reads: “Jesus, I trust in you.”
A second element is the obligation to practice acts of mercy toward others every day. In the words of Christ: “You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it…”
Finally there is prayer. This is the impetus for the Feast of Divine Mercy which is observed on the Sunday after Easter. Through sacramental confession, reception of holy Communion and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus promised “to pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of mercy.”
If ever there was an age that needed mercy, surely it is ours: mercy among people toward one another, as well as the mercy of God for so much evil, indifference and disobedience to his love and law. When we consider the state of the world (terrorism, war and hate-filled conflicts), our country (“culture wars,” polarization, incivility, gridlock), the church (sinful scandals and unrelenting attacks), not to mention our own lives, trust in God can be severely tested.
Speaking to priests a few weeks ago, Pope Francis urged them “to hear the voice of the Spirit speaking to the whole church of our time, which is the time of mercy. I am sure of this. It is not only Lent; we are living in a time of mercy, and have been for 30 years or more, up to today. This was an intuition of Blessed John Paul II. He ‘sensed’ that this was the time of mercy.”
Pope Francis pointed out that in Blessed John Paul II’s homily for the canonization of Sister Faustina, John Paul II “emphasized that the message of Jesus Christ to her is located, in time, between the two World Wars and is intimately tied to the history of the 20th century. And looking to the future, he said: ‘What will the years ahead bring us? What will man’s future on earth be like? We are not given to know. However, it is certain that in addition to new progress there will unfortunately be no lack of painful experiences. But the light of divine mercy, which the Lord in a way wished to return to the world through Sister Faustina’s charism, will illumine the way for the men and women of the third millennium.’”
In the Gospel at Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday, the Risen Christ says to the apostles: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” The text continues: “And when he had said this he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” The church has been entrusted with the grace of reconciliation, a ministry of divine mercy, chiefly through the sacrament of penance, but not only that. Mercy is poured out in all of the church’s sacramental life, and is meant to be a way of life for all of us as disciples of Jesus.
As I mentioned earlier, “Jesus, I trust in you” is the prayer inscribed at the foot of the Divine Mercy image revealed to Saint Faustina. Because of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, inseparably joined, we have every reason to say; “Jesus, I trust in you.” This must always be our prayer.
May the eternal “Father of Mercies” bless you with a holy Lent and a happy Easter.