A Word of Hope: Divine Mercy

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By Christopher Centrella, Franciscan University

Let’s face it: We live in hard times. Besides this recent coronavirus pandemic, there is so much chaos in our world today. Many people struggle with intense emotional and mental pain; so many believe that their lives are hopeless and worthless, that they are beyond hope, beyond forgiveness, and beyond rescue; that no one could ever love them if they knew what they had done.

How are we to respond to this crisis? Well, how is Jesus responding? Is He yelling at those who have acted contrary to His plan for their lives, as He did at the self-righteous Pharisees, who judged the sinner and forgot of their own need for the mercy of God? Is He judging these people as forever lost, saying that they have messed up too much and cannot be redeemed, despite whatever intense pain these poor people might have? No, He has responded with a message of hope, hope.

The Scriptures tell us that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Even though Jesus knows about the evil of sin more than anyone else, His heart overflows with love for sinners. He feels our pain, and He loves us; He is only waiting for our response of acceptance to His merciful love. In John 8, we read, “Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?’”

Upon meeting this poor woman, what does Jesus do? Does He start yelling at her, for breaking the sacred law of chastity and of marriage, since He, being God, would be rightly angered at her sin? Does He pick up a stone and tell the crowd, “Stone her. Because you have violated the sacred dignity of marriage, you shall be put to death.”

Rather, what does He do? After reminding the crowd that we are never to judge the hearts of others, since we ourselves are sinners and have offended Him during our lifetime, He speaks with the woman alone. Now Jesus, who must have been looking at her with such eyes of love, asks her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” After she tells Him that no one has condemned her, He forgives her; exhorting her to live a life of chastity from now on, Jesus forgives this poor woman with these consoling words, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.”

On another occasion, we read, “A Pharisee invited him to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee…When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.’”

Does Jesus respond, “Oops! Let me remind you of the sanctity of marriage. Only those who are orthodox Jews may come into here. Your sins are wrong, and you shall be condemned.” No, He knows that this poor woman has come to Him for hope, hope that maybe all is not lost. Hope that maybe the teachings of the rabbi are true, hope that maybe she can be forgiven. This woman runs up to Him, and “weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.” She acknowledges her sin, gives Him all she has, her precious ointment, and seeks forgiveness.

What does Jesus say about this woman? From the depths of His tender and merciful heart, He tells the Pharisee these beautiful words, which give hope to every man and woman, no matter what their sin: “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little loves little.” And with a glance that must have given her the greatest relief and the surest hope, He says to her, “Your sins are forgiven” and “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” She has been set free! Free from slavery to the evil one, free from her past, free from her sin, restored to life and friendship with God!

Jesus is God; He understands the evil of sin, and the way it hurts ourselves, our brothers and sisters, and God—far better than we do. The great difference, however, between Him and the self-righteous Pharisees, was that He had love, such deep love. Jesus could feel the pain of that woman, He could feel it as if He were guilty. In fact, His entire life was directed toward the cross, where He was stripped naked and crucified, as if He had done serious wrong, although completely innocent of all sin whatsoever.

And after this wretched death, what does Jesus do, first? He does not speak with Peter, His “rock” nor with John, who was His favorite apostle. No, He speaks to a sinner who “loved much” and was forgiven. He speaks to Mary Magdalen, very likely the same woman who broke her ointment at the feet of Jesus, the woman from whom seven devils were cast out. It is to her, that Jesus first appears. And what does He do? He calls her by name, for with Jesus we are personally known and loved, no matter what our sin, no matter how we have hurt ourselves or others; He is only waiting for us to come to Him.

“But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping…Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?’ She thought it was the gardener and said to him, ‘Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni,’ which means Teacher.

In 1925, Jesus began appearing to a woman named Helena, now known as St. Faustina, in order to spread His great mercy. In the Diary of St. Faustina, Jesus says, “My Heart overflows with great mercy for souls, and especially for poor sinners. If only they could understand that I am the best of Fathers to them and that it is for them that the Blood and Water flowed from My Heart as from a fount overflowing with mercy. For them I dwell in the tabernacle as King of Mercy.”[1] In another place, Jesus tells us that to those who proclaim His great mercy, “I shall protect them Myself at the hour of death, as My own glory. And even if the sins of souls were as dark as night, when the sinner turns to My mercy, he gives Me the greatest praise and is the glory of My Passion. When a soul extols My goodness, Satan trembles before it and flees to the very bottom of hell.”[2]

After St. Faustina, Jesus sends another great apostle to communicate His great mercy, Karol Wojtyla, known as Pope St. John Paul II. While a young adult, Karol would stop and pray before the Blessed Sacrament on his way to work in the very chapel which Faustina prayed in, first seeing the image which Jesus gave to her, in 1943 or 1944.[3] While bishop of Krakow, Poland, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was a great advocate for the canonization of Faustina and the message of Divine Mercy. In 1978, Pope St. Paul VI lifted the former ban on the diary, after the misconceptions were cleared up. [4] That same year Pope Paul VI died and John Paul himself became the pontiff of Rome!

In only his second encyclical, Dives et Misericordia, John Paul calls us to bring the love of Jesus into our world: “In the name of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, in the spirit of His messianic mission, enduring in the history of humanity, we raise our voices and pray that the Love which is in the Father may once again be revealed at this stage of history, and that, through the work of the Son and Holy Spirit, it may be shown to be present in our modern world and to be more powerful than evil: more powerful than sin and death.”[5]

In another paragraph, John Paul tells us, “The Church of our time, constantly pondering the eloquence of these inspired words, and applying them to the sufferings of the great human family, must become more particularly and profoundly conscious of the need to bear witness in her whole mission to God’s mercy, following in the footsteps of the tradition of the Old and the New Covenant, and above all of Jesus Christ Himself and His Apostles.”[6]

On April 30, 2000, St. John Paul II declared St. Faustina a saint, while also establishing the Sunday after Easter as Mercy Sunday, responding to the very request of Jesus Himself to Sister Faustina. At the banquet that day, St. John Paul II shared with those there that, “Today is the happiest day of my life.”[7] In fact, this great Apostle of Mercy died on the vigil of the feast of Mercy Sunday, just after receiving the precious blood of the One whom He sought to bring to everyone, no matter what their hurt, or what their pain.

So how are we to reach out to our sisters and brothers, who believe that pleasure is the ultimate goal and do not see their own dignity as created in God’s own image and capable of union with Him? It’s four simple letters. LOVE. We are to be living witnesses of His love to those whom we meet, building what Pope St. John Paul called a “civilization of love.”[8] We must spread this beautiful message of mercy, the message expounded upon by the apparitions to St. Faustina, and by the great Pope of Mercy, St. John Paul II, and now by Pope Francis.

Let us never forget the immense mercy of God, or judge others based on appearances. I’ve read stories, I have even met people, who were treated as lesser by those who claim to be Catholic; judged as inferior because of their political views or because they were thought of for one reason or another, as deep in sin. My brothers and sisters, it is a disgrace for us Christians to lead these poor children away; our response must be love, not judgment. Christ uses the weak to shame the strong (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:27), and He is calling all of those who have walked in darkness to enter the light (cf. Isaiah 9:1-2) and of those who are in pain to find their solace in the One who is madly in love with them. Rather, let us bring the LOVE of Jesus Christ to every person that we meet, male or female, saint or sinner, liberal or conservative, close or far from the Lord.

Let us remind EVERY person that we meet, that they are LOVED, that there is HOPE, that Christ is calling out to them, walking alongside them in their pain, present in their worst anxieties and fears, and with them in their greatest depression. That when all seems lost, hope impossible, pain permanent, sin and shame fastened forever—in the midst of all of this, He is here with us, He is walking with us, and He is calling us to bring our struggle to Him. If we allow Him to transform us, He will forgive us of our sins, bring us to life, and unite us with Himself. May the Lord give you His peace.

[1] Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, Sister Faustina, https://liturgicalyear.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/divine-mercy-in-my-soul.pdf, accessed July 24, 2020.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Knights of Columbus Supreme Council, “John Paul II: An Apostle of Mercy”, YouTube video, 7:43, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeiEkZ6ktKQ&list=LLBht6u5QBQhs3Rsx_Px-7Cg&index=12&t=0s, accessed July 28, 2020.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Dives et Misericordia, Pope St. John Paul II, http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_30111980_dives-in-misericordia.html, accessed July 24, 2020.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Knights of Columbus Supreme Council, “John Paul II: An Apostle of Mercy”.

[8] Letter to Families, Pope St. John Paul II, http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/letters/1994/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_02021994_families.html, accessed July 28, 2020.

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