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Continue contemplating Mercy

Q: Archbishop J, why Divine Mercy in the height of Easter?

Some liturgists have seen the Feast of Divine Mercy, which we celebrated on April 24, as an aberration. They believe it drags Lent into the Easter Octave. They see the feast through the lens of Good Friday and not Easter Sunday. They also believe that a Polish pope took a Polish devotion and foisted it on the universal Church.

Whatever may be said about the latter, what we see around Divine Mercy is popular religion at its best and most elemental. If we trust the sensus fidei, then we must admit the reception of the cult of Divine Mercy into the universal Church has been astounding.

I remember in the 1980s a layman made it his mission to distribute pamphlets, booklets, and images to promote Divine Mercy in Trinidad and Tobago. Up to that time, I had not heard anything about the devotion.

Every afternoon at 3 p.m. he would walk the office corridors and say: “Divine Mercy!” and people would leave their workstations and head to a designated place to pray.

I have seen many Catholics living in complicated moral situations turn to the Divine Mercy devotion with great profit to their soul and moral life. Some who are in situations that cannot easily be resolved have chosen to stay in the conflict, with sustained prayer for Divine Mercy, while recognising the need to make their life right with Christ. Living in this tension, they keep saying: “Jesus I trust in You!”.

What started as a very small handful of Catholics praying this strange prayer at 3 p.m. has now turned into an archdiocesan-wide devotion.

The transformation happened before we had cable TV, EWTN or Trinity TV. It was never sponsored by the hierarchy of the Church, the archbishop, or priests. But it was never opposed either.

Divine Mercy, like Charismatic Renewal and Fatima and the Siparia devotions are genuinely promoted by the People of God. They answer an existential itch that the official liturgy and cult of the Church cannot adequately scratch at this time.

The movement of the Divine Mercy devotion from a relatively small group, who promoted it because of personal experience and a conviction nurtured by materials and literature in the 1980s, to several major events at parish and archdiocesan level in the 2000s, has to be seen as a work of the Holy Spirit.

Or a major hijack of the Easter Octave!


Revelation of Mercy

It is my belief that the whole of Christ’s saving work is about the revelation of Divine Mercy. From the Annunciation to Easter Sunday, Ascension and Pentecost, God is revealing the truth of who God is in the depth and inner core of the Trinity. As Pope Francis has said, “The face of God is mercy.” But not only the face, but also the heart and core of the inner being of God.

As we look at the revelation of God’s inner nature in the Old Testament, there is a growing sense of the inner core of God as mercy. After the people’s rejection of God through idolatry, even after their worshipping of the golden calf and the impasse that this caused, the revelation of God is mercy.

On Mount Sinai, he passed in front of Moses “and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy and faithfulness’” (Exodus 34:6).

In the book of Hosea, we find a new quality of mercy shows itself in the relationship between God and the people of Israel who have abandoned God. The prophet says on behalf of God: “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her” (Hosea 2:14).

Here too the prophet instructs the people on the true desire of God: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”

The word here translated as mercy is the Hebrew hesed, better rendered steadfast love. It speaks of a covenantal love that is unbreakable. Despite her unfaithfulness, the prophet is asked to take his wife back to the marriage bed, as a prophecy of God’s steadfast love for the people of Israel.


Divine Mercy

In her diaries, St Faustina recorded the revelations of Jesus to her. In Diary 341, it says: “I want the image solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter, and I want it to be venerated publicly so that every soul may know about it.”

This is the iconic image of Jesus with the white and red streams of mercy from His heart. This is a modern Sacred Heart image emphasising the flow of blood and water. These are the founts from which all sacraments flow.

In another entry (Diary 420) it says: “This Feast emerged from the very depths of my mercy, and it is confirmed in the vast depths of my tender mercies. Every soul believing and trusting in my mercy will obtain it.”

The saint believed she was asked to get the Church to make the second Sunday of Easter Divine Mercy Sunday. The Polish bishops requested this for the beatification of Sr Faustina in 1993. Later, Pope John Paul II, at her canonisation during the great Jubilee (2000) made this a feast for the entire Church.

Pope John Paul II died on the feast of Divine Mercy. He was beatified on the feast of Divine Mercy. He was also canonised on that feast. Thus, Popes Benedict XVI and Francis both confirmed the intuition of the universality of the feast during the Octave of Easter.

At Pope John Paul II’s funeral Mass, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who preached said: “He interpreted for us the paschal mystery as a mystery of divine mercy. In his last book, he wrote: The limit imposed upon evil ‘is ultimately Divine Mercy’ (Memory and Identity, pp. 60-61).”

Pope Francis says in Misericordiae Vultus, the document marking the extraordinary jubilee of mercy (2015), “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him” (1).

He continues: “We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life” (2).



Key Message:

Mercy is the inner heart of our God, through the key of mercy we can interpret the whole Judaeo-Christian tradition.

Action Step:

If we have received mercy then we need to be generous with mercy also.

Scripture Reading:

Lk 23:39–43