God’s love is something I’ve preached upon on more than one occasion, and this week,
the Second Sunday of Easter, is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday.
The feast was proclaimed by Saint John Paul II, and has it’s origins in revelations to
Helena Kowalska, who became Sr. Faustina. She was born in Poland in 1905, the third
child of a devout Christian family.
In 1925, she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, taking the
name Faustina. She served as a cook, gardener and doorkeeper in Krakow and several
other community convents. The sisters liked her but did not appreciate or understand
her deep interior life, which included visions and prophecies. On February 22, 1931,
Sister Faustina experienced a new and life-changing vision of Christ. She saw him
wearing a white robe and raising his right hand in blessing with his left hand resting on
his heart from which flowed two rays of light. Jesus told her, “Paint an image according
to the pattern you see, with the prayer, Jesus, I trust in you.”
Faustina could not paint, and struggled to convince her incredulous sisters about the
truth of her vision. Ultimately she persuaded her spiritual director, Father Michael
Sopocko, that the vision was real. He found an artist to create the painting that was
named The Divine Mercy and shown to the world for the first time on April 28, 1935.
Father Sopocko advised Sister Faustina to record her visions in a diary. At one point she
wrote that “Jesus said I was his secretary and an apostle of his divine mercy.” She
devoted the rest of her life to spreading the message of divine mercy and the growth of
popular devotion to it. Her mystical writings have been translated into many languages.
She died of tuberculosis at age 33.
Pope John Paul II canonized her on April 30, 2000.
The revelations experienced by St. Faustina were of a private nature, which are not
essential to anyone’s acceptance of the Catholic faith. These types of visions and
revelations are described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Throughout the
ages, there have been so-called ‘private’ revelations, some of which have been
recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit
of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to
help live more fully by it in a certain period of history” (#67). In another section, the
Catechism describes popular piety, which helps us to put St. Faustina’s revelations into a
broader context: “The religious sense of the Christian people has always found
expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church’s sacramental life, such as
veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the stations of the
cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals, etc. These expressions of piety extend the
liturgical life of the Church, but do not replace it….Pastoral discernment is needed to
sustain and support popular piety” (#1674-76).
This is why there are careful investigations whenever anyone says to have had a vision;
and we find that there are many instances where someone may think they had a vision,
and it’s psychological in nature or not authentic. These fade over time. But Saint
Faustina’s were proven to be true. The Divine Mercy devotion fosters the virtue of trust
in God’s mercy that finds its fulfillment in the liturgy of Reconciliation and the Holy
Eucharist. Popular piety animates the faith attitudes that make participation in the
sacraments more vital and fruitful.
How to describe Divine Mercy? An article appearing on EWTN’s website sums it up
The message of mercy is that God loves us — all of us — no matter how great
our sins. He wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins,
so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow
through us to others. Thus, all will come to share His joy. It is a message
we can call to mind simply by remembering ABC.
A — Ask for His Mercy. God wants us to approach Him in prayer constantly,
repenting of our sins and asking Him to pour His mercy out upon us and
upon the whole world.
B — Be merciful. God wants us to receive His mercy and let it flow through
us to others. He wants us to extend love and forgiveness to others just as He
does to us.
C — Completely trust in Jesus. God wants us to know that the graces of His
mercy are dependent upon our trust. The more we trust in Jesus, the more
we will receive.
Mercy has also been a special theme of Pope Francis’ pontificate, as he declared last year
a year of mercy.
God’s love is something I try to emphasize in my preaching, and as I said on Easter, God
will always meet us where we are at and find us. What better way to end the Easter
Octave than to celebrate this mercy. Even though Lent is a particular time where we
focus on conversion, this really is life-long as we strive to become better people. Along
the way there will be setbacks, but God’s love will always be there for us. Think about
that and make use of confession, and make sure receiving the Eucharist isn’t just
mechanical but a reminder to you that Jesus takes away our sins. “Jesus, I trust in you”
are the words often seen on the Divine Mercy image – may we do the same daily
remembering His love and mercy endure forever.