Blessed Fr. Sopocko
Photo: Marie Romagnano
The crowd celebrates at the beatification of Fr. Michael Sopocko (1888-1975) on Sept. 28, 2008 outside the Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy in Białystok, Poland.
Divine Mercy Loves Us Into Being
Where does Divine Mercy come from? Sounds like a silly question at first. After all, if it is Divine Mercy, surely it must come from God, because He alone is "divine."
True enough, but if we asked that question of Bl. Fr. Michael Sopocko, as our theology professor and spiritual director, he would say that the matter is not so simple; we need to go deeper. There is a richness to the nature of God that many Catholics do not appreciate. We tend to forget that God is not a divine person but Three Divine Persons, and it is the mystery of the eternal love going on between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit from which the merciful love of God for His creatures comes to be. Blessed Sopocko — the spiritual director and confessor of St. Faustina — puts it this way:
No one is able to comprehend the tenderness, the glowing love and supreme happiness with which the Father, from eternity, is always generating the Son, and the Holy Ghost proceeding from the Son and the Father. All the brilliance, fire and joy of the love which acts, enlivens and enflames creatures is only a very weak reflection of the eternal generation of the Son by the Father and of the surge and procession of the Holy Ghost from the blazing Ocean of Divine Love which exists between the Father and the Son. (God is Mercy. Stockbridge: Marian Press, 1965, p. 24)
In fact, Blessed Sopocko tells us, this awesome, eternal love among the persons of the Blessed Trinity is so infinitely perfect that God had absolutely no need to create anything else at all. He was perfectly happy and blessed in Himself. So why did He bother to do it? The truth must be that He chose to create a world out of merciful love for creatures themselves, to enable them to share in that perfect love that is going on inside of Him, so to speak, forever and forever. He saw the first and most urgent need of creatures: the need to be, to exist. So, out of merciful (i.e., compassionate) love, He offered them the chance to share in His eternal joy by creating them to be the objects of that love. Fr. Sopocko writes:
God's natural goodness sufficiently manifests itself in the Holy Trinity, in the eternal generation of the Son by the Father, and in the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son, and in the mutual love of the three Divine Persons. Here is poured out all the fullness of the most perfect natural goodness of God. Through this, its tendency to communicate itself o others is fully satisfied. The creation of the rational world was not necessary to express God's goodness, since God has always been happy in Himself and entirely self-sufficient. Therefore creation happened without any external or internal compulsion, without necessity, but only through the infinite Mercy of God. ...
Lack of existence or nothingness is the greatest of all wants and the most awful misery. All nature shudders before such misery. Every man and animal flees from this want, fearing it above all other sufferings and wants, proving thus that want of existence is the greatest of all miseries. So creation of the world with all its beings is the work of the Mercy of God, which may also be called Divine Goodness in relation to the supreme misery of non-existence. (God is Mercy, pp. 30-31).
Father Sopocko's spiritual "directee," St. Faustina, learned this mystery as well. She writes about it in her Diary, entries 1741 and 423:
O God, who [is] happiness in Your very self, and [has] no need of creatures to make You happy, because Yourself you are the fullness of love, yet out of Your fathomless mercy You call creatures into being, and grant them a share in Your eternal happiness and in Your life, that divine and indwelling life in which You live, One God in Three Persons. ...
Although I understand that, being God, He is happy in Himself and has absolutely no need of any creature, still, His goodness compels Him to give Himself to the creature, and with a generosity which is beyond understanding. ... Rejoice, all you creatures, for you are closer to God in His infinite mercy than a baby to its mother's heart.
In our day and age we tend to think of God's act of "creating" as something that happened billions of years ago, when He brought the universe into being by the "Big Bang" that started it all. We think of ourselves today merely as the most recent product of a whole process of cosmic evolution. But Blessed Michael argues that this is not all what God's creation of the human race really means: rather, nothing would exist from one moment to the next unless God held all things in being at every moment. God first created the universe long ago, but that does not mean that it had some power to keep on existing on its own. Drawing upon the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, Fr. Sopocko writes:
All creatures not only receive existence from Him but must also be continuously sustained in their existence or determined to existence by Him. As the radiance of light from the sun is continually needed for daylight, so from God existence must constantly flow in order for creatures to exist. As a brook cannot flow unless the water comes from the source, so things cannot exist unless God gives and sustains their existence. Even angels and human souls, although immortal in their nature, do not exist necessarily but need to be continuously conserved in being by the First Cause. If God did not pour existence constantly into His creatures, they would cease to exist and would return into nothingness. (God is Mercy, p. 32)
What all this means is clear enough: God literally loves us into being at every moment. Nobody is here by accident or merely by the working out of some random natural process. Nobody is cranked out by the universe in the way that a factory cranks out toys or toothpaste just because the machines were programmed to make such things from the beginning. Rather, each one of us springs fresh from our Creator's hands every day. All this happens in accordance with the patterns and laws of nature He established, to be sure, but those "secondary causes" (natural laws and other natural factors) only exist from moment to moment and do what they do, because He wills to hold them in being and enables them to do so. In short, every single one of us is a continual "encore performance" of God's creative power.
Saint Faustina said it best in her beautiful Canticle of creation in Diary entry 1750:
Be adored, O our Creator and Lord.
O universe, humbly glorify your God;
Thank your creator to the best of your powers
And praise God's incomprehensible mercy.
Come, O earth, in all your fine greenery;
Come, you too, O fathomless sea.
Let your gratitude become a loving song
And sing the greatness of God's mercy.
Come beautiful, radiant sun.
Come bright dawn which precedes it.
Join in one hymn, and let your clear voices
Sing in one accord God's great mercy.
Come hills and valleys, sighing woods and thickets,
Come lovely flowers at morningtide;
Let your unique scent
Adore and glorify God's mercy.
Come all you lovely things of earth,
Which man does not cease to wonder at.
Come, adore God in your harmony,
Glorifying God's inconceivable mercy.
Come, indelible beauty of all the earth,
And with great humility adore your Creator,
For all things are locked in His mercy,
With one mighty voice all things cry out;
How great is the mercy of God.
But above all these beauties,
A more pleasing praise to God
Is a soul innocent and filled with childlike trust,
Which, through grace, is closely bound to Him.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marians Fathers of the Immaculate Conception in Stockbridge, Mass.