Photo: Felix Carroll
A 'Conference Call': Trust in God's Mercy
At the beginning of a conference that served as both an educational seminar and a call to action, Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD, stood before a crowd of 1,200 people and quoted Charles Dickens' famous line from the 19th century novel A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
That line aptly describes the modern world today, said Dr. Stackpole. And so began the second annual Divine Mercy Conference, on Saturday, Feb. 3, at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, N.Y. The conference, entitled "Trusting in God's Mercy in Difficult Times," was sponsored by the Marians of the Immaculate Conception and the Center for Spiritual Development of the Archdiocese of New York.
"In many respects, it is the best of times," said Dr. Stackpole, the Director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy and a columnist for this website. "We live in an age of tremendous advancements in medicine and agriculture, an age of antibiotics and anesthesia and advanced surgery — and thanks be to God for all of that.
"But I'm sure I don't need to say much to convince this audience that in many respects this is the worst of times," Dr. Stackpole continued. "While scientific advances relieve our physical pains and discomfort, our society seems to be ever more sick and sorrowful. Our time is one of widespread abandonment of faith in Jesus Christ; a time of meaninglessness and despair; a time of drug addiction and suicide; a time of family break-ups and the killing of unborn children; a time of neglect of the poor and the elderly; a time in which our society, indeed our very souls, are bleeding from so many wounds that we begin to wonder whether the human race may not be permanently ill."
The nearly dozen other conference speakers agreed that Divine Mercy — associated with the Polish mystic St. Faustina who in the 1930s received a series of revelations with Jesus Christ that she recorded in her Diary — is a source of divine power for the healing of the world.
Dr. Stackpole quoted from the Diary of St. Faustina, when our Lord says to her: "Today I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart" (1588). He also read the comforting words of our Lord to St. Faustina, from Diary entry 1487: "Tell Me about everything. Be sincere in dealing with Me. Reveal all the wounds of your heart. I will heal them."
"Ladies and gentlemen," said Dr. Stackpole, "if we have a Divine Savior like that — a Lord whose response to our physical and spiritual, aching wounds is mercy and compassion like that — then the main message of this conference today is not pain, but hope."
Be Not Afraid
How should one turn to God's mercy? Monsignor James Lisante, pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Hempstead, N.Y., and a regular contributor to Fox News Channel, urged people to reach out to Christ through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
He said that 70 percent of Catholics in the metropolitan New York area don't go to confession after they receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.
"Here we have the absolute, unlimited mercy of God given to us through this sacrament, and we don't use it," said Fr. James. "Why is this great opportunity to receive the mercy of God ignored? For many of us, it's because we're afraid. ... We're afraid to have to articulate to another human being the reality: Bless me, Father, for I am a sinner.
"Get over the guilt, the fear, the embarrassment," he continued. "There has never been a sin committed that is new in the world. God knows it all. There is nothing you have ever done, there is nothing you will ever do, that's beyond the scope of the mercy and goodness of God," Fr. James said.
Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, who served as vice-postulator for North America in St. Maria Faustina's canonization cause, spoke of what it means to trust in God, to have faith in God's word and to act as witnesses of mercy.
"The Lord says, 'He who trusts in My mercy will not perish for all his affairs are Mine, and his enemies will be shattered at the base of My footstool," said Fr. Seraphim, reading from the Diary (723).
"It was no coincidence that St. Faustina's revelations came when they did," said Fr. Seraphim. "God is so kind. He has sent His message for our times through St. Faustina ... to warn us, guide us, and to ask our cooperation because He cannot force this gift [of His mercy] upon us."
Father Seraphim said that as with all private revelations recognized by the Church, the message of Divine Mercy must be acted upon — within our own hearts, within our own families and communities.
"Use words to help, not hurt," he said. "Always bring forth words that will bring comfort and healing."
The author and speaker, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, Founder of the Franciscan Friars of The Renewal, took up the theme of Fr. Seraphim's — that the timing was crucial for the message of Divine Mercy.
"Here, the world was entering its darkest time, the Second World War, the spread of Bolshevik Communism, the Cold War, and the endless, bloody conflicts that have spun off since," he said, adding that the Diary of St. Faustina is "something very beautiful and given to us by the Providence of God."
Like other private revelations in the history of the Church — including those of "other peasant girls" such as St. Joan of Arc, St. Bernadette and the children of Fatima — those of St. Faustina are reshaping the Church and, in turn, have the ability to change the world, said Fr. Groeschel.
"Believe me, there is nothing that this human race needed more than the message of Divine Mercy," said Fr. Groeschel.
While the Bolsheviks have been defeated and the Cold War is over, the world faces even greater challenges, said Fr. Groeschel. They include violence, the abandonment of faith, and the "biggest abomination of them all," that of abortion.
Through the legalization of abortion, "we've outdone Joseph Stalin, we've outdone Mao Tse-Tung, we've outdone Hitler," he said. He mentioned that 35 years ago, in that very auditorium where the conference was held, he first introduced the then-unknown Mother Teresa for a speaking engagement.
"I heard her say many times, 'No nation can survive that kills its own children.' Can any race survive that kills its own children?" said Fr. Groeschel, shaking his head in dismay.
He paused, then said, "This revelation [of Divine Mercy] kind of keeps me going."
He told the audience what they can do to counter these difficult times: "Get very fervent and very prayerful, and with penance, turn to The Divine Mercy and respond to the teachings of a number of 'little peasant girls' who heard the sound ... of another world and have endeavored to try to bring these things to others."
Greatest Human Rights Cause
Father Frank Pavone, president of Priests For Life, also took up the topic of abortion, calling the Pro-Life effort "the greatest human rights cause of our day" and a cause that needs mercy as its foundation.
He said, "All the wars that we've ever fought from the beginning of our nation's history do not measure up to the number of lives snuffed out by abortion in this country alone in one year. There is nothing, not poverty, not starvation, nothing that we can name that takes more human lives than a procedure that some people defend in the name of freedom of choice."
He said, "We have to get away from the notion that somebody else's abortion is none of our business. ... If you hear of someone about to have an abortion, reach out to them, whether you know them personally or not. That's your business. That's your duty. That's your opportunity to save a life.
"We can end this," he said. "We can stop this violence. If we want to stop this violence, we have to interfere."
Furthermore, he said the Church and its faithful must reflect God's mercy as a source of healing for those who have been involved in abortion.
"What the Church says to the people involved in this tragedy is not 'I condemn you. I hate you'. What the Church says is what Jesus says to us: 'I am with you.' We extend hands of mercy. We extend hands of courage and of hope and of help. Abortion is not just a sin against life; it's a sin against hope."
Indeed, hope was the theme of the talk of Marie Romagnano, RN, founder of Doctors and Nurses for Divine Mercy. She spoke of her group, which includes more than 3,000 healthcare professionals worldwide that provide spiritual care and support of the sick and dying.
"By prayer and by using our hands and our hearts, the doctors and nurses bring the unfathomable mercy of God to the suffering, sick, injured, and dying, and consolation to those in need through devotion to Jesus, The Divine Mercy," Marie said.
Nurse Marie also spoke of her book, Nursing with the Hands of Jesus (Marian Press), which includes not only a primer on The Divine Mercy message and devotion, but a groundbreaking pastoral care application with medical treatment. For instance, it explains how the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy can be used to bring comfort and healing to patients and their families and how, when prayed for the dying, it can save souls.
"The Divine Mercy Chaplet is the most appropriate prayer for dying victims who cannot be otherwise rescued," said Nurse Marie. "Praying The Divine Mercy Chaplet gives the grace of salvation to the dying, hope and consolation to the families of the victims."
Mercy in the Streets
James White, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Covenant House — New York, the child welfare agency that provides shelter and other services to homeless and runaway youth, spoke of the works of mercy he's involved in to rescue young men and women from the streets.
He said he joined Covenant House years ago in hopes of "changing the world." That hasn't happened yet, he admitted. He said while Covenant House has helped many kids — many of whom have been sexually and physically abused — most suffer from experiences that prove too large to overcome.
"There's a nun who once told me, 'Jimmy, sometimes at the Covenant House we just stand at the sixth station.' I had to run out and find out what the sixth station was," admitted Mr. White, to a room full of laughs. "But it's Veronica's veil with the face of The Christ. She didn't have a placard to 'Change the World.' She didn't even pick up the end of the cross. But she showed absolute respect and compassion to the dying Christ. And some days at Covenant House, all we do is show mercy — put the comforting veil on their faces and provide them with clothing and shelter on the way to their own Calvary."
His idealism of years ago has evolved into a deeper awareness of how each of us can be mercy to one another - by, with, and through Him Who is Mercy. The brokenness of this world is insurmountable without turning in trust to the Merciful Lord.
Be Apostles of Mercy
The conference closed with two talks by members of the Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy (EADM), a lay outreach of the Congregation of Marians that provides spiritual formation for members around the world through small, faith-sharing groups called cenacles.
Dr. Bryan Thatcher, founder of EADM, gave witness to how reading the Diary of St. Faustina changed his life from one that was career-centered and adrift from his faith and his family.
Through Divine Mercy — lived in the home and in the workplace — mankind can begin to solve the greatest problems it faces today, Dr. Thatcher said, including war, poverty, and abortion.
"I would like to ask you that when you leave here tonight to just tell yourself that 'God loves me.' He does. Think of the cross. The vertical beam is like God's love coming down to us. But then we have to go out on the horizontal beam and share it with others. That's what we're called to be — apostles of mercy, living mercy, showing mercy, and giving love without any preconditions. That will transform the world."
Joley Billa, lay evangelist for EADM, emphasized that mercy is more than just a devotion. "It's a way of life," she said. Indeed, her trust in Jesus and The Divine Mercy is what carried her through two family tragedies: One when she lost a son to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and the other when another son was severely injured after a hospital staff member dropped him on his head after birth.
"The crosses that you and I bear are universal," Joley said. "And the tears that we weep are well-known to God. I have come here today to tell you that Jesus Christ passionately loves you. He wants to heal your wounds. He holds your wounds deep in His heart. He wants to weep with you and laugh with you."
If these are, indeed, the worst of times, Jesus, The Divine Mercy, stands ready for us to turn to Him, our greatest and only hope, so that we can enter into the best of times here and for all Eternity.