In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI gave us "a mandate" to "go forth and be witnesses of God's mercy, a source of hope for every person and for the whole world."
Photo: Felix Carroll
By David Came (Feb 9, 2010)
In the book Pope Benedict's Divine Mercy Mandate (Marian Press), I highlight how Pope Benedict XVI calls the sick in their suffering "the most eloquent witnesses of God's mercy" and how he calls today's youth to be "heralds of God's Love and Divine Mercy in the world." Now, he has also singled out men and women religious, consecrated persons, as witnesses of God's mercy.
"Consecrated persons are called in a particular way to be witnesses of [the] mercy of the Lord, in which man finds his salvation," Pope Benedict said on Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, in marking the Church's annual celebration of the World Day of Consecrated Life.
Consecrated Life as 'a School of Trust in the Mercy of God'
The Holy Father continued:
[Consecrated persons] have the vivid experience of God's forgiveness, because they have the awareness of being saved persons, of being great when they recognize themselves to be small, of feeling renewed and enveloped by the holiness of God when they recognize their own sin. Because of this, also for the man of today, consecrated life remains a privileged school of "compunction of heart," of the humble recognition of one's misery, but, likewise, it remains a school of trust in the mercy of God, in His love that never abandons. In reality, the closer we come to God, and the closer one is to Him, the more useful one is to others. Consecrated persons experience the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God not only for themselves, but also for their brothers, being called to carry in their heart and prayer the anxieties and expectations of men, especially those who are far from God.
In striking language that sounds like it could have come from the Diary of St. Faustina, the great apostle of Divine Mercy and herself a religious, the Pope speaks of the consecrated life as "a school of trust in the mercy of God." He then emphasizes that consecrated persons "experience mercy" not only for themselves but for others. The Holy Father is referring to the call of men and women religious to offer their lives to God for the sake of others, especially for "those who are far from God" and most in need of His mercy.
Alluding to the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, Pope Benedict then sums up by calling all the faithful, along with men and women religious, to be "full of trust and gratitude" in renewing their "total offering" to the Lord:
Full of trust and gratitude, let us then also renew the gesture of the total offering of ourselves, presenting ourselves in the Temple. May the Year for Priests be a further occasion for priests religious to intensify the journey of sanctification, and for all consecrated men and women, a stimulus to support and sustain their ministry with fervent prayer.
Notice how the Holy Father also calls on religious priests to "intensify" their journey to holiness during this Year for Priests and calls on all men and women religious to "sustain their ministry with fervent prayer."
In light of this message, you may be wondering, "How can I respond if I'm not a religious?"
Make a 'Total Offering' of Yourself to the Lord
First, remember the Holy Father's invitation in his concluding remarks for all of us to renew the "total offering of ourselves, presenting ourselves in the Temple." All the faithful, by virtue of their common Baptism, share in this call.
In responding, I suggest that you stop and, in the silence of your heart, offer yourself to God. Don't hold anything back but simply come to the Lord as you are, with all your sins and weaknesses. Lay them all down before Him and recommit yourself to follow and serve Him alone as your Lord and God.
In setting the scene for this, it might be helpful to prayerfully read the account of the Presentation in the Temple in Luke's Gospel (2:21-38). Enter the Gospel account yourself. You are there with the Baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as they enter the Temple. With the Holy Family, you meet Simeon and Anna. Then, at the end of your prayerful reading, you can make your own self-offering to the Lord.
Pray for Men and Women Religious
Second, make a deeper commitment to remember men and women religious in your prayers. Pray especially for men and women religious whom you know that they would remain faithful to their call as "witnesses of [the] mercy of the Lord, in which man finds his salvation."
Since the Pope speaks of the consecrated life as "a school of trust in the mercy of God," it might be particularly apt if you pray the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy for them. As you do, you can use the prayers for the Second Day of The Divine Mercy Novena, which is specifically for the souls of priests and religious:
Today, bring to Me the souls of priests and religious, and immerse them in My unfathomable mercy. It was they who gave Me strength to endure My bitter Passion. Through them as through channels My mercy flows out upon mankind.
Most merciful Jesus, from whom comes all that is good, increase Your grace in men and women consecrated to Your service, that they may perform worthy works of mercy; and that all who see them may glorify the Father of Mercy who is in heaven.
Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the company of chosen ones in Your vineyard — upon the souls of priests and religious; and endow them with the strength of Your blessing. For the love of the Heart of Your Son in which they are enfolded, impart to them Your power and light, that they may be able to guide others in the way of salvation and with one voice sing praise to Your boundless mercy for ages without end. Amen (Diary, 1212-13).
Express Gratitude for Religious Who Have Inspired You
Third, recall with gratitude men or women religious who have particularly inspired you. Perhaps it's a religious sister who taught you in Catholic parochial school or a religious priest who served in your parish.
I think with great gratitude of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, who faithfully promote The Divine Mercy message and devotion in the Church. They epitomize for me religious who are in "a school of trust in the mercy of God."
There's an excellent example of their trust in the mercy of God in the Spring 2010 issue of Marian Helper magazine, which has just been published. (Receive a free copy of the issue.) It's an article on how the Marian Fathers persevered over a decade in building the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., which is now celebrating its 50th Anniversary Year. Trusting in the Lord and receiving sacrificial offerings from countless Marian Helpers, they proceeded with the construction only as funds became available. I invite you to read the article and the entire issue.
So, inspired by Benedict XVI, our Mercy Pope, let's recognize the men and women religious in our midst as "witnesses of [the] mercy of the Lord, in which man finds his salvation." Let's also keep them in our prayers and remember with grateful hearts their service to us and to the Church.
David Came is executive editor of Marian Helper magazine, the flagship publication of the Association of Marian Helpers, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass. His book is Pope Benedict's Divine Mercy Mandate.