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Photo: Felix Carroll
A pilgrim prays during Holy Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy.
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Apr 14, 2016)
I would guess that most of the people who read this Q&A column regularly and send their questions to me are people who have some devotion to the Divine Mercy and who received Holy Communion on Divine Mercy Sunday in a state of grace, with trust in God's merciful love.
By doing so you, received the special grace of Divine Mercy Sunday that Jesus promised to the world through St. Faustina: the complete renewal of baptismal grace in your heart (see Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 699). However, one of our readers, named Danielle, sent in the following question, and I have been pondering it for many weeks:
I feel as if God must be asking something special from us, if He is promising us such special graces on Divine Mercy Sunday. Do you think that those of us who love His Divine Mercy and who are devoted to St. Faustina and her messages should take up some special apostolic work, since God has been so generous to us? I feel as if I ought to, maybe I ought to practice more of the works of mercy or something, but I am also a wife and mother (a true soccer mom!). I don't seem to have time and energy for anything extra. What should I do?
Danielle, your question is so important that I cannot answer it completely in just one installment of this column, so pardon me if I take several installments to do it!
The short answer to your question is: Yes, I think we who know and trust God's merciful love ought to radiate that mercy in the world in special ways, even in special apostolates of mercy. On the other hand, in many situations, that does not necessarily mean we have to take on something "extra" (so many people are so stretched these days, with such a full schedule already!), but it does mean that we may need to set new priorities as to what we do with the time and energy our Lord gave to us.
That's the short answer. Now let me take about three weeks to explain it in detail, beginning this week.
As you seem to realize, Danielle, living mercifully is not just an "optional extra" of our devotion to The Divine Mercy. It is not something that just a few of us are called to "get into." Rather, it is a mark of any true disciple of the merciful Jesus. As our Lord said to St. Faustina:
Tell [all people], my daughter, that I am Love and Mercy itself. When a soul approaches Me with trust, I fill it with such an abundance of graces that it cannot contain them within itself, but radiates them to other souls (Diary, 1074).
In other words, unless the merciful love we are receiving from Jesus is overflowing from our hearts and pouring out upon others, then we are not yet authentic disciples. Jesus said He fills the trusting soul with such an abundance of graces that it "cannot" contain them within itself but "radiates" them to others. Father George Kosicki, CSB, explains this clearly in his book, Now is the Time for Mercy (Marian Press, 2004 edition):
As the mercy of God flows into us, it cleanses us, converts us, turns us around, so that we, too, can become merciful. ... [F]illed with mercy ourselves, we allow that mercy to flow through us — toward God, in thanksgiving and praise, and toward our neighbor in love and works of mercy. ... [We] let mercy flow.
You may have heard of an illustration of this truth often used by preachers. It's about the difference between the two great bodies of water in the Holy Land: The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. The Dead Sea, it is said, is utterly devoid of life. It receives fresh water constantly from the River Jordan to the north, but then hoards that water and keeps it for itself. As a result, the waters stagnate, the salt content of the sea is way too high, and no fish in the Dead Sea can survive. Thus, it is aptly named the "Dead Sea." The Sea of Galilee, on the other hand, does not just receive; it also gives. It too receives fresh water constantly flowing into it from the north, from fresh mountain streams. But as much as it receives, it gives away to the south, pouring itself out, hour by hour, into the River Jordan. As a result, the Sea of Galilee is ever refreshed, full of oxygen and nutrients, and teeming with life.
That is the difference between a true disciple of the merciful love of Jesus Christ and a "dead" one. True disciples are filled with the life of Christ and His Spirit, not only because they trustfully receive that life from Christ from prayer and the sacraments, day by day, but also because they mercifully give that life away as well. They let Divine Mercy flow through their hearts to their neighbors in need — whether those needs are physical, emotional, or spiritual. In short, they become living embodiments of what Jesus proclaimed in the gospels: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor (Lk 4:18). These disciples become that good news — in the flesh. They not only proclaim to the needy that "help is on the way," but to a great extent, they let themselves become the instruments of that help from God.
Saint John Paul II strongly emphasized this aspect of the Divine Mercy message and devotion in his homily for the canonization of St. Faustina on Mercy Sunday of the year 2000:
It is important then that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the Word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called "Divine Mercy Sunday." In the various readings the liturgy seems to indicate the path of mercy which, while re-establishing the relationship of each person with God, also creates new relations of fraternal solidarity among human beings. Christ has taught us that man not only receives and experiences the mercy of God, but is also called to practice mercy toward others: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Mt 5:7). He also showed us the many paths of mercy, which not only forgives sins, but reaches out to all human needs. Jesus bent over every kind of human poverty, material and spiritual.
Not only is living mercifully a mark of authentic Divine Mercy spirituality, it is also the express command of Jesus Christ. He summed it up for His disciples in St. Luke's gospel: "Be merciful, as your Father [in heaven] is merciful" (Lk 6:6). Our Lord was also quite emphatic about this with St. Faustina:
My daughter, if I demand through you that people revere my mercy, you should be the first to distinguish yourself by this confidence in My mercy. I demand from you deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this, or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it (Diary, 742).
In entry 1688, our Lord summed it up for St. Faustina as follows: "My daughter, look into My Merciful Heart, and reflect its compassion in your own heart and in your deeds, so that you who proclaim Mt mercy to the world may yourself be aflame with it."
Clearly, what Jesus was saying to St. Faustina was that if we look into His merciful Heart, we will see a concern that is ever on his Heart. Namely, that we all learn to live mercifully, with compassion.
Why is this such a major concern for Him?
Well, first of all, because He loves us, Jesus does not want the souls of His followers to end up as lifeless as the Dead Sea: hoarding graces and spiritual consolations for ourselves, while at the same time closing our hearts to the needs of others. The graces received by such souls stagnate with "religiosity," "devotionalism," "spiritual greed," leading ultimately to spiritual death. Billy Graham used to say that he knew too many whose religion was not "Christianity" but "Churchianity": the ultra-pious, the Christian Pharisees, merciless to those who do not share their obsessive attention to works of piety. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. "Blessed are the merciful, for they [the original Greek of the gospels implies, "only they"] shall obtain mercy." In other words, all the Masses and Rosaries and Chaplets and Bible studies in the world will be to no avail if we are not letting the mercy we receive through these means of grace melt our hearts, and make us compassionate toward others. As Jesus said to St. Faustina: "If a soul does not exercise mercy somehow or other, it will not obtain My mercy on the day of judgement" (Diary, 1316).
Secondly, this is a major concern for our Lord because He has compassion for the poor himself. Their need for mercy, both physical and spiritual, is always before His eyes and always on His Heart. It is those of us who profess to love Him and who trust in His mercy that He needs to use to reach out to help them. Jesus said to St. Faustina:
I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first — by deed, the second — by word, the third — by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for me (Diary, 742).
In short, if we repeat in our prayers, "Lord Jesus, I love you; help me to love You more," then He can rightfully turn to us and say: "If you really love Me, then love Me by deed, word, and prayer, as I give you the opportunity, in all those whose cries and tears I always carry within My compassionate Heart: the poor, the sick, the lonely, the destitute, the oppressed, the lost, and the broken. By loving them, you will be loving Me as well, for their needs are ever on my Heart."
Isn't that the secret behind our Lord's words in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:
Come, O blessed of my father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. ... Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.
Clearly, Jesus Christ has the sufferings of the poor, both the materially poor and the spiritually poor, ever on His Heart. In loving them, we are loving Him whose Heart is ever tied to them with bonds of tender mercy. Perhaps Bl. Mother Theresa of Calcutta said it best when she said that there are two kinds of Eucharists in the world: the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, where He is at work to fill us with his light, His life, and His love, and the presence of the same Lord in the poor, where He is waiting for us to give Him back His life, His light, and His love. Again, the compassion of Jesus Christ extends especially to the poor, in their plight, simply because they are "most in need of His mercy."
Danielle, from what you wrote to me, I do not think you need to be convinced of any of this. All this is merely a preamble (for those who really did need to be reminded!) to what I want to write to you next week: How we can practice the works of mercy, and live mercifully, if we are swamped already at home and at work!
Check out Dr. Stackpole's entire Divine Mercy Q&A series.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press).