Photo: Felix Carroll
On April 5, the eve of the closing of the first-ever World Apostolic Congress on Mercy, Rome's famous Piazza Novona reverberated with music, prayer, and testimonies.
By Marian Tascio
On Divine Mercy Sunday, I went to confession at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass. Before giving me absolution, my confessor said, "I want you to pray, 'Jesus, I trust in You,' and I want you to really think about what you're saying." My sins, he pointed out, indicated that I had placed my trust in myself, not in Jesus. "When we come to God in our fullness, we don't feel desperate for Him. Then the Eucharist and Divine Mercy become extras in our lives, not things we know we need."
The next night, I sat on a plane to Rome and wondered why I was headed to the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy. Was I going out of my fullness, seeing devotion to Divine Mercy as a nice "extra" in my spiritual life, or was I going out of desperation, knowing that Divine Mercy was my and the world's last hope for salvation?
My only possible response to that question was to pray. For about the hundredth time since my confession on Eden Hill the day before, I prayed silently, "Jesus, make me desperate."
When I found myself looking around St. Peter's Square on Wednesday, April 2, on the opening day of the congress, the crowd I had stood among at Stockbridge on Sunday seemed small. Hours before the Holy Father arrived to celebrate Mass the pilgrims at St. Peter's were cheering and singing, waving flags and the Divine Mercy image high above their heads. Are we thronging to this place just because we're excited, I wondered again, or because we're desperate?
Later that day, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Austria quoted Pope John Paul II's homily at the dedication of the Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki, Poland, in 2002: "How greatly the world needs mercy. On every continent ... a thirst for mercy seems to ring out." We need mercy, the late Holy Father said, "in order to ensure that every injustice will end ... Dear brothers and sisters, be witnesses of Divine Mercy."
The need for "every injustice" to end is the most desperate cause I can think of: since injustice is caused by our sin, if injustice ends, our sinning has ended. And so, if we are to be "witnesses of Divine Mercy," our lives have to be a desperate quest to end our own sinning, for until we each do that — which can only be achieved through grace — injustice will continue to ravage the world.
Cardinal Schonborn gave a striking example of what needs to be done when he recalled the social protests of the 1960s. The problem, he explained, was that the protestors called for the entire society to be radically changed from the top down, when what they really needed to do was to radically change themselves from the inside out by devoting themselves to personal works of mercy. "Mercy is not a vague feeling of universal love," the cardinal said. "Mercy is always concrete."
He reminded us about the parable of the Good Samaritan. It demonstrates how we are called to live the Divine Mercy message: not by besieging the whole world with strident calls for reform while ignoring the states of our own souls, but by looking with eyes of compassion on those whom God places in our lives each day and stretching out our hands to them in love. We must, of course, act and speak and pray for justice, but mercy always begins within our own souls and in our compassion toward the people we meet.
The thousands of us who had flocked to Rome, then, were not there to call for the world to change but to beg God to change us. We longed for Him to light the flame of His mercy within us so that we can truly be the light of the world. After all, Jesus told St. Faustina that it was because of lukewarm souls that he had cried out in the garden, "If it is possible, take this cup from me."
During the Masses, community prayers, and adorations that followed during the rest of the congress, I did pray for the whole world. I prayed for my family and for the special intentions of my friends, students, and coworkers. But most of all, I prayed for myself, using the Chaplet and those words that had followed me from Stockbridge to Rome: "Jesus, make me desperate."
Those of us who were blessed to attend the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy did not receive a special commission to take on the world and make it do what it should. Rather, we were reminded of the tools God had given us to change ourselves — prayer, Scripture, our Mother the Church, and St. Faustina's Diary: that instrument God chose to help us live our faith at this particular moment in history — and through that change, light the way to Christ.
When the congress ended, we were each sent back to our corner of the earth to boast, in our emptiness, of nothing but the cross of Jesus Christ. Nothing else has the power to lift us from our sin and change the world from the inside out, one soul at a time.
Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.
We invite you to read our full coverage of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy.