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."
Mercy in the Pope's New Book
By David Came (Dec 17, 2010)
In Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times, a book-length interview with Pope Benedict XVI that was published last month, the Holy Father touches on Divine Mercy and St. Faustina in two places. In one place, he highlights "Mercy Sunday" as a "major Catholic feast" day that "originated" with St. Faustina. In another place, he discusses a passage from the Diary of St. Faustina on the "final coming" or "definitive return" of Jesus Christ.
The veteran German journalist Peter Seewald conducted the wide-ranging interview with the Pope last July at Castel Gandolfo, and the book is published by Ignatius Press.
Assessing the Book, Addressing the Controversy
Before I turn to the sections on Divine Mercy and St. Faustina, let me give you a general assessment of the book and touch on the major controversy its publication sparked over what the Pope had to say about the morality of using condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS.
In general, the book is truly remarkable, a tour de force by the Pope in which he addresses the state of society and the Church, as well as candidly comments on the scandals, controversies, and challenges he has faced during his five years as Pope. I highly recommend it.
Perhaps Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, put it best when Light of the World was published on Nov. 23. He described the book as "a new original service of [the Pope's] ... to all of us, answering many of the questions that we would like to ask him — from the deepest and most important ones about the meaning of our life, to those about the problems that trouble the Church, to the dramatic crisis of today's world, and also those more personal questions about him and his sentiments."
As to what the Pope said regarding condoms, contrary to what many of the secular media reported, he did not change Church teaching to allow the use of condoms in certain cases. Rather, he posed a hypothetical situation in which a male prostitute's use of a condom to prevent the spread of HIV infection might be viewed as "a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants."
The Holy Father then said significantly, "But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality."
Pope Says 'Mercy Sunday' Is a 'Major Feast' Day
Now that I've briefly covered the controversy and given you a sense of the book, we can discuss what the Pope said about Divine Mercy Sunday and St. Faustina as the woman behind the feast day.
First, let's look at the context. Seewald was asking Pope Benedict to comment on "the impossibility of women's ordination in the Catholic Church." Toward the end of his answer, Pope Benedict begins to discuss the important contributions of women in the life and history of the Church. In that vein, he says;
If you look at the history of the Church, women — from Mary to Monica and all the way down to Mother Teresa — have so eminent a significance that in many respects they shape the image of the Church more than men do. Just think of major feast days such as Corpus Christ or Mercy Sunday, which originated with women. In Rome, for example, there is even a church where not a single man can be seen in any of the altarpieces.
In considering this reference to Mercy Sunday, notice how the Holy Father, in a matter-of-fact tone, says that Mercy Sunday is a major feast day on a par with Corpus Christi. Further, the Pope assumes that many readers will be familiar with St. Faustina, the saint associated with The Divine Mercy message, since he doesn't mention her by name. All of this is evidence of the message coming of age in the Church, and it's right from the lips of the Pope!
Perhaps most significantly of all, what the Pope says here shows that everyone in the Church should be celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday, because it is a major feast day. With that in mind, share this quote with your pastor if he thinks it isn't necessary to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday.
Pope on Mercy and Christ's 'Definitive Coming'
Now, we can turn to what the Pope has to say about mercy and Jesus' "definitive" or "final coming," based on St. Faustina's Diary.
First, let me give you the complete text of Seewald's question and the Pope's answer:
Seewald: About eighty years ago, Faustina Kowalska, the Polish nun canonized by John Paul II, heard Jesus say in a vision, "You will prepare the world for my definitive return." Are we obliged to believe that?
The Pope: If one took this statement in a chronological sense, as an injunction to get ready, as it were, immediately for the Second Coming, it would be false. But it is correct if one understands it in the spiritual sense that was just explained, as meaning that the Lord is always the One who comes and that we are always preparing ourselves for his definitive coming, precisely when we go out to meet his mercy and allow ourselves to be formed by him. By letting ourselves be formed by God's gift of mercy as a force to counteract the mercilessness of the world, then we prepare, as it were, for his own coming in person and for his mercy.
As we reflect on the Pope's answer here, let me clarify that these words of Jesus from the Diary do not predict the Second Coming of Christ as immediate. Rather, they should be taken "in the spiritual sense," emphasized by the Holy Father, of always preparing for the Lord's coming. This is consistent with the Gospels, for as Benedict states elsewhere in this part of his book: "We cannot pin down when the world will end. Christ himself says that no one knows the hour, not even the Son."
Given this clarification, the really significant point to note here is how the Pope underscores the importance of preparing for the Lord's "definitive coming" by going out to "meet his mercy" and by allowing ourselves "to be formed by him."
But how exactly do we receive God's mercy? And how are we formed by our merciful Savior?
A good place to start, as found in The Divine Mercy Message and Devotion booklet, is by practicing the ABC's of Mercy: "Ask for His mercy. Be merciful to others. Completely trust in Jesus." If you've never practiced them, start right now by asking the Lord for His mercy in the concrete circumstances of your life today.
Further, note how Benedict in his answer presents the broader context of the world situation when he talks of "letting ourselves be formed by the gift of God's mercy as a force to counteract the mercilessness of the world." Such mercilessness runs the gamut from terrorism to world hunger and homelessness.
Consider one concrete way you can seek to be formed by God's mercy in countering all this mercilessness. Take world hunger. Perhaps you could do your part by volunteering at a local soup kitchen. Pray over it and ask the Lord to lead you. Whatever you do, start small and make sure it is manageable given your present commitments.
In all these ways, inspired by Pope Benedict, you will help prepare the world for the Lord's "definitive coming" by allowing yourself to be formed by Divine Mercy.
Sidebar: Setting the Record Straight
There are two mistakes with the way Peter Seewald cites the passage from the Diary of St. Faustina in his question to Pope Benedict XVI. First, he misquotes two of Jesus' words to St. Faustina: Jesus talks of His "final coming," rather than His "definitive return." Second, Seewald gets the context wrong. The words don't come as part of a vision; they are received by St. Faustina through an interior locution (words heard within her soul).
For the record, here is the passage with the context provided:
When, on one occasion, I took up a book of spiritual reading, I heard these words spoken distinctly and forcefully within my soul, You will prepare the world for My final coming (Diary, 429).
David Came is executive editor of Marian Helper magazine, the flagship publication of the Association of Marian Helpers, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass. He is the author of Pope Benedict's Divine Mercy Mandate.