Photo: Marie Romagnano
Our Mercy Pope in 2006
In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI Embraced Divine Mercy, Inspired by John Paul II
By David Came (Jan 2, 2007)
As we look back on 2006, there can be no doubt that the baton has been passed from John Paul II, the Great Mercy Pope, to Benedict XVI, the present Mercy Pope.
Consider these three Divine Mercy highlights of Pope Benedict's reign in 2006:
On April 23, Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI said that Divine Mercy is a key facet of a Christian's faith.
Devotion to Divine Mercy is "an integral dimension of a Christian's faith and prayer," said the Pope on Divine Mercy Sunday before praying the Regina Caeli with more than 50,000 faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square.
In his remarks, Pope Benedict emphasized the Divine Mercy legacy of his predecessor Pope John Paul II in canonizing St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), the great Apostle of Divine Mercy, on April 30, 2000, and also, on that day, in establishing Divine Mercy Sunday as a universal feast in the Church. Further, the Pope highlighted the significance of John Paul himself dying in 2005 on the evening of April 2, the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday that year.
John Paul II, "valuing the spiritual experience of a humble religious, St. Faustina Kowalska ... wanted the Sunday after Easter to be dedicated in a special way to Divine Mercy, and providence disposed that he should die precisely on the vigil of that day in the hands of Divine Mercy," said Pope Benedict in his Regina Caeli address.
The Holy Father commented on the day's Gospel, which narrates the appearance of the risen Christ to the apostles gathered in the Upper Room: Jesus "showed the disciples the signs of the crucifixion, very visible and tangible also in His glorious body. These sacred wounds — in the hands, the feet, and the side — are an inexhaustible source of faith, hope, and love in which each one can drink, especially souls most thirsty for Divine Mercy," the Pontiff said.
"The mystery of the merciful love of God was the center of the pontificate of my venerated predecessor," said Pope Benedict, alluding in particular to John Paul II's 1980 encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy) and his dedication of the International Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland, in 2002.
"The words that [John Paul II] pronounced on that last occasion were as a synthesis of his magisterium, evidencing that the devotion to Divine Mercy is not a secondary, but an integral dimension of a Christian's faith and prayer," said Pope Benedict.
During his pastoral visit in May to Poland, Pope Benedict XVI prayed at the tomb of St. Faustina Kowalska and called the sick "eloquent witnesses of God's mercy." He also said the "Flame of Mercy" had been passed to youth in Poland.
When he visited Poland, the homeland of Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict sought to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, visiting sites that were special to the late Pontiff and honoring his legacy. Divine Mercy was a major theme of the visit.
On May 27, Pope Benedict prayed in Krakow-Lagiewniki at the tomb of St. Faustina. He also addressed the sick and their caregivers at the International Shrine of The Divine Mercy there, encouraging the sick to be "eloquent witnesses of God's mercy."
"On this occasion, we encounter two mysteries: the mystery of human suffering and the mystery of Divine Mercy," he said. "At first sight these two mysteries seem to be opposed to one another. But when we study them in the light of faith, we find that they are placed in reciprocal harmony through the mystery of the Cross of Christ."
The Holy Father continued, "As Pope John Paul II said in this place: 'The Cross is the most profound bowing down of the Divinity toward man ... the Cross is like a touch of eternal love on the most painful wounds of humanity's earthly existence' (Aug. 17, 2002).
"Dear friends who are sick, who are marked by suffering in body and soul, you are most closely united to the Cross of Christ, and, at the same time, you are most eloquent witnesses of God's mercy. Through you and through your suffering, He bows down toward humanity with love."
Pope Benedict then stressed the depth of the witness of the sick when they embrace this call, "You who say in silence: 'Jesus, I trust in You' teach us that there is no faith more profound, no hope more alive, and no love more ardent than the faith, hope, and love of a person who, in the midst of suffering, places himself securely in God's hands."
In his May 31st General Audience after his return to Rome, Pope Benedict further said, "[Visiting] the Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki gave me the opportunity to stress that Divine Mercy alone illumines the mystery of man. It was here in the neighboring convent that St. Faustina Kowalska, contemplating the wounds of the risen Christ, received a message of trust for humanity, which John Paul II echoed and interpreted and which really is a central message precisely for our time: Mercy as God's power, as a divine barrier against the evil of the world."
When Pope Benedict then met with an estimated 500,000 young people at Blonie Park in Krakow on May 27, he emphasized building on the Rock of Christ the Lord and told the youth of Christ's personal love for them. He spoke before a gigantic Divine Mercy image and said, after his return to Rome, that he had "symbolically consigned the 'Flame of Mercy' to the crowds of young people who had come, so that they might be heralds of Love and Divine Mercy in the world" (General Audience, May 31).
In his General Audience of Oct. 18, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of how the betrayal of Christ by Judas reveals God's mercy.
The betrayal of Jesus Himself by Judas Iscariot — one of the Master's 12 apostles — reveals that God is "rich in mercy and forgiveness," the Pontiff said.
In fact, Pope Benedict noted, the Catholic Church does not even teach that Judas is damned to hell. "Even though he went to hang himself (cf. Mt. 27:5), it's not up to us to judge his gesture, substituting ourselves for the infinitely merciful and just God," he said.
What did Pope Benedict mean exactly by these astounding statements that he made to the Church and the world during his Audience on Oct. 18?
Point #1: Only Christ can judge definitively each human heart and soul.
We cannot read the hearts of men and women at the time of death — or at any time. We must leave that to Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world — as does Pope Benedict, even in the case of Judas.
Point #2: God respects our free will even when our choices lead to evil.
God is, indeed, rich in mercy, but He does not force Himself upon us. Pope Benedict underscored this truth in talking about Judas and his betrayal. The Holy Father said that Christ, "in His invitations [to Judas] to follow Him along the way of the beatitudes ... does not force [Judas's] will or protect it from temptations of Satan, respecting human freedom."
Point #3: We should always remember that Satan, the Evil One, is our main adversary when we face evil in our world.
When Pope Benedict considers the motives for Judas's betrayal of Jesus, he makes very clear that Satan is the main adversary working through Judas. Yes, there's Judas's "greed for money" and the fact that "Jesus did not fit into his program for the political-militaristic liberation of his nation."
But the Holy Father says that "the Gospel texts insist on another aspect." Benedict then cites John the Evangelist, who wrote that "the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him" (Jn 13:2) and Luke when he writes, "Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve" (Lk 22:3).
The Pope concludes on this point: "In this way, one moves beyond historical motivations and explanations based on the personal responsibility of Judas, who shamefully ceded to a temptation of the Evil One."
Point #4: In God's providence, what was intended for evil is transformed into a greater good.
At the end of his General Audience, Pope Benedict encourages us to "never despair of God's mercy" because the love and mercy of God always win out in the end.
In fact, the Holy Father points out how the betrayal of Christ by Judas is a supreme example of this unfailing, providential love of God because it led to our salvation:
When we think of the negative role that Judas played we must consider it according to the lofty ways in which God leads events. His betrayal led to the death of Jesus, who transformed this tremendous torment into a space of salvific love by consigning Himself to the Father (cf. Gal 2:20; Eph 2:25).
The word "to betray" is the version of a Greek word that means "to consign." Sometimes the subject is even God in person. He who for love "consigned" Jesus for us all (Rom 8:32). In His mysterious salvific plan, God assumes Judas's inexcusable gesture as the occasion for the total gift of the Son for the redemption of the world.
The Holy Father here is saying that Judas, in a mysterious way, advanced God's ultimate purpose, which was — and is — to save us from our sins. Thus, God in Christ thwarted the evil designs of Satan and of Judas in achieving the very good of our salvation! And it all came to us through God's great love and mercy.
Conclusion: The gift of Divine Mercy has been received from John Paul II by Pope Benedict XVI, who has now made it his own.
These three 2006 Divine Mercy highlights from the pontificate of Benedict XVI should be considered against the backdrop of what the Holy Father said the day after his election as the successor to Pope John Paul II:
I feel very intensely in myself a profound gratitude to God who ... does not abandon his flock. Beloved, this profound gratitude for a gift of The Divine Mercy prevails in my heart despite everything. And I consider it, in fact, as a special grace obtained for me by my venerable predecessor, John Paul II. I seem to feel his strong hand gripping mine; I seem to see his smiling eyes and to hear his strong words addressed at this moment particularly to me: 'Be not afraid!' "
The gift of The Divine Mercy was given by Pope John Paul II to his successor. Now Pope Benedict has embraced it and made it his own during the first full year of his papacy. In fact, I would argue that perhaps for Pope Benedict himself, his fresh insights on Judas and Divine Mercy on Oct. 18 provide the most telling evidence of this. He doesn't need to mention Pope John Paul II precisely because he has integrated the message of Divine Mercy and made it his own during this teaching moment as our Holy Father.
He is our Mercy Pope!
With all of this in mind, let us pray for our Mercy Pope during 2007. May he continue to proclaim God's mercy to the Church and our world, which is so desperately in need of it.
(Section on April 23, Divine Mercy Sunday, based in part on April 23 Zenit news story.)
David Came is the executive editor of Marian Helper magazine, the flagship publication of the Association of Marian Helpers, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass.