Photo: Felix Carroll
Barbara Christian has spearheaded efforts to bring Divine Mercy to her parish in New Mexico. Above, she stands outside of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Moriarty, N.M.
'With Arms Outstretched'
Paramedic Shares How to Put Mercy into Action
By Barbara J. Christian
In my work as a paramedic in Albuquerque, N.M., I have seen the best and the worst in people. I have been verbally abused, slapped, shoved, and spat in the face — and this was by people I was trying to help.
I have seen life snatched away in a heartbeat. I have seen catastrophes and medical diseases that have left families devastated. I have taken care of women hemorrhaging after an abortion. I have consoled women who lost babies from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I have seen numerous cases of hopelessness and loneliness that have led to suicides and suicide attempts. I have seen souls lost to alcoholism, drug addiction, and prostitution. The ages of my patients are getting younger and younger.
My work in emergency services and my devotion to The Divine Mercy have taught me so much about the world and my place in it. One thing that I wish to share with you is this: There is no better time than now to petition and plead for the mercy of God!
"For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him" (Jn 3:17).
God is mercy!
Before I knew about St. Faustina or the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy, Jesus revealed to me in my heart the importance of mercy.
It was approximately 15 years ago. I was sitting in my ambulance contemplating my need to do more for God. I was thinking to myself, "Why am I wasting my time here? I should be doing more for God!" I was distressed. I had the urgent need to resign my position as a paramedic and work wholly for the Kingdom of God.
I called my pastor and told him of my dilemma and pain. He advised me to pray and think about it and to not do anything hasty. I prayed, and I cried. My working partner was inside the substation as I sat in my ambulance waiting for the next 911 call. Then, all of a sudden, I had a vision. I was in a gray space with Jesus running in front of me with His arm and hand extended backwards to me, like two lovers running in a meadow. As He looked backwards over His shoulder, He had a playful smile on His face. He said not a word. I was filled with an overwhelming peace that no earthly words can describe.
Jesus was very happy. I ran after Him and tried to reach His hand but was unable to, and then my pager went off and broke the vision. I was sad. I wondered, "Why didn't Jesus take me with Him? Why didn't He let me take His hand?"
My partner came out to the unit. We had a call to a "down-and-out" in front of the University of New Mexico. When we arrived, we saw him — a homeless man in his 30s who had stolen a bottle of vanilla extract from the pharmacy and was intoxicated to the point that he was unable to care for himself.
As my partner and I removed our stretcher from the ambulance, a firefighter ripped off the sheet and blanket from the stretcher and threw it on the bench. I asked him why he had done that, and he replied, "Save it for someone who really needs it." I told him that others have a place to lay their heads at night, but that this man did not. My partner and I remade the bed for our patient, and during transport, I sat down next to him. My patient looked at me and said, "Tell me about Jesus." At that, I began to witness about Jesus and His love. I had never seen this homeless man before, and have not seen him since.
You see, in my vision, the Lord showed me how happy He was with me, and by running ahead of me with arms outstretched, He was calling me onward to the Kingdom of God. He did not let me grab His hand, because it was not time for me yet. He still needed me to proclaim the Good News to those whom people often overlook.
And in my profession, I have that opportunity. I am able to reach the homeless, alcoholics, drug addicts, and prostitutes. I reach the hopeless and depressed. On that day, many years ago, God sent an angel — perhaps it was Jesus Himself — to answer my distress and encourage me.
I think of that passage in 2 Cor 1:3, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement." Since that day in the ambulance, my motto has been, "There but for the grace of God go I."
Mercy in Our Lives
There is a popular pop rock song out there whose refrain is "how far is heaven." When I heard this song, the first thought that came to mind immediately was, "Heaven is as far as your neighbor." Indeed, Jesus explained that one of the greatest commandments was, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mt 22:39).
He elaborated on that thought in His revelations to St. Faustina. At one point, He said, "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. I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy towards your neighbor: the first — by deed, the second — by word, and the third — by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for Me. By this means a soul glorifies and pays reverence to My mercy" (Diary, 742).
Those words make me recall back when I was very young, when Jesus was just beginning to prepare me for my mission in life.
I remember my parents allowing me to stay up late on Friday night. At approximately one or two in the morning, one of the television stations would sign-off with a portrayal of St. Francis kneeling by his bedside and reciting this prayer:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Indeed, when we die to ourselves, we rise gloriously with Jesus.
We have the opportunity to practice mercy every day of our lives through our words and actions. Such deeds of mercy don't require that we all go out onto the streets and save lives. Sometimes the greatest, most powerful deeds of mercy can be practiced in ways we cannot even imagine.
For instance, about eight months ago, God personally asked for mercy from me. You see, I had someone very close to me hurt me badly a couple years ago. It felt as if this person ripped my heart out of my chest and stomped on it. I forgave this person and believed this person who said that it would never happen again. Then approximately a year and a half later, I learned of the ongoing deception and lies; nothing had changed. During a very heated discussion that brought out anger and hatred towards this person, I heard God's voice internally in my being. In his infinite mercy, He told me, "Tell him, I love him."
What? I replied out loud to God. How can you ask this of me when I am the one wronged and hurt? God said again in my heart, "Tell him, I love him." With great disgust, but in obedience to God, I told this individual that God wanted him to know that He loved him. With this, the individual began to cry, and God instantly placed in my heart the wisdom that if He could forgive and love this individual, then so could I.
Well, forgiving is easier than forgetting. I forgave, but occasionally my mind would recall the injury against me and reopen the wound. Again, in distress with a broken heart, I turned to God and asked, "Haven't I loved enough?" He replied, "I desire mercy." "But, Lord, look at my grievances and my obvious great love." The Lord replied, "Mercy perfects love."
From that moment on, I was bombarded with the word or subject of mercy. I heard people — religious and nonreligious — bring up the word mercy in sentences. I would turn on the television and there would be a movie about St. Faustina. I would change the channel, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet was being said. "Okay, Lord, okay! I hear you."
Led Back to the Diary
Years ago, for some reason, I was compelled to purchase a copy of St. Faustina's Diary. I read a few chapters, forgot about it, and it soon became buried and lost with other books on a bookshelf. Through His persistance and His urgent mission for me, I was prompted to research Divine Mercy. During this research is when I rediscovered the Diary.
Suddenly, I felt a strong desire to spread the Good News of Divine Mercy. I was overwhelmed with the urgency of this mission.
I approached my pastor, Fr. William Young, and discussed it with him. I told him that I felt that the Lord wanted me to start the Divine Mercy devotions in our parish, especially the reciting of the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. Father Young said that if God was asking this of us, then we should pursue it. He suggested that the parish also begin a perpetual novena of Divine Mercy. We as a parish began to pray the chaplet with the perpetual novena at 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Also, on the second Fridays of each month we celebrate the Divine Mercy Holy Hour with the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. This year we also celebrated a beautiful Divine Mercy Sunday with Fr. Young hearing confessions that day.
Despite all of this, however, the Lord still beckoned me further. Thanks to Him, this summer we had Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy (EADM) come to our parish to give a "Day of Reflection." Still, there is more to come. Our parish will be starting up Divine Mercy cenacles.
Why do we do this? Because it is imperative that we spread the message of Divine Mercy to the whole world. And the best place to start is in our own communities.
It is imperative that we hear His call — a call to love and serve God and our neighbors. In answering this call, we can trust in Jesus with childlike faith, knowing that all our needs will be met. For if we trust in Jesus, there is no need to worry. If we trust in Jesus, we are placed in the hallow of God's hands. What better place could there be?
Barbara J. Christian lives in Moriarty, N.M. She spearheaded a recent Day of Reflection in her parish, put on by members of the Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy.