An Encounter with Divine Mercy
Br. John Paoletti, MIC
I have been in formation with the Marians for more than three years now, and if I had to sum up most of what I have learned over the past three years it would be that Divine Mercy is at the heart of the Gospel message and it is the only legitimate hope the human heart can count on and cling to. This year I was able to learn the depth of this reality in a very different way — during vacation in Calcutta, India.
I was travelling with my aunt and uncle to visit their sister and my aunt, Sr. Lumen, Missionary of Charity (30 years in the community and counting).
I did not know what to expect. I had never been to Asia or anywhere near India before. It was not quite a vacation, not quite a retreat, not quite missionary work, and not quite a pilgrimage — but something of all four. From Jan. 1-8, I encountered the Gospel of Jesus Christ, The Divine Mercy, in the deepest and most radical way I could imagine.
Rich in Mercy, Rich in Christ
We arrived just past midnight, Calcutta time, on Jan. 3 (we never got to see Jan. 2, unfortunately) after a 14-hour plane ride to Delhi, India, then two more hours to Calcutta. Thanks to both the radical time change and enthusiasm, I eagerly made my way next door to the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity around 5:30 a.m. for morning meditation and Mass. I knew beforehand that this house is where Mother Teresa lived and worked from 1950 until her death (which occurred in this house) in 1997. I also knew she was buried in this house, but that all quickly became secondary when I walked into the main chapel for the first time.
I saw about two dozen or more MC sisters sitting on the floor before their crucified Spouse. To their left was no less than 50 novices dressed in a pure white sari (or habit, in their case). Later I would be told that this was one of the smaller groups of novices in comparison to years past. Regardless, it was the most women religious I have ever seen in one place, and it was beautiful.
As Mass began they sang in beautiful chorus the hymn "Give Thanks." The chorus of this song sings, "And now, let the weak say 'I am strong', let the poor say 'I am rich' because of what the Lord has done for us. Give Thanks." I had never heard this song outside of my college years in Steubenville, Ohio, so it brought beautiful memories and created a new one. Here were somewhere close to 100 women, mostly young, some older, who have given their lives in whole-hearted service to the poorest of the poor — and without a dime in their pocket or more than one hour of free time every day of the week, they had everything to smile about.
Jesus told St. Faustina, "Today, penetrate into the spirit of My poverty and arrange everything in such a way that the most destitute will have no reason to envy you. I find pleasure not in large buildings and magnificent structures, but in a pure and humble heart" (Diary of St. Faustina, 532) Here in Calcutta I was privileged to pray with humble souls who served the most destitute, and they were thanking God in full voice for such a vocation. It resulted in a joy for every sister and volunteer there who was putting their neighbor before themselves, and there could not have been a joy paralleled in all of India.
On the surface, the work of the Missionaries of Charity appears to be miraculous. These women, who have so little to call their own and who do not actively fundraise, are able to feed hundreds of souls three meals a day, seven days a week. This is the Gospel-poverty that Mother Teresa advocated and insisted on. She would not even allow freezers to be installed in some homes because every piece of food should be given to the poor just as quickly as it was received.
One day while I was visiting a home for mentally handicapped women, lunch was being brought in from the kitchen next door. It was there that I saw the largest serving of rice I had ever seen. The circular pot was at least two feet wide and one foot deep. It was too heavy for the women to carry so my uncle and I hauled it upstairs and (to my further surprise) right next to a similar pot of white rice. I had also gathered that the same amount of rice was being served on the first floor of the building. When Sr. Lumen saw my amazement she just smiled and said, "This [amount of rice] is nothing."
Jesus asked Faustina to have a similar level of poverty, trust, and abandonment in both material things and spiritual matters where it counts the most. "My daughter, faithfully live up to the words which I speak to you. Do not value any external thing too highly, even if it were to seem very precious to you. Let go of yourself, and abide with me continually...Give away everything at the first sign of a demand, even if they were the most necessary things..." (Diary of St. Faustina, 1685).
This open-handed giving is a sort of clinging and active trust in the mercy of God. Before Jesus fed the multitudes, He asked His apostles what they had to give the people. This question most likely took them by surprise because they travelled and lived with Jesus, and He should know that they have nothing. This is why Jesus asked that question, because only out of nothingness and clinging to the mercy of God can the human person give in abundance.
2. Putting your Merciful Foot Forward
One essential part of the life of the Missionaries of Charity is the emphasis on going out to the streets to seek those in need. Mother Teresa was emphatic that it was not enough to serve the poor who came to the door but that the sisters should go out and find those poor who are too handicap to walk, too malnourished to move, and too weak to knock.
I was privileged to meet the forty-sixth woman to join Mother Teresa in her work in the slums of Calcutta. Today they have more than 5,000 members who have joined over the past 60 years. She would live in the Mother House with the other sisters and Mother Teresa. When there came a time for the sisters to open a house for mentally handicapped women, Sr. Benedict was ready to serve. She would walk miles barefoot to another section of Calcutta to work in the morning at a rather shabby, run-down house. In the afternoon, Mother Teresa would tell her that she did not need to return to work for the day, but Sr. Benedict replied, "No, Mother, there is work that needs to be done."
That aspect of going into the darkest areas of the world to free those held captive to depression and loneliness is what really allowed me to see just how the Missionaries of Charity exemplify the mercy of God in a radical way. In the Image of Divine Mercy, Jesus is depicted with His left foot stepping forward showing us that He has already taken the initiative in bestowing on us His very own life and love. It was St. John Marie Vianney who said, "It is not so much the sinner who turns back to God but God who turns the sinner back to himself." This is the wondrous love of God that Mother Teresa was called to make known and real through corporeal works of mercy. These radical acts of selfless love are what remind us of who Jesus is, what He wants to establish, and how we have every reason to trust in Him.
What would drive a poor and humble sister from Albania to step so far out of her comfort zone? Those who know the spirituality of Mother Teresa know that it is the thirst of Christ. Saint Faustina had the same drive. Faustina wrote on Good Friday in 1936 that she "saw the Lord Jesus, crucified, who looked at me and said, 'I thirst.' Then I saw two rays issue from His side, just as they appear in the image. I then felt in my soul the desire to save souls and to empty myself for the sake of poor sinners ..." (Diary, 648).
May the thirst of Christ, caused by the burning love of His Sacred Heart, be our impetus for evangelization during this Year of Faith.