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Photo: Dan Valenti
On June 9, Br. Chris Alar, MIC, presented “Divine Mercy 101," a primer in the importance of the Divine Mercy message to our troubled age. He will give the program again on Aug. 4.
Divine Mercy 101 at the Shrine
By Dan Valenti (Jun 15, 2012)
On Saturday, June 9, the Marian Fathers hosted a free program designed to share the basics of the Divine Mercy message. Led by Br. Chris Alar, MIC, the 9 a.m. to noon program at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., presented the core concepts of the message.
This Divine Mercy "boot camp" provided attendees with an overview of the message and its important components. Topics included a brief biographical presentation on St. Faustina, chosen by Jesus to be his "secretary" in bringing this message of hope to the world; the critical importance of this urgent message for our age; Divine Mercy Sunday; the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy, taught by Jesus to St. Faustina; and the Divine Mercy image, particularly its relationship to the Shroud of Turin.
More than 'Just' a Devotion'
"Divine Mercy is not just a devotion or a private revelation" Br. Chris said, referring to the objection that many make, including parish priests, to Divine Mercy. "In the Catholic Church, devotions and private revelations are optional. They are good, of course, but they are not necessary for you to get to heaven. Divine Mercy is both a message and devotion. The devotion is optional. The message is not."
Brother Chris then quoted Blessed John Paul II. The Great Mercy Pope taught, "If you reject the message of Divine Mercy, you reject the Gospels. If you reject the message of Divine Mercy, you reject the liturgy," because each has the mercy of God and His love for us at its core.
There are many different kinds of love, Br. Chris noted — the love of a mother for her children, the love of siblings for each other, the love of husband and wife, the love of friendship. Mercy "is a particular form of love." It is love "when love encounters suffering and decides to do something about it." Divine Mercy, he said, occurs "when the love of God goes outside of Himself" to pour out upon His creation.
Compassion for the 'Miserable Heart'
Brother Chris then noted the derivation of the word "mercy," from the Latin,
"misericordia," which literally means "miserable heart." That's a key concept, since it indicates that mercy can only be present when there is suffering. "Mercy is having a pain in your heart for the pain of another and taking pains to do something about it" [Fr. George Kosicki, CSB]. Saint Thomas Aquinas defined mercy as "compassion in our hearts for another person's misery."
Borrowing a concept from Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, one of the
world's foremost authorities on the message of Divine Mercy, Br. Chris identified the three great merciful acts of God: creation, redemption, and participation.
• Creation was God's first act of mercy. "The fact that we exist," Br. Chris said, also using St. Thomas Aquinas as a citation, "is an act of great mercy. It is far better to exist than not to exist."
• Redemption was God's second act of mercy. "We are redeemed. Redemption is the greater act of mercy."
• Finally, Br. Chris said, "We are allowed to share [and participate in] the divine nature. That is God's greatest act of mercy" toward us.
"Divine Mercy," therefore, Br. Chris said, "is the love and help of God amidst our brokenness."
The "New' is Actually Old as Creation Itself
Brother Chris then tackled a common misconception that some people have about Divine Mercy, namely, that it is "something new," a superfluous add-on. "How and why do people say this is something new?" he asked. "Divine Mercy is at the heart of the Gospel and actually goes back to the Old Testament and to Creation itself. Did not God have mercy on Adam and Eve after they sinned?"
He then made an interesting correlation between three great events of the Old Testament and how they correspond to the New. The implications for Divine Mercy are enormous, he noted. The three Old Testament events, Br. Chris said, are Passover, Pentecost, and the Day of Atonement.
Passover in Judaism involves the slaying of the lamb in the temple, a sacrificial offering meant to appease God. Pentecost in the Jewish faith occurs 50 days after Passover, signifying the Day of Atonement. That is the one day of the year the High Priest can enter the Holy of Holy to offer sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin.
The Old Testament Fulfilled
In Catholicism, Passover is fulfilled by Jesus' death and resurrection. Pentecost is fulfilled in the giving by God of the Holy Spirit. The Day of Atonement is fulfilled through Divine Mercy Sunday, "the day when all sin and punishment due to sin are forgiven." That is why, Br. Christ said, it is so necessary to spread the word of Divine Mercy through the Church and the world, so that they can partake of the amazing graces God wishes to bestow upon all of us.
Saint Faustina, Br. Chris said, "repackaged and re-presented" mercy to a world that had fallen away from this message old as creation itself. Saint Faustina's mission was to make the world aware of the mercy of God: "Jesus told St. Faustina that people need to hear about [Divine Mercy]. He asked of her two things: an image and a feast day."
The image of The Divine Mercy depicts Jesus as he appeared to St. Faustina on Feb. 22, 1931, described by saint in her Diary, passage 47:
In the evening, when I was in my cell, I saw the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One hand [was] raised in a gesture of blessing, [and] the other was touching the garment at the breast. From beneath the garment, slightly drawn aside at the breast, there were emanating two large rays, one red, the other pale. In silence, I kept my eyes fixed on the Lord; my soul was struck with awe, but also with great joy. After a while, Jesus said to me, "Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You. I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel and [then] throughout the world."
In Diary passage 88, Jesus tells St. Faustina: "I desire that this image be displayed in public on the first Sunday after Easter. That Sunday is the Feast of Mercy. Through the Word Incarnate, I make known the bottomless depths of My mercy."
St. Faustina: Plain, Ordinary, and Chosen
Brother Chris then gave a brief biography of St. Faustina, born Helen Kowalska on Aug. 5, 1905. He described her as humble, ordinary, and plain, saying that God often chooses the lowly to accomplish great things. He drove home the point by asking which of the Apostles is, by tradition, considered the most "educated, worldly, and sophisticated." The answer, of course, is Judas, Jesus' betrayer. In contrast, the "roughest and rawest" of the Twelve, again by tradition, was Peter, who became the first Pope.
"Saint Faustina is a great example of how the ordinary, the simple, the plain are chosen by God," Br. Chris said. "He chose her to be his 'secretary' of mercy," that is, the means by which this "repackaging" of the ancient message of Divine Mercy would be presented to the modern world.
It is "critically important," Br. Chris told his audience, "that we understand the choice God is giving us: (a) we can pass through the door of His mercy or (b) we can pass through the door of His justice."
The time of God's mercy is now.
Following the presentation, many remained on Eden Hill to picnic on the grounds and participate in the Shrine's typical daily activities. These included a Eucharistic Holy Hour of Adoration at 1 p.m., the praying of a Rosary for Life at 1:30 p.m., and Holy Mass at 2 p.m. Mass was followed by the praying of the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy at 3 p.m., Benediction, blessing of religious articles, and the veneration of a relic of St. Faustina.
Brother Chris entered the Marian Fathers' Congregation in July 2006 as a postulant. He studied philosophy at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and is now at work on his master's degree in theology at Holy Apostles in Cromwell, Conn. He lives and works at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass. His June 9 presentation of "Divine Mercy 101" will be repeated from 9 a.m. to noon, Aug. 4, at the National Shrine.