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Photo: Felix Carroll
Brother John Paoletti, MIC (left), along with fellow seminarian Br. Brent Thayer, MIC, greets pilgrims to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy.
Step-By-Step: An Encounter, a Conversion, a Zeal
By Dan Valenti (Dec 31, 2012)
The Year of Faith, which Pope Benedict XVI declared to run from Oct. 11, 2012 to Nov. 24, 2013, is not a nebulous pronouncement from Rome. It's not a dense theological dictate to be nit-picked by scholars. Rather, says Marian seminarian Br. John Paoletti, MIC, "It is meant to be a simple as it sounds. We are to take this time to look at our faith for what it is and ask ourselves how committed we are" to its precepts.
Brother John says one of the key benefits of this examination is the opportunity to "look afresh at the Gospel given to us by Jesus Christ and take a few more steps in following Him." This is a reasonable goal, because the elusive perfection in the "veil of tears" of our lives on earth, with its sufferings intensified by our sins, can only be approached by increments. Every step closer is a step that we move nearer to the all-loving, all-merciful God.
"We Marians love to preach that Divine Mercy is at the heart of this Gospel," Br. John says. "Divine Mercy can be at the heart of a person's Year of Faith, if he or she lets it."
Divine Mercy, Year of Faith: A Good Combination
To allow Divine Mercy to center in your heart, one needs an open heart. To obtain an open heart requires trust in Jesus, the Divine Mercy. What kind of trust? We can let St. Faustina answer that in a lovely poem entered in her Diary as entry 1750.
After she presents a virtual litany of beautiful objects such as the sun and the dawn, the beautiful greenery, and other "lovely things of earth," she presents this concluding stanza:
But above all these beauties
A more pleasing praise to God
Is a soul innocent and filled with childlike trust,
Which, through grace, is closely bound to Him.
What kind of trust? "Childlike trust," as St. Faustina puts it. She quotes Jesus Himself telling her, "It is your office and your assignment throughout your life to continue to make known to souls the great mercy I have for them and to exhort them to trust in My bottomless mercy" (1567).
"If you let Divine Mercy penetrate your heart, it will penetrate your observance of the Year of Faith," Br. John says. "Then I am sure that at the end of it, your heart will be crying 'Jesus, I trust in You!' a little bit louder than it does today."
His reference, of course, is to the signature line Jesus instructed St. Faustina to paint beneath His image as He appeared to her on Feb. 22, 1931. On that day, Jesus appeared to St. Faustina and told her, "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 (Diary, 47). I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over [its] enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I Myself will defend it as My own glory (48)."
Brother John notes that in his declaration for the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict stressed three themes: first, an encounter with Christ; second, authentic conversion, and third, evangelizing in love and joy. Brother John says each has a counterpart in the message of Divine Mercy. This would not be surprising, of course, since Pope Benedict has carried on the legacy of his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, as a "mercy pope."
Let's look more closely at each of these three components.
Encounter with Christ
In his second Wednesday audience during the Year of Faith, the Pope provided a definition of faith that Br. John calls "unique." This is what the Pope said: "Having faith, then, is encountering this 'You,' God, who sustains me and grants me the promise of an indestructible love that not only aspires to eternity, but gifts it. It is entrusting myself to God with the attitude of a child."
We have already seen how the Divine Mercy message recommends such a childlike trust, which is how we encounter Christ — by trusting more and more in Him as the Divine Mercy. This trust, Br. John says, leads to faith that "is both personal and communal. It is important for each of us as Catholics to see the face of Christ on an individual level, in ourselves, but also in everyone we meet. We are moving together and must try to help each other on the journey of faith."
What follows from growing closer to Christ? Authentic conversion. What does that mean? One way to answer that is to look at the product of such conversion, which is an increase in holiness, manifested in a person's day-to-day life. It also means an ardent desire and concrete action to cast out sin from your life.
Authentic conversion means "growth in the knowledge of the faith," Br. John says. This growth can be called "authentic when it impacts our daily lives." In other words, the thoughts and words of faith translate into deeds and actions.
As Pope Benedict says:
One thing that will be of decisive importance in this [Year of Faith] is retracing the history of our faith, marked as it is by the unfathomable mystery of the interweaving holiness and sin. [Holiness] highlights the great contribution that men and women have made to the growth and development of the community through the witness of their lives. [Sin] must provoke in each person a sincere and continuing work of conversion in order to experience the mercy of the Father, which is held out to everyone.
The result of authentic conversion, says Br. John, is "experiencing the mercy of the Father." This, he says, is "the second way in which Divine Mercy shows itself to be the guiding light" in the Year of Faith.
Evangelizing in Love and Joy
The Year of Faith began with a synod of bishops convening on the topic of "The New Evangelization." Brother John notes the comment of Pope Paul VI during Vatican II that the Church's nature, at its core, is missionary and evangelical.
"To be in the Church is to be Christ in the world, to bring Christ into the world, and to lift the world up to God," Br. John says. "But if the nature of the Church is missionary, then what is the nature of the mission and how is it carried out?"
The answer to that question comes from Pope Benedict, who says that evangelization "flows from the fount-like love or charity of God the Father," who wants us to share His divine goodness with everyone. That is why, says Br. John, the Pope recognizes the Church — the Body of Christ — "as a reality of mercy." This mercy is of such a joyous nature that we would be eager to share it with others.
"The idea of joy is found in just about every document Pope Benedict puts out," says Br. John. "The word 'joy' appears eight times in Porta Fidei [the document in which he declared the Year of Faith]."
The Synod of Bishops included a statement on the joy of evangelization: "We approach the new evangelization with enthusiasm. We learn the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it seems the proclamation of the Gospel might be sowing in tears."
Brother John says his hope for others in this Year of Faith is that they will take advantage of the wonderful opportunity is affords everyone to move forward — whether it's a baby step of by leaps and bounds — in the growth of our faith.
Brother John Paoletti, MIC, is a member of the Marian Evangelization Team. See our Events Page for the Marian Evangelization Team schedule. For more information or to arrange a visit, contact Valerie Laurizio by phone at (413) 298-1349 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org