Photo: Felix Carroll
Step by Step
By Dan Valenti (Mar 4, 2011)
Father Ignatius Nwachinemere Nze, visiting Boston from Nigeria, Africa, for medical treatment, took the opportunity to make the two-hour trip to Eden Hill, Stockbridge, Mass., to learn more about a topic that has become an emerging core of his priesthood: Divine Mercy.
Eden Hill is home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, administered by the Marian Fathers, who brought the message and devotion to America in the early 1940s. You might call Eden Hill the present-day heart and soul of the Divine Mercy movement in North America. It is one of the world's key Divine Mercy sites.
Taking 'the Next Step'
"Divine Mercy has taken me to the next step in my spiritual development," Fr. Ignatius says. "My journey [in God] is taken in small steps. We all undertake our spiritual journeys incrementally, the next step, then the next, and so on. We can't get to the final step of spirituality in our lifetime. So I try to stay focused on the next step and not get too far ahead [of myself]."
During his stay, the Marians gave Fr. Ignatius a tour of the National Shrine, the grounds of Eden Hill and its many shrines, as well as the Marian Helpers Center. The MHC contains the working arm of the Association of Marian Helpers, a Catholic spiritual society with members worldwide. The Marians publish more than 14 million pieces of literature on Divine Mercy each year.
"My time [on Eden Hill] has been wonderful. Brother Ken [Galisa, MIC] and Fr. Dan [Cambra, MIC, provincial superior of the Marians] have been gracious hosts," he says. Father Ignatius also fell in love at first site with the National Shrine, calling it "a beautiful house of God."
He says he has been learning much about the message of God's mercy that Jesus imparted to St. Faustina. This message helps him stay focused on his spiritual duties as a priest and as a child of God.
Father Ignatius says he tries particularly to "appreciate the moment of Christ's death on the cross. When we look at Jesus dying, He's saying, 'I did this for you. What have you done for Me'? That is the essence of His mercy, the immeasurable kindness He has shown you, me, and every person."
The Great Three O'clock Hour
Father Ignatius says his increasing devotion to the message of Divine Mercy has enhanced his thankfulness to Jesus for the gift of salvation: "Every day, the Three O'clock Hour, the Hour of Great Mercy, reminds me of His immeasurable kindness. I then ask myself, 'What sacrifice have I made today in Christ's name'? Who have I helped? What have I done to show compassion and mercy? We have to have a motive for everything we do. When we walk with God, that motive is love."
In this way, Fr. Ignatius says Divine Mercy "challenges me" to strive for perfection. Though we are all sinners, the mercy of God "can handle our sins. We must never think our sins are too great to give to God. He wants to take our sinfulness and transform us, so that He can pour out his love. Divine Mercy is God's deepest love for humanity."
Father Ignatius says he first learned about Divine Mercy in 1999 at a Divine Mercy conference with Bishop Martin Holley, MIC; Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC; and Robert Stackpole, STD, who heads the Marian's John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. He credits Nigerian Archbishop Anthony Obinna and Fr. Levi Nkwocha, the Divine Mercy chaplain in the archdiocese, for their support
The Role of Mary
Father Ignatius says that Our Lady occupies a central place in his heart.
"I have a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary that is like a flashback to when I was a kid. I have such love and affection for Mary." He calls the Blessed Mother "our spiritual Mother, who helps us to stay away from trouble."
Through Our Lady, Fr. Ignatius says we can stay close to Jesus. He says this connection produces great tranquility, even in times of great stress: "She is a Mother who cares."
Knowing this, he says, "I have that inner peace. Even though I write with crooked lines, God can write straight. Along the way, we will face many obstacles. If you fall seven times, make sure you get up seven times. Mary helps us get up. She shows us the way to forgiveness."
Of forgiveness, Fr. Ignatius stresses the importance of self-forgiveness: "I try to forgive myself, first. If I can't forgive myself, how can I forgive another? Virtue lies in the middle of scrupulosity and license [that is, the "anything goes" philosophy that mistakes indulgence for freedom]. If we stay in the middle, we remain balanced."
'Start with Love'
For those who are just returning to the faith, those who are taking up the faith, and those who need to revive lukewarm faith, Fr. Ignatius offers this advice:
"Start with love. Try to understand God's plan for your life. Don't ever set aside God and His love for you. Begin there. Let Jesus and His Mother take you to the next step, then the next. Try to recognize what they are doing and can do for you. When you are close to them, you are on the right track."
Learn how you can become a Marian Helper — helping the Marians to spread the message of The Divine Mercy and devotion to Mary Immaculate.