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Photo: Judith T. Bingham
'To Explain My Love of God'
By Dan Valenti (Jan 22, 2013)
In November 2012, a group of 32 parishioners from St. Paul's Church in Cranston, R.I., made their third annual pilgrimage to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass.
Saint Paul's Pastor Fr. Robert Forcier led the visit as part of the parish's observance of the Year of Faith, declared by Pope Benedict XVI (Oct. 11, 2012 to Nov. 24, 2013).
Father Forcier, who spent 16 years as a retail pharmacist prior to his ordination in 2003, knows the correct formulation for spiritual advancement: "Prayer, penance, and participation," as he put it in a brief interview during the November visit. By participation, he means putting faith into action by getting involved, including performing the spiritual and corporeal works of mercy and going on pilgrimages.
During St. Paul's pilgrimage to Eden Hill, we ran into the group while they were touring the Marian Helpers Center. Introducing ourselves to Fr. Forcier, we asked him if he could solicit one of the pilgrims to Eden Hill to write a reflection on the visit. He happily obliged, as did the parishioner Jennifer Bingham, who agreed to write about the journey to Eden Hill. Jennifer was making her first trip to the National Shrine.
"Thanks for the opportunity to experiment with words to explain my love of God," Jennifer wrote to Fr. Forcier. Here is her report:
This was my first time to The Divine Mercy Shrine, one of a group of 32 from Rhode Island on their third annual parish visit.
I accepted a gift of a seat on the bus from some new friends along with an offer of a sandwich, (which I graciously refused). Our pastor is inspired every year to haul a long distance in the early morning hours of the pilgrimage to secure a large selection of local, homemade donuts, stored in a neat stack of white boxes.
Here, Jennifer's story switches to the present tense. This is done to put readers in a "you are there" mode.
We have our plans, we have our itinerary, and we come as good, devoted pilgrims prepared with a mind and heart full of prayer, expectant faith, and open to God's goodness. Father Forcier jokes and says how cooperative we are, knowing we are like playful children impatiently waiting on our destination to happy campgrounds far away. These are spiritual campgrounds!
As we get closer, the near wintry grayness passes by us to become unexpected balmy weather in the 60s in November, with sharp blue skies, a mild breeze, non-invasive clouds that seem to hover and widely circle the grounds to set it apart, to mark the sacred from the profane. Clouds tower, but do not threaten with inclement weather but softly frame the beauty of the National Shrine, way above.
In this parcel of holy land, tucked away, I wonder at the marvel of finding God's mercy in this treasure trove of nature as the bus scales a short incline leading to a bucolic scene. I sense a small space in time open up, even suspended for a moment, being given to us to find and explore the sure reality of God's presence.
After our group gathers for our talk in Memorial Hall, there seems to be a little confusion and delay to revamp our schedule. Some grab an early lunch; others diverge at this point to the Gift Shop, still others go to the National Shrine for Exposition, Confession, and Benediction in rich prayer before the 3 o'clock Hour of Mercy.
Later on, we all converge for Mass and praying of the Divine Mercy chaplet. All of these are parts of a radiant plan. I learn that in the great scheme of mercy, everything unfolds into its place and everything matters.
God arranges for us to be a bit pampered (we are not the first!) by the hospitality of His Mercy. Our group joins Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, director of the Association of Marian Helpers and its current "Fr. Joseph, MIC," for a tour. Father Michael introduces us to the wall of photos of the long lineage of the name of "Fr. Joseph, MIC." We think back to only a short while ago in 2011 when Fr. Michael came to our parish to give his first mission, and now we are happily reunited with him. We tell him how we loved his coming and we will never let him forget it (this is more indicative of our parish than it is of Rhode Islanders)!
As we press in to capture every word and expression, busy staffers pass around and through us showing open, inviting smiles.
As Fr. Michael leads us through the tour, I look around at the people being about doing God's will, reaching out through various ministries. The printing presses clatter away, loudly turning paper and ink into prayers and images of Divine Mercy and the Blessed Virgin Mary, including the ones that are so familiar to us. Here, just off the presses, they all look like jewels! I tell myself quietly, "I can do that; I can do that" — maybe not in the same capacity or expression but to reach out and become mercy. At that moment, I feel compelled to know and serve mercy and spread it to others.
The group continues toward Fr. Michael's office, and we view a large, framed image of Divine Mercy. The mere size compels me to ask myself, "Do I not trust in His Mercy?" As we enter his office, it is strewn with papers, projects, scattered and layered, numerous ideas, which show a fierce love of mercy in a desire to make it known in the world.
Eden Hill is definitely one place where God's mercy is alive in projects in the heart and mind of his zealous servant. Presented with care, there are published works, soon to be published works, and mercy images to be made available to every family. God's plan of mercy cannot be contained. It is so vast, without limit.
God loves these big, ongoing plans. No wonder why Fr. Michael loses weight. He is a marathon doer for Divine Mercy.
At no point is it evident to me but only obvious to my fellow pilgrims that throughout the day I am always the last one on the bus. My friends groan and laugh. I am so caught up in what God shows me. Mercy is without time and does not restrict. I am a guest of Divine Mercy and have found it to be a most generous host.
In the events of the day I am lured, drawn, and captured. The intrigue is that I have to go to the life-sized Stations of the Cross to meet my beloved Divine Mercy.
Sometimes I don't want to think or meditate on the origins of Divine Mercy, on Calvary, Golgotha, this Place of the Skull, as I walk the path of the stations set so simply and powerfully in in the clusters of huge pines on Eden Hill. I kneel each time and say, "My God, do You do all this for me?"
I did not realize beforehand, but now I know. Mercy is a much bigger gift than I ever can know. Without the spirituality that envelops the Shrine, I often cannot really "see." Here, I am unobstructed and free of distraction in a sacred resting and waiting place. My prayer is to "become" the open spaces of mercy.
Further on in the Stations, He lies down upon the cross to be nailed. He wants me to walk with Him and now stay with Him. I am held bound out of love. His own mercy He gives me: His own mercy I give to Him. What is Jesus asking of me? To share in His suffering and to receive His mercy? I crouch down to the Lord's level and see the silent, soft grimace on His face as the nail is driven into His right hand, and I don't want to look.
It is finished as He hangs on the Cross and loses His last drops of Blood, and Water empties out from His Heart, and the Ocean of Mercy opens up for the whole world. Jesus dies, but not in vain, as I receive His Mercy.
A good amount of people and families enjoy holy roaming as we walk towards the Shrine for Mass and the Hour of Mercy. At Calvary again, without blood, my God offers Himself in an ultimate, perfect expression of mercy on the altar of sacrifice. I am a little pilgrim submerged under the endless, flowing fount. There is triumph and victory, a gift the likes of which the world, it seems, cannot accept. Too good to be true ... but it is true! He remembers and fulfills His promises of Mercy. Mercy is lifted up, and I accept what I cannot see.
One of the devotees suddenly exclaims, "It's the same place and the same priest I see on TV! [on EWTN]" Overcome with joy, she is astonished by Divine Mercy. It thrills her to no end to be in the lovely National Shrine, under the precious image of Divine Mercy to worship and sing God's praises and pray the same chaplet she does in her own private, daily prayer at home.
At every turn, there is a sign of God's mercy. As the day darkens and comes to an end, life breathes into the workers that make a distant noise setting bricks for the Stations' walkway, as they sweep sand, filling the cracks to make a pleasing entry to this "Mercy Story" — the Stations of the Cross. I feel a shortness of time at the end of the fall season, coming into winter, and an urgency to spread the message of Divine Mercy. I needed to come and experience the great consolation, and so does the whole world.
We leave the Shrine and stop for a meal an hour from home. Father Forcier asks me if I can write this article as a reflection of the day's pilgrimage. He says, "You can say 'yes' or 'no' — no pressure."
How can I say no? Mercy answers my prayer to do mercy in such a short time. Not only can I receive His mercy, trust in His mercy, and practice mercy, but I also get to write about His mercy. It is a prayer, come true.
The actions of Fr. Forcier in bringing his parishioners to Eden Hill reflects well the mission statement of St. Paul's Church in this Year of Faith: "Gathered in faith by God's Holy Spirit in a Christ-centered community in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, R.I., St. Paul's is a diverse parish united by God's love and our desire to worship, study, educate, and serve in works of mercy. Like our patron, Saint Paul, we are eager to spread the Good News to the ends of the world, to the honor and glory of God.
Jennifer C. Bingham is a daily communicant at St. Paul Church, Cranston, R.I., and Rev. Robert H. Forcier is its pastor.