In 2021, Listen to Your Fathers

By Chris Sparks

We’ve been enduring some confusing, tumultuous times recently. As we head into 2021, it’s time to pause and recollect ourselves a bit.

  • Where are we headed?
  • What are we spending time on?
  • Who are we listening to?
  • Whom do we trust?
  • Why?

I know I certainly feel disoriented. 2020 upended all my expectations. The isolation from the pandemic taught me how much I really do need other people, and how greatly I do need to follow the advice of St. Paul:

“whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8).

So let me propose a goal for all of us Divine Mercy devotees for 2021 and the Year of St. Joseph: Let’s prioritize studying the teachings of St. John Paul II (born Karol Józef Wojtyla) and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (born Joseph Ratzinger).

These two men, both named after Jesus’ earthly father and each ultimately serving as Holy Father to the Church, certainly taught truth, honorably, justly, and purely. Their teachings are lovely and gracious. They were excellent writers and thinkers, certainly worthy of praise. Saint Paul would definitely encourage us to think on their teachings, to spend time with them, to meditate on them and contemplate them. In fact, you could devote a lifetime to studying the work of these two men. They have been two of the greatest teachers we’ve ever been blessed with in the Church’s whole history.

Both men endured through some of the hardest times of human history, through WWII and the Cold War, and both men served the Church long and well — not perfectly, certainly, and in some instances, not without serious failings, but certainly with all their hearts, and with a sincere desire to do the right thing.

But perhaps their greatest contributions came through intellects enlightened by the faith, by the Holy Spirit shining in and through their hearts and minds. Each man gifted the Church and the world with a great burst of light, of truth and wisdom. John Paul was above all else a philosopher, and Benedict, a preeminent theologian. Each man wrote books before they become pope, and books after becoming pope. Each man exercised the teaching authority of their office with care and discernment, and each man played a key role in the spread of the Divine Mercy message and devotion.

Saint John Paul II, of course, had begun the cause for St. Faustina’s canonization while he was still the cardinal archbishop of Krakow, Poland, work that had helped lead Pope St. Paul VI to lift the ban on the Divine Mercy message and devotion in 1978. After St. John Paul II became pope later that same year, he would go on to both beatify and canonize St. Faustina, institute the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday in the universal calendar of the Church, and see the incredible growth of the Divine Mercy movement across the world.

And Pope Benedict further firmly placed Divine Mercy at the heart of the Church with his establishment of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy. In 2008, during the Regina Caeli message on Divine Mercy Sunday, he said:

Indeed, mercy is the central nucleus of the Gospel message; it is the very name of God, the Face with which he revealed himself in the Old Covenant and fully in Jesus Christ, the incarnation of creative and redemptive Love. May this merciful love also shine on the face of the Church and show itself through the sacraments, in particular that of Reconciliation, and in works of charity, both communitarian and individual. May all that the Church says and does manifest the mercy God feels for man, and therefore for us. When the Church has to recall an unrecognized truth or a betrayed good, she always does so impelled by merciful love, so that men and women may have life and have it abundantly (cf. Jn 10: 10). From divine mercy, which brings peace to hearts, genuine peace flows into the world, peace between different peoples, cultures and religions.

So in this Year of St. Joseph, listen to these two Josephs, these two spiritual fathers into whose care the Lord God entrusted His Church for so long. Maybe begin with the books in which each man was interviewed, or perhaps choose some topic of the faith that you’ve been wondering about or know little about, then search the Vatican’s collection of papal writings to see what each man has taught about that subject.

Spend a year with St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Listen to their wisdom. Let it renew your mind and transform your heart. Let them be your guides in this time of special grace and mercy.

Happy New Year! May God bless you.

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

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Image by bmarxdueren at Pixabay

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