Image, Feast, and a New Millenium of Mercy!

On almost every occasion that Pope John Paul II has spoken of Sr. Faustina, or about the Divine Mercy message and devotion, he has stressed that this is a remedy especially suited to meet the critical needs of our age. In a world in which, at times, darkness seems to be enveloping almost everything, a world now full to overflowing with apostasy, the persecution of Christians, the breakdown of the family, the exploitation of the poor, the murder of unborn children, the horrors of ethnic cleansing and international terrorism, where indeed, if not to The Divine Mercy and compassion, can the world turn to find refuge and the light of hope?

As the human race wanders further and further away from its Savior, He has not abandoned it to its fate, nor failed to find new ways to bring His lost sheep home. Every aspect of the Divine Mercy message and devotion that He fashioned proclaims loud and clear the same gospel message: God is not just waiting patiently for the world to come back to Him! Rather, His Mercy always takes the initiative - without any merit or deserving on our part - and seeks us out and finds us.

The Image of The Divine Mercy revealed to Sr. Faustina is a vivid expression of this gospel message. Everything about this Image speaks of the risen Lord taking the initiative, and seeking out the lost and the broken hearted with the rays of His merciful love. In this Image Christ is shown walking toward the viewer, coming to find us; the rays of merciful love flowing from His Heart spread out to embrace the viewer, and His hand is raised with a blessing of peace even before we ask for it. In an age in which the visual image - whether through television, films, or the computer screen - has become the most powerful medium of communication, Jesus Christ has fashioned for us an image of Himself that awakens our trust in Him and calms our fears. As He once said to Sr. Faustina (entry 1485): "Be not afraid of your Savior, O sinful soul. I make the first move to come to you, for I know that by yourself you are unable to lift yourself to Me."

The Feast of Mercy proclaims this same gospel message. It is not a new feast. According to St. Augustine, St. Gregory Nazianzen, and The Apostolic Constitutions, the early Church celebrated the Sunday after Easter, or Octave Day of Easter, as a great feast day (called in the West "Dominica in Albis" - the Sunday in White). It was a rounding out of the eight days of Easter celebrations, and a day that St. Augustine is reported to have called "the compendium of the days of mercy." In other words, on this day the Church gives thanks to God for His merciful love shining through all the great acts by which He won our salvation, especially the Cross and Resurrection of His Son. As Pope John Paul II said in his Regina Caeli address on Mercy Sunday, 1995, "the whole Octave of Easter is like a single day," and the Octave Sunday is meant to be a day of "thanksgiving for the goodness God has shown man in the whole Easter mystery." For this reason, the opening prayer, psalms, and lessons appointed for that Sunday already proclaim the message of Mercy, and did not need to be changed for the official institution of the Feast. The whole of Mercy Sunday is meant to manifest Jesus Christ, reaching out to sinful humanity with His prevenient, unmerited Mercy. As he said to Sr. Faustina (entry 699):

I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon souls who approach the fountain of My mercy.

The Chaplet of Divine Mercy also proclaims this message of Mercy. The Chaplet is a pleading for God's Mercy upon the world, but a pleading upon the basis of God's supreme act of mercy for us all, namely, His "sorrowful Passion." Although not first in time, on the linear scale of human history, the Cross is first in the order of grace, for it is the basis for all the graces that the Lord has poured out upon humanity - past, present, and future. "While we were yet sinners," St. Paul wrote, "Christ died for us." While we were still sinners - the perfect expression of prevenient, undeserved Divine Mercy.

Finally, God's mercy is not only meant to be received with trust: it is also to be shared through love. The practice of the works of mercy, both spiritual and corporal, are the goal and fruit of this devotion, as well as a gospel command: "Be merciful even as your Father is merciful" (Lk 6:36). Sr. Faustina knew very well that it is only hearts that have been transformed by the mercy of Jesus Christ that are fully equipped to share it with others, and so she prayed constantly for the gift of a merciful heart (entry 692):

O Jesus, I understand that Your mercy is beyond all imagining, and therefore I ask You to make my heart so big that there will be room in it for the needs of all souls living on the face of the earth ... and the souls suffering in Purgatory. ... Make my heart sensitive to all the sufferings of my neighbor, whether of body or soul. O my Jesus, I know that You act toward us as we act toward our neighbor. ... Make my heart like unto Your merciful Heart.

Here is the divine remedy for a world full of cold hearts and broken hearts: the Merciful Heart of Jesus, which can transform human hearts so that they become "living reflections" of His own (entry 163). With approximately one billion people now living in the most abject material poverty, and billions more living under the reign of false and oppressive ideologies, surely, the time is right for the advent of a worldwide apostolate of Mercy, fashioned by Christ's own Merciful Heart. This is also the earnest plea of Pope John Paul II, who asked the faithful on Mercy Sunday, 1995, to "trust in the Lord and be Apostles of Divine Mercy, and follow the invitation of Bl. Faustina."

Bl. Faustina was canonized at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome on Mercy Sunday, 2000. She was the first new saint of the third millennium. May it be a millennium of Divine Mercy: St. Faustina, pray for us!

(This series continues next week on the mercy legacy of Pope John Paul II).


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