Saint John XXIII, Protector of Divine Mercy

The late Fr. Seraphim Michalenko would often tell a story of how St. John XXIII saved the Divine Mercy message and devotion.

There were folks at the Vatican, said Fr. Seraphim, who wanted there to be a complete and perpetual ban on the private revelations given to Sr. Faustina Kowalska, and the devotions they described. So they prepared a decree that would have enacted just such a perpetual ban. It ended up in the pile of paperwork that greeted St. John XXIII on his first working day as pope. But those who opposed the message and devotion thought they knew how best to achieve their end. They hoped that the new pope would start at the top of the pile and be tired by the time he reached the end, simply signing off on things without reading them or giving them much thought. So the paperwork for the ban was tucked in at the bottom of the stack of papers.

Now, St. John XXIII would certainly become famous for being the joyful pope, a man of charity, generosity, and other virtues that could be mistaken for innocence or naivety. But he also had had a long career with the Vatican’s foreign service, and was intimately familiar with how things operated in Rome. So he came in to start his first day as pope, made the sign of the Cross, took the pile waiting for him, and flipped it upside down. The last became first; the first became last.

And so the first thing he considered on that first day, said Fr. Seraphim, was the paperwork that would have banned the message and devotion forever.

But St. John XXIII said, “No! We need to consult the Polish bishops. This needs further investigation.”

As a result, when the Divine Mercy message and devotion was placed under a ban by the Holy See in 1958 (as St. Faustina had prophesied in Diary, 378), that ban was only provisional. It was later overturned by St. Paul VI.

So the Feast of St. John XXIII on Oct. 11 is a big one for all of us who practice and promote the Divine Mercy message and devotion of St. Faustina. The pope who launched Vatican II, the great ecumenical council sometimes called the “Council of Mercy,” also kept the door open for the Divine Mercy message and devotion to spread to the entire world.

So as we continue our efforts to practice and promote the message and devotion of Divine Mercy, let us ask the intercession of St. John XXIII for all our needs and intentions. Let us revisit the essential documents of Vatican II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, allowing ourselves to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12:2). And let us thank God for the gift of St. John XXIII’s wisdom and discernment.

Saint John XXIII, pray for us!