Understanding the Message of Mercy as a Parish Community

“The Holy Spirit is working in our parish right now. We feel very honored and blessed to be a part of it.”

By Marian Friedrichs

When the Very Rev. Chris Alar, MIC, visited the parish of St. Robert Bellarmine in Blue Springs, Missouri, last June, he did not speak about the Divine Mercy devotion. Father preached on the "Four Last Things": Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. But the impression and wisdom he left behind proved seeds that blossomed into a Lenten Divine Mercy mission, brought to fruition by the St. Robert parishioners themselves.

A mission for God
The Divine Mercy Chaplet was already known to the people of St. Robert Bellarmine. Their pastor, Fr. Richard Rocha, had come to them in 2019 from Our Lady of Good Counsel, the diocesan Shrine of Divine Mercy and St. Faustina in Kansas City, Missouri. Two years at Our Lady of Good Counsel had nurtured in Fr. Rocha a love for the Divine Mercy devotion, and when he was transferred, he brought to his new parish from his old the tradition of praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet after every Mass. 

While some parishioners faithfully stayed for the Chaplet, not many knew very much about the message our Lord gave to St. Faustina and the wealth of graces that can be obtained through the devotion. After Fr. Chris’s visit, that began to change.

During his talk, some of Fr. Chris’s books were available for sale, among them Understanding Divine Mercy. Frank and Ruth Hays were among the St. Robert parishioners who acquired a copy, as was their friend John Milosevich. 

“Those of us who bought it and read it found ourselves rereading it,” says Frank. The three approached their pastor about finding a way to get the book into the hands of as many other parishioners as possible. Father Rocha recommended that they speak to Deacons Robert Falke and Joseph Zagar, who suggested building a Lenten mission around it.

Preparing a retreat
Understanding Divine Mercy is divided into five chapters, and there are five full weeks in Lent. Five weekly sessions would help the parish prepare for the celebration of Easter, especially for the Second Sunday of Easter, the Feast of Divine Mercy. After the mission was concluded, participants would pray the Divine Mercy Novena together beginning on Good Friday, and they would know how to observe the Feast of Mercy so as to gain the indulgence and special graces attached to it. 

To spread the word about the mission and to propagate the Divine Mercy message among those who would not attend, the mission team decided to order 500 copies of Understanding Divine Mercy. Not wanting to impact the parish budget, Frank, Ruth, and John approached the Knights of Columbus, the Women’s Ministry, the Men’s Ministry, and their parish chapter of the Catholic men’s group, “That Man is You.” These groups (many of whose members had heard Fr. Chris speak and then had read Understanding Divine Mercy) agreed to provide the funds. 

Peter Markavage at the Marian Helpers Center on the grounds of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, helped the team order the large quantity of books they needed at the best possible price. He also provided them with a playlist of Fr. Alar’s videos to use at their sessions.

When the books arrived, the mission team prepared them for distribution, with a flier advertising the mission tucked inside each copy. On Ash Wednesday, 450 copies were given away, and the remaining 50 on the first Sunday of Lent. The team promptly ordered 100 more copies and quickly distributed them as well.

Presenting Divine Mercy
At the first session, on the nature of God’s mercy, 144 people participated in person; five watched the livestream. The second session, on St. Faustina and the importance of trust, had 138 live attendees and six virtual. The recorded sessions, posted on YouTube and Facebook, have been viewed approximately 300 times each.

Nearly all of the live participants had read the recommended chapters of the book before each session. Many had already finished it.

Frank, Ruth, and John are excited to see how the Holy Spirit will use their efforts to teach their neighbors about the unfathomable mercy of God. 

“Father Rocha explained Divine Mercy to us,” says John, “but for me it didn’t really sink in.” John had read St. Faustina’s Diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, but after reading Understanding Divine Mercy, he realized he had “only scratched the surface” of learning about the message and devotion. 

“The Diary is not an easy read, compared to Fr. Chris’ book, which is very conversational and easy to digest.”

The team hopes and prays that, after the mission, more parishioners will know the value of the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Feast. 

“The first word of the book title is key,” says Ruth. “Understanding, not just praying, this devotion.” 

People need to know
When the mission is over, perhaps more parishioners will remain in their pews after Mass to pray the Chaplet. “If people knew the opportunity and the graces they were walking away from,” says Frank, “they would give those extra seven minutes.” 

And perhaps those who attend the mission or read the book will go to Confession, receive Holy Communion worthily, and observe the Feast of Divine Mercy on April 7 so as to receive the gifts Our Lord longs to give them. 

One participant, Nathan Eckenberg, wrote, “Just finished the chapter on the meaning of Divine Mercy Sunday. I’m blown away. I had absolutely no idea the significance and power of that day. Unbelievable – what a gift!”

“The Holy Spirit is working in our parish right now," Ruth says. "We feel very honored and blessed to be a part of it.”


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