Why Doesn't the Chaplet Always 'Work'?

A few weeks ago in this "Q & A" series I quoted the words of St. Catherine of Siena, who said that wherever we look we can see the mercy of God at work. This prompted an understandable reaction on the part of some people. After all, there seems to be an awful lot of suffering and misery in our world, so how is all that a reflection of the "mercy" of God?

One person named Rita from Australia connected this question with our understanding of the "power" of the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy: "If the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy promises relief and answer to prayer, and if Jesus is so merciful, why is there so much suffering in spite of prayer?"

In a nutshell, this is what theologians and philosophers call "the problem of evil," and it basically boils down to this: If there really is an all-powerful and all-loving God, why doesn't He put a stop to the sufferings of the relatively innocent people in the world? The problem becomes acute when we consider the extraordinary promises that Jesus made for the devout recitation of the Chaplet, for example. "Through the Chaplet you will obtain everything, if what you ask for is compatible with my will" (Diary, 1731). Isn't the prevention and relief of innocent suffering in accordance with His "will"? So why doesn't the Chaplet always "work" to obtain such relief?

To begin with, we need to distinguish between moral evil and physical evil, that is, between evils that are the result of the misuse of the free will that God gave to human beings (for example, murder, war, adultery, apostasy, theft, and social injustice and oppression of various kinds) and the evils that seem to have little connection with anyone making "bad choices" (for example, suffering due to aging, disease, drought, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters).

With regard to moral evils and the sufferings they cause, the reason why the Chaplet often does not seem to "work" by putting a stop to them is that Jesus will not force people to stop sinning. Christ wants to lead people to genuine repentance and conversion. He is not interested in turning us into mere "puppets on a string," that is, into robots that are compelled to love Him and to love one another. That wouldn't be real love anyway.

Genuine love springs from freedom. But the freedom He gave to us when the human race was created, the freedom to love Him back and build up His Kingdom, is also freedom that we can misuse, with destructive effects. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, did just that. Hence, the Biblical doctrine of "the Fall of Man."

As a result of their misuse of the good gift of free will that God gave to them in the beginning, they bequeathed to their posterity a broken and wounded human condition. Each one of us was born into this world with "the cards stacked against us," so to speak: this broken and wounded human condition that we inherited from Adam and Eve includes a clouded mind, weakened will, disordered passions and desires, and vulnerability to suffering and death.

This brokenness was not willed by God. It was willed by humanity (and by the tempting power of the fallen angels, especially Satan)! And God will not compel us to undergo the healing, sanctifying process that alone can cure us. We have to freely choose and consent to it. So you see, much of this world's suffering is not something that can be magically eliminated by reciting the Chaplet.

On the other hand, the Chaplet always helps. Through it we can obtain the graces of conversion and sanctification for many people, if only they will consent and cooperate with the graces they are offered by God as a result.

Unrepentant sinners, lost in mortal sin, deserve nothing but eternal condemnation. But Christ is so merciful that He does not want to give them what they deserve (even though they make a "living hell" out of life on this planet at times). Instead, He died on the Cross to make up for our sins, and He won for us a whole ocean of the graces that He longs to pour out upon us from His merciful Heart:


My daughter, know that My Heart is mercy itself. From this sea of mercy graces flow out upon the whole world. No soul that has approached Me has ever gone away unconsoled. All misery gets buried in the depths of My mercy, and every saving and sanctifying grace flows from this fountain (Diary, 1777).

Out of malice, ignorance, or pride, stubborn sinners may not be willing to repent and turn to the Lord for forgiveness and help, but our Chaplets can obtain for them graces they are not even ready to ask for yet! In the depths of their hearts, Christ will give them special aid, simply because we have asked for it on their behalf on the basis of "His sorrowful passion." These special graces will not compel them to turn their hearts to the Lord, of course, but will enable them to do so. As St. Faustina wrote:

Let no one doubt concerning the goodness of God; even if a person's sins were as dark as night, God's mercy is stronger than our misery. One thing alone is necessary: that the sinner set ajar the door of his heart, be it ever so little, to let in a ray of God's merciful grace, and then God will do the rest (Diary, 1507).

The other form of evil that the Chaplet does not always seem to "work" to eliminate is physical suffering. That is, suffering that does not arise directly from human sin, but from sickness, disease and accident, from misfortunes and natural disasters, and even from the inevitable process of growing old.

God has not given us a full and complete answer as to why He often permits these physical evils to run their course, often in spite of our prayers and Chaplets. Sometimes, in response to our prayers, He intervenes with miraculous healing and relief (my wife was miraculously healed through the Chaplet, and the prayers of St. Faustina!).

Sometimes He asks us to bear our sufferings, and offers us the grace to cooperate with Him in bringing about a greater good than if He had not permitted them (for example, because He wants us to grow in patience, or courage, or trustful surrender to Him, or because He wants us to grow in love by "offering up" our sufferings, in union with the sufferings of Christ on the Cross, for the good of souls).

Sometimes, we just cannot see the reason why He permits some forms of suffering to go on. The sufferings of little children are the hardest for us to bear, and the hardest to understand. But our understanding is finite, and His is infinite. From our limited vantage point, we only see the way we think His plan should work itself out, but He sees all things from the vantage point of His infinite Wisdom and boundless Mercy - and why He sometimes has to permit sufferings that seem to us so pointless and unnecessary.

That is why the summary of the Divine Mercy message and devotion is not "Jesus, I fully understand, in every situation, what You are doing and why You are doing it," but, rather, "Jesus, I trust in You." The Chaplet, recited in trust, does not always bring about what we want to have happen, but it opens the door to let Him fully into the situation, so that He can bring about, or permit, what He knows is best for us.

Awhile back, I noticed that people for whom I said the Chaplet often seemed to end up dying! Was that a defeat for the Chaplet? Was it a sign of my weak faith in reciting it? I don't think so. I think it was probably just the working out of His loving plan for those same people - not what I wanted, certainly, nor what they wanted, perhaps, but what He knew was best in the situation, and the Chaplet helped open the door to Him, so that He could bring it about. As St. Paul wrote, "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to come" (Rom 8:18), and "in everything God works for good with those who love Him" (Rom 8:28).

So, Rita, I ask you and your prayer group to continue to recite the Chaplet for all those in need, just because you love them, and because you love Jesus Christ, and then trust Him for the results. You see, the Chaplet never really "works"; rather, He always works in special ways in response to the Chaplet: sometimes in miraculous and visible ways, and sometimes in ways entirely hidden from us. We trust what He sees, and we trust His plan because we know that it must be the working out of His merciful love:

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless, and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is love and mercy itself (Diary, 950).

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at questions@thedivinemercy.org.

View archived Q&A columns.


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