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The Divine Mercy in the History of Salvation

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By Cardinal Philippe Barbarin (Lyon, France)

In the story of the Visitation, in which Mary visits Saint Elisabeth, there is a beautiful canticle sung every evening at the hour of Vespers. Despite the violence and suffering in this world, despite all trouble and sins, the Church wants her children to feel gratitude. So they are encouraged to use Mary's words to thank God for everything they have received from Him on the day that is coming to an end.

As a person responsible for commenting on the texts for today's Holy Mass that opens the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy, I would like to explain that the verse in which Mary announces the Divine Mercy: Et misericordia eius in progenies et progenies is the main sentence — the axis of Magnificat if I can say so.

Let us now move to Nazareth. Deeply moved by the apparition of Gabriel the Archangel and the announcement of Incarnation, Virgin Mary was not afraid to ask him: How will this be, since I am a virgin? In the reply, which sounded too mysterious for her to understand, she accidentally heard the name of her elder relative, Elizabeth: In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy! So she submitted herself to God in an extraordinary act of faith: I am the Lord's servant, May your word to me be fulfilled. Virgin Mary went to Zechariah's town, in the hill country of Judah. She hurried to find Elizabeth about whom she found out that God had given her the unexpected pregnancy.

But the story of the Incarnation is surprising. Only after Mary had said a few greeting words, before the mothers had even managed to speak, did the child move in Elizabeth's womb. And she cried: But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Then she said to her young relative the Blessing that refers to us all and that we would like to add to each Hail Mary prayer: Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!

We have an impression that Virgin Mary experiences a psychological shock. Her body, soul and mind are moved by God's magnitude: Magnificat! Thus, she gives vent to her joy and happiness that will be propagated by all successive generations. But we can also guess that she is struggling inside: Is it possible that God has paid attention to such a petty servant? How should she live to avoid the dilemma between the encounter with God's holiness and her own smallness? How should she approach this task which seems incomprehensible and almost impossible to bear, which changes her from a humble girl of Nazareth into the mother of Messiah? Perhaps there have been many other women hoping to be given this exceptional role!

Just then Mary says: His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. If God acts in such an unpredictable manner with her, it means that He always behaves like this. By diverting her eyesight from herself, Mary directs the attention of those who listen to her towards God's greatness. He is the subject of the following sentences: He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down … has lifted up … has filled … has sent ... Mary does not say anything else about herself but only speaks about God. She raises her voice to show that God can hear the calling of all human suffering and that His mercy acts to the benefit of the humbled and the hungry in order to give them the due respect, consolation and peace. Let us remember that God has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts and has brought down rulers from their thrones invariably through His mercy. And when He has sent the rich away empty, has he not given them the possibility to experience the new and liberating poverty?

It can be said that Mary disappears in the ocean of Mercy in which she becomes a mere drop of water1. This contemplative perspective finally brings her peace and restores joy. What God does with Mary's life is an element of His love to the people, regardless of how surprising it may be. He takes His servant under protection as He did with God's Chosen People, as He helped his servant Israel when Israel needed guidance and support. Lord remembers the requirements of His mercy: Mary reminds Him that this is the promise to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers. The long road to Mercy is fulfilled in the Incarnation, the life of His Beloved Son, in whom God contained all His love (cf. Matthew 3:17) and who is carried by Mary to be offered to the world.

His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. Today, this sentence is not only understood as the keynote of Magnificat but also as the summary of the entire Bible expressed by Our Most Holy Lady. In just a few simple words, it presents the engagement and love of God to His children: God is merciful! No wonder then our first reading from the Epistle to the Ephesians expresses the same belief in other words: But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved ...

Dives in misericordia
— it is the title given by Blessed Pope John Paul II in 1980 to His second encyclical, following the first one devoted to the Redeemer. He chose this to show us how he viewed God's mystery. Later he admitted that mercy was the golden threat of his entire pontificate. Here, in
Kraków, during his last journey to the homeland in August 2002, in the homily during the consecration Mass of the Lagiewniki Sanctuary he explained that mercy is not only the attribute or characteristic of God but it is His name.

Allow the French bishop to remind you that today, on 1st October, the Church is celebrating the feast of Saint Thérèse who was so close to Saint Faustina. Jesus gave them both the mission to preach mercy3. The Little Flower of Jesus, as Saint Thérèse was called, knew it very well that there are many kinds of souls In order that each Divine Perfection may receive its special honour. To me, He has given His Infinite Mercy, and it is in this ineffable mirror that I con- template his other attributes. Therein all appear to me radiant with Love.

Therefore, on 9th June 1895, on the Trinity Sunday, this "Little Flower" devoted to mercy wanted to sacrifice herself to Divine Love, having understood it better than ever before how much Jesus wanted to be loved. In the Act of offering herself to Merciful Love, she said: In order to live in one single act of perfect Love, I OFFER MYSELF AS A VICTIM OF HOLOCAUST TO YOUR MERCIFUL LOVE, Asking You to consume me incessantly, allowing the waves of infinite tenderness shut up within You to overflow into my soul, and that thus I may become a martyr of Your Love, O my God!

Let us pray now so that we can be guided by the keynote of Mary's Magnificat and the example of Little Flower in the joy of the initiated Congress. The service to mercy in our world needs hearts that are pure enough to see God and eagerly offer Him all crimes and suffering, like a drop of water cast into a blazing fire.

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