In the 1930s, a Polish nun by the name of Maria Faustina Kowalska experienced numerous revelations from Jesus, the most important of which stressed God’s mercy by two means: a special prayer called the “Chaplet of the Divine Mercy,” and the institution of the Sunday in the Easter Octave as “Divine Mercy Sunday.”
The chaplet’s use began to take off stateside in the 80s, no doubt catalyzed by the efforts of the late Mother Angelica. In 2000, fellow Pole Saint John Paul II acknowledged Sister Faustina’s revelations by canonizing her—the first saint of the new millennium—and by instituting “Divine Mercy Sunday.”
Whatever one might believe concerning the particulars of the revelations, and whether or not one might pray the chaplet, one simply cannot dispute the centrality of divine mercy in the Christian faith. This is true even in the Hebrew Scriptures, which people traditionally, though wrongly, accuse of presenting a grim and ruthless God, as prone to pettiness as we humans are. Consider, among other places, this day’s responsorial psalm, where the sacred speaker praises the Lord’s saving action on his behalf: “I was hard pressed and was falling but the Lord helped me” (118:13). In another psalm, “His mercy endures forever” is the refrain that runs throughout.
You may retort, “I thought the line was, ‘His love is everlasting’?” Well, what do the Dutch say: “Macht nichts" (Makes no difference)? Indeed, mercy and every other divine quality—even justice—is a reflection of the single, simple ray of Love, such that the only difference we make of it is but a reflection of our human complexity.
Mercy is the decision not to define us entirely according to our instances of unloving. As the second half of the Latin word misericordia suggests, mercy is a matter of the heart, which, according to Scripture, is not the place of feeling, but of identification and decision. It’s where we are. In our wretchedness and lack, God will be all.
Contrary to classic Lutheran doctrine, we are not totally corrupt. Insofar as God created us, we are good; we can never lose that identification with God and goodness, even though grave sin may harden our arteries to the point where love has no apparent way to flow. In such a sad soul, hell has begun well before physical death. If we identify our need and our desire for love and present ourselves to the Divine Physician, God can put in a stent or even bypass our spiritual sclerosis.
What is both mysterious and consoling is the supreme trust God has placed in His holy Catholic Church to dispense Divine Mercy primarily through the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, as well as Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick. From the time of Peter and the other Apostles, the Lord entrusted us fallible, human priests with the authority and command to forgive sins. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles depicts the many physical healings that took place at the Apostles’ hands. Peter’s shadow continues to fall upon the penitent who approaches with faith and reverence to be renewed in Christ’s abundant life.
Mercy further flows through the actions and words of the disciple who knows that forgiveness personally. “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus says, “so I send you. And when he had said this,” Saint John tells us, “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” to forgive and retain sins. And by the way, the only sins that are “retained” are those for which no forgiveness has been sought. In such a case, genuine forgetfulness to confess is not the issue; shameful pride is the real “silent killer.”
Do not, then, define yourself or anyone else in terms of sin, as “drunkenness incarnate” or “spitefulness incarnate” or “unbelief incarnate” or “pornography incarnate” or “theft incarnate” or “abortion incarnate,” for that is not who you are. Always, always, trust that you remain “God’s beloved,” one whom God desires to forgive, heal, and restore to His love and life.