by Brother John Raymond
The fact that God is merciful should not surprise us. The Holy Bible has over 400 direct references to the Mercy of God. There are many more indirect references. Fifty-five of the Psalms praise God's Mercy. Belief in a Merciful God became one of the characteristics of the Jewish religion. We could almost call the Holy Bible the DIARY OF GOD'S MERCY toward mankind. The greatest act of God's Mercy toward mankind was to send His Son. We had lost the way to God, the truth about God and a life in God by our own fault. Jesus came to give us the Way, to give us the Truth and to give us new Life. Jesus taught us to be MERCIFUL as His Father is MERCIFUL. (Luke: 6:36) The Parable of the Prodigal Son is perhaps the most beautiful lesson of God's Mercy toward us. (Luke 15:32) The ultimate act of God's Mercy was the Passion and Death Jesus endured to pay OUR debt for sin. From His pierced Heart on the Cross began the institution of the Holy Catholic Church that shares the graces (or gifts) which Jesus has earned for us until the end of time. How easy God has made it for us, through the Sacraments of the Church, to receive His free gifts. In the Sacrament of Confession Jesus forgives us and strengthens us. His forgiveness cannot be exhausted since we can avail ourselves of this Sacrament again and again. Even greater is THE GIFT OF GIFTS - Jesus Himself Truly Present in the Holy Eucharist. In this Sacrament Jesus wants to share Himself totally with each of us.
Some of the Apostles and Evangelists make reference to God's Mercy in the New Testament. One example of this is St. Paul reference to God as "the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort." (II Cor. 1,3) But let us see what the saints and others have said about God's Mercy throughout history. The early teachers of the Faith, known as the Fathers of the Church, say that Our Lord saved the thief in the last hour of his life so that sinners might never doubt God's Mercy.
St. Athanasius (d.373) wrote, "It is the great Mercy of God that He becomes the Father of those to whom He is first the Creator."
St. Ambrose (d.397) stated, "Mercy, also, is a good thing, for it makes men perfect, in that it imitates the perfect Father. Nothing graces the Christian soul so much as mercy."
St. John Chrysostom (d.407) explained, "Everything that God does is born of His Mercy and His clemency."
St. Augustine (d.430) prayed, "I confess, O Lord, that Thou art merciful in all Thine acts. And this Saint explained that "God's Mercy is not lacking to any of His works" Also he wrote that "Man, created in the image of God, is not of the same nature as God, and therefore is not His true son, but he becomes His son through the grace of Divine Mercy." St. Augustine speaks of mercy "flying" after him as if on wings. This same Saint referred to the Holy Eucharist as the "Sacrament of Mercy."
St. Benedict (d.547) taught that one should "never despair of God's mercy."
Pope St. Gregory I (d.604) asked, "Are you a sinner? Then believe in His [God's] mercy, that you may rise."
St. Bernard (d.1153) taught that "God is not the Father of Judgement, but only the Father of Mercy, and punishment comes from our own selves."
St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) taught that God's mercy is the chief motive of all His external activity.
St. Gertrude the Great (d.1302) was even taught the identical chaplet to the Mercy of God as was Sr. Faustina.
St. Catherine of Siena (d.1380) prayed, "Oh, Divine
Mercy!...On every side which I turn my thought I find nothing but mercy." God the
Father said to her: "I gave My Word, My Only-begotten Son, because the whole. . .
human generation was corrupted...[that] He might endure suffering in that self-same nature
in which man had offended. . .so He satisfied My justice and My Divine Mercy. For My Mercy
willed to make satisfaction for the sin of man and to dispose him to that good for which I
had created him. . . My mercy is greater without any comparison
than all the sins which any creature can commit. . . it greatly displeases Me that they should consider their sins to be greater. Despair is the sin which is pardoned neither here nor hereafter, and it is because despair displeases Me so much that I wish them to hope in My mercy at the point of death, even if their life has been disordered and wicked."
The great English writer William Shakespeare (d.1616) wrote that "The quality of mercy is not strained, It droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven. . ."
St. Francis de Sales (d.1622) explained that "If God had not created man He would still indeed have been perfect in goodness, but He would not have been actually merciful, since mercy can only be exercised toward the miserable. . . Our misery is the throne of God's mercy."
Venerable Leonard Lessius (d.1623) said there were three major works of Divine Mercy: creating and preserving the world in existence, raising Man to a supernatural state of life with God in the Garden of Eden and the Redemption of the fallen human race by God's Son.
St. Margaret Mary (d.1690) was told by Our Blessed Lord, "Sinners shall find My Heart an ocean of mercy." Fr. Sopocko (the confessor of Sr. Faustina) said, "devotion to the Divine Mercy is the logical consequence of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus."
In our century Sister Benigna Consolata, an Italian Visitation Nun (d.1916), was told by Our Lord to say in her heart, "I have a Jesus, and I trust in Him," and "I am buried in the abyss of the Mercy of my Jesus."
Sister Josefa Menendez, a Spanish mystic (d.1923), was told by Our Lord about the infinite Mercy of His Heart for souls, for sinners and for the world. He referred to His Heart as an "Abyss of Mercy."
Dom Marmion, O.S.B. the great Benedictine Abbot (d.1923) wrote, "There is in God one perfection which is perhaps the key of all that befalls us here below: it is mercy. Mercy is love in the face of misery; if there were no misery, there would be no mercy. . . we shall be in Heaven the living witnesses of the Divine Mercy."
Pope Pius XII in his Encyclical about the Sacred Heart in 1956 stated that the love of God for men is a "merciful love."
Even with all these reminders throughout the history of His Mercy, God raised up a special Apostle of His Mercy, Sister Faustina, for our time, which surely needs this devotion. Helenka Kowalska was born in Glogowiec, Poland in 1905. Her father was a carpenter during the day and attended to the 12-acre family farm in the evening. With the outbreak of World War I schools were closed. Helenka received only a second-grade education. At the age of twenty Helenka entered the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy guided there by Our Lord's interior voice. When, on April 30th, 1926, Helenka received the religious habit to begin her novitiate she fainted. God had let her know how much she was to suffer by this commitment. She chose for her religious name Sister Mary Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament. On the evening of February 22, 1931, while in her cell Sister Faustina had a vision of Jesus clothed in white with one Hand raised in the gesture of blessing while the other Hand was touching His garments at His Heart. Two rays of light streamed out from His Sacred Chest, one red and the other white. He said, "Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the words `Jesus, I trust in You.' I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and [then] throughout the world. I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over [its] enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I Myself will defend it as My own glory" (Divine Mercy in my Soul: The Diary of Sister M. Faustina Kowalska, page 24, copyright 1987 Congregation of Marians, all rights reserved). Jesus went on to mention His desire for a Feast of Mercy. Sr. Faustina tried to paint this image herself but could not do it.
In 1933 Sr. Faustina met Fr. Michael Sopocko whom she had previously seen in a vision. He became her confessor and spiritual director. Our Lord said about him, "This is My faithful servant; he will help you to fulfill My will here on earth" (ibid, page 127). Fr. Sopocko was a seminary professor and did not have time to discuss the numerous spiritual experiences of Sister Faustina in the confessional. So he asked her to write down in a diary all that she considered to be the will of God which he would periodically read. She began to write the "Diary" in 1934. During this same year a painter finished the first image of the Divine Mercy which Our Lord had requested in 1931. During the celebrations of the Jubilee Year of the Redemption of the World, 1935, the image was venerated publicly at the Eastern Gate to the city of Vilnius (then part of Poland, now in Lithuania). By permission of the Archbishop the image was blessed and placed in St. Michael's Church in this same city on April 4th, 1937. In 1943 another artist painted the image for the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy based on the previous image and Sister Faustina's description. This image was placed in their Chapel in Cracow.
Fr. Sopocko told Sr. Faustina to ask Jesus about the meaning of the rays on the image. Jesus replied, "The two rays denote Blood and Water. The white ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls... These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross (ibid, page 139). [Note: the Fathers of the Church saw the Blood and Water as a symbol of the birth of the Church. Water represents the cleansing Sacraments of Baptism and Penance. The Blood - the life-giving Sacrament of the Eucharist.] On more than one occasion Sr. Faustina saw these rays come from the Sacred Host. Our Lord was teaching her that He dwells "in the tabernacle as King of Mercy" (ibid, page 165). On June 9th, 1935 Our Lord asked Sister Faustina to start a congregation that would proclaim His Mercy to the world and by prayer obtain that Mercy for the world. After Sister Faustina's death Fr. Sopocko began this congregation of sisters in 1941. In 1955 the Bishop officially established the "Congregation of the Most Holy Lord Jesus Christ, Merciful Redeemer," whose aim was to spread the Divine Mercy devotion and to assist the Church hierarchy.
On Friday, September 13th, 1935, Our Lord revealed to Sister Faustina the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Here is how to recite the Chaplet: Begin by praying one Our Father, one Hail Mary and the Apostles' Creed. Then on the large beads of the rosary say, "Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly-beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world." On the small beads say, "For the sake of His sorrowful Passion have mercy on us and on the whole world." Repeat these prayers throughout all five decades. Then at the conclusion say three times, "Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world" (ibid, pages 207,208).
Referring to this chaplet Our Lord said, "Whoever will recite it will receive great mercy at the hour of death. . .Even if there were a sinner most hardened, if he were to recite this chaplet only once, he would receive grace from My infinite mercy" (ibid, page 282). And again, "At the hour of death, I defend as My own glory every soul that will say this chaplet; or when others say it for a dying person, the indulgence is the same" (ibid, page 320). Sr. Faustina says about it, "The Lord let me know that everything can be obtained by means of this prayer" (ibid, page 417). In 1937 Fr. Sopocko published a holy card with the Divine Mercy Image on the front and this chaplet on the back.
In 1936 Jesus explained to Sr. Faustina the Feast of Mercy in detail. He said, "I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day. . . the soul that will go to Confession [this can be eight days before or after the Feast] and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. . . It is My desire that it [the Feast] be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter" (ibid, page 286).
It is interesting to note that the Gospel for the first Sunday after Easter is taken from St. John, Chapter 20, verses 19 through 31. In this particular passage Our Risen Lord institutes the Sacrament of Confession when He tells the Apostles that they have the power to forgive sins.
This same year Jesus asked for the Chaplet of Mercy to be prayed for nine days, beginning on Good Friday, to prepare for the Feast of Mercy. The following year, 1937, Jesus dictated specific intentions to Sister Faustina for each day of this nine day novena. Jesus wants us to immerse the souls mentioned in these intentions in the ocean of His mercy by praying the Chaplet of Mercy which begs His Father, on the strength of His bitter Passion, to grant graces to them.
First Day - "Today, bring to Me all mankind, especially all sinners, and immerse them in the ocean of My mercy. In this way you will console Me in the bitter grief into which the loss of souls plunges Me."
Second Day - "Today bring to Me the souls of priests and religious and immerse them in My unfathomable mercy. It was they who gave Me the strength to endure My bitter Passion. Through them, as through channels, My mercy flows out upon mankind."
Third Day - "Today bring to Me all devout and faithful souls and immerse them in the ocean of My mercy. These souls brought Me consolation on the Way of the Cross. They were that drop of consolation in the midst of an ocean of bitterness."
Fourth Day - "Today bring to Me those who do not believe in Me and those who do not yet know Me. I was thinking also of them during My bitter Passion and their future zeal comforted My Heart. Immerse them in the ocean of My mercy."
Fifth Day - "Today bring to Me the souls of the separated bretheren and immerse them in the ocean of My mercy. During My bitter Passion they tore at My Body and Heart, that is, My Church. As they return to unity with the Church My Wounds heal, and in this way they alleviate My Passion."
Sixth Day - "Today bring to Me the meek and humble souls and the souls of little children and immerse them in My mercy. These souls most closely resemble My Heart. They strengthened Me during My bitter agony. I saw them as earthly Angels who would keep vigil at My altars. I pour out upon them whole torrents of grace. Only the humble soul is able to receive My grace. I favor humble souls with My confidence."
Seventh Day - "Today bring to Me the souls who especially venerate and glorify My mercy and immerse them in My mercy. These souls sorrowed most over My Passion and entered most deeply into My Spirit. They are living images of My Compassionate Heart. These souls will shine with a special brightness in the next life. Not one of them will go into the fire of hell. I shall particularily defend each one of them at the hour of death."
Eighth Day - "Today bring to Me the souls who are in the prison of Purgatory and immerse them in the abyss of My mercy. Let the torrents of My Blood cool down their scorching flames. All these souls are greatly loved by Me. They are making retribution to My justice. It is in your power to bring them relief. Draw all the indulgences from the treasury of My Church and offer them on their behalf. Oh, if you only knew the torments they suffer you would continually offer for them the alms of the spirit and pay off their debt to My justice."
Ninth Day - "Today bring to Me souls who have become lukewarm and immerse them in the abyss of My mercy. These souls wound My Heart most painfully. My soul suffered the most dreadful loathing in the Garden of Olives because of lukewarm souls. They were the reason I cried out: `Father, take this cup away from Me, if it be Your will.' For them, the last hope of salvation is to flee to My mercy" (ibid, pages 435-442). Fr. Sopocko published a little pamphlet entitled; "Christ King of Mercy," which included this novena, the chaplet and the Litany to The Divine Mercy (which he composed).
Closely connected with the Feast and Image of Mercy are the "three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first - by deed, the second - by word, the third - by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy" (ibid, page 298). Our Lord said that the Feast and the Image of Mercy are to remind us of the demands of His mercy for "even the strongest faith is of no avail without works" (ibid, page 298).
During the year of 1937 Jesus first made mention of the "Hour of Great Mercy." He asked Sr. Faustina to immerse herself at three o'clock into His Passion and implore mercy for sinners. He promised that "in this hour I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of Me in virtue of My Passion" (ibid, page 474). Again, in 1938, Jesus reminded Sr. Faustina of the Hour of Mercy. He asked her to make the Stations of the Cross if possible during this hour or if possible to make a visit to the Most Blessed Sacrament or, if she was unable to do either of these, to pray wherever she happened to be even if only for a brief moment.
Our Lord called Sr. Faustina His Secretary and Apostle of Mercy. Her mission included the heroic practice of the mercy about which she wrote. Many times she shared in Our Lord's Passion including, at times, suffering the stigmata invisibly. Sr. Faustina was very much the object of satan's hatred. One day he told her, "a thousand souls do me less harm than you do when you speak of the great mercy of the Almighty One. The greatest sinners regain confidence and return to God and I lose everything" (ibid, page 426).
On August 24th, 1938, Sr. Faustina's tubercular condition became serious. She had been in and out of the hospital with this illness for the past two years. On October 5th Sr. Faustina told another sister that Jesus would come for her on that very day. At 10:45 PM she raised her eyes to Heaven and went to her Eternal Reward. She was buried in the convent cemetery in Cracow, the convent which became the center for the Divine Mercy devotion in Poland. Sister Faustina was beatified by Pope John Paul II on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 18, 1993.
Sr. Faustina had foretold World War II which came upon Poland not long after her death. The persecutions of this war forced many Polish people out of Poland, and they brought this devotion with them. Fr. Joseph Jarzebowski, a priest of the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception, fled to Lithuania after the fall of Poland in 1939. There Fr. Joseph met two priests who were former students of Fr. Sopocko. They told him about the devotion. When Soviet armies moved into Lithuania Fr. Joseph began praying to the Divine Mercy for protection. He went to Vilnius where he met Fr. Sopocko who gave him a manuscript on Divine Mercy. Fr. Joseph promised that if he arrived safely to the United States he would promote the devotion there. After arriving in May, 1941 Fr. Joseph kept his promise. Through his instrumentality the Marian Fathers established the Mercy of God Apostolate. The Marian Fathers were and are the principal means of this devotion spreading all over the world. By 1950 they were printing Divine Mercy prayer cards in 60 different languages and dialects.
Everything seemed to be going so well. But Sr. Faustina had foreseen in a vision that this work of Mercy would seem entirely finished and would lay dormant for a time. Then God would act to revive it. This prophecy was fulfilled to the letter. In 1959 the Sacred Congregation of The Holy Office prohibited the spreading of the devotion of Divine Mercy as revealed to Sr. Faustina, based on an inaccurate translation of Sr. Faustina's Diary. Images were removed from churches and priests stopped preaching about it. Still Fr. Sopocko and the Marian Fathers were allowed to write about the Mercy of God but they were restricted to using only a Scriptural and Theological foundation. The Archbishop of Cracow, however, allowed the Divine Mercy devotions to continue at Our Lady of Mercy convent. Fr. Sopocko wrote many books about Divine Mercy. Unfortunately he did not live to see its revival. He died at the age of eighty-five in 1975. Three years later in 1978 The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, now having in its possession many original documents on the devotion which were unknown to it before, lifted the prohibitions of 1959. This new decision came about through the informative intervention of the Archbishop of Cracow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla - who is now Pope John Paul II. This Holy Father's second encyclical was entitled "Dives in Misericordia" which refers to God Who is "Rich in Mercy."
In 1980 the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship approved a Votive Mass of The Mercy of God for use in Poland.
On Divine Mercy Sunday, April 30, 2000 Pope John Paul II proclaimed during the solemn ceremony for the canonization of Maria Faustina Kowalska that, in her honor, throughout the world, "The second Sunday after Easter will be designated Divine Mercy Sunday, a perennial invitation to the Christian world to face, with confidence in divine goodness, the difficulties and trials that await humankind in the coming years."
The Divine Mercy is open to everyone. Jesus told Sr. Faustina that "The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy" (ibid, page 292). He also told Sr. Faustina where to find this Mercy saying, "Tell souls where they are to look for solace, that is, in the Tribunal of Mercy" [the Sacrament of Reconciliation] (ibid, pages 511, 512). Finally we have to benefit from God's mercy now! We should not wait! Jesus said that His mercy "is a sign for the end times [now!]; after it will come the day of justice. While there is still time, let them [mankind] have recourse to the fount of My mercy; let them profit from the Blood and Water which gushed forth for them!" (ibid, page 333). Let us immerse ourselves in the Divine Mercy now!
For a free Mercy Packet from the Marian Fathers call
1-800-462-7426 (Canadian readers can call 1-800-344-2836) or write to:
The Marian Fathers
Stockbridge, MA 01263
(The quotations from the writings of Saints Ambrose, Benedict, Pope Gregory I and Frances de Sales are excerpts from "The Book of Catholic Quotations," selected & edited by John Chapin. Copyright 1956 by Farrar, Straus and Cudahy. The quotations from the writings of St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St. Bernard, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Margaret Mary, Fr. Sopocko and Dom Marmion, O.S.B. are taken from "The Mercy of God in His Works" by Fr. Michael Sopocko, S.T.D. Both this book and "Divine Mercy in my Soul: The Diary of Sister M. Faustina Kowalska" are available through the Marian Helpers Center, Stockbridge, MA 01263. The quotations from the writings of St. Catherine of Siena are from "The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena" translated by Algar Thorold and published by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc. All are quoted with permission.)