"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Why Divine Mercy Sunday?

Mercy is very unpopular in America today. To most people, it seems either naïve or presumptuous. Mercilessness is more respected and practiced than mercy. We are an extremely litigious lot; we set great store by a powerful military and regularly use it; overflowing with drug offenders and petty offenders, prisons can't be built fast enough. In marriages and in the workplace, we are slow to praise and quick to blame—so much so that a staggering amount of behavior can be explained as avoidance of blame—whether not the blame would be deserved. (Not for nothing does everybody with a job know what 'CYA' means.) Talk shows are filled with exposés and condemnations. We tend to think of the world, which means other people, as a very nasty place against which we must defend ourselves. As a result, life seems to get nastier all the time.

The antidote, would we but have it, is to receive and extend divine mercy. Accordingly, today's feast was instituted by Pope John Paul II on the basis of the apparitions of Christ to St. Faustina Kowalska in the 1930s. The image above is the one she believed herself commissioned to spread. (Its caption means: "Jesus, I trust in you.") As my desktop wallpaper, I use one derived from it. Along with it, I heartily recommend the late, great pope's encyclical Dives in Misericordia.

This whole phenomenon is a revival of old-fashioned Catholic piety at a time when many baby-boom and older Catholics, still contemning "the bad old days" that younger Catholics never knew, find all that sort of thing faintly embarassing. Contrarian that I am, it is partly for that reason that I like and observe it. But what to say to the unconvinced who, alas, include many priests?

More important than what I've opened by saying, here's part of what Jesus is alleged to have said to Sister Faustina:

On one occasion, I heard these words: My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.

On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. Everything that exists has come forth from the very depths of My most tender mercy. Every soul in its relation to Me will contemplate My love and mercy throughout eternity. The Feast of Mercy emerged from My very depths of tenderness. It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy.

[Let] the greatest sinners place their trust in My mercy. They have the right before others to trust in the abyss of My mercy. My daughter, write about My mercy towards tormented souls. Souls that make an appeal to My mercy delight Me. To such souls I grant even more graces than they ask. I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to My compassion, but on the contrary, I justify him in My unfathomable and inscrutable mercy. Write: before I come as a just Judge, I first open wide the door of My mercy. He who refuses to pass through the door of My mercy must pass through the door of My justice.

From all My wounds, like from streams, mercy flows for souls, but the wound in My Heart is the fountain of unfathomable mercy. From this fountain spring all graces for souls. The flames of compassion burn Me. I desire greatly to pour them out upon souls. Speak to the whole world about My mercy.

It's most interesting how such a theme contradicts what so many older Catholics think of as that of the bad old days. Everything that exists has its origin in the divine mercy, and Jesus wants to show us mercy even more, really, than most of us desire it. His justice will be visited in the end only on those who don't want his mercy. Can you find here the familiar image of the avenging God just waiting to zap us when we break the rules, which is usually taken to mean having sex with the wrong people and/or the wrong way, and omitting certain required pious acts? Neither can I.

Even so, one cannot desire mercy if one refuses to acknowledge that one needs it. For many Catholics these days, that is probably the biggest stumbling block to a relationship with God. If one does not agree with the Church about what in one's life is precluding or rupturing one's relationship with God, then one is not going to credit devotion to the Divine Mercy much, save perhaps as a sappily pious acknowledgement that God will bless "me" no matter what "I" choose to do. Notice use of the first person pronoun. Many people who believe they are not such great sinners as to need infinite mercy, who indeed sometimes doubt that any sin is so great as to close their hearts to salvation, also believe that others, such as those who sexually abuse minors, shouldn't get mercy because they don't deserve any. Well, nobody "deserves" mercy and nobody should be exempt from just civil laws. But one cannot appreciate either the virtue or the metaphysical reality of mercy without a humble, honest, well-informed sense of sin that begins with oneself. With that sense, we hate sin all the more yet love all sinners even as we acknowledge ourselves to be loved.
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