Mercy, and How to Get It

Easter Sunday is a week behind us, but we have a long time yet to enjoy the Easter season after our penitential Lent. Rejoice! And on the second Sunday of Easter we will be celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday, added to the Church calendar by the great St. John Paul himself, Polish compatriot of St. Faustina, to whom Our Lord entrusted the message of Divine Mercy.

In God’s Providence, it is no accident that St. John Paul died on the eve of that great feast. By early adulthood, he had already suffered greatly from the deaths of his parents and his older brother, and also from the Nazis, whose invasion of Poland in 1939 provoked World War II and whose eventual defeat and withdrawal from Poland only made room for the nation’s subsequent decades-long Communist domination as a Russian satellite.

How happy St. John Paul must be in Heaven to see that his second successor as supreme pontiff, Pope Francis, has chosen to designate a Year of Mercy. Yesterday, during vespers, the pope officially announced that the Year of Mercy is to begin on December 8, 2015, the 50th anniversary of the end the Second Vatican Council (and the feast of the Immaculate Conception).

Between now and December, we should think about how we can live this year so as to better learn both to receive mercy and to give it to others. And certainly we all need it. Has the world ever been in worse shape? There are reasons you’d think not. Just look at the breakdown of marriage throughout the world and the attempt to change the definition of marriage to include something that in nature is impossible: same-sex marriage.

As if this were not enough, the world is plagued by pornography and the ongoing loss of religious freedom, not only in far-away Muslim countries (where the rise of merciless Islam is destroying traditional cultures and thousands of innocent families, Christian and Muslim) but increasingly in Europe and the United States also (look at the response to Indiana’s religious freedom law).

And of course there is the ongoing legal slaughter of innocent babies in the womb, a horror that, repeated year after year, decade after decade, can dull our natural reactions or at least incline many to hopeless acceptance of the status quo.

What can be done? Of course prayer is essential, and also each one of us as citizens should do our best where we live to bring Christian mercy to those who need it most.

Adolf Hyla’s “Divine Mercy” (1943) at the tomb of Saint Faustina, Convent of Our Lady of Mercy, Cracow-Lagiewniki, Poland [JEZU UFAM TOBIE (Jesus, I trust in You)]
Adolf Hyla’s “Divine Mercy” (1943) at the tomb of Saint Faustina, Convent of Our Lady of Mercy, Cracow-Lagiewniki, Poland [JEZU UFAM TOBIE (Jesus, I trust in You)]
We should start with ourselves, however, seeking God’s mercy for own sins on a regular basis in the sacrament of Confession. Then, by our actions and example we should pass on this mercy, given to us by Jesus himself in one of his sacraments at the cost of his own suffering and death. We should speak to our friends, relatives, and neighbors about the joy that comes of knowing our sins are forgiven in this truly holy sacrament.

Unfortunately, this joy has been lost to the sons and daughters of the Protestant Reformation. Talk to them about the greatness of knowing one is forgiven and also of that other great sacrament of mercy, the Eucharist, in which Jesus Christ intimately shares with us his Body and Blood in the holy Mass.

The world must be reconciled to God through the sacraments. We know neither the day nor the hour when we will be called to be judged by Christ the King and receive our place in the next life, whether that place is Hell (please, not!) or Heaven, where God wants us to be. Part of our judgment will have to do with how and to what extent we have made a gift of self to family and friends in our efforts to share our faith with others.

I believe that in the last two centuries the world has been more wicked than it has been since the coming of the Christian faith.

As we know, the Holy Father himself will be coming to the United States in September to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, visit Washington, and address the world at the United Nations in New York City. What he says and does will likely give us much to reflect upon as we approach the beginning of the Year of Mercy. Therefore let us use the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is the sacrament of mercy, and the Eucharist, and make use of the graces we receive not only to amend our own lives, but to show our love and forgiveness to all.

If we use these only real means, and share them generously with others, our joy will grow and become evident to those around us. They will ask us why we are so happy and we will be able to reply, “Because of my love of Jesus Christ and his holy Church!” May God help us to be merciful to all around us and also to ourselves.

Fr. C. John McCloskey (1953-2023) was a Church historian and Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute.