We owe the existence of this celebration on the octave day of Easter to the graced intervention of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, a young Polish religious born in 1905 who belonged to the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. In Saint Faustina’s famous Diary appear fourteen revelations of the Lord regarding the desired feast. At the canonization of Saint Faustina on April 30, 2000, Pope (now Saint) John Paul II declared: “This Second Sunday of Easter…from now on throughout the Church will be called ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’.”
I confess to knowing little about Saint Faustina in the past, and for a long time I was without the inclination to discover more. But then I attended a priest retreat in Ireland, and met there an impressive diocesan priest from Poland. He encouraged me to read Faustina’s Diary, promising that it would deepen my love for Jesus Christ like nothing else. He was right. I am so grateful for that holy priest’s fraternal counsel.
Wounds and mercy
The Gospel proclaimed on the Sunday after Easter is always the story of doubting Thomas Lin 20:19-31). What convinces us about the boundless mercy of God are the wounds of his Risen Son.
Saint Faustina recounts an encounter with Jesus four days after professing her perpetual vows:
After a moment, I saw the Lord, all covered with wounds; and he said to me, “Look at whom you have espoused.” I understood the meaning of these words and answered the Lord, “Jesus, I love you more when I see you wounded and crushed with suffering like this than if I saw you in majesty.” Jesus asked, “Why?” I replied, “Great majesty terrifies me, little nothing that I am, and your wounds draw me to your heart and tell me of your great love for me.”
One of our most difficult challenges is finding the courage to face those terrifying, lifelong wounds we scurry to keep buried inside us. They cripple us, discourage us, wrecking us with fear, with hopelessness that turns joy into a joke. But for once at Easter, we see ourselves as we are in the mirror of the wound-bearing Savior. And when mercy incarnate beckons, Bring your hand and put it into my side, those miraculous wounds free us from every sadness and despair. The wounds of Jesus woo us to the Great Love our heart was made for. Mercy, like every grace, always enters through a wound.
Mercy and misery
The Diary imparts another wise word about mercy:
A magnificent building will never rise if we reject the insignificant bricks. God demands great purity of certain souls, and so he gives them a deeper knowledge of their own misery.
So often we presume that our accomplishments, our merits, our greatness are the things that qualify us for, and catapult us into, sanctity. But divine mercy implores us to see: it is our littleness, our nothingness, our weakness, our powerlessness that God uses to create truly holy souls. The more we are aware of our own inability and insignificance, the better equipped we are to offer a precious, pure gift to divine mercy so that mercy can create something wondrous out of nothing. And nothing glorifies God more.
“…Close the window, close the door, don’t let anyone in. Allow his mercy to smile and pray within you. And when she weeps say nothing.”
Saint Faustina learned this the hard way. One day a superior confronted her with the reprimand, “Get it out of your head, Sister, that the Lord Jesus might be communing in such an intimate way with such a miserable bundle of imperfections as you! Bear in mind that it is only with holy souls that the Lord Jesus communes in this way!”
Sister Faustina, truly humbled by this, prayed to Jesus, who responded, “Be at peace, my daughter. It is precisely through such misery that I want to show the power of my mercy.” To believe in mercy is to withstand the seductive lies that would undermine our confidence in divine mercy. Jesus, I trust in you.
The Catholic author Georges Bernanos gives us priceless advice: “Yes, God’s sweet mercy is within you. Don’t ask her to explain herself, to justify herself. Don’t bore her with endless chatter and discussions. Close the window, close the door, don’t let anyone in. Allow his mercy to smile and pray within you. And when she weeps say nothing.”
Father Peter John Cameron, O.P. is Editor-in-Chief of Magnificat. He is also a playwright and director, the author of more than a dozen plays and many books including: Mysteries of the Virgin Mary: Living our Lady’s Graces, Made for Love, Loved by God, Praying with Saint Paul: Daily Reflections on the Letters of the Apostle Paul, Jesus, Present Before Me: Meditations for Eucharistic Adoration, and Benedictus: Day by Day with Pope Benedict XVI