It was Pope Saint John Paul II who declared this Sunday
to be “Divine Mercy Sunday.”
Now, it often happens
that popes will promote a particular devotion or spirituality.
And when they do, it’s not a matter of faith or morals,
so it’s not an exercise of their infallibility.
No one has to pray the Divine Mercy chaplet.
Still, it’s worth noting how this devotion
has caught the imagination of so many.
That suggests that the messages it is based on are genuinely from God.
It was a Polish nun, Saint Faustina, who, in 1931,
began receiving visions of Jesus,
telling her about his eagerness to forgive sins;
and later, she received messages about
creating the image that is displayed,
as well as the Divine Mercy chaplet.
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t a new message.
In the 1600s, it was the devotion to the Sacred Heart,
which was spurred by messages
received by another nun, another mystic, Saint Margaret Mary Aloque.
By the way, this is a good time to talk about
why the Church needs religious brothers and sisters.
We often talk about the priesthood.
I talk about it because it’s what I live.
But it’s important to realize how much the Church benefits
from the various religious communities
that have sprung up over the millennia.
Some of our religious societies got started
because someone saw a need and got to it.
Saint Vincent de Paul, for example, in helping the poor;
or Mother Seton, in fostering Catholic schools in this country.
Some of our religious congregations began around a way of life,
such as Saint Francis or Saint Clare.
Some were formed around a devotion to intense prayer,
such as the Benedictines;
some were about calling people to conversion, such as the Dominicans.
Faustina joined the Sisters of our Lady of Mercy.
She was drawn to them
as a result of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
The Lord spoke to her heart,
drawing her to a life of intense prayer and intercession for mercy.
Now, I can imagine that when men or women
consider entering religious life,
the thought comes to mind: well, what will you be doing with your life?
Don’t you want to do more than just…pray?
Can’t you just picture people saying such things to Faustina?
Or how about when Therese, the Little Flower,
revealed her longing to join the Carmelites?
Or Mother Theresa, when she entered religious life?
What do you think? Do you think these three women –
Faustina, the Little Flower, and Mother Theresa –
have made an impact?
And there are so many men and women we could add –
Saint Benedict, Saint Francis, Saint Katherine Drexel, and more –
who told their families they knew their call
was to give their hearts totally to Jesus,
in a life of prayer and caring for others.
They not only changed the Church; they changed the world!
We all needed Faustina to make herself available to the Lord in prayer;
not just a few minutes a day, but for hours. This became her life.
It’s not for everyone; everyone has a role to play,
and my vocation isn’t necessarily yours.
But I say it again: we all needed Faustina to answer the call she received.
And as a result, she became the Apostle of God’s Mercy.
And if you feel a call to the religious life, as with any other vocation:
you won’t find full happiness doing anything else.
The thing about the message of Divine Mercy –
in all the ways God has offered us mercy –
is that it only makes sense if we have something to be forgiven for.
If I saw in the paper that Gov. Kasich had granted me a pardon,
I’d be…concerned! I hadn’t known I needed one!
But if I did; I’d sure be grateful.
We all need God’s mercy. Not one of us can say, “I have no sin.”
But being reminded of God’s ready mercy
may help us face the truth about our sins.
Many carry a terrible weight of sin – God is eager to lift it.
Yet there are others who have a prior problem:
They don’t think they have all that much to be forgiven of.
That isn’t just other people. Quite a lot of Catholics think that way.
It’s an easy temptation. Oh, I’m sarcastic, occasionally;
I gossip…a little. I’m a little selfish. But that’s all.
This will never happen, but what if we had to bring our children,
or our spouse, a neighbor, or a coworker, to confession with us?
Do you think they might offer a rebuttal?
So the flip side of Divine Mercy is human honesty:
I am a sinner, in more ways than I care to admit.
The more I know myself that way, the more I come to God for mercy.
One of the things many people say they struggle with is forgiving – that is, giving mercy.
It reminds me of something that is certainly true, and I’ve seen it:
sometimes the most generous, and giving, people, are poor people.
I read a story last week about a man who travelled the world,
relying solely on others to give him food, shelter and transportation.
He told the story of meeting a homeless man,
who gave him food and clothing. Another beggar did that.
That’s how you become someone who freely forgives.