It’s been just over thirteen years now since the death of Pope Saint John Paul II. He died on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday. For twenty-seven years he guided the Church and historians say that he was instrumental in the downfall of communism. With vigor and zeal he brought the Gospel message to all the populated continents of the world. But to understand this great pope we have to understand the world in which he grew up. Poland is a nation that’s suffered greatly through the centuries. Not once, but twice, it was obliterated from the map of Europe. No sooner was the world recovering from the horror of the First World War, when it was then plunged into the horror of the Second World War. Poland was home to many concentration camps and communism tried to instill itself into its very core.
This is the world into which St. John Paul was born and raised. Communists might try to overpower the nation, but it would never take Poland’s
faith. This faith carried the people through a most terrible of times. In 1905 it was into this same world that St. Faustina was born. The
experiences of our Holy Father were most surely the same experiences of this simple, Polish nun.
Born in Lodz, Poland Faustina or Helena as she was known then first felt the call to religious life at the age of seven while praying before the
Blessed Sacrament. At the age of nineteen she moved to Warsaw to join a religious community. She did no research she just got on a train
and went to Warsaw. She had no money. She visited different convents trying to see who would take her. She was rejected many times, but
eventually the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy decided to give her a chance, provided she could pay for her own habit.
At this convent Helena did the cooking, the cleaning, and the gardening. After a year she was formally accepted and she took the name Maria
Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament. The name Faustina means fortunate or blessed one. In February of 1931 she had her first vision of Jesus.
He appeared to her as the King of Divine Mercy, wearing a white garment with rays of white and red light emanating from his wounded heart.
Our Lord told her that she was to have an image painted according to this pattern with the inscription: “Jesus I trust in you.” She was also to
make known to the world that God’s mercy is unfathomable and unlimited and that the first Sunday after Easter is to be the Feast of Mercy.
Divine Mercy Sunday.
A nun for just over ten years Saint Faustina died in 1938 at the age of thirty-three. She was to be the first saint canonized in the 21st century
and at the Mass of Canonization St. Pope John Paul stated that: “By Divine Providence, the life of this humble daughter of Poland was
completely linked with the history of the twentieth century. In fact, it was between the First and Second World Wars, that Christ entrusted
His message to her. Those who remember, who were witnesses and participants in the events of those years, and the horrible
sufferings they caused for millions of people, know well how necessary was this message of mercy.”
As we look at the world around us, we are living through some of the same realities that have gone on before us: war, terrorism, tragedies, and
famine. The feeling of insecurity within us and around us is still very real. And, yet this also is a time of mercy. Mercy is a part of our faith
and the rays of God’s mercy are what give us hope. And the role of St. Faustina was simply to draw attention, in a very spectacular way, to the
truth that God is the God of Mercy, and, that Jesus Christ is our merciful Savior.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus appears to the disciple in the room where they were hiding in fear for their lives, and he greets them with the words,
“Peace be with you.” Not only are they filled with fear, but they are also filled with shame and guilt, for they recognize their sin in the presence
of the Risen Lord. They had abandoned him but Jesus doesn’t take the opportunity to scold or condemn them. Instead he greets them
with peace. This is the mercy of the Risen Jesus. At the very moment that the Apostles are supremely conscious of their weakness, when they
are filled with shame and guilt, this is the very same moment that Jesus chooses to communicate, his power, to communicate his mercy, and to
communicate his love. This is exactly what happens in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; we come to the Lord with our sins; he shows us his
mercy, and he gives us his peace.
Today, we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. And to put it simply divine mercy is God’s love for us in the face of our weakness; God’s love as
it comes in to contact with our sins, obliterating them; Divine Mercy is God’s love as it reaches down and touches our needs. And such a great
gift requires three responses on our part. The first is gratitude, we thank him always. The second is trust, we trust God in everything. And
third, if we have received mercy, then we must show mercy. If we have been forgiven then we must forgive. There is no other way.
We are living in a world that so desperately needs the mercy of God. The face of suffering that St. John Paul and St. Faustina witnessed is still
seen today. But we are a people of hope. The same faith that sustained countless numbers of our fellow human beings throughout history is
the same faith that brings us together today. The wounds borne by Christ risen and glorified are visible signs of suffering and death. And
these visible signs of suffering and death have been transformed into channels through which the grace of God flows out to lift the world from
darkness to light. And this is the message of divine mercy.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley