Previously published on April 30, 2014
Mercy is God’s ache for His children: a stream of unfailing love flowing from His heart towards ours. Through mercy, He woos us and invites us to exchange lesser loves for a double portion of His compassion.
The Greek word for mercy—‘eleos’—means ‘oil poured out’: Jesus’ life crushed like olives in order to become the antidote to our brokenness. That ‘ache’ of love is better conveyed by the Latin word for mercy–‘misericorde.’ ‘Miseri’ conveys the deep pity God feels toward us in His very depths, or ‘cor,’ which means ‘heart.’ From the core of His being, God aches with compassion for the sinful brokenness and salvation of His people.
St. Faustina Kowalska assumed Jesus’ ache for souls. Sensitive to human suffering from her birth in 1905, she began life as a peasant in a small Polish village. Early on she received God’s call to the religious life. Entering a convent at 18-years-old, she was an unspectacular nun; she dutifully fulfilled the mundane tasks expected of her and initially showed few signs of a rich mystical life. Yet she strove quietly to unite fully with the merciful God and to cooperate with Jesus in saving many souls through His mercy.
Jesus spoke to her continuously of His mercy. In the last four years of her life (she died at 33), she recorded the fruit of her mystical union with Him in a diary entitled ‘Divine Mercy in My Soul.’ This excerpt conveys well the goal of her short life: ‘Make known to souls the great mercy I [Jesus] have for them and exhort them to trust in the bottomless depth of My mercy.’
At the heart of her devotion to merciful Jesus and His children was a vision she received of ‘Divine Mercy’ in the form of the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One of His hands was raised in a gesture of blessing; the other touched the garment at His heart. From His heart emanated two large rays: one red (blood), the other pale (water). That healing flood conveys beautifully Christ Crucified (Jn. 19:34) when the pierced Jesus released a flood of blood and water as a healing flood; the vision equally conveys the Risen Christ when He appeared to His disciples in the Upper Room (Jn. 20:19) and initiated the forgiveness of sins as the first fruit of Resurrection.
St. Faustina conveyed her vision meticulously to an artist who painted what she saw. That image adorns churches and homes around the world; it expresses simply God’s tender and powerful mercies for us. Under that image, Jesus instructed her to write: ‘Jesus, I trust in You.’
That image and those simple five words sustained me during my conversion to the Roman Catholic faith. I had no idea that my shift from evangelical healer/leader to the Roman Catholic Church would provoke so much division between loved ones and myself. A friend sent me the Divine Mercy image and I hung it in my room. As friends and colleagues fell away, I would gaze at peaceful Jesus, pouring out His life for me, and quietly repeat: ‘Jesus, I trust in You…’ I had nowhere else to go. Sleep came only as I entrusted my burdens to Him. His mercy stilled my broken heart and slowly restored it.
My good friend Michael taught me to pray the Divine Mercy chaplet, a particular prayer God gave St. Faustina. It contains beautiful lines like: ‘You died Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls and an ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us…O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of Mercy for us, I trust in You!’ The most repeated line is ‘For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.’ When the DSM staff prays the chaplet, we substitute the word ‘us’ for particular ones bound to sexual sin who don’t yet realize how much they need His mercy!
St. Faustina initiated Divine Mercy Sunday, which is honored in the global church one week after Easter Sunday. Not a bad legacy for an uneducated peasant girl! There, all sinners are invited to partake of Divine Mercy through confession and refreshed devotion to Jesus. On my first such Sunday, I wept nonstop as I considered the tearing of Christ heart for our broken Church and even more broken world. No wonder Faustina was canonized by John Paul II in 2000, the first saint of the 3rd millennium. We need her message of mercy more than ever.