The Great Adventure
Divine Mercy Sunday & St. John Paul II
by Thomas Smith
For me, the meaning and significance of Mercy is inseparable from the person of St. John Paul II. As a Former Baptist minister received into the Church twenty years ago, I thought I had a good handle on the Mercy of the Lord. But I remember distinctly the first time I read St. John Paul II’s 1981 encyclical Dives Misericordia (Rich in Mercy). I was floored. The holy father guided me through the power and presence of Mercy throughout all of the Sacred Scriptures. He demonstrated mercy in remarkable and concrete ways, like forgiving and meeting with his would-be assassin. In word and deed, St. John Paul II stunned, nourished, challenged and motivated me to become a teacher and practitioner of God’s Mercy. I’m still a work in progress on both counts, but I have experienced the profound impact of the Church’s message of mercy on audiences around the world, in spite of being it’s inadequate messenger.
I rejoiced with many Catholic when the pope announced the establishment of Divine Mercy Sunday as a new title for the Octave Sunday of Easter, grounding this important characteristic of God in the liturgical consciousness of the people of God. For him, God’s Divine Mercy “is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers humanity at the dawn of the Third Millennium” (Homily on Mercy Sunday, 2001). This amazing gift was unexpectedly announced at the canonization of St. Faustina, the Apostle of Divine Mercy, the first saint of this new millennium, setting the tone for the centuries to come.
In retrospect, it isn’t so surprising that by God’s providence, our beloved pope would enter God’s kingdom on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday. It was such a fitting end to an amazing life of mercy incarnate.
What many do not know is that St. John Paul II had been anticipating preaching a homily on Divine Mercy Sunday 2005 at a new parish in Albis, Rome. It was dedicated to God, the Merciful Father. We all watched with grief as his health rapidly declined during that Lent of 2005. He began to prepare his homily for the event, what some believe may be the last handwritten lines of our saintly pontiff. He left this world hours before it was to be delivered.
It would be his successor, Benedict XVI, who would deliver to that community the pope’s final words. In fact Pope Benedict called them St. John Paul II’s spiritual last will and testament. It’s clear he didn’t intend them solely for a parish in the suburbs but for all of us. It represents his final mercy mandate to the world. “”To humanity, which sometimes seems bewildered and overwhelmed by the power of evil, selfishness and fear, the Risen Lord offers his love that pardons, reconciles and reopens hearts to hope. It is a love that converts hearts and gives peace.”
Ten years later, with the emergence of unimagined evils perpetrated by groups like ISIS and others, we may be more overwhelmed than ever. Jesus and the Gospel are our only hope. He continued, “How much the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy!…Jesus I trust in You, have mercy upon us and upon the whole world.”
This Divine Mercy Sunday invites us each to evaluate our lives in light of St. John Paul II and the Church’s profound message of mercy. Take a few moments to reflect on the meaning of your life, evaluate your plans and goals. Consider where you spend your attention, energy and affection. Gathered together would a fitting summary of your life be, “Here was one who modeled God’s Divine Mercy in prayer, word and deed. Here was one who loved, forgave, pardoned, reconciled and reopened hearts to hope”? Will you pray that will be said of me? It is my prayer for you, and it is certainly possible by God’s grace and the intercession of St. Faustina and St. John Paul II.