I don’t know that I’ve revealed it much in this space, but I love Divine Mercy. It’s been a cornerstone of my personal spirituality and walk with Christ for the past several months. It started when I read a few excerpts from St. Faustina’s diary on a Divine Mercy app by the Marian Fathers. I was so swept up in the beauty of Christ’s merciful love that I couldn’t help but devote myself to it. I bought a copy of the Divine Mercy image as my legacy art piece for my first missionary year. I’ve bought several articles for myself that bear the image or the image of St. Faustina. And I can think of at least two occasions when the Divine Mercy image broke into my life in little but marvelous ways, as if Christ was rewarding or encouraging my devotion. I don’t have the space here to get into those occasions, but this Instagram post describes at least one of them.
If you’re not familiar with Divine Mercy, you really should be, so here’s a brief primer: In 1930s Poland, a young nun named Maria Faustia Kowalska began receiving revelations from Christ. These revelations centered on the depth of His merciful love toward sinners and His great desire for all people to trust in His mercy and grace. He entrusted Faustina with the special task of writing His words to her and doing whatever she could to spread the news of His mercy. During one of Jesus’ visits to Faustina, He appeared to her in her cell and instructed her to have an image painted according to His appearance during that visit; this image has since been called the Divine Mercy image. Again, I don’t have the space here to get into too much detail, as the Divine Mercy message and the revelations that St. Faustina received are too vast and numerous to fully capture on my own.
Divine Mercy captured me because, in the midst of a personal struggle to understand who Christ is and how He loves, it was the first idea I encountered that made Jesus’ love real and accessible to me. My anxieties and hesitations in rebuilding my relationship with Christ told me that Jesus grew weary of my weakness and was impatient and harsh with me because of my sins. Divine Mercy told me that my sins do not alienate Him from me; rather, they stir His compassion and His desire to help me. Divine Mercy told me that Christ does not tire of giving me second chance after second chance, that no matter what I do, He will always want to forgive me and to hold me close to Him.
You can imagine my delight, then, that Pope Francis has declared today until November 20, 2016 as a Jubilee Year of Mercy. A whole year of being invited and challenged to better understand, accept, and practice something I love so dearly! Yes! But beyond my personal attachment to Christ’s mercy, the Year of Mercy reminds me—and hopefully all of us—of two things (among many). First, we are sinners. We wouldn’t need mercy if we weren’t sinners. We live in a world that doesn’t want to acknowledge the reality of its sinfulness. Pope Francis’ declaration of a Year of Mercy invites us to remember that sin is real. We are all wayward sons and daughters, like the Prodigal Son in Luke’s Gospel who squandered his father’s gifts. We have all lost sight of our Father’s hopes and wishes for us, and we have turned to our own selfish wishes instead of to those of our God.
But it doesn’t have to end there. For the Year of Mercy also reminds us of the earth-shaking reality of God’s immense love for us, and it is precisely that love that causes Him to reach out for us. He is not content to let us wallow in our misery. The perfect, holy God looks at us poor sinners not with contempt, but with warmth, love, and a desire to welcome us back to Himself, just as the father did in the story of the Prodigal Son. And to do that, He took on flesh and fully immersed Himself in this fallen world, not to condemn it, but to redeem it and to invite it to share in His divinity as He shared in our humanity. What a scandal! But as impossible as it sounds, that is mercy. It is God’s love for us, weak and sinful as we are, in action.
When I first learned that this Year of Mercy was starting on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I was puzzled by Francis’ choice of starting day. Of all days, why this one? But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Choosing Mary to be set aside for His purposes, to be a sinless vessel, was one of God’s first steps in bringing Christ, the embodiment of mercy, into the world. He looked upon humanity and rather than deciding that we were too sinful to bear His Son, he chose someone just like us, Mary, to be His Mother. God’s decision to enter into the world as a person shows just how much He loves us. And it all started with Mary; He chose an entirely human way of entering into the world.
As the Year of Mercy begins, may you remember how deeply loved you are by God. May you understand that He is for you. May you find peace in knowing that your struggles aren’t too much for Him and that He longs to enfold you and to raise you to perfection if you only trust that His love is greater than your weakness, and even that, as Paul writes, His power is made perfect in weakness. His love is made perfect in our weakness—it is there that His mercy is most at home.