Divine Mercy — a Journey to the Heart of Jesus

By Sharon K. Perkins

NTC Columnist

4/26/2014

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The Image of Divine Mercy, painted byEugeniusz Kazimirowski in 1934 under the guidance of Maria Faustyna Kawalska. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

“Lord, have mercy!”  It’s an expression I’ve heard occasionally, used as a mild oath.  And yes — mild though it may be, it’s a sin against the Second Commandment about taking the name of the Lord in vain. But as a kid, I heard it from adults all the time, and didn’t think anything of it.

It wasn’t until my teens, when I began reading the Bible more, that I began to realize how often in Scripture the words “God” and “mercy” appear in the same sentence.  In college theology courses I learned about the Hebrew word hesed and how it appears in the Old Testament almost 250 times, with half of those occurring in the Psalms.  It became clearer to me that “mercy” was the attribute the God of the Hebrew Bible seemed to have in abundance. 

Although Israel’s repeated rebellion often resulted in harsh consequences, God’s judgments were always tempered with compassion.  God’s mercy, I imagined, was like a cushion preventing the full severity of his wrath from utterly destroying his disobedient people — sort of like the folded bedsheets that my husband stuck in his pajamas as a boy when he anticipated a well-deserved spanking.  The purpose of mercy was to soften the blow that Israel had coming to it.

But of course, that was Israel.  In my view, “mercy” usually applied to someone else in another place and time, and it was always directed toward more serious infractions.  My sins seemed fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  I believed God forgave them but God’s mercy — now that was reserved for the really big stuff.  Like a software program that has the right data but which is installed to run on the wrong operating system, I thought I had all the “facts” about God’s mercy, but I was operating in my daily life out of an entirely different way of thinking, hoping that God would show me mercy but acting as if he might not.

That’s why, in 2000, I was somewhat puzzled by Pope John Paul II’s designation of the Sunday after Easter as “Divine Mercy Sunday.”  I had heard of the “Divine Mercy Chaplet” and the Holy Father’s canonization of Sr. Faustina Kowalska, but why such a fuss about them?  Was it simply a Polish thing?  And if so, why was the Church Universal encouraged to embrace them?  And what was that image of Jesus with the red and white rays of light coming out of his chest?

When Pope John Paul II died in 2005 on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday and was later beatified in 2011 on the same feast day, I thought it was an interesting coincidence but I still didn’t quite understand it.  I still regarded the whole Divine Mercy thing as a nice devotion for Catholics who were on the “fringes” but a purely optional and not very relevant one for me.  The visions that St. Faustina recorded in her Diary were “private revelations,” and so I was not bound to assent to them in faith, even if EWTN did broadcast the Chaplet every single afternoon.

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Sharon and this group of friends from her parish studied about God’s great mercy together over a 10-week period. (Photo courtesy of Sharon K. Perkins)

About a year ago, however, I found my point of view gradually changing.  It wasn’t any one catalyst that I can recall.  I just started paying more attention.  If I was in my car at 3:00 p.m. (the “hour of mercy”) and listening to Catholic radio, I would pray the Chaplet along with the show’s host and hear callers’ personal stories of the miracles and graces that had occurred.  I learned more about the meaning of the Divine Mercy image — that in her encounters with Jesus, St. Faustina had been instructed to portray him with the rays of Divine Mercy pouring from his pierced heart, much as the blood and water had flowed from his side after his crucifixion.  I was also struck by the numbers of holy and prayerful (and apparently sane) persons I met who found great spiritual comfort and strength in their practice of the devotion. 

The pieces really started to fall into place for me when I joined a small group of friends at my parish in a 10-week retreat and book study of Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Fr. Michael Gaitley, a Marian priest of the Immaculate Conception.  The book was meant to be a follow-up to the act of Consecration to Jesus through Mary that we had done a few months before.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as I read, reflected, watched, and listened, the lights began to come on. 

God’s mercy really isn’t about God mitigating his punishment — although that is often how we perceive it in Scripture.  Rather, God’s mercy is the definitive form that divine love takes — a love that is so extravagant that it continually reaches out for each and every person, aching with longing for us to return his love — and nowhere is this more visible than in Jesus on the Cross. The physical torture of Jesus’ body produced great suffering indeed, but in his Passion he experienced immeasurable pain from “a heart that has loved so much yet receives so little love in return,” as he revealed to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. Despite his lavish outpouring of love, Jesus is still met with ingratitude, contempt, and apathy, and so his suffering continues with little consolation except from the gift of love which we freely offer in return.

The devotion of Divine Mercy, which quite simply acknowledges and expresses gratitude for that Divine Love which suffered so much for our sake, is based on a confidence and willingness to unite our hurts and disappointments, loneliness and woundedness, with his infinite sufferings, for the “sake of the whole world.” Our limited sufferings thus become a powerful source of healing and reconciliation for others as well as ourselves. This truth is at the heart of Easter and Jesus’ Paschal Mystery, of which we are not mere spectators but full participants.  

It took me a while to get on board — but I can now say that I am privileged to join with St. Faustina, St. Margaret Mary, and now Pope St. John Paul II, in this marvelous redemptive work of mercy.  “Jesus, I trust in You!”

Divine-Mercy-BUTTON.jpg“Lord, have mercy!”  It’s an expression I’ve heard occasionally, used as a mild oath.  And yes — mild though it may be, it’s a sin against the Second Commandment about taking the name of the Lord in vain. But as a kid, I heard it from adults all the time, and didn’t think anything of it.

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