Don’t worry, I do realize everything comes down to the mercy of God. I don’t argue that, nor do I have any issue preaching on that profound and beautiful truth of the only One who saves us. It’s just that in the early days of my Priesthood, I had a problem understanding the devotion of Saint Faustina’s Divine Mercy. To begin with, when I was first ordained, there was no Saint Faustina. Sister Faustina was not proclaimed a saint by the Church until Pope John Paul II did so on April 30, 2000, making her the “first saint of the new millennium.”
Who is this Sister? Sister Faustina was a young, uneducated nun in a convent of the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland during the 1930s. She came from a poor family that struggled during the years of World War I. She had only three years of simple education, so she was given the humblest tasks in the convent, usually in the kitchen or garden. However, she received extraordinary revelations — or messages — from our Lord Jesus Christ. Sr. Faustina said that Jesus asked her to record these experiences she had with Him, which she compiled into notebooks. These notebooks are known today as the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, and the words contained within she says are God’s loving message of Divine Mercy.
The message is nothing new, but is a reminder of what the Church has always taught through Scripture and Tradition: that God is merciful and forgiving and that we, too, must show mercy and forgiveness. But in the Divine Mercy devotion, the message takes on a powerful new focus, calling people to a deeper understanding that God’s love is unlimited and available to everyone — especially the greatest sinners. Since we have been shown such merciful love, we also have to show mercy to our neighbors. Putting mercy into action is not an option of the Divine Mercy devotion, it’s a requirement! In 1931, St. Faustina heard Jesus ask that the first Sunday after Easter is to be celebrated as the Feast of Mercy and that He wished His image to be seen and venerated by all. In April of 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized St. Faustina and officially recognized the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.
So what is this image of Jesus’ Divine Mercy? (So What Does the Image Mean) Under the direction of St. Faustina and her confessor, Blessed Michael Sopocko, the artist Eugene Kazimirowski painted the image in 1934-35. Saint Faustina was not impressed, to say the least. She felt that the painted image was not even close in magnificence to the vision she had of our Lord. She wrote: “I felt very sad about it, but hid this deep in my heart…I went immediately to the chapel and wept a good deal. I said to the Lord, ‘Who will paint you as beautiful as You are?’ Then I heard these words: ‘Not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush lies the greatness of this image, but in My grace.’” (Diary, 313).
The Image of The Divine Mercy represents the Risen Christ whose hands and feet bear the marks of the Crucifixion. When asked about the meaning of the rays from His pierced Heart, she said that Jesus explained, “The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls… These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross.” (Diary, 299) In other words, these two rays signify the Sacraments of Mercy (Baptism and Penance), and the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the blood of souls, carrying life-sustaining food for our spiritual journey. The water is analogous to the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance, in that through these Sacraments our souls are washed clean (1 Cor 6:11).
Why do I bring all this up to you now? Because I have grown in my understanding of not only the grace of His Mercy, but also the tenderness of this personal devotion. A Catholic does not have to pray or even like this devotion. The devotion is not part of our essential Catholic dogma, but still I find myself attracted to praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at the hour of Mercy, 3:00 p.m.. Perhaps I started to like it even more during the time my father was sick and even on his deathbed, since it seemed to bring him such comfort. I also find comfort just repeating the devotional phrase over and over at times of worry or wonder: “Jesus I trust in You, Jesus I trust in You, Jesus I trust in You.” So whatever painting image of Jesus’ Divine Mercy you like (one of traditional ones from St. Faustina’s time, or from a contemporary artist like Stephen Whatley, Terezia Sedlakova), why not join in such a prayer of comfort and peace? Seems to me that next to the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be, what more do we need to say than Jesus I trust in You!
Enjoy your Merciful Easter,