In this issue:
Considered a mystic, St. Faustina Kowalska spread the message of divine mercy in her personal journal called "Divine Mercy in My Soul."
Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated the first Sunday after Easter. As the popularity of the day has grown, more churches are using the day to remind parishioners about the power of mercy, confession and forgiveness.
St. Faustina's message reverberated in St. John Paul II's heart. During the homily for her canonization on April 30, 2000, the pope declared Divine Mercy Sunday to be celebrated worldwide.
By David Gibson/Catholic News Service
Known as the apostle of divine mercy, St. Faustina Kowalska brought the message of God's deep and passionate love for all of humanity.
At her canonization, St. John Paul II said, "The life of this humble daughter of Poland was completely linked with the history of the 20th century. ... Christ entrusted his message of mercy to her. ... It is not a new message but can be considered a gift of special enlightenment that helps us to relive the Gospel of Easter more intensely."
Faustina was born in 1905 to a poor peasant family in a small village in Poland. Named Helen, she was the third of 10 children. Her family lived on a 14-acre working farm, and her father also worked at a brewery to provide for the needs of the family. Despite their poverty, her parents taught their children the importance of living out their Catholic faith in daily life.
From a young age, Helen always felt drawn to the religious life, but she experienced many obstacles in getting to the convent. In her diary she wrote, "From the age of seven, I experienced the definite call of God, the grace of a vocation to the religious life. … I heard God's voice in my soul; that is, an invitation to a perfect life."
Helen joined the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Warsaw on Aug. 1, 1925, where she took on the name Sister Maria Faustina. She wrote in her diary that she felt immensely happy: "A single prayer was bursting forth from my heart, one of thanksgiving."
Despite the joy she felt in becoming a religious sister, she had many trials and struggles, including tuberculous, which lead to her early death.
Considered a mystic, Faustina spread the message of divine mercy in her personal journal called "Divine Mercy in My Soul." Over 600 pages long, the diary is full of personal insights, interactions and accounts of mystical experiences with Christ and Mary.
The diary details aspects of the divine mercy devotion.
The Feb. 22, 1931, entry of her diary states that Christ instructed Faustina to have an image painted like the one she saw in her convent cell that night. He told her, "Paint me an image … with the signature: 'Jesus, I trust in you.'"
The image depicts Jesus with two bright rays of light, one red and the other white, flowing from Christ's heart. The lighter ray symbolizes water, which "makes souls righteous" and the red ray symbolizes blood, which is "the life of the souls."
According to Faustina, there are special graces for those who pray before this image. "By means of this image I shall be granting many graces to souls; so let every soul have access to it," Christ told her.
Christ also instructed Faustina that there should be a great feast day to celebrate his mercy.
Known as Divine Mercy Sunday, this feast day falls on the first Sunday after Easter, pointing to the close relationship between the paschal mystery and God's mercy. "I desire that the feast of mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners," Christ told her.
Special graces are available on this feast day, and Faustina presented the conditions for receiving these graces. Most important, she writes, one must be in a state of grace, have gone to confession and received holy Communion.
Another aspect of the divine mercy devotion is the chaplet of divine mercy, which is prayed on the beads of a rosary.
The prayer, beginning with, "I offer you the body, blood, soul and divinity of your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ," unites us to the crucifixion.
Another line from the prayer states: "For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world." This powerful phrase is the backbone for the chaplet and the driving force for why we pray it, for the people in our lives, loved ones, friends, family members and the whole world.
Another aspect of the devotion, the "hour of mercy," observed at 3:00 p.m., is the customary time Christians remember Christ's death on the cross.
"It was the hour of grace for the whole world -- mercy triumphed over justice," Faustina recorded in her diary. Pray the Stations of Cross, go to eucharistic adoration or "immerse yourself in prayer there where you happen to be, if only for a very brief instant," Christ instructed Faustina.
One other aspect of divine mercy is spreading the devotion and the hour of mercy. "Souls who spread the honor of my mercy I shield through their entire life as a tender mother her infant, and at the hour of death I will not be a judge for them, but the merciful savior," Christ said to her.
We are called to be an active member in sharing this message by living a life of deeds, words and prayers of mercy. When we show mercy and love to others, Christ is merciful toward us.
The divine mercy message is a message of hope for all sinners, helping us to grow in trust of Our Lord and teaching us how to be people of mercy.
(Jaminet is a Catholic author, speaker, radio personality, wife and mother of seven children. She is the author of "The Friendship Project" and co-author of "Divine Mercy for Moms." Her website is www.emilyjaminet.com.)
By Kelly Bothum/Catholic News Service
Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated the first Sunday after Easter, but for many parishes in the U.S. bearing the name Divine Mercy, the message of God's healing mercy is one heard throughout the year.
As the popularity of the day has grown, more churches are using the day to remind parishioners about the power of mercy, confession and forgiveness.
At Divine Mercy Parish in Vineland, New Jersey, the feast is an opportunity to draw parishioners closer together.
The church, which draws predominantly from Puerto Rican, Mexican and Dominican communities, is planning a bilingual event that includes a procession and Mass, followed by prayer of the divine mercy chaplet and a speaker offering ways to share God's mercy with others, said Sister Mary Lou Cardenas, a Missionary Daughter of the Most Pure Virgin Mary, who is organizing the day's festivities.
"I tell them this is not a celebration of one day. This is a celebration of the entire parish," Sister Cardenas said.
Sister Cardenas said for the last two years there has been an active group of parishioners with an ongoing devotion to their namesake. Nearly 100 families have taken turns bringing the divine mercy image -- an image of Jesus with red and white rays extending from his heart -- into their home for a weeklong devotion and prayer of the chaplet.
"It spreads our message of mercy, which is for us all," Sister Cardenas said.
It's not one day but a weekend celebration at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where about 20,000 people are expected to visit for Divine Mercy Sunday, said Marian Father Anthony Gramlich, shrine rector. Mass is televised live, but even the cameras can't capture the sea of people from all over the world who come to share the experience.
"Just the message of divine mercy itself is very attractive to people," Father Gramlich said. "It's an invitation to come back to God, to come back to the church, to reconcile. People are drawn to that."
It takes about seven months to plan Divine Mercy Sunday and another month for wrapup, Father Gramlich said. A team of 600 volunteers helps coordinate the event, which also includes a whole medical team.
Divine Mercy Sunday is an outdoors event at the shrine, which can be tricky in western Massachusetts, even in the spring. One year, five inches of snow fell and there were still 175 buses filled with pilgrims, Father Gramlich said.
"We have mud, rain, snow, cold. Even in the worst of conditions, people still come," he said, noting that the crowds surged after St. Faustina's canonization in 2000. "We actually tell people to celebrate divine mercy in their own parishes. But for some people, they want to be there in the crowd to really see what it's like."
By comparison, Divine Mercy Sunday is a more low-key celebration at Divine Mercy of Our Lord parish in Mesquite, Texas. The church plans a sung bilingual chaplet of divine mercy, followed by Stations of the Cross. The lack of a big celebration is intentional.
"We find that many churches in the area also hold events on Divine Mercy Sunday," said Stephen Foster, pastoral associate. "To allow the greatest participation in our event, we try not to pull parishioners away from their home churches on Divine Mercy Sunday."
More of the parish's divine mercy celebrations are held during Lent, Foster said, including two-day conferences held in English and Spanish. The Spanish events are so popular they are held at the Mesquite Convention Center to be more accommodating.
Whether it's a massive event at the shrine or an intimate service in a small church, Divine Mercy Sunday offers an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with God. "We want people to have that mercy come into their lives and transform them and then for them to take the message and share it with others at home," Father Gramlich said.
(Bothum is a freelance writer and a mother of three.)
By Marge Fenelon/Catholic News Service
There are many notable things about the life and papacy of St. John Paul II, but the most notable is his devotion to divine mercy. In 1980, he wrote an entire encyclical on it, "Dives in Misericordia" ("Rich in Mercy"), in which he outlines the truth and meaning of mercy from biblical times to the present and beyond.
In it, he states mankind's mission of mercy. "The church must profess and proclaim God's mercy in all its truth, as it has been handed down to us by revelation," he wrote. He took this task upon himself becoming for many the champion of divine mercy.
Not surprisingly, he seemed to have found in St. Faustina Kowalska a kindred spirit. She was a humble, uneducated and holy nun of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland who received extraordinary revelations of Our Lord. Jesus instructed Faustina to record his messages of God's divine mercy. She did and compiled them into a diary.
Faustina's message reverberated in John Paul II's heart, as he demonstrated in his homily at her canonization on April 30, 2000.
"And you, Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole church, obtain for us an awareness of the depth of divine mercy; help us to have a living experience of it and to bear witness to it among our brothers and sisters.
"May your message of light and hope spread throughout the world, spurring sinners to conversion, calming rivalries and hatred and opening individuals and nations to the practice of brotherhood.
"Today, fixing our gaze with you on the face of the risen Christ, let us make our own your prayer of trusting abandonment and say with firm hope: Christ Jesus, I trust in you! 'Jezu, ufam tobie!'" he said.
At the same time, John Paul II declared Divine Mercy Sunday to be celebrated worldwide on the Sunday after Easter.
In 2002, the apostolic penitentiary of the Holy See issued a decree granting a plenary indulgence to those who comply with all the established conditions (confession, Communion and praying for the pope's intentions) and a partial indulgence to those who incompletely fulfill the conditions.
This was in accordance with Jesus' own wishes as told to Faustina. Together, these two papal acts are the highest endorsement the church can give to a private revelation.
In his 2001 homily on Divine Mercy Sunday, John Paul II pointed to the revelations of Faustina as "the appropriate and incisive answer that God wanted to offer to the questions and expectations of human beings in our time, marked by terrible tragedies. ... Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity at the dawn of the third millennium."
His confidence in divine mercy never waived. Throughout his life, he not only promoted it, but he personified it. As if to crown his work, providence saw to it that John Paul II died on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday 2005. He was canonized on April 27, 2014.
(Fenelon is a freelance writer from Milwaukee. Her website is http://margefenelon.com).
To prepare for Divine Mercy Sunday, Catholics can pray a novena beginning on Good Friday, nine days before the feast of mercy.
St. Faustina Kowalska recorded a mystical experience in her diary, "Divine Mercy in My Soul," where Christ first told her to spread this devotion. "By this novena, I will grant every possible grace to souls," he said.
During the novena, the chaplet of the divine mercy is prayed using the beads of a rosary and there are additional prayers specific to the intention of each of the nine days.
"All mankind, especially all sinners" is the focus of the first day. "The souls of priests and religious" is the intention of the second.
The third day, prayers are directed to "all devout and faithful souls," while the prayers for the fourth day focus on "those who do not believe in God and those who do not yet know (Christ)."
Catholics pray for those who have "separated themselves" from the church on the fifth day of the novena.
Christ told Faustina to "bring to me the meek and humble souls and the souls of little children" in prayer on the sixth day.
On the seventh day, Catholics pray for those who "especially venerate and glorify (Christ's) mercy."
The eighth day focuses on the souls in purgatory, and the ninth day has prayers for those "who have become lukewarm" in their faith.
Find the novena here: http://www.thedivinemercy.org/message/devotions/novena.php.