My dear brother and sisters,
I write to you on this Divine Mercy Sunday with the happy news that Pope Francis formally announces today a “Holy Year of Mercy” to begin on 8th December 2015 under the patronage of Mary, the Mother of Mercy. The message of mercy has been central to Pope Francis’ pontificate, as it was to that of Saint John Paul II who inaugurated this Sunday after Easter as Mercy Sunday and who canonized the Polish visionary of God’s mercy, Saint Faustina.
As we prepare for this Holy Year, it is important to remember God’s mercy is his unfailing attitude and actions towards the least deserving, and especially the spiritually poor. Mercy never abandons us in the misery of our sins by pretending sin doesn’t matter. This is not the mercy of God. We may easily give up on each other and believe ourselves incapable of the call to holiness; but God never ceases to call us and to offer us his grace which is “the free and undeserved help that God gives to those who respond to his call” (CCC 1996). In the Gospel we see how Christ does not give up on Saint Thomas, despite all of his refusals to accept Divine mercy (cf. Jn. 20: 19-31). Likewise, Our Lord will never cease to call each of us to rise again from wherever sin has brought us down.
Our Christian life begins with an act of mercy, an act of rescue in Baptism. And this work of rescue becomes the pattern of our life in Christ. Since our Christian lives are always lived at a crossroads, the Catechism describes: “There are two ways: the one of life, the other of death”’ (CCC 1696). In the readings at Mass today Saint John tells us that loving God is keeping his commandments “and his commandments are not difficult, because anyone who has been begotten by God has already overcome the world; this is the victory over the world – our faith” (I John 5:3-4). The Church always puts before us the distinction between the way of Christ leading to life and the false path which leads to death. However, God’s mercy does not abandon us even if we follow the lure of the false path. His mercy goes before us; it also follows us, as Saint Augustine taught. This call is compared in the Catechism to ‘Jesus’ look of infinite mercy’ that ‘drew tears of repentance from Peter’. It is this gaze of love that leads each of us through a process of ‘uninterrupted’ conversion as God makes our hearts new (see CCC 1428-1432). The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation entrusted to the Church on Easter day is the merciful means by which we continue to choose life and bring all of our unruly thoughts, words and actions into conformity with Christ. We must give thanks today for this great Sacrament of Mercy!
The Father of Mercies continues to rescue us and helps us conform our thoughts, our words and our actions to the life of his Son, since it is only in this Divine life that we can ultimately find happiness. At the same time the Church teaches us how the gift of the Holy Spirit ‘renews us interiorly…’ and ‘enlightens and strengthens us to live as “children of light” through “all that is good and right and true”’ (CCC 1695). Mother Church also sets before us a well-established path so we may unite ourselves to Christ and follow this way of mercy: the path is called the ‘works of mercy.’ The works of mercy help us respond to the generous mercy of God. Many of us will have been taught them from our earliest years and we will return to them in the Holy Year ahead. The seven corporal works of mercy are: 1. Feed the hungry. 2. Give drink to the thirsty. 3. Clothe the naked. 4. Shelter the homeless. 5. Visit the sick. 6. Visit the imprisoned. 7. Bury the dead. And the seven spiritual works of mercy are: 1. Counsel the doubtful. 2. Instruct the ignorant. 3.Admonish sinners. 4. Comfort the afflicted. 5. Forgive offences. 6. Bear wrongs patiently. 7. Pray for the living and the dead. These works mark-out the path by which we must each seek to be merciful ‘as our Father is merciful’ (Lk 6:36). On this Sunday of Divine Mercy – as we look forward to the Holy Year of Mercy – may we know in our lives the mercy of God and be able to wholeheartedly repeat that simple prayer of Saint Faustina: “Jesus, I trust in you.”
Wishing you the great joy of Easter, + Mark Bishop of Shrewsbury
About today’s Feast of Divine Mercy
“On March 25th, in the morning, during meditation, God’s presence enveloped me in a special way, as I saw the immeasurable greatness of God and, at the same time, His condescension to His creatures. Then I saw the Mother of God, who said to me, ‘Oh, how pleasing to God is the soul that follows faithfully the inspirations of His grace!’
‘I gave the Saviour to the world, as for you, you must speak to the world about His great mercy and prepare the world for the second coming of Him who will come, not as a merciful Saviour, but as a just judge. Oh, how terrible is that day! Determined is the day of justice, the day of divine wrath. The angels tremble before it.’
‘Speak to souls about this great mercy while it is still the time for mercy. If you keep silent now, you will be answering for a great number of souls on that terrible day. Fear nothing. Be faithful to the end. I sympathize with you.’”
During the course of Jesus’ revelations to Saint Faustina on the Divine Mercy He asked on numerous occasions that a feast day be dedicated to the Divine Mercy and that this feast be celebrated on the Sunday after Easter. The liturgical texts of that day, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, concern the institution of the Sacrament of Penance, the Tribunal of the Divine Mercy, and are thus already suited to the request of Our Lord. This feast, which had already been granted to the nation of Poland and been celebrated within Vatican City, was granted to the Universal Church by Pope John Paul II on the occasion of the canonization of Sr Faustina on 30 April 2000. In a decree dated 23 May 2000, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments stated that “throughout the world the Second Sunday of Easter will receive the name Divine Mercy Sunday, a perennial invitation to the Christian world to face, with confidence in divine benevolence, the difficulties and trials that mankind will experience in the years to come.” These papal acts represent the highest endorsement that the Church can give to a private revelation, an act of papal infallibility proclaiming the certain sanctity of the mystic, and the granting of a universal feast, as requested by Our Lord to St Faustina.
Concerning the Feast of Mercy Jesus said:
Whoever approaches the Fountain of Life on this day will be granted complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. (Diary 300)
I want the image solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter, and I want it to be venerated publicly so that every soul may know about it. (Diary341)
This Feast emerged from the very depths of My mercy, and it is confirmed in the vast depths of my tender mercies. (Diary 420)
On one occasion, I heard these words: My daughter, tell the whole world about My Inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.* [our emphasis] On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. Everything that exists has come forth from the very depths of My most tender mercy. Every soul in its relation to Me will contemplate My love and mercy throughout eternity. The Feast of Mercy emerged from My very depths of tenderness. It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy. (Diary 699)
Yes, the first Sunday after Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to our neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to absolve yourself from it. (Diary 742)
I want to grant complete pardon to the souls that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion on the Feast of My mercy. (Diary 1109)
The Lord’s desire for the feast includes the solemn, public veneration of the Image of Divine Mercy by the Church, as well as personal acts of veneration and mercy. The great promise for the individual soul is that a devotional act of sacramental penance (within 20 days of Divine Mercy Sunday) and Communion will obtain for that soul the plenitude of the Divine Mercy on the feast.