As we enter into the trauma of Christ’s passion, and experience the full realization that each of our failures in love joins the aggregate of sins that press the human life out of Jesus, the Church reminds us of our approach to Divine Mercy. We walk with Jesus this week in his agonies, his free choice to suffer beyond our imagination, as the sacrifice for our sins.
But, at the same time, we know that the blood and water that flowed from Jesus wounds not only heal us but open up a wellspring of mercy for our ongoing healing and transformation. The ocean of mercy that pours forth from Christ’s sacrifice forms a river that cleanses us and draws us on the divine current through the pathways of this earthly life toward our home in heaven.
The Church’s mysteries offer us a series of paradoxes — how is Christ’s passion “Good;” how can God be both three and one; how did Christ take on the sins of the whole world in the crucifixion and continue to do this as we keep sinning over time; how does the bread and wine become Christ’s body? As an English teacher, I love to explore literary paradoxes with my students, those seeming contradictions which reveal deeper truths. Christ’s passion and Divine Mercy, like the darkness that followed his death and the light that breaks through the Resurrection, stand as a beautiful paradox that offers deeper truths.
Divine Mercy Novena
Today begins the Novena to Divine Mercy, starting on Good Friday and ending on Divine Mercy Sunday. And this year, we welcome into the fullness of sainthood our beloved Pope John Paul II. What a perfect time to reflect on his encyclical, Dives in Misericordia (“Rich in Mercy). The EWTN site has an easy to follow guide to the prayers and specified intentions for each day of the Divine Mercy Novena.
I particularly love the closing prayer:
Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.
(St.) Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Rich in Mercy”
John Paul II first establishes the typological foundation of Christ’s mercy in the very act of Creation, through Old Testament references, to the incarnation and Christ’s teaching:
Christ confers on the whole of the Old Testament tradition about God’s mercy a definitive meaning. Not only does He speak of it and explain it by the use of comparisons and parables, but above all He Himself makes it incarnate and personifies it. He Himself, in a certain sense, is mercy. To the person who sees it in Him – and finds it in Him – God becomes “visible” in a particular way as the Father who is rich in mercy.
Christ’s mercy not only pours over us, but remakes us within. JPII says: “Christ Himself, who through His Spirit works within human hearts.” That inner working joins with the outpouring to embrace the world with God’s love.
Especially through His lifestyle and through His actions, Jesus revealed that love is present in the world in which we live – an effective love, a love that addresses itself to man and embraces everything that makes up his humanity. This love makes itself particularly noticed in contact with suffering, injustice and poverty – in contact with the whole historical “human condition,” which in various ways manifests man’s limitation and frailty, both physical and moral. It is precisely the mode and sphere in which love manifests itself that in biblical language is called “mercy.”
JPII wrote this encyclical especially to address the anxieties of the modern world. Divine Mercy is the precise antidote to anxiety. When we are anxious, we do not trust in God. We fear rather than accept suffering; we worry rather than remain confident in God’s omnipotence. If we know that “the gates of hell will not prevail,” then we must place our trust in God’s love which is infinite, constant and immeasurable.
We are also called to be merciful, to be imitators of that mercy which we constantly receive, and to share this with others. As Christ asserts in the Beatitudes so succinctly: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” There is an ongoing divine exchange when we live fully the promise of our Baptism.
JPII also reflects on the story of the Prodigal Son. When the father receives his repentant son back home with compassion, he expresses joy that his son has been restored to the fullness of his human dignity. He has repented and returned; he embraces the authority of his father and returns to unity with his family. This images the fullness of our communion with the Church. The key element here is recognizing that sin deprives us of our human dignity; healing returns us on the path to the full realization of our human dignity which is centered in our unity with Christ and Holy Mother Church. If God’s mercy restores us to dignity as children of God, then our work remains that of ongoing conversion.
Good Friday, according to JPII, reveals the role of suffering in the character of God’s mercy: “Christ undergoes the passion and cross because of the sins of humanity. This constitutes even a “superabundance” of justice, for the sins of man are “compensated for” by the sacrifice of the Man-God.” Christ’s sacrifice fulfills the demands of divine justice, as he takes away the sins of the world. Yet, the equation of justice is measured out in exponential love: “The divine dimension of redemption is put into effect not only by bringing justice to bear upon sin, but also by restoring to love that creative power in man thanks also which he once more has access to the fullness of life and holiness that come from God.” The net result is “fullness of life” on the path toward holiness that leads us to eternal life in heaven.
As you enter into the sad remembrance of Christ’s suffering and death this Good Friday, also pick up your Rosary beads and begin the Novena of Divine Mercy. This act reminds us of the “good” that breaks through the trauma of Good Friday.