“The Message of Divine Mercy has always been near and dear to me… which I took with me to the See of Peter and which, in a sense, forms the image of this Pontificate.”
These words were written by Pope John Paul II in his astonishingly beautiful encyclical ‘Dives In Misericordiae’ (Rich In Mercy) and reflected the truth of his life experience. As a young Priest in Poland in the first half of the 20th Century, he was well acquainted with the barbarous inhumanity of the Nazi regime which was poisoning the world at that time, characterised by an absolute lack of mercy and compassion. But he also knew the antidote to this poison – Divine Mercy, that great love of God which is more powerful than any evil or hatred.
The future Pope was also well acquainted with the message of Divine Mercy revealed to St Faustina, visiting her convent in his early years. Much later, he would be the instrument which removed the final obstacles impeding the propagation of the devotion; and eventually, he would canonise the holy nun and institute the Feast of Mercy, which we call Divine Mercy Sunday – one of the specific requests of the Lord in His revelations to St Faustina. He later said that doing so was the happiest day of his life.
Like our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, John Paul also lived a life of mercy – his actions an echo of the commands of the Lord in the Gospels to ‘be merciful’, a living witness of Divine Mercy. Such was the case when, in May 1981, he was shot in St Peter’s Square on the anniversary of the appearance of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima. He went on to visit and to forgive his would-be assassin.
Pope John Paul’s thoughts on Divine Mercy were crystallised in ‘Dives In Misericordiae‘, published in late 1980. For St John Paul, mercy was not a concept; rather, it is a Person; it is the Person of Jesus Christ, Who reveals the mercy of God –
“Christ, then, reveals God who is Father, who is ‘love’.. Christ reveals God as ‘rich in mercy’ as we read in St. Paul. This truth is not just the subject of a teaching; it is a reality made present to us by Christ. Making the Father present as love and mercy is, in Christ’s own consciousness, the fundamental touchstone of His mission as the Messiah”
This exceptionally beautiful document examines the revelation of mercy in the Old Testament and incarnation of Mercy revealed in the New Testament, with the Paschal Mystery of the Cross and Resurrection as the culmination of Mercy, on which he said this –
“The Paschal Mystery is the culmination of this revealing and effecting of mercy, which is able to justify man, to restore justice in the sense of that salvific order which God willed from the beginning in man and, through man, in the world. The suffering Christ speaks in a special way to man, and not only to the believer.”
Speaking on the role of Mary, the Mother of Mercy, he said –
“Mary is also the one who obtained mercy in a particular and exceptional way, as no other person has. At the same time, still in an exceptional way, She made possible, with the sacrifice of Her Heart, Her own sharing in revealing God’s mercy. This sacrifice is intimately linked with the cross of Her Son, at the foot of which She was to stand on Calvary. Her sacrifice is a unique sharing in the revelation of mercy.”
After a life where the message of Divine Mercy was continually interwoven amongst the facets of his life as man, priest and eventually Pope, it should come as no surprise that Pope John Paul II died on 3rd April 2005, the vigil of the feast of Divine Mercy, that very same feast which he had given to the Church and to the world. Neither should we be surprised that Pope John Paul II was canonised on the Feast of Divine Mercy, 27th April 2014 by our present Holy Father, Pope Francis. Pope Francis later recalled that Pope John Paul’s institution of Divine Mercy Sunday showed his insight and realisation that a new ‘age of mercy’ was needed in the church and the world.
Pope John Paul II continues to be a shining witness to the message of Divine Mercy, that same Mercy which is proclaimed continually in the Gospels, and to which we are constantly called back, whose message we, too, are asked to live out in our own lives.
May this great Pope Of Mercy, John Paul II, pray for us and assist us in achieving this.