“Here, then, is the reason for the Jubilee (of Mercy) – because this is the time for mercy.”
– Pope Francis, homily for first vespers of Divine Mercy Sunday, 11th April 2015
When Pope John Paul canonised St Faustina Kowalska in April 2000, he made her the first Saint of the Third Millennium. It seemed she was being placed before us quite deliberately, as if there was a message behind hers being the first canonisation of the new era. It was as though the Holy Father was telling us something – and something which he felt was very important for us, for the Church, at that particular moment. In fact, the Pope John Paul essentially said as much when, during the homily at the Mass of Canonisation, he commented –
“Sister Faustina’s canonisation has a particular eloquence; by this act, I intend today to pass this message on to the new millennium.”
Clearly, then, this was a deliberate choice on the part of the Pope and the Church – he was indeed telling us something vital. But what message? What was he talking about?
Popes are generally very wise souls; they have a wealth of human experience as well as lengthy experience of the Church and what her needs are in any particular age. And being at the very heart of the Church, the Holy Father has a global network of contacts which allows him to keep his spiritual finger firmly on the pulse of what is happening in the world, and enormous resources at his disposal in order to arrange things in ways that he sees fit, in response to particular needs in the Church and in the world.
This particular Holy Father, John Paul II, had lived through the reign of Communism and he had experienced it first-hand during his youth – he knew the great evil of which man is capable, and the potentially catastrophic effects of this on humanity generally and on the very planet upon which we live. He was in no doubt about the destructive forces operating in the world, nor about what those forces could unleash. Also during his youth, John Paul had been in the habit of stopping at a little convent where he would pray at the tomb of a nun who had died at an early age; he was well acquainted with the message she had passed on, and he saw the reach of this particular message as the years passed. He saw, too, the hope that message instilled in the hearts of those who listened to it – people who, despite great suffering and misery, trusted in the Merciful Jesus. Many of these good souls had secreted tiny little images depicting this Merciful Jesus, as He had revealed Himself to the young nun several years before. Many years later, John Paul would play a pivotal role in spreading this message of the Merciful Jesus, before finally declaring that nun a Saint and establishing a Feast of Mercy, in response to the requests of the Merciful Jesus. Finally, he would give up his soul and enter eternity as that Feast of Mercy was beginning, in 2005.
Reading the Diary of Saint Faustina, it becomes apparent why there is such a sense of urgency to the mercy of Divine Mercy. The Lord Himself, at numerous points in His revelations to Saint Faustina, emphasises the urgency of the message He is giving to her, and through her to all of us –
“Speak to the world about My mercy; let all mankind recognise My unfathomable mercy. It is a sign for the end times – after it will come the Day of Justice. While there is still time, let them have recourse to the fount of My mercy” (Diary, entry 848)
Elsewhere, the Lord tells St Faustina this –
“I am prolonging the time of mercy for the sake of sinners. But woe to them if they do not recognise this time of My visitation.” (Diary, entry 1160)
And so, the message of Divine Mercy does indeed have an urgency about it. It is preparation for what will come afterwards – the Day of Justice, which the Lord refers to as “that awful day”. It is clear, too, that the time of Mercy is finite – it will not last forever. More still, the Lord is already extending this time of mercy, for the sake of sinners.
Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, as successors to John Paul, have taken up this same call to mercy, emphasising the urgency of it for our time. At a general audience given to the faithful in March 2006, Pope Benedict reminded us all that Divine Mercy is not something on the periphery, something which we can ignore with ease. He said –
“It is a really central message for our time: Mercy as the force of God, as the divine limit against the evil of the world”.
And again, on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2008, Benedict reminded us explicitly of the place of Divine Mercy in our faith when he said –
“Indeed, mercy is the central nucleus of the Gospel message; it is the very name of God, the Face with which He revealed Himself in the Old Covenant and fully in Jesus Christ, the incarnation of creative and redemptive Love… From Divine Mercy, which brings peace to hearts, genuine peace flows into the world, peace between different peoples, cultures and religions.”
Divine Mercy, then, in the view of Benedict, is more than something we experience at the personal level; rather, it has effects which extend far beyond the individual – not least of all, true peace. Not surprisingly, the Merciful Jesus told St Faustina that “mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy” (Diary, entry 300).
Pope Francis surprised the world by calling a Jubilee of Mercy in 2015, giving a very simple reason for doing so –
“This is the time of mercy.”To emphasise how important he deemed this Year of Mercy to be, he even appointed almost one thousand ‘Missionaries of Mercy’ whose primary duty was to proclaim mercy, both in the pulpit and in the Confessional – where he granted them the authority to forgive sins which are normally reserved to the Holy Father. Pope Francis has since extended the role of these Missionaries.
And so, we have a very clear and consistent message from the last three Popes – St John Paul, Benedict and Francis – reminding us of the centrality and vital importance of the message of Mercy.
We have had three exceptionally beautiful Papal documents extolling the beauty of Divine Mercy and reminding us of our need of it; we have the establishment of the liturgical Feast of Divine Mercy; and we have had our attention drawn forcefully to it by the Holy Father in the recent Jubilee of Mercy.
There can be little doubt that Divine Mercy is indeed very much of our time and for our time. And the Merciful Lord has reminded us that this ‘time of Mercy’ is limited and also that is already past the conclusion He had originally intended for it.
And so that poses a simple question to every single one of us – what are we doing to respond to this message of Mercy while there is still time?