By Mary Beth Bragiel
The North Star Catholic
What do you know about Divine Mercy? When you hear that expression, do you picture Jesus with red and white rays coming from His Heart? Do you think of the phrase, “Jesus, I trust in You”? Have you heard of it, but don’t really know what it is?
A group of 24 parishioners from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in Anchorage recently completed a program on that subject, based on a book by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC. The Second Greatest Story Ever Told: Now Is the Time of Mercy, is a fascinating read, hard to put down. A series of films based on the book is available on formed.org, which many parishes have a subscription to. The ten episodes can be watched on your own, but the group used a series of questions that were developed to guide the group discussion. The program’s two purposes are to inform about Divine Mercy and help individuals incorporate that knowledge into their spiritual lives.
The book tells the story of how Divine Mercy came to be on the Universal Church calendar during the pontificate of St. John Paul II. It begins at the fall in the Garden of Eden, explaining why Divine Mercy is so necessary. Participants learned a good bit of Polish history since much of the story of the Divine Mercy devotion took place in Poland. This brought a greater understanding of the national and religious struggles which Poland has faced through the years and was enlightening in understanding what they are currently going through.
Several saints have a role in the story, including St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French saint devoted to Jesus’ Sacred Heart. It is from Jesus’ Heart that His Divine Mercy flows. St. Maximilian Kolbe is one of the three Polish saints who play a part.
The other two (the major players, if you will) are St. Faustina Kowalska and Pope St. John Paul II.
St. Faustina had visions of Jesus in the 1930s, just before the start of World War II. Pope St. John Paul II, who had known of St. Faustina in Poland, brought the message of Divine Mercy to Rome when he was appointed to the See of Peter. In 2000, he named Divine Mercy Sunday, the Sunday after Easter, to the universal Church calendar.
Another participant, Bob Ourso, reported: “As we continued to meet, we came to know more and more about Divine Mercy and how St. John Paul’s entire life was so deeply tied to Jesus’ desire for all of humanity to know His Mercy was there for the asking. Jesus’ love for each and every one of us is infinite and He wants everyone of us to be with Him in Paradise.”
Dorothy Wright, one of the participants in the Divine Mercy program at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, said that she learned a lot. She said that “ We need to be enlightened. This is God’s way of saying, ‘Wake up—you’ve gone so far down the wrong road.’ He’s still in charge.”
One thing not stressed in this book but which is important to understand is that Divine Mercy is both the central message of the Church and a devotion. As Fr. Chris Alcar, MIC, puts it, “The devotion is optional, but the message is not.” Yet, the devotional can bring about many blessings. Jesus told St. Faustina that He would grant great blessings to those who said the chaplet with faith and would convert even the hardest of sinners.
“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.” (Diary of St. Faustina, 699).