Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. This is the twentieth anniversary of this feast. St. John Paul II instituted this feast in the year 2000. Jesus appeared to a Polish nun name St. Faustina Kowalska throughout her life telling her how infinite and abundant his divine mercy is. Jesus wanted that message of divine mercy to be proclaimed anew throughout the world. And so today we celebrate and continue St. Faustina’s and St. John Paul II’s mission of proclaiming to the world the gracious offer of God’s Divine Mercy.
What is Divine Mercy? Well, Divine Mercy is broader and larger than what we normally think. Normally when we think of mercy, we think of forgiveness. I sin or I offend someone, especially God and he shows me mercy by forgiving me. But there is more to mercy than just forgiveness of an offence. Divine mercy is God's condenscension towards us. Divine Mercy is God's graciousness bestowed upon us. Anyway, that God is good to me is an example of his mercy towards me.
We normally think of life and God’s mercy such that I’m going about things, taking care of things by myself. All of this on my own, trying not to sin, and bam, I sin. I fall. Then God’s mercy arrives when I repent and receive his forgiveness in the sacrament of Confession. And that is part of God’s mercy. A big part of it, but not the whole picture. Because God’s mercy is always with me. His Divine Mercy is always available to me. Not just AFTER I sin.
Consider St. Terese of Liseaux. The Carmelite nun who lived during the 19th century and died at the age of 24. When she entered the Carmel. That's what you call a convent of Carmelite nuns, she made a general confession. A general confession is when you take the time to go over your whole life and confess all the sins you can remember. It's a very good thing to do. It allows us to see how good, how merciful God has been to us throughout our life. Anyways, after her general confession. The priest said, "You have never committed a mortal sin, and it's very likely you have never even committed even a deliberate venial sin." Wow! That's pretty special. Now what does that have to do with mercy? I mean she really didn't need God's mercy right? Wrong. St. Terese herself admitted that it was precisely because of God's mercy that saved her from sin especially serious sin. We can call this preventative Divine Mercy. Mercy that prevents us from sinning. St. Terese said...
“Our Lord knew that I was far too weak to face temptation; he knew that I would certainly have burned myself in the bewildering light of earthly things, and so he did not let it shine in my eyes...Without his help, I might have fallen even lower than St. Mary Magdalene. His wonderful words to Simon the Pharisee, ‘to whom less is forgiven, he loves less’ (Luke 7:47), echo so sweetly in my soul, for he has forgiven me much MORE than he forgave her.
She is saying that she was ‘forgiven’, shown mercy before she sinned. We can call this preventative Mercy. Mercy that prevents us from sinning in the first place.
St. Terese goes on to give a brilliant illustration of this. She said, “Suppose the son of a skillful doctor falls over a stone lying in his path and breaks a limb. His father hurries to help him and dresses his wound so skillfully that it heals completely. Naturally, [the son] is quite right to love such a father and will be most grateful them.
But supposing again this doctor saw the dangerous stone, anticipated that his son will fall over it and moved it out-of-the-way when no one was looking; then the son would know nothing of the danger from which his father’s loving care had saved them and so would have no reason to show gratitude. He would love him LESS than if he had healed some serious wound. But if he did find out the truth, surely his love would be even GREATER? I am that child, the object of the father’s loving providence.”
I have often heard it said in retreats and elsewhere that an innocent soul never loves God as much as a repentant one, and how I long to prove that that is not true!”
St. Terese recognized God’s Divine Mercy which prevented her from sinning. She cooperated with that grace and is grateful for his mercy shown to her in that way.
God's Divine mercy is much broader than just forgiveness after the fact. I think if we have this broader understanding of mercy, we will appreciate God's mercy more.
I will realize that his mercy is always available, always present to me, preventing me from sin, guiding me along the right path. It’s not as if I have to do it all on my own strength, and then God is there to help me when I fall. No! He is always there with his Divine Mercy. And if I appreciate his mercy in that way. If I do recognize it as always present and that it has the ability to save me from sin even before I sin, then I am more likely to avoid sin. If I realize that mercy is there with me, I won't take it for granted, I won't reject that mercy and grace that is there to prevent me from falling into sin.
It happens very often that once a teenager is confirmed, you don't see them at Mass anymore. It happens that once a kid goes to college they stop practicing their faith, they start to drink like everyone else, they become sexually active, and they drift further from God and the good life he offers us. And please God, some of them, get to a point where they realize that, that way of living, the way the world tells you to live, isn't all that it's cracked up to be. There is a grace of Divine Mercy that moves them to repentance and to return to the Father's house as did the prodigal son. And we give glory to God for his divine mercy that is showered upon that person. Maybe that is your story.
But we have become accepting that that is the way it is. It is inevitable, that kids grow up, fall away from God, but we hope that eventually they find their way back. We say that is inevitable process.
But it’s not inevitable. It doesn’t have to be that way. What if the prodigal never did leave the father’s house in the first place?
Parents, I don’t think we have to give into this sort of defeatism. Why? Because God's Divine Mercy is more than just after the fact forgiveness. His divine mercy is always present. We need to believe this. Yes, with the world and the culture the way it is, the deck is stacked against us. But with God's Mercy we can raise our kids so they don't even have to go down that road. We can do it. It is not inevitable.
Finally, I want to speak to the young people watching this today. I want to speak to you, young people now. You don't have to go down that road. You don’t have to leave the Father’s house in the first place. God's Divine Mercy is here for you now. God wants you to remain pure and chaste. He is giving you and will give you every sort of grace and blessing he has to help you. Once we commit to faithfully following him. Once, I say, "Jesus, I trust in you" Jesus responds with his divine mercy to help and protect us and prevent us from sin.
God’s divine Mercy isn’t just after the fact forgiveness. It is preventive mercy. He is with you always, offering and bestowing his infinite Divine Mercy upon you. “Jesus, I trust in you!”