Mercy and Liturgy Share Spotlight

Nigeria’s Cardinal Francis Arinze, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, following his talk on Day Three of the congress.

Cardinal Arinze Outlines Link Between Church’s Public Worship and Love

By Dan Valenti (Apr 4, 2008)
Divine Mercy in the sacred liturgy took center stage and shared the spotlight at the World Mercy Congress on Friday, April 4, as Nigeria’s Cardinal Francis Arinze, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, presented reflections to delegates in St. John Lateran Basilica.

“The consoling and deep mystery of God’s mercy permeates the public worship of the Church,” the Vatican’s “liturgist-in-chief” said. “The sacred liturgy sings on page after page the wonders of the divine love [that] shows itself especially as mercy.”

Death Would Not Win

Cardinal Arinze traced the manifestation of Divine Mercy throughout history, going back to original sin. After man had lost God’s friendship through disobedience, God nonetheless “continuously helped all men to seek and find Him.” Again and again, the Father offered a covenant to man, whom he “did not abandon to the power of death.”

Divine Mercy continues this care of God for His children to us today, reaching people in a special way through the Sacred Liturgy, Cardinal Arinze said.

“Jesus Christ, the manifestation of God’s saving and merciful love for all humanity * did the work of our redemption,” the Cardinal said. “He gave perfect glory to God. He instituted His Church and entrusted to her the preaching of his Gospel and the celebration of his savings mysteries. Jesus thus sent His Church to exercise the work of salvation by means of sacrifice and sacraments, around which the entire liturgical life revolves.”

The liturgy, Cardinal Arinze pointed out, is the primary means by which Catholics receive Divine Mercy and grace. In the liturgy, “God feeds us with His word, His forgiveness, His mercy, and His life.” The point became clearer as Cardinal Arinze commented on the Sacraments as unique “channels” of God’s merciful love for us.

Sacramental Mercy

BAPTISM: Baptism, Cardinal Arinze said, “plunges people into the paschal mystery of Christ.” The sacrament confers our spiritual adoption as children of God.
CONFIRMATION: This is the sacrament of “completion,” the Cardinal said. Those confirmed in the faith “become more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched by a special strength of the Holy Spirit.
EUCHARIST: Communion provides the “fount and apex of the whole Christian life,” Cardinal Arinze said. “That Jesus feeds us with His Body and Blood and remains with us in the tabernacle, these are wonderful manifestations of His mercy and love.”
RECONCILIATION: Cardinal Arinze called the sacrament of Penance the medium that delivers “the pardon of God for offences committed against Him. Sinners are at the same time reconciled with the Church, which they have wounded by their sins.” He said Jesus “shocked” the religious establishment of Israel “by identifying His merciful conduct towards sinners with God’s own attitude towards them.” The supreme irony is that the Israeli religious authorities condemned Jesus for blasphemy.
ANOINTING OF THE SICK: Here, Cardinal Arinze pointed out, “the Church commends the sick to the suffering and glorified Lord Jesus and exhorts them to be associated with the passion and death of Christ.” This is mercy.
HOLY ORDERS: Those who follow a vocation into the religious life are in a literal way appointed as ministers of God’s love and mercy, the Cardinal said. They do this, he noted, “by word and sacrament.”
MATRIMONY: “Christian spouses,” Cardinal Arinze said, “receive grace to help each other attain to holiness.” He said there could be no higher example of friendship and merciful love, since the heart of marriage is to care more about the other than about oneself.

The Sunday Special

Cardinal Arinze spent part of his talk devoting special attention to the liturgy of Divine Mercy Sunday.

“Theologically, it is significant that this Sunday is the conclusion of the octave of Easter,” Cardinal Arinze said. “Thus is shown the strict link between the paschal mystery of Redemption and the Feast of Divine Mercy. The novena in preparation for Mercy Sunday begins on Good Friday. This is eloquent. We are adoring the merciful God, who sent sent His Son to save us through the cross.”

He noted that Pope John Paul II, in declaring in April 2000 that the Second Sunday of Easter would have the name of “Sunday of The Divine Mercy,” did not create new liturgical texts. “Providentially, the reform of the texts of the 1962 Missal, following on the Second Vatican Council, had already supplied us with prayers and readings that speak of the mystery of God’s mercy.”

Liturgy ‘Sings of God’s Love’

Other points touched upon by Cardinal Arinze included:

The Paschal Mystery, the Cross, and Divine Mercy,
The Votive Mass on Divine Mercy,
Dives in Misericordia, Pope John Paul II’s first encyclical,
The Gospel readings for the Votive Mass, and
Divine Mercy and the Liturgy of the Hours.

“There is no doubt,” the Cardinal concluded, “that the Sacred Liturgy sings of God’s love, which is mercy. May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, obtain for us the grace to sing love and live the riches of Divine Mercy as reflected in the public worship of the Church.”

A Tall Task? Bringing Mercy to the Streets

After years away from the Church, Charles Yezak returned. Now he’s at the world congress in Rome, and he’s hoping to spread the message of Divine Mercy to all who will listen.

A Tall Task? Bringing Mercy to the Streets

To touch a soul. Even just one. That’s Charles Yezak’s goal.

It’s Friday afternoon, Day 3 of the first-ever World Apostolic Congress on Mercy in Rome. The schedule calls for a “Mission of Mercy.”

Congress organizers had set the ground rules. Go two-by-two out into the streets. Talk to complete strangers. Tell them about the mercy of God. Invite them to pray inside Our Lady of the Angels Church in the heart of the city, where Eucharistic Adoration and opportunities for confession are underway.

After a powerful day filled with talks, prayer and celebration, this next item on the schedule seems a bit, well, gimmicky to Charles and his mission accomplice, Mary Travis. But they agree they will be good sports about it. And who knows?

Just one soul.

“What should we say?” Charles wonders aloud.

“It’s kind of like one of those moments in scripture with the apostles,” says Mary. “You know, when they haven’t a clue what to say, but then they open their hearts to the spirit of God, and when they open their mouths, the words just come out, and God does all the work.

“If you do your part,” she says, “God will take care of the rest. You just got to jump off the diving board.”

Having said that, she appoints herself the silent prayer warrior, stationed off in the periphery, while he does the talking.

“All we have to do is just touch one soul here today,” he says. “One soul.”

They step out from the dark, cavernous, quiet of the ancient Our Lady of the Angels church, out into the maw of modern Rome.

Charles and Mary met on this pilgrimage. They’re both from Florida. They’re both Divine Mercy devotees.

They agree that they should head to where the tourists are because earlier in the afternoon, an American nun stationed in Rome told them that tourists in Rome leave the Eternal City believing in the reality of Caesar but not in the reality of Christ.

“If we head down to Santa Maria della Vittoria, there will be a lot of tourists there,” says Mary. She’s been to Rome before.

It’s a tall task, saving souls on the sidewalk of the city. The streets of Rome are known for their fair share of hustlers, pickpockets and aggressive entrepreneurs.

“This is going to be humbling,” says Mary.

They’re walking fast down a cobblestone side street.

Humbling, because of a nagging realization: By proclaiming God’s love and mercy to complete strangers on the sidewalk, they run a very large risk of being viewed as the sort of people that they themselves have learned to dismiss these three days in Rome.

That’s not the only issue. The other is that both Charles and Mary believe that the most effective way to bear witness to God’s mercy is through relationships built over time. Therefore, is it at all realistic to save a soul by speaking Christ’s name on the fly to pedestrians who are traveling at a headstrong clip amidst the din of internal combustion of downtown Rome?

It’s so unrealistic, in fact, that they are starting to take a liking to the task at hand.

They arrive at the marble steps of Santa Maria della Vittoria. The tourists are swarming. Charles dives in. He’s armed with a handful of prayer pamphlets.

“Excuse me, I would -”

The complete stranger raises his hands up and out, the international sign for “Don’t Take Another Step Closer.” Charles turns on his heal and heads back to Mary.

“This is going to be difficult,” he says.

Mary first learned about Divine Mercy in the 1980s in Medjugorje, where Our Lady is said to be appearing.

“I stepped into a church there, and I heard the most beautiful prayer being sung,” she said.

It was the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. She’s been praying it ever since.

“All that people have to do is be open, and God will do the rest,” she says. “If we are obedient to Him, we will be free. If we are free, we are peace-filled. If we are peace-filled, we will be productive.”

She’s productive, She practices the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as a matter of course, particularly in the pro-life movement.

Charles learned about Divine Mercy amidst his darkest days. His wife had left him. Without warning, she packed up all her things and was gone.

In retrospect, on a street corner in Rome, four-and-a-half years later, he knows the root cause of their difficulties. It wasn’t all her fault. It wasn’t all his.

“The third person in the marriage was missing,” he says.

He’s referring to the Lord Jesus.

“So when she left me, the first thing I did was I turned to the Church,” he says.

He pauses. He keys in on an older couple climbing the marble stairs.

“Excuse me -” he says. They wave him off.

He takes it in stride.

“I knew I could turn to the Church,” he says. “I started to attend Mass regularly, then daily. I started to find strength in the Eucharist and through prayer groups. I needed something to get me on course and to fill the void.”

He didn’t want the divorce. He prayed for reconciliation; it didn’t happen. About a year and a half after the separation he was introduced to Divine Mercy.

“It prepared me to deal with the divorce,” he says. “Knowing that Jesus loves us where we are and calls us to draw closer to Him gives me peace of mind to deal with struggles, including the biggest, most painful experience of my life: my divorce.”

Mary comes out of her prayerful periphery.

She’s hearing what he’s saying.

“The Lord uses crisis,” she says.

She pauses. “You know, in Chinese crisis means dangerous opportunity,” she says.

By that, she explains that when confronted with crisis, people tend to either delve deeper into the darkness through drugs and alcohol, or step out into the light.

Charles headed straight to the light. He’s now a Eucharistic minister at a hospital. He also leads prayer sessions at nursing homes and religious education classes at a local college where he works. When people ask him what his goal in life is, the answer is simple: to get to heaven.

He used to weigh 250 pounds. Now he’s down to a trim 185. He stopped eating junk food, stopped watching mindless television, stopped feeling sorry for himself.

“Divine Mercy is what changed my heart,” he says.

When he prays the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy at hospital and nursing home bedsides, he’s continually amazed by how many severely ill people wiggle their toes to the sound of that intercessory prayer that Christ gave to the world through St. Faustina.

Mary suggests they take a moment’s break and go inside Santa Maria della Vittoria.

“They have the famous statue, Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa,” she says. “Maybe it will bring us the graces we need for all of this.”

Sure enough, inside, to the left of the altar, was the depiction of the moment described by St. Teresa of Avila in her autobiography where she had the vision of an angel piercing her heart with a golden shaft, causing her both immense joy and pain.

The Lord uses crisis. That’s how so many saints are formed.

“Wow,” says Charles, staring at the statue.

Back outside, they make their way toward Our Lady of the Angels. Once there, Charles regroups. He approaches a mother and her two daughters. They’re French, but they understand English. He’s offering them a prayer card. They’re apprehensive, but they don’t walk away. He talks to them about Eucharistic Adoration. He tells them about Christ and His Church. He appeals to their sense of culture and history, telling them how Michelangelo designed Our Lady of the Angels.

He points to the door. They take the prayer card. He watches as they walk inside.

He turns around and smiles.

“OK,” he says, “it’s up to God to do the rest.”

Just one soul.

But maybe three.

Bishop Lori, on the Rule of Law and the Rule of Love

Bishop Lori, in his homily on Friday, urged attendees of the mercy congress to build a civilization based on love. How? Through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

His Excellency William E. Lori, Bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., an honorary member of the U.S. Congress’s national committee, was the celebrant of the International Holy Mass on Day 3 of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy, at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.

The following is his homily, based on the liturgical readings of the day, Acts 5:34-42 and Jn 6:1-15:

In life’s journey, we sometimes encounter individuals who are considered astute. They appear to be endowed with the rare gift of common sense and seem to know how to render fair and practical judgments. These are people we would regard as well suited to serve as arbitrators, judges, and the officers of our courts.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we meet such a man named Gamaliel, a Pharisee in the Sanhedrin, a part of the Jewish court system. The author of Acts tells us Gamaliel was well regarded. People readily accepted the pragmatic brand of justice he dispensed. His abilities were on display when the high-profile case of the apostles was being tried by the Sanhedrin. Politically shrewd and savvy, he warned his fellow judges to proceed carefully before convicting and sentencing the apostles. “Why pick a no-win battle with these followers of Jesus the Nazareen who are creating such a sensation among the people?” An expert in the law, Gamaliel cited precedence to prove his point: Theudas, and Judas the Galilean. He noted that their enthusiast followers dispersed when they perished and faded from memory. So Gamaliel advised, “Let’s wait awhile. Let’s wait and see if this movement is from man or really from God.” And just to be sure that no one thought him weak or partial to the New Way, he had the apostles beaten and forbade them to teach. Thus, Gamaliel and his colleagues skillfully covered all their bases.

Aside from the flogging the apostles had to undergo, we might reckon Gamaliel’s down-to-earth form of justice to be reasonable. After all, we expect our courts to judge cases carefully, to be aware of all relevant precedence, to take into account the attitudes and feelings of the people, and not to overstep in rendering judgment. In these ways, Gamaliel seems to be in step with the judicial pragmatism of our times. The shrewd justice meted out by Gamaliel and his colleagues in the first reading stands in sharp contrast to the lavish mercy in John’s Gospel wherein Jesus miraculously feeds 5,000 people. Jesus and His followers are confronted with a serious public emergency, a large disorganized and hungry crowd of worshipers, congregates on a remote mountainside. We gather from the gospel accounts that the hour is late and the options limited. How will the Judge of the living and the dead handle the situation? Jesus does not immediately reveal what He is going to do. Instead, He asks His apostles how they would handle this situation. Philip starts down the path of pragmatism. He surveys the size of the crowd and estimates how much it would cost to feed them. Andrew takes stock of the resources already on hand: five barley loaves and two fish. Then he pronounces these inadequate. In St. Mark’s account, Jesus’ disciples suggest sending the crowd away. Truth to tell, Jesus does not need his apostles to tell Him that they lack sufficient time and money to buy food for 5,000 people. Nor does the Lord need to be advised that five loaves and two fish are inadequate to feed so many. Jesus has already judged the situation correctly. But the Lord also knows of the abundance of His Father’s garden, and like a good steward, he has prepared to bring forth an abundance that amazes His closest followers, as well as those who would be fed by the multiplied loaves and fish. Jesus accurately judged the situation of the 5,000, and without minimalizing or trivializing their needs, He chose to respond with great generosity. Jesus fed them without exacting price or labor. He fed them in love.

Dear Friends, we are well acquainted with the contrast between Gamaliel and Jesus. Almost daily, we experience Gamaliel’s pragmatic justice in our democratic cultures that follow the law of restitution and the principles of free enterprise with varying degrees of justice and injustice, restraint and abandon. Most of us willingly live under the rule of law that prevails in places like the United States and Europe and other places around the world. The rule of law contributes to the good order of society and provides the necessary ground rules for everyday activities. But don’t we recognize how limited such pragmatic justice can be? Often it is blind to authentic human worth and the dignity of the vulnerable. Almost always, pragmatic justice fails to address the deeper needs of the human spirit. One of the reasons we recognize the inadequacies of human justice and the laws of the marketplace is that we constantly experience the super-abundant goodness and mercy of Christ in the sacramental life of the Church.

We are gathered together on this Friday, here in Rome, on a congress on Divine Mercy, from dioceses all over the world where we are lavishly cleansed of our sins through baptism and penance and then fed, no longer the multiplied bread and fish, but the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Risen Lord. The Eucharistic Sacrifice reveals to us the Heart of Christ, who knows the depth of the Father’s love. This is the principle way that Jesus left us to share in His hour, the hour of His Passion and death, the hour in which the Just Judge wants great mercy for poor sinners. Truly in the Mass, Pope John Paul II wrote, Jesus “shows us a love which goes to the end, a love which knows no measure.”

The mercy of Christ, which we experience in the Church’s sacraments, is utterly generous, but not destructively indulgent. Just as the Lord correctly apprised the crowd on the mountainside, so too He judges our situation 20 centuries later with penetrating accuracy. He knows that many in consumerist society are often inwardly starving because of their indifference to starvation and want around the world. The Lord knows how many are lost and estranged, like sheep without shepherd. … For all of our prowess in technology and productivity, none of us can buy the price of our salvation. So through the light of the Holy Spirit, Jesus leads us to confront the situation we find ourselves in as individuals and as a community. Because He respects our dignity, the Redeemer does not cancel out the objective requirements of justice, does not trivialize evil, and requires us to address the harm our sins cause.

Yet, in the economy of salvation, justice alone is not enough. Through the sacraments, it is linked to mercy and diffused with love. Yes, justice is necessary for order in society and order in our lives. Yet, it is only the love and mercy of God that finally makes it possible that people meet one another in that value, which is man himself, in the dignity that is proper to him. Pope Benedict teaches that love will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. It is in welcoming the depth of God’s love and mercy for us that we are finally able to discover the deepest roots of our human dignity and lofty calling we have received. So we gladly examine our consciouses, confess our sins, and seek absolution so as to share in the super-abundant mercy of Jesus in the Mass, a love stronger than sin and more powerful than death. By giving Himself to us, Jesus … enables us to break disordered attachments to creatures, to root ourselves in Him, and by the same charity that the Eucharist enkindles in us, it preserves us from future mortal sins, deepens our community, our community with the Trinity and with one another. Isn’t this how you and I are disposed to become men and women of mercy, to receive mercy and practice mercy: to build a civilization of love, especially through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy?

As it turns out Gamaliel was not only a judge, but also a prophet. In fact, the message and work of the apostles did not have its origin in man, but in the Heart of Christ, who has revealed to us the strength and the depth of the Father’s love. Pope Benedict continues the work of the apostles by proclaiming the passionate, forgiving love of God for His people and teaching us to stake our hope … in God’s mercy. United with our Holy Father, we recognize in our midst, in the breaking of bread, the true Presence of Jesus, who is Divine Mercy in Person, because encountering Christ means encountering the mercy of God. Gathered no longer on the mountainside, but rather in the venerable Basilica of St. John Lateran, may we respond to the True Presence of Christ, the Bread of Life, with the simple and profound words of St. Faustina: “Jesus, I trust in You.”

Basilica Buoys Mercy Gathering

Congress and Cathedral Perfect Match of Topic and Setting

By Dan Valenti (Apr 5, 2008)
The World Mercy Congress plenary sessions are being held at St. John Lateran Basilica. To obtain the proper sense of the historic gathering’s impact, you need to take into account where it is being held.

Each new congressional day begins when St. John Lateran opens its massive doors, or, technically, when the tight security opens the two checkpoints one must pass through to enter the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI.

People mill about inside the architectural marvel of the basilica, chatting, settling in, getting their headphones and translators, greeting each other, and performing the many little “housekeeping” tasks that early attend a day like this. Each day in this first-ever Congress on Mercy is, by definition, historic. That is saying something for a Church with a history that goes back more than 2,000 years.

To be on the scene here as history happens conveys its own enormity. And by the way, there could be no more appropriate setting for this gathering than Rome, the Eternal City, in its time variously the world’s center of temporal and spiritual power. Yesterday Caesar, today the Pope.

Singing the Day into Being

Friday’s plenary session is not called to order but sung to order – praying twice, as they say – as a choir of nuns in powder-blue and gray habits sings the opening hymns. The female sound, a lovely mix of young voices with the sopranos stealing the song, circulates in wavy echoes through the huge church whose pride is its imposing history and the gravitational architecture that reflects the grounded greatness of its past.

To better understand the import of the World Mercy Congress, one should have at least a passing appreciation for Saint John Lateran. The Cathedral of Rome was founded by Constantine during the papacy of Sylvester (314-335). Fire, war, and other ravages destroyed the original structure several times. The current building dates to the 17th century, and its monumental façade to 1735.

The enormous bronze doors in the center entrance were removed from the Roman Forum by Pope Alexander VII (1655-1667). Literally, the entryway has been traversed by Roman Emperors and Pontiffs, an exclusive class of the most powerful men who have ever lived. They have rended to Casar what was Caesar’s and when it was his, so long ago, and does the same to the Holy Father, whose time is now.

Inside, the basilica measures about two football fields long encompassing five naves separated by gigantic pilasters designed by Borromini in the 1750s. By Rome standards, that’s like last week.

The dozen pilasters are unlike any supporting structure I have ever seen or could ever imagine. Inside of them, Borromini set green marble columns with carved niches, each containing a statue of one of the 12 apostles. These white marble giants, with their 3D carving and offsetting background of emerald-green marble, practically come to life before your eyes. They are not alive, of course. They only seem that way because when you drink them in, you are all the more so.

Floor and Ceiling, and All in Between

Two even greater marvels, one above and one below, offset the pilasters: the stunning gilded ceiling in the central nave and the Cosmatesque floor under which were found significant Roman ruins.

The center tabernacle was built in the late 14th century. Twelve frescoes (the Good Shepherd, the Crucifixion, Mary, etc.) decorate its golden nooks and crannies. Above the tabernacle rest two silver reliquaries. They contain first-class relics from the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul. Beneath the tabernacle is an altar that can be used only by the Pope.

This architectural description could take pages. We cut it short, having given you a taste of the beautiful setting for the Congress’s plenary sessions, which have been excellent.

Obviously, this isn’t your ordinary conference room.

Weathering in on Mercy

Friday morning brought a sharp change in the weather. Since arriving in Rome early Tuesday, we have been blessed with mild, even summery conditions with sun, clear skies, and peak temperatures in the mid to upper 60s. Today, however, the skies clouded up with a streaming wind and much cooler temps. Rome in early spring can do a “180” with the weather on a moment’s notice.

The curious effect of this cool front was the way it drove people closer together, literally. Amassing this morning outside the cathedral before the checkpoints were open, people drew close together, huddling like pasture animals circling into themselves to seek protection during a storm. So this Friday of considerations of Divine Mercy had not even officially begun, and we had seen acts of mercy breaking out: people trying to keep each other warm with their bodies, people making small talk, and people laughing. The weather jokes were flying like the one-liners at a Friar’s Club Roast.

This illustrates one of the finer points of compassion, empathy, and mercy – though first an idea then an attitude, it comes alive only as action. Mercy comes alive in the most humble moments of human contact – a door held for a stranger, a smile to a passerby, a set of directions for a lost traveler, a drink of water for someone who’s thirsty, a supportive word for someone who’s down, a coin dropped into the cup of a street beggar.

Quando, Mercy?

Large acts of heroics owe more to irrationality and adrenaline than to inspiration and will, to say nothing of mercy.

But how do we properly account for the small acts of kindness that do not have to be done but are done nonetheless, many times a day, throughout a lifetime? Why be considerate and compassionate instead of acting with selfish indifference? True, many do act indifferently, hardened of heart, but many – maybe even many more – do not. Why? Quando, as they say in Italian?

This is a largely ignored question, often lost in the devotional surface. Devotions are fine, but in their proper place. Devotions cannot be the horse. It must be the cart, pulled by the horse of merciful action. We would do well to ponder this question, for in the answer we have the mystery of mercy unfolded, the origami paper dove returned to a flat page, the tell-tale folds indicating how the dove was first formed.

Mercy forms when the heart is folded by God. It is not hard work for Him to do this and no work at all for us. We only need to be disposed to let Him go to work. Thus passively formed, we turn to mercy as naturally as the newborn child instinctively gulps its first breath of air.

To its credit, the World Mercy Congress has advanced this question and offered some responses.

Coreless Creatures

The plenary sessions have had one thing in common. They have presented God’s love for us as a necessity of which we need to be aware. Put it this way: God’s goodness is our amniotic fluid, giving birth to our zest for life and love. In mercy, we find our element as the bird finds the sky and the fish the water. To be without this quintessential divine quality runs counter to the natural order of life and circumstance. It is hatred that is the aberration and perversion, not love. It is the hard heart that is freakish, not the heart of goodness and peace. That’s what the leaders of this conference are telling the world.

To be without this enfolding by God is to be left without solidity, a coreless creature adrift in a contemporary society that has found an addition in indulgence and a false paradise in perversion. To be this way is to be without awareness of one’s core that is rooted in the Kingdom of heaven, within.

In that sorry condition, we are like drowning people adrift in the ocean, flailing about trying to keep our heads above water. We cannot be happy this way. A person in this condition works hard indeed, but to what avail? He or she may gain the whole world, but at what cost? Fortunately, God sees all this and stands constantly on vigil, ready with love, mercy, and forgiveness.

What is the desperation of life in the fast lane but a panicked attempt to distract oneself from the urgency caused by a self-imposed deadening of soul? What are power, wealth, fame, indulgence, addiction, consumerism, and the frenzied pace of technocracy but the soul’s jittery flight from one attempted escape to the next?

Divine Mercy: A Providential Move

Divine Mercy in action is a providential move made possible by the slightest indication of free will, and what person, in the end, does not wish to be accepted, does not wish to be at peace, does not wished to be wanted and loved? Divine Mercy gives us many opportunities to say yes to our true natures as sons and daughters of God? Who can keep saying no?

Mercy is the “coach” who “calls God’s number” and sends him back into the game when we have given up. Like the star athlete, God heeds his own nature, which is love and mercy itself. He never fails to answer the call. No matter how many points we are down, a God so disposed by mercy cannot do anything but rescue victory from the jaws of defeat.

This is what all the speakers at the World Mercy Congress are saying. We wonder, will the world begin to listen?

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, both print and online. He is the author of “Dan Valenti’s Journal” at thedivinemercy.org.

The Congress Catches Fire!

Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev explained Eastern teachings that, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said, “shared our understanding of God’s limitless love.”

Russian Orthodox Bishop: God’s Mercy is immeasurable love of the Father; Cardinal Schonborn Agrees

By Dan Valenti (Apr 6, 2008)
ROME

How far can the mercy of God extend? Is there a limit? According to Jesus’ own revelations to St. Faustina, the answer is no. God’s mercy for His creation is unfathomable, without boundary, and unlimited by any constraint, human, or non-human.

In an amazing, even surprising ecumenical moment in the Catholic Church’s first World Congress on Divine Mercy, Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, bishop of Vienna and Austria as well as temporary administrator of the Diocese of Budapest and Hungary, took Divine Mercy to its logical conclusion. God is Love, all He created and sustains is always loved by Him. Even the creation that rejects Him continues in existence by His love. This unfathomable Divine Mercy can even make hell* “Gehenna,” temporary, according to Bishop Hilarion, who spoke on Day 3 of the Congress (Friday, April 5) at St. John Lateran Basilica.

After Bishop Hilarion’s presentation, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn,
who is presiding over the Congress in the name of Pope Benedict XVI,
chatted warmly with Bishop Hilarion, shaking his hand and thanking him for his “courageous witness on the absolute mercy of God.”

The congress had found its electric moment.

Love Beyond Understanding
Referencing St. Isaac the Syrian, a 7th-century holy man and hermit revered in Russian Orthodoxy as “famous among the saints,” Bishop Hilarion shared his understanding of divine love and the “merciful heart” found in humans as providential love’s great manifestation. This “love is beyond human understanding and above all description in words. Divine love was the main reason for the creation of the universe and is the main driving force behind the whole of creation.”

Calling Divine Mercy “a continuing realization of the creative potential of God,” Bishop Hilarion told a rapt audience of some 8,000 that the driving force of “the true Father” is His “immeasurable love,” a love that surpasses understanding, though it does not require understanding to be experienced.

“Thus His attitude to the created world is characterized by an unceasing providential care for all its inhabitants: for angels and demons, human beings and animals,” Bishop Hilarion said. “God’s providence is universal and embraces all. None of His creatures is excluded from the scope of the loving presence of God … There is not a single nature who is in the first place or last place in creation in the Creator’s knowledge. Similarly, there is no before or after in His love toward them.”

Bishop Hilarion then took the attendees hearing this extraordinary teaching through a list of acts performed by the merciful God, beginning with creation. Though God knew mankind would fall and reject His love, He created us anyway. “To say that the love of God diminishes or vanishes because of a created being’s fall means ‘to reduce the glorious Nature of the Creator to weakness and change'” (from The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian translated by D. Miller, Boston, Mass., 1984, p.51).

Forgiveness, ‘Without Any Blame’
In an astounding declaration of the power of God’s mercy, Bishop Hilarion stated that God does not make mistakes or create unredeemable trash good only to be thrown away. Though God respects human choice and free will, even when the choice is to reject Him, His love and mercy can forgive literally without exception, “without any blame.”

The Bishop said God’s love flows equally over all creation, animals, man, and angels, as well as everything in between and outside.

Speaking of angels, Bishop Hilarion said, “The providential care of God and His love extends to angels, who were the first product of God’s creative act, including those who had fallen away from God and had turned into demons (my italics). According to [St.] Isaac, the love of the Creator towards fallen angels does not diminish as a result of their fall, and it is no less the fullness of love which He has towards all angels. ‘It would be most odious and utterly blasphemous’ Isaac claims, ‘to think that hate and resentment exists with God, even against demonic beings.'”

To claim that God’s mercy “diminishes or vanishes because of a created being’s fall” involves a human reduction of God’s glorious nature and imposes upon God “weakness and change,” the Bishop said. This would be a perverted creation of God in man’s own sinful image and likeness, a true “blasphemy.”

God, Bishop Hilarion said, contains no hatred or resentment, “no greater or lesser place in his love.” That is the reason we can confidently state, he said, that “God loves equally the righteous and sinners, making no distinction between them. God knew man’s future sinful life before the latter’s creation, yet He created him. God knew all people before [their] becoming righteous or sinners, and in His love He did not change because of the fact that they underwent change.”

Mercy means that all “blameworthy deeds” are forgiven “without any blame.”
Take a look at what the Diary of St. Faustina in number 598 states:

“Oh, how ardently I desire that every soul would praise
Your mercy. Happy is the soul that calls upon the mercy
of the Lord. It will see that the Lord will defend it as His
glory, as He said. And who would dare fight against
God? All you souls, praise the Lord’s mercy (63) by
trusting in His mercy all your life and especially at the
hour of your death. And fear nothing, dear soul,
whoever you are; the greater the sinner, the greater his
right to Your mercy, O Lord. O Incomprehensible
Goodness! God is the first to stoop to the sinner. O Jesus,
I wish to glorify Your mercy on behalf of thousands of
souls. I know very well, O my Jesus, that I am to keep
telling souls about Your goodness, about Your
incomprehensible mercy.”

God is Love, Not an Angry Judge
According to St. Isaac, Bishop Hilarion said, the image of God as Judge “is completely overshadowed by the image of God as Love (hubba) and Mercy (rahme. According to him, mercifulness is incompatible with justice.” Bishop Hilarion said we should not interpret literally the figurative God that the Old Testament describes in anthropomorphic terms such as “wrath, anger, [and] hatred.” He added:

“Rejecting with such decisiveness the idea of requital, Isaac shows that the Old Testament understanding of God as a chastiser of sinners” holding generations of children responsible for familial sins “does not correspond with the revelation that we have received through Christ in the New Testament.” The Bishop said that Christ Himself confirmed the reality that God bears “no hatred towards anyone, [only] all-embracing love, which does not distinguish between righteous and sinner, between a friend of the truth and an enemy of the truth, between angel and demon. Every created being is precious in God’s eyes. He cares for every creature. … If we turn away from God, He does not turn away from us.”

Bishop Hilarion termed the Incarnation the moment when the love of God “revealed itself to the highest degree.” He said people “are called to answer the love of God with their own love” as best the can, but that the return love by humans to God on earth will always be less than perfect. God understands that, and, according to the Bishop, this explains how the infinite and perfect God, can forgive our sins. “Here St. Isaac emphasizes that God does nothing out of retribution: even to think that way about God would be blasphemous.”

God as Love Overcomes Gehenna
There is another idea worse than that, Bishop Hilarion said, again, referring to St. Isaac’s teachings.

“Even worse,” the Bishop said, “is the opinion that God allows people to lead a sinful life on earth in order to punish them eternally after death. This is a blasphemous and perverted understanding of God, a calumny of God.” To the contrary, from the first created angels to the present moment, God’s love drives the universe, which, according to the Bishop, leads to St. Isaac’s most important idea about Divine Mercy: “that the final destiny of the history of the universe must correspond to the majesty of God, and that the final destiny of humans should be worthy of God’s mercifulness.” This majesty may even modify Gehenna or hell itself, he said.

Bishop Hilarion then quoted St. Iassac on “the difficult matter of Gehenna’s torment”:

It is not the way of the compassionate Maker to create rational beings in order to deliver them over mercilessly to unending affliction in punishment for things of which He knew even before they were fashioned … [A]ll the more since the foreplanning of evil and the taking of vengeance are characteristic of the passions of created brings, and do not belong to the Creator. For all this characterizes people who do not know or who are unaware of what they are doing.

The standard objection to this line of thought is that the conception of such a merciful God leads to laxity in people or a loss of the fear of God, the Bishop noted. But, he said, the opposite is true. Saint Isaac believed that knowing the merciful God in this way would cause more love of God in people, not less. When that happens, people will realize “the measureless mercy of the Creator.”

Again, Bishop Hilarion emphasized, if we say otherwise, we attribute to God’s actions; a pettiness and weakness that is ours, not His. We should cease speaking of a God of retribution, Bishop Hilarion said, and focus on God’s “fatherly provision, a wise dispensation, a perfect will which is concerned with the requiting of former things by means of … complete love.”

The Mystery of Hell Leading to Heaven
The Bishop continued:

All of God’s actions are mysteries that are inaccessible to human reasoning. Gehenna is also a mystery, created in order to bring to a state of perfection those who had not reached it during their lifetime. … Thus, Gehenna is a sort of purgatory rather than hell. It is conceived and established for the salvation of both human beings and angels. … According to Isaac, all those who have fallen away from God will eventually return to Him because of the temporary and short torment in Gehenna that is prepared for them in order that they purify themselves through the fire of suffering and repentance.

Hell, therefore, according to Bishop Hilarion, is transitory. Once more, he emphasized that this is the logical conclusion that is derived once we establish the major premise that above all, God is Love, and that He is unlimited mercy. He said that God established the Kingdom of heaven for all created beings, “even though an intervening time is reserved for the general raising of all to the same [heavenly] level. And we say this that we too may concur with the magisterial teaching of Scripture.” Such an understanding of Divine Mercy will cause people to love God more and not less.

Divine Mercy shows us God’s full love, and for that reason, Bishop Hilarion said, St. Isaac “was quite resentful of the widespread opinion that the majority of people will be punished in hell, and only a small group of the chosen will delight in Paradise. He is convinced that, quite the contrary, the majority of people will find themselves in the Kingdom of heaven, and only a few sinners will go to Gehenna, and even they only for the period of time which is necessary for their repentance and remission of sins.”

In this way, the first World Congress on Divine Mercy had found its electric moment.

An Improvisation for the Ages
In an impromptu discussion afterward between Cardinal Christoph Shonborn, Archbishop of Austria, and Bishop Hilarion, the Cardinal expressed his deep thanks to his Orthodox counterpart for his “courageous teaching” on the depth of God’s mercy. Asked by this reporter if he found anything that he could not accept about Bishop Hilarion’s remarks, Cardinal Schonborn said, “Nothing at all, because as the Bishop said, all creation falls under the care of The Divine Mercy.”

Thus, in an amazing ecumenical moment, unqualified Divine Mercy washed over this Congress. Cardinal Schonborn and Bishop Hilarion agreed that St. Issac’s teachings were not well known by most Catholics, but the Cardinal said this doesn’t mean that we cannot “share our understanding of God’s limitless love.” Asked point blank if he could accept the idea that God’s love can make even hell temporary, the Cardinal responded, “How can there be a problem with any proposition that presents The Divine Mercy as the limitless manifestation of Love? I welcome and learn from [Bishop Hilarion’s] teaching.” **

Those standing around to witness this incredible moment smiled, and people rushed up to Bishop Hilarion. Cherry Silcock-Stone, a marketing and administrative analyst for Concorde International in Kent, England, was one of those people. With joy in her face, she thanked Bishop Hilarion for his merciful teaching. “You have revealed something so wonderful,” she said.

The World Mercy Congress had just caught fire.

* The Eastern Church holds that two states exist — heaven and hell — and that sanctification is more process-orientated. Thus, hell is where this process takes place. We are in the middle of the process of sanctification at the moment of our deaths, the work of holiness is an eternal one, since God’s holiness is limitless and hence forever beyond us. The Western Church speaks of purgatory as a state where the “residual debt” due to sin is “worked off” before the Second Coming. Both realize the truth of the process of becoming holy by God’s holiness, thus the cleansing “state” is temporary.

** A time of purgation is temporary, yet the time of eternal damnation is a fact of Jesus’ teaching on the Last Judgment (cf. Mt. 25: 31-46). Thus, a need for living mercy day by day (how we show mercy to others) is the basis of salvation or damnation.

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of “Dan Valenti’s Journal” for thedivinemercy.org.

Saint Faustina’s ‘Remarkable Solution’

Guest speaker Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, explained that the elements of the message of Divine Mercy are necessary to our health and well-being.

What Happens When Divine Mercy and Psychotherapy Meet?

Consider this: Christ told the great prophet of Divine Mercy, St. Maria Faustina, in one of a series of revelations in the 1930s, “Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy” (Diary of St. Faustina, 300).

Now consider this: The revelations of St. Faustina occurred at a time when mankind was just beginning to focus on psychological brokenness.

Now imagine this: What if Divine Mercy and the field of psychotherapy became partners in healing the world?

This isn’t a pipe dream, or the wishful thinking of a bunch of Divine Mercy devotees who are allowing the beauty of the Eternal City or the richness of the Catholic Faith to cloud their good judgment during a five-day congress on mercy. This is actually happening. Today. Right now.

Take it from a Friar, who’s also a psychologist, who’s also a member of the American Psychological Association.

On Day 2 of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy in Rome, Fr. Benedict Groeschel,CFR, dropped a proverbial bomb, in a talk titled “Brokenness and the Human Person and the Healing Power of God’s Mercy,” to a packed audience at Our Lady of Angels in Rome. He declared that a “simple peasant girl” from Poland named Helen Kowalska, now known to the world as St. Faustina (1905-38), made “a remarkable contribution to the new solution” to the problems that plague humanity.

He traced the arc of the field of psychotherapy in the 20th century and spoke of the “astounding … almost miraculous” changes now afoot, changes which “fit in with Divine Mercy.”

In a nutshell: Love, forgiveness, and mercy, all touchstones of the message of Divine Mercy, are not only good traits to have and to practice, but they prove necessary to our health and well-being.

But let’s back up. In the 1980s, the first great crop of psychologists and psychiatrists began retiring. These were the men and women who spent careers treating depression, anxiety, self-hate, guilt, fear, and other problems. One of them, a Jewish psychologist named Dr. Allen Beck, asked the question, “Did we do anything? Did anyone get better?”

“The question contained the answer,” said Fr. Groeschel, “and the answer was, ‘We didn’t do very much.’

“I was aware of this when I was studying psychology at Columbia,” said Fr. Groeschel. “I said to myself, the purpose [of psychotherapy] seems to be to bring people from misery to mere unhappiness. The goal was unhappiness. In the psychiatric world, if you’re really happy, they think you’re nuts.”

For years, the treatment, he said, focused on guilt, anxiety, self-hate, hostility, but Dr. Beck asked, “Why don’t we straighten out our thinking?” Before this time, most in the field followed more or less the theories of Sigmund Freud, an atheist. His method, said Fr. Groeschel, was to “get rid of your repressed feelings, especially your repressed hatred of your mother and father. That was the big theory. Freud did hate his mother and father, but that didn’t mean everybody else did. Beck said straighten out your feelings.”

After that, said Fr. Groeschel, another psychologist, Dr. Martin Seligman, got an incredible realization. Seligman was president of the American Psychological Association, “the most unreligious organization this side of the Russian Secret Police,” said Fr. Groeschel. One morning, Seligman’s young daughter spilled a glass of orange juice, and, as the story goes, Seligman yelled at her, “Why don’t you be careful!” His daughter responded, “Why don’t you be nice?”

Her response startled him. Seligman thought, “Be kind. Be nice.”

From that event sprung a whole new reform of modern psychotherapy called “Positive Psychology,” the psychology of virtue.

And until that point, the word virtue “hadn’t been heard in a hundred years” in the field of psychotherapy, said Fr. Groeschel. “The theory was that people, in order to get better, need to practice the certain virtues that are lacking in their lives,” he said.

Virtues such as forgiveness, love, and mercy.

Now, consider the Diary of St. Faustina, where she recorded her mystical experiences with Christ. In it, this uneducated Polish nun provides a veritable prescription for the age. At one point, she includes what she calls conversations of a Merciful God with a sinful soul, a despairing soul, a suffering soul, and a soul striving after perfection. For instance, one section reads:

Soul: Lord, I doubt that You will pardon my numerous sins; my misery fills me with fright.

Jesus: My mercy is greater than your sins and those of the entire world. Who can measure the extent of My goodness? For you I descended from heaven to earth; for you I allowed Myself to be nailed to the cross; for you I let My Sacred Heart be pierced with a lance, thus opening wide the source of mercy for you. Come, then, with trust to draw graces from this fountain. I never reject a contrite heart. Your misery has disappeared in the depths of My mercy. Do not argue with Me about your wretchedness. You will give Me pleasure if you hand over to Me all your troubles and griefs. I shall heap upon you the treasures of My grace (1485).

Here, Christ speaks of His forgiveness and of His love, even to the soul on the edge of eternal damnation. He’s the source for healing.

“It’s an immensely powerful instance of Divine Mercy,” said Fr. Groeschel, “a powerful message speaking to self-hate, anxiety, to fear, to all of the things that lead people to neurosis. Saint Faustina’s revelations dovetail with the new Positive Psychology of Dr. Seligman, and Seligman would not deny this. I’ve been in correspondence with him.”

“Can you see how Divine Mercy will come together in all this?” he asked.

With that in mind, the words in 2002 of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II could not have been clearer as to why this message is so urgent — psychologically and spiritually.

“Like St. Faustina,” the Holy Father said, “we wish to proclaim that, apart from the mercy of God, there is no other source of hope for mankind. We desire to repeat with faith: Jesus, I trust in You. This proclamation of trust in the all-powerful love of God, is especially necessary in our own times, when mankind is experiencing bewilderment in the face of many manifestations of evil.”

Love at Its Deepest Level

Personal experiences with representatives of other religions punctuated Philippe Cardinal Barbarin’s address at the Mercy Congress.

Cardinal Barbarin Addresses the Urgency of Intereligious Dialogue

By Dan Valenti (Apr 3, 2008)
ROME

Since the first strategic planning session of the World Mercy Congress began, ecumenism and interreligious dialogue have loomed large on the agenda. On Day Two of the Congress, April 3, one of the Church’s most passionate advocates of interreligious dialogue, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of France, acknowledged the immense difficulties but held out hope of a breakthrough.

If it is to come, the thrust forward will be provided by a reliance on mercy as common ground.

In an exclusive interview conducted after his talk to a packed St. John Lateran Basilica, Cardinal Barbarin said that mercy is “the next step forward in interreligious dialogue. Mercy is [something] all people share. This is God’s greatest gift to us, and it provides a realistic hope that we can begin to work more closely together. But it won’t be easy. There are significant differences that can’t be ignored. Speaking for the Church, we must work harder to reduce our ignorance of other faiths.”

When asked how religious leaders can come together to move forward and avoid an impasse or even a step backward, Cardinal Barbarin said, “We must realize that in mercy, we can converse in a common language. Mercy is spirituality’s ‘universal translator.’ Who does not want to be loved or forgiven? This is common to all people, because we all experience our brokenness in life. Sooner or later, we realize our helplessness without God. So those of us who are serious about reaching accord with our brothers and sisters of other faiths must proceed from there.”

Speaking to this correspondent and otherwise standing alone at the center of the ancient basilica’s reflectory, Cardinal Barbarin warmed to the topic, speaking with deliberation and passion. A few yards away, within the walls of the former Seat of Peter and now Basilica of Rome — the Pope’s “Church” — about 8,000 pilgrims and congressional attendees milled about. The Cardinal had just given his formal presentation on the topic, “Interreligious dialogues drawn by The Divine Mercy.”

Reliance on mercy as the basis for interreligious communication, Cardinal Barbarin said, is “how we can progress together. We must have the honesty and openness to share our stories and realize that no matter what our differences, they are greater in our eyes than in God’s. Despite the things that keep us apart, the truth is that we have only one God, the God of all who is in all. Really, we all experience the same God, though often in far different ways. These differences are caused by the consequences of human living, factors such as culture, societal moirés, separate histories, and so forth.

“But if we stop reverting to history, which often contains the source of deep hostility toward one another, we can change our focus. As we do this, though, we must not get too far ahead of ourselves, for that throws us into the future, which we cannot know and for us does not exist. Our focus should be on the ‘now.’ The moment — that is where we find God. Whoever finds the true God finds the secret to the mystery of our commonality as His spiritual sons and daughters.”

Cardinal Barbarin said he had great hope that the “mutual reality of Divine Mercy” would unlock our hearts. If this happens, he said, people would first come to respect one another. Respect, he said, must happen before anything else in trying to establish communication.

“Without respect, there is inhumanity,” Cardinal Barbarin said. “With inhumanity, we begin to objectify the ‘other.’ That presents too great a temptation to exploit others through our selfishness, greed, and a desire for things like money and power. That is what history teaches. But once we can reach mutual respect, this condition changes. From respect, we can progress to caring interest in each other and from there to love. Actually, we don’t do this at all, but it is God who works through us.”

Once love enters the picture, the Cardinal asked, “What is not possible? Regarding those who are on a different path than us, it may seem that we are trying to do the impossible. This is not so, and even if it were, what is the problem? Why should we fear this? We are with God, and with God, everything is possible.”

In his formal remarks to the Congress, Cardinal Barbarin talked about a journey he made in February 2007 with his Muslim counterparts to the Monastery of Tibhirine in Algeria to visit the site where seven Catholic monks were martyred in 1997 by radical Muslims. Their severed heads were put in plastic bags and hung from trees.

The Cardinal accepted the invitation from the Islamic community to participate in a healing service ten years after the grisly event. He said, “We went not to seek mercy for the dead, for they were with God. We wanted to invoke mercy for the killers, who were all still alive.”

Cardinal Barbarin said that “after we returned from that trip, I found that I was praying in a different way. Why? I think it was because I had experienced the deeper truth of God.”

Cardinal Barbarin noted that in his country, France, people often seem afraid to use the word “mercy.” “That word is avoided,” he said. “It is not employed. [My country] uses the word ‘love.’ The Jewish people and Islam, on the other hand, speak freely of God’s mercy. Muslims center on Allah’s great mercy. In fact, a Muslim invokes God’s mercy 17 times in daily prayer.

The Cardinal said that in proceeding along the road to greater interreligious dialogue, bumps even hazards invariably occur. These take the form of tough questions. “One question I advanced to my Muslim brothers, I asked on behalf of many. It was a question I had never dared to ask. I asked why does the Koran seem to require the death of someone who converts to Christianity?”

There was no easy answer forthcoming, Cardinal Barbarin said, for there are never easy answers to the difficult questions that arise in such dialogue. He said his Muslim friends responded that the Koran does not teach killing but first mercy. The contradiction, they said, could only be explained by an inaccurate interpretation of Islam’s holiest book.

Two of the questions his Muslims brothers asked him dealt with “disconnects” between official teaching and actual practice. They asked him, for example, why so many Catholics ignore the Church’s teaching on contraception. They also asked him to explain the Trinity. Again, he offered no easy answers.

“I told them, ‘I cannot explain the Trinity’ … but then I tried to explain. I told them that we [Christians] believe in one God and that the Holy Spirit is the circulation of love between the Father and the Son. [I also said that] God is not monolithic and unchangeable, like a huge block of concrete, but that God is fluid and dynamic. God is love, and love is dynamic. The different Persons of God represent His qualities as they manifest themselves through human experience and perception. I said we can sum up God as love, mercy, and compassion, in other words, goodness.”

Cardinal Barbarin said he is committed to keeping strong lines of communication open to other faiths and said that in his visit to the Monastery in Tibhirine, “We started a dialogue, which we consciously based in God’s mercy.” That dialogue has and will continue, he promised, regardless of what twists and turns politics and world events might throw in the way.

“We often have feelings which disturb us,” the Cardinal said, “because we are not doing what God is asking of us. This happens to all peoples of all faiths. Today, God is asking us to come together as brothers and sisters in love.”

What is the alternative, he asked? Basically, Cardinal Barbarin said, we have two choices: we can run away because the road is too difficult, or we can move forward as best we can. He said he and the Church have chosen to move forward.

“Who is going to be the one to take the initiative? How are we going to implement all of [the ideas that come forth from interreligious dialogue]? It is true we will encounter difficulty, but we have no choice but to continue along on the path. This is the only way we can be witnesses of mercy, which is the true presence of God in the heart of man.

“It is not enough to tolerate the present situation,” the Cardinal said. “That which separates us from our brothers and sisters of other faiths can be removed only by experiencing the one, true, living God.”

To move forward in this “courageous” undertaking, Cardinal Barbarin said, “is to engage in love at its deepest level. We cannot be afraid of life. We cannot be afraid to love.”

The Congress Convenes!

By Felix Carroll (Apr 3, 2008)
If there was any confusion at all about the focus of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy, Pope Benedict XVI quickly dispelled it during the opening Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday morning.

The first-ever congress on mercy would focus not on mercy in general, but Divine Mercy specifically. The Holy Father himself referred to the Congress as the “World Apostolic Congress on Divine Mercy.”

It’s not just a matter of semantics. The message of Divine Mercy, as revealed to St. Faustina in the 1930s, sheds light on the nature of God as Merciful Father. It calls on the world to trust in Jesus, to receive His mercy, and to share that mercy with the world through our actions. It’s a message that Pope John Paul II believed was particularly suited to our times.

In his homily, delivered before more than 40,000 people, Pope Benedict XVI set the stage for the five-day world congress, tying it in with the Pontificate of John Paul II, known as the “Great Mercy Pope,” who tirelessly promoted the message of God’s mercy and who canonized St. Faustina, whose revelations have sparked the modern Divine Mercy movement.

“In fact, only Divine Mercy is capable of limiting evil; only God’s all-powerful love can overcome the arrogance of the wicked, and the destructive power of selfishness and hatred,” the Holy Father said in his homily.

The opening Mass was celebrated for the soul of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, on the third anniversary of the Polish Pontiff’s death. Pope John Paul II spoke of Divine Mercy as his special calling as Pope.

“I direct a particular thought to the participants of the first World Congress on Divine Mercy, which begins today and which intends to delve more deeply into [Pope John Paul’s] rich magisterium on this subject,” Pope Benedict said. “The message of God, he himself said, is a key to the privileged reading of his pontificate. He wanted the message of the merciful love of God to reach all humanity, and he exhorted the faithful to be witnesses of it. For this reason, he wished to elevate to the honor of the altars Sr. Faustina Kowalska, the humble sister who became, by a mysterious divine design, a prophetic messenger of Divine Mercy.

“Servant of God John Paul II personally knew and experienced the immense tragedies of the 20th century, and for a long time he asked himself what could stem the tide of evil. The answer could not but be in the love of God.”

Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, who served as vice-postulator for St. Faustina’s canonization cause, called the opening Mass “astounding” — not only because it echoed Pope John Paul’s exhortation that Divine Mercy is the message for our times, but because so many people in the square were clearly drawn by their love for the message and devotion of Divine Mercy.

Indeed, many carried Divine Mercy images and pictures of St. Faustina. And when the words in Italian for “Divine Mercy” were spoken in the Holy Father’s homily, the crowd cheered.

“It shows how universal the acceptance of this message is,” said Fr. Seraphim. “It’s vastly greater than people can imagine.”

The aim of the five-day congress is to bring the message of mercy into the daily life of the Church and the world. About 200 delegations from around the world, including clergy and laity and people of other faiths, are taking part. Throughout the week, the congress is featuring prayer, plenary sessions, ecumenical testimonies and evangelization throughout Rome.

Susan Wilson, a member of a Divine Mercy cenacle in Salem, Oregon, was drawn to the congress after she experienced a conversion in 2000, on the day of St. Faustina’s canonization.

“I believe this congress is the second most important event in human history, second to the Paschal Mystery of Christ,” she said. “From this point on we are all being called to spread the message of Divine Mercy. We’ll be heralds of His Second Coming, as St. Faustina was. This congress launches this message into a world event.”

“It’s such an important event,” said Ellen Jonah of Ghana, who was wearing a dress that had the face of St. Faustina and The Divine Mercy image printed upon it. “There is so much pain in the world, so many families torn apart. We’ve come here to learn more about Divine Mercy so that we can bring the message back to our communities.”

“We’re those vessels of mercy that are being filled up this week so that we may bring it back and share God’s mercy with all,” said Lee Bowers of Texas.

“Christ came and gave a human face to God’s mercy,” said Olga Blake, a nurse from Bronx, N.Y., who is participating in the congress. “So we must take that mercy and, in turn, be merciful to others. This is the only way the world will heal itself.”

In his homily, the Holy Father asked John Paul II “to continue to intercede from heaven for each of us, and particularly for me whom Providence has called to take up his priceless spiritual legacy.

“May the Church,” he said, “following his teaching and example, continue in her evangelizing mission faithfully and without compromise, tirelessly spreading Christ’s merciful love, source of true peace for the whole world.”

‘Something that Builds’

By Dan Valenti (Apr 3, 2008)
Inside the cavernous St. John Lateran Basilica, the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, the nuts and bolts of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy began to be assembled in earnest with opening remarks and the gathering’s first extended teaching.

Cardinals Christoph Schönborn, Camillo Ruini and Stanislaus Dziwisz greeted some 8,000 attendees with words of encouragement and wisdom. Cardinal Schönborn of Austria, invoking the Holy Spirit, asked those gathered to bring their “minds and hearts up to God in a spirit of wisdom, so it may bring forth faith and bring us into true testimonies of truth and love.”

“Love is something that builds” Cardinal Schönborn added. “The mystery of Divine Mercy is merciful love, which seeks intervention in our lives.” Time and again, Cardinal Schönborn came back to the point that Divine Mercy is a way of life first, a message second, and a devotion third. “I truly hope the World Congress on Divine Mercy, which is defined as being apostolic, may stimulate a new missionary front in the name of God and the name of mercy not just in all the churches of Rome, but in all churches, indeed, everyplace worldwide.”

Italy’s Cardinal Ruini, noting the 200 delegations from every corner of the globe convening for the Congress, recalled how the Congress came to be called following an international meeting in Krakow, Poland, in 2006. Noting that Pope Benedict XVI’s fervent endorsement of the idea of a congress on mercy, Cardinal Ruini directed the collective vision of attendees ahead. “At the end of this [World Congress], God willing, we will follow up with National and Continental Congresses in order to spread the precious message of Divine Mercy.”

One point worth noting is that throughout Day 1 of the Congress, from Pope Benedict at his opening Mass in St. Peter’s Square to the opening remarks of the Cardinals, the leaders went out of their way to refer to this international gathering as a Congress on “Divine” Mercy. The adjective in front of “Mercy” had been formally left out by the meeting’s organizers out of concern it would place an unintended but perceived emphasis on the private, devotional aspects of the message. The Pope and the others put those concerns to rest, being comfortable in calling this what it was: a Church-wide consideration of “Divine Mercy.” In the end, the Pope and Cardinals reinstated the adjective “Divine.”

Cardinal Dziwisz of Poland made news of a sort when he added a third to the “two great apostles of Divine Mercy for our times, St. Faustina and our beloved Pope John Paul II.” The third man in, in this case, would be none other than Benedict, successor to the Great Mercy Pope. “[Benedict] has gathered us here around this mystery to help us all discover The Divine Mercy. We cannot forget his intervention, his Regina Caeli last week, and his beautiful homily today.”

Following the welcoming remarks, Cardinal Schönborn conducted the first teaching on Divine Mercy, a brilliant and at once accessible treatment boring into the core. The Cardinal began by talking extensively about the life of John Paul II, liberally quoting the Pontiff’s many pronouncements on Divine Mercy.

“I believe the words of John Paul are the guidelines for our lifetime. [His] are the words underlying the organization of this Congress.” He mentioned how the young man, Karol Wojtyla, toiled in a chemical factory as a forced laborer for the Nazis, discovered the message of Divine Mercy in the writings of Sr. Faustina Kowalska. That discovery, Cardinal Schönborn said, enabled Wojtyla not only to save his own life but to find the means of saving the world.

“Who [in their right mind] could have said back in 1942 that the young man seen trudging to another day of dreary work in that chemical factory, the man in the wooden shoes, would one day become Pope and dedicate the world to Divine Mercy?”

Breaking into the next part of his talk, Cardinal Schönborn joked that if he was putting everyone to sleep, “Don’t be afraid. God will teach you even in your dreams!” He got the improvised line off with expert timing to an uproar of laughter.

He then reflected upon the inner strength at the heart of Divine Mercy. Mentioning the frequent and sometimes justified criticism against the Catholic Church for “talking too much about sin,” he turned it around into a positive. “Sure, we can easily talk about sin because we also teach Divine Mercy. Because we believe God is infinitely merciful, we do not need to hide our sins. We don’t have to be innocent because we know God is merciful. This is the only way we can understand, for example, how the saints could also think of themselves as great sinners. They could only do that because they had experienced Divine Mercy.”

Cardinal Schönborn then asked his listeners to ponder the nature of a merciful God. “How is our Heavenly Father merciful? Who can say? How can we know it? How can we [inject that knowledge] into our blood? How can we, as sinners, reflect upon God’s perfection and His mercy?”

The answer, he said, lies in Sacred Scripture. “God prepared His people for this understanding throughout the Old Testament.” He said the God of the Old Testament is not the wrathful judge, angry all the time. Rather, the Old Testament God is the same One, Eternal God that we know through mercy as our loving Father. “Jesus Himself gives evidence that the God of the Old Testament is a merciful God. In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, who we can see in human form and in Him [gaze upon] the mercy of His Father. Jesus as The Divine Mercy, therefore, is our way to become similar to God. We have to pray to Him to show us His mercy.”

Cardinal Schönborn noted the many times in the life of Jesus where He extended mercy: the raising of Lazarus and the comforting of Lazarus’s grieving family, the healing of lepers, restoring sight to the blind, and in many other instances of tending to the physical, psychological, and spiritual ills of hurting people. The shining example of this is Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan. Jesus made clear, Cardinal Schönborn said, that the merciful one in the story was the one who SHOWED mercy, making the point that mercy is an action verb.

Again, this brought him back to his controlling idea regarding mercy: that unless mercy is something we live and do, we are wasting our time.

Cardinal Schönborn concluded with what he called the “great sin” of contemporary times: insensitivity and indifference. He exemplified this with the current trend in society and medical science to offer euthanasia as a form of mercy. How can it be merciful, he asked, to kill someone?

“Very often we feel we don’t need anything,” Cardinal Schönborn said. “We have all the answers, and we [certainly] don’t need mercy. This came clear to me when I worked with alcoholics and those with addictions. Often, they would not acknowledge how much they needed help. How is it possible for mercy to take root where there is no acknowledgment of our need for it?”

He cautioned against “hardness of heart. We shouldn’t become insensitive. In fact, that is the primary sin of man vis-à-vis God. Our hearts have become hard.”

The embrace of Divine Mercy, the Cardinal said, is the sure-fire antidote against this happening.

“Accept the mercy of God, this infinitely precious gift,” Cardinal Schönborn exhorted the people after his formal remarks concluded. “Accept, and then give it to others. The more you give it away, the more you end up keeping.”