By David Came (Nov 14, 2009)
Opening Reflection: Grand Sweep of Mercy in Salvation History
As the Divine Mercy Networking Forum opened the morning of Friday, Nov. 13, Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC — the director of the Association of Marian Helpers and an expert on the Divine Mercy message and the life of St. Faustina — set the tone by reflecting on the grand sweep of Divine Mercy in salvation history. He described the great mercy of God being made up of three stages: our “being created out of nothing,” our “redemption from sin,” and our ultimate call to be “partakers of the divine nature.” In passages from the Diary of St. Faustina, Fr. Seraphim emphasized how both Jesus and Mary told Sr. Faustina — the great Apostle of Divine Mercy — that her mission was to prepare the world for the Lord’s Second Coming. And all of us who open our hearts to Divine Mercy and seek to live the message share in that mission. As Fr. Seraphim said in concluding his reflection: “The good Lord and the Holy Spirit have drawn you to be zealous instruments of [this] saving work [of mercy]. May we sing of the mercies of the Lord forever.”
Youth and Young Adults: Be ‘Courted by Jesus Christ’
At the forum’s morning workshop titled “Inspiring Youth and Young Adults,” Marian seminarian Br. Richard Mary Dolan, MIC, shared through the lens of his own conversion how young adults are looking for their identity, intimacy, and security, which can only be found in Christ. This is the “root” of the problem for young adults in today’s society, and until we address it, we will not be effective in reaching them with the Gospel message. For example, a key moment for Br. Rich came when he was discerning the call to priesthood or marriage. At that time, a priest told him, “Rich, it’s not between marriage and priesthood. It’s God’s fullest will for your life.” For Br. Rich, for young adults, and for all of us, the question then becomes, “Have I really been courted by Jesus Christ?” The reality for Br. Rich, then, in discerning his vocation came down to confessing that he wasn’t placing the Lord first in his life. As he put it, “I wasn’t letting the Lord court me.”
Evangelizing: Respect the Dignity of Those You Serve
At another morning workshop titled “Evangelizing When You Are Not Preaching to the Choir,” the famous quote of St. Francis of Assisi on evangelization helped establish the theme: “Preach the Gospel always and when necessary use words.” In that spirit, Ted Hanley, a man of action, used words sparingly in sharing about his ministry. He is the founder of one of the nation’s most effective organizations performing community-based works of mercy. It’s called the Jesse Tree and is located in Galveston, Texas. After Ted briefly shared how his ministry has been crucial in helping Galveston area residents recover from the devastation of Hurricane Ike (Sept. 12, 2008), Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC — the workshop leader and the Marians’ director of Evangelization and Development — shared how Ted’s ministry there started with a special approach to serving the poor that respected their dignity. “Ted set up a restaurant for the poor where they could make reservations for their meal a day ahead,” said Fr. Kaz. “The day before, they were given showers and needed medical attention. It was a way of taking care of their dignity before they appeared for their dinner at the restaurant the next day.” For Ted and for each of us, the message is clear: Our actions speak louder than our words in ministering to those in need.
Evangelizing: The Contemplative Outlook
At the workshop titled “Evangelizing When You’re Not Preaching to the Choir,” Marian seminarian Br. Michael Gaitley, MIC, shared briefly about another way we can evangelize while using words sparingly. It’s called the “Contemplative Outlook” and the idea comes from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae). “The key to winning the battle for the Culture of Life is seeing each other with awe and amazement,” (based on recognizing our innate dignity as children of God, created in God’s image), said Br. Michael. He noted that Pope John Paul II practiced this contemplative outlook. “His look at others told them that they were great. Everywhere he went and with everyone he met, John Paul would see Christ in them,” said Br. Michael. The call is to delight in everyone we meet simply by the way we look at them, recognizing Christ in them. It can revolutionize all of our relationships and be particularly effective in evangelizing. Here’s one of the main passages on the contemplative outlook in The Gospel of Life:
Because we have been sent into the world as a “people for life,” our proclamation must also become a genuine celebration of the Gospel of life. This celebration, with the evocative power of its gestures, symbols, and rites, should become a precious and significant setting in which the beauty and the grandeur of this Gospel is handed on.
For this to happen, we need first of all to foster, in ourselves and others, a contemplative outlook. Such an outlook arises from faith in the God of life, who has created every individual as a “wonder” (cf. Ps 139:14). It is the outlook of those who see life in its deeper meaning, who grasp its utter gratuitousness, its beauty and its invitation to freedom and responsibility. It is the outlook of those who do not presume to take possession of reality but instead accept it as a gift, discovering in all things the reflection of the Creator and seeing in every person His living image (cf. Gen 1:27; Ps 8:5). This outlook does not give into discouragement when confronted by those who are sick, suffering, outcast or at death’s door. Instead, in all these situations it feels challenged to find meaning, and precisely in all these circumstances it is open to perceiving in the face of every person a call to encounter, dialogue and solidarity (83).
Experts on the Panel: Tips Shared on Evangelization
During the afternoon panel discussion titled “Ask the Divine Mercy Experts,” questions about evangelization seemed to top the list. For instance, the first question (paraphrased) was: How can programs to reach lapsed Catholics inspire us? The questioner mentioned a program called “Catholics Come Home,” which has been launched in the Diocese of Sacramento, Calif. In response, Joan Maroney of Mother of Mercy Messengers said, “If people are coming back, they need to come back to the Sacraments. We need to embrace them and get them involved. We should find ways to incorporate them into the community.” When a similar question about reaching alienated Catholics was asked later in the panel discussion, Ted Hanley of the Jesse Tree ministry said, “A very simple thing we can do is to give an invitation [to come to church]. You are welcome. Come with us.” Father Joe Roesch, MIC — who is a councilor to the Marian General in Rome and the Marian responsible for Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy — shared from his pastoral experience as a priest. “People need reassurance of God’s love and mercy, so we have to be careful at Christmas and Easter [the only times when many Catholics come to church]. I try to encourage and not castigate,” he said. “I also try to take advantage of [evangelizing opportunities at] funerals and wakes. We need to be alert and have an evangelizing heart.”
Fr. Donald at NACOM: ‘Mary: Mother and Masterpiece of Mercy’
The afternoon of Saturday, Nov. 14, at the North American Congress on Mercy, Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC — the Marians’ U.S. vocation director and a Marian Press author — spoke on “Mary: Mother and Masterpiece of Mercy,” His presentation literally blew me away! It was chockfull of insights on the Blessed Virgin Mary and Divine Mercy. Here are several of his key insights, based on my notes:
• Drawing from Archbishop Fulton Sheen in The World’s First Love, “Imagine that you being divine had the power to create your own mother, you would make her the kindest, gentlest, most compassionate, most understanding, holiest, and most beautiful woman … .” Further, imagine that you being divine had the power to create your own daughter. Imagine that you being divine had the power to create your own spouse. [This is what happened with the Holy Trinity and Mary:] God the Father made His daughter; God the Son made His mother; and God the Holy Spirit made His spouse.
• What a creature [Mary] is! And it is precisely the mercy of God that did it. God has the power to do for us what He did for Mary.
• We have to be born again, and it has to come through a mother. No one can truly come to Jesus except through Mary. It can only happen in its fullness through Mary.
• [Because of the Immaculate Conception,] Mary is dependent on Mercy, and Mercy [Divine Mercy Incarnate] is dependent on Mary. It’s a paradox. So it is with us: We can’t live without Mercy, and we can’t be born again without Mary.
Homily at Closing Mass: Divine Mercy, the Marians, and Pope John XXIII
At the closing Mass for the Mercy Congress on the morning of Sunday, Nov. 15, Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, shared some fascinating facts about the history of The Divine Mercy message involving the Marian Fathers and Pope John XXIII. First, he connected the Marians and their history in the United States in spreading the message with the location chosen for NACOM:
It appears to me not to be void of significance that the first North American Congress on The Divine Mercy, which we have just celebrated, following upon the First World Congress, which was held in Rome in April of 2008 under the auspices of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, should have taken place here, in the host city of Washington in the District of Columbia, and that, at the National Shrine of The Immaculate Conception, of the Patroness of the host country. For it was from this city, more precisely, from the House of Studies of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, located at that time on the corner of Lawrence Street, North East, opposite the former site of the Newman Bookshop, very near to this august center of worship, that the message of Jesus — The Divine Mercy — was first begun to be propagated on this continent in the Western Hemisphere, hardly two- and-a-half years after the passing into eternity of our Savior’s confidante, the now Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, while most of the religious sisters of her own community had not yet learned that their humble sister of the second choir of their Congregation was in any way involved in the matter.
Second, he shared an incident involving Pope John XXIII shortly after his enthronement in 1958 and the 20-year ban on the message and devotion, which not many people had heard before. The incident shows that at that time, there was a good chance the ban could have been permanent:
[Nonetheless] there was an effort on the part of some individuals in the Vatican to suppress the writings of Sister Faustina Kowalska, together with the devotions based on them. While I was working with an Italian priest, Don Carlo Vivaldeli, on a translation into Italian of Sr. Faustina’s Diary, he informed me that a friend of his from seminary days became a secretary to Pope John XXIII, and from him he learned that a decree was prepared to prohibit forever the spreading of Sr. Faustina’s Diary and the devotion to Jesus — The Divine Mercy, based on the “supposed” revelations recorded in it. Knowing that Pope Pius XII gave signs of being in favor of the writings of Sister Josepha Menendez of Spain on a similar topic of God’s mercy, the individuals not in favor of the subject awaited the seriously-ailing Pontiff’s demise.
The friend described to Don Carlo what followed. On the first day the successor to Pope Pius XII entered his office after his enthronement, he sat down at the desk on which a pile of documents was awaiting the new Pope’s signature. The Pope made the sign of the Cross and turned the pile of documents upside down, and proceeded to read the documents. The first one he picked up was the decree prepared against Sr. Faustina’s writings. It was evidently placed at the bottom of the pile so that, perhaps tiring from reading the preceding ones, the Pope would trust the work of his collaborators, and just sign it. Instead, John XXIII read the document carefully, and shook his head saying, “No, no, no!” And he indicated that this decree will not do — the Polish bishops should be consulted for their opinions. The document must be revised. It became a “Notification,” setting the matter aside until clarifications could be obtained. (Communication between Communist Poland and the Vatican was stopped by the Polish government. Even telephone communications were intercepted.)
These are both entries for the annals of Divine Mercy, thanks to Fr. Seraphim.
David Came is executive editor of Marian Helper magazine, the flagship publication of the Association of Marian Helpers, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass. His new book is Pope Benedict’s Divine Mercy Mandate.