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.

‘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.”