The Book That Sparked the Divine Mercy Movement... Read more
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For All Mankind, to All Mankind
Mercy Congress: An Opportunity to Create 'a Civilization of Love'
A dream is a hope wearing a wish's overcoat. A fulfilled dream is a glorified idea gone good, a desire with an action plan, a vision with a validation. Pope John Paul had such a dream — a dream of mercy.
Making Divine Mercy the theme of his long-running papacy, John Paul worked tirelessly to help fulfill the mission Jesus gave to St. Faustina when he told her to take His message of mercy for all mankind to all mankind.
This is a dream of utopia, but with a twist that separates it from other prior attempts to create paradise on earth. Unlike other utopian scenarios, simplicity characterizes this belief in the possibility of a new community whose only riches are love and peace. Don't be fooled, though. In this case, simplicity is not simplistic. Rather, it can be called ponderous, even profound, for its basis is the "cure" of the heart's sickness whose name is sin and whose symptoms are everything amiss in this first decade of the 21st century.
Utopia is the tantalizing possibility held out by religion, the scaffolding on the building called Spirituality.
'The Good Remains'
D.H. Lawrence, the great English novelist and poet, spoke for all spiritual utopians when he wrote a letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell in February 1915. It's not a coincidence that Lawrence wrote as the horrors of World War I were unfolding with relentless cruelty:
Let us all be good together, instead of just in the privacy of our chambers. Let us know that the intrinsic part of all of us is the best part. We can laugh at each other and dislike each other, but the good remains and we know it. And the new community shall be established upon the known, eternal good part in us. ... I hold this the most sacred duty — the gathering together of a number of people who shall so agree to love by the best they know. The ideal, the religion, must now be lived, practiced.
Could you find a better description for the aim of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy, to be held in Rome from April 2-6? This "gathering together of a number of people who shall so agree to love" and practice their religion describes precisely the fruits promised by Jesus to St. Faustina when he appeared to her and delivered the message that an unparalleled, epoch-making age of God's mercy was now upon us. The Mercy Congress seeks to jumpstart the realization of the saint's mission.
God Doesn't Give Up
As we unfortunately know, mankind did not adopt Lawrence's vision, and worse, did not listen to Mary when she appeared two years later in Fatima. God gave us time, but what did we do after the Armistice was signed in 1918? America revved up in its headlong embrace of what we now call The Roaring Twenties, a decade-long period of hedonism, crime, and self-indulgence.
The revelry came to a crashing halt with the collapse of the U.S. stock market on Oct. 29, 1929, ushering in the Great Depression. About 16 months later, on Feb. 22, 1931, Jesus, revealing Himself as The Divine Mercy, appeared to St. Faustina. Clearly, God wasn't about to give up on us. Instead, our stubbornness apparently made Him all the more determined to show us the way home.
Though we're skipping back chronologically, it would help to look at the concluding section of D.H. Lawrence's 1915 letter:
After the War, the soul of people will be so maimed and so injured that it is horrible to think of. And this shall be the new hope: that there shall be a life wherein the struggle shall not be for money or for power, but for individual freedom and the common effort towards good. ... "To be or not be be" is no longer the question. The question now is how shall we fulfill our declaration, "God is." For all our life is now based on the assumption that God is not."
Great Movement, Universal Significance
Fulfilling the declaration of "God is" — it's a dream that has involved the Marians of the Immaculate Conception for more than 60 years, with a lot of downs and ups along the way. Now, "the time" is upon us. If one opens up and listens with the heart, he or she will "hear" the inner workings of a great movement — almost machine-like in intelligent design and ancient in purpose — with profound Scriptural underpinnings and universal significance.
Pope John Paul II's dream will embark on the inauguration of its fulfillment beginning Wednesday, April 2, 2008, three years to the day after his death. On that day, the Mercy Congress kicks off in Rome with Pope Benedict XVI presiding. Mercy will bathe in a spotlight that outshines the sun and splash in a silvery brightness that resembles the light of a full moon on a starry night, but will it be enough?
Over the following four days, culminating with Mass in St. Peter's Square on Sunday, April 6, thousands of clergy, religious, Catholics, Christians, non-Christians, and even non-believers will immerse themselves in a "Divine Mercy Intensive" featuring speakers, workshops, music, art, theater, evangelistic outreach, works of mercy, and lots of prayer. As never before, Divine Mercy will come to the forefront of a monumental strategic effort by the Church, acting through itself (and its members) as the Mystical Body of Christ.
Everyone is invited.
A Marathon of Mercy
But Rome marks the starting line for a marathon of mercy that will run a full course that will likely take years perhaps decades.
• First, attendees will return to their homes, workplaces, parishes, and other locations, where they will share what they've learned. For the remainder of 2008, they will witness to mercy by word and by deed.
• Second, in 2009, a series of National Mercy Congresses will be conducted in the United States, Mexico, Europe, Latin America, Oceania, and Asia. These regional gatherings will further explore and extend the message of God's limitless mercy for everyone.
• Third, while the efforts of the Mercy Congresses continue to trickle down from the top of the Church hierarchy, the already prevalent grassroots movement will continue to move the message upward, percolating throughout dioceses, parishes, prayer groups, households, and individuals.
• Fourth, the plan is to have this pattern repeat itself until St. Faustina's mission is accomplished. This means that everyone — with no economic, political, social, or religious qualifiers — will be embraced by mercy.
For this to happen, much internal change is required. The Catholic Church, particularly at the diocesan and parish levels, must realize that Divine Mercy is a message with a devotion attached to it, and not the other way around. Too many parish priests and bishops hear the words "Divine Mercy" and roll their eyes back into their heads. They imagine a fringe devotion driven by an uneducated Polish nun through a private revelation that a Polish Pope embraced as a young man and took with him to the Vatican. They are wrong.
The Mercy Congress will attempt to educate them. What many don't realize is the urgency attached to the spreading of Divine Mercy, which has been called the greatest grassroots movement in the history of the Church. Time is running short.
First Fruits, Second Coming
Why Divine Mercy now, and why did Pope John Paul II (and now the Church) place so much emphasis on ushering mercy into the hearts of mankind? The fulfillment of St. Faustina's mercy mission relates to nothing less that the Second Coming of Christ.
Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, director of the Marian Helpers Association and a pre-eminent authority on Divine Mercy, points out the connection: "Divine Mercy is a doctrine that reminds us in a fresh way of the forgotten but immemorial truth of the limitless extent of God's merciful love for man."
He continues, "The Diary of St. Faustina records the progress of this revelation of the mystery of mercy, and it links the fulfillment of that revelation to Jesus' return to earth. When Christ returns, He won't be dealing with sin. He has already done that, on Calvary. The time before the Second Coming, he told St. Faustina, would be a time of unprecedented mercy for all mankind."
That time is now upon us.
What specifically did Jesus say to this simple, uneducated nun? The revelation, provided one believes, is jaw dropping: "You will prepare the world for My final coming" (Diary of St. Faustina, 429). Jesus also told St. Faustina that the "spark that will prepare the world for My final coming" would issue forth from Poland (passage 1732) — the beloved homeland of Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II. It seems certain that John Paul was that "spark."
John Paul fully grasped the implication of these words, and so did St. Faustina. In fact, Jesus' assignment rattled her to the core.
A fuller rendition of Diary passage 429 shows the extent of St. Faustina's trepidation. She writes of Jesus' words that she "pretended not to hear them." They exhausted her: "Once, being tired from this battle of love with God, and making constant excuses on the grounds that I was unable to carry out this task, I wanted to leave the chapel, but some force held me back and I found myself powerless. Then I heard these words, 'You intend to leave the chapel, but you shall not get away from Me, for I am everywhere. You cannot do anything yourself, but with Me you can do all things.'"
Who is My Neighbor?
What makes the revelation of Divine Mercy unique? After all, the mercy of God appears throughout Scripture, from the Garden of Eden to the Book of Revelation. What's different about Divine Mercy is the extent to which it emphasizes the merciful attributes of God, advances the understanding of mercy as it fits in with God's "end game" for the present age, and extends that mercy to everyone.
The Divine Mercy movement highlights the same mercy that was present since the beginning of time, but it does so uniquely for our day and age. The movement teaches new forms of devotion, but more than that, it aims to launch initiatives by which its apostles, through humility and trust, will share mercy in word and deed with neighbors.
And who is your neighbor? When asked, Jesus answered with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37), thus defining "neighbor" as anyone needing our help.
The world can well relate to St. Faustina's reluctance, for it, too, has either pretended not to hear the call of God, or, upon hearing it, has tried to run away. The Mercy Congress takes the inevitable next step in the inexorable advance of God's plan of going after fleeing humanity. It won't happen overnight. It will happen one soul at a time. One tells two, two tell four, four tell eight, and so on.
Pursuit is an apt word for the evangelization efforts of the Congress, for it suggests an active and engaged element. The time for sitting back has ended, and anyone concerned with the enormity of the task simply needs to refer back to Jesus' words to St. Faustina from passage 429 in the Diary: "You intend to leave the chapel, but you shall not get away from Me, for I am everywhere. You cannot do anything yourself, but with Me you can do all things."
Though a more definitive perspective can only come from hindsight, even now we can see the divine plan unfolding. Pope John Paul II, the "spark" from Poland, promoted Divine Mercy tirelessly for more than a half century as priest and prelate. Through his successor to the Chair of Peter, we can see the plan being advanced.
Pope Benedict XVI has made several key declarations of the importance of Divine Mercy. For example, on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 23, 2006, Benedict referred to his predecessor's watershed encyclical, Dives in Misericordia ("Rich in Mercy") and John Paul's dedication of the new Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Krakow. Pope Benedict has many times spoken of "the mystery of Divine Mercy" as a key component of Christian faith.
On the Threshold of a Dream
Through his enthusiastic backing of the World Mercy Congress, especially with his formal participation at the opening (Mass and catechesis, pending his schedule) and closing (the noon Angelus), Pope Benedict carries on with St. Faustina's charge from Jesus and with the fulfillment of John Paul's mercy dream.
Pope John Paul II articulated his dream many times in various ways over his 25-year pontificate, never more movingly or with more persuasiveness than in Dives in Misericordia:
The truth, revealed in Christ, about God the "father of mercies" (Cor 2:1, 13) enables us to "see" Him as particularly close to man especially when man is suffering, when he is under threat at the very heart of his existence and dignity. And this is why, in the situation of the Church and the world today, many individuals and groups, guided by a lively sense of faith, are turning — I would almost say spontaneously — to the mercy of God. They are certainly being moved to do this by Christ Himself, who through His Spirit works within human hearts. For the mystery of God the "Father of mercies" ... becomes, in the context of today's threats to man ... a unique appeal addressed to the Church (2)
The Pope wrote and issued Dives in Misericordia at the beginning of his papacy. For the duration of his papacy, John Paul II worked to respond on behalf of the Church to that "unique appeal." Even as his earthly life was ending, and despite (or one could argue, because of) great physical suffering, he persisted. The Great Mercy Pope kept his dream alive by standing on its threshold.
In Krakow, Poland, in 2002, his hands trembling with Parkinson's disease, he said, "The hour has come when the message of Divine Mercy needs to fill hearts with hope and to become the spark of a new civilization: a civilization of love." Finally, the day after his death — in his Regina Caeli message issued posthumously on April 3, 2005 — this spiritual giant who bridged 20th and 21st centuries reminded mankind once again: "How the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy."
That will be the mission and work of the World Mercy Congress, the follow up National Congresses, and the ensuing regional, diocesan, and parish gatherings. Essentially, the Church intends to emphasize the vital importance of God's mercy for our troubled times. The Church will attempt to integrate Divine Mercy first into its own day-to-day life and next into the daily life of everyone everywhere else. It plans to accomplish this ambitious undertaking "the old-fashioned way" — by rolling up its sleeves and taking action through apostolic outreach.
"It's enriching to see the knowledge of this wonderful spirituality beginning to spread around the world," says Fr. Matthew Mauriello, a parish priest from Bridgeport, Conn., president of the U.S. Mercy Congress. "It provides a healing so necessary for the world."
Though that healing has begun, it needs to take that proverbial "next step" — that one giant leap for mankind.
"What needs to be done is to involve to an even greater degree dioceses and parishes in order to invite every Catholic, then every person, to experience this healing message of mercy," says Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, director of Evangelization and Development for the Marians of the Immaculate and vice president of the U.S. Mercy Congress.
"What is this treasure we refer to as The Divine Mercy?" Fr. Kaz asks. "It is not known to its fullest extent. It's like a gold mine that has yet to yield the extent of its riches. When this happens, Divine Mercy will become known to a degree necessary to benefit all humanity." Father Kaz, himself a recognized expert on Divine Mercy, says this knowledge will provide the practical means to bring about John Paul II's "civilization of love."
"By allowing God back into our hearts," Fr. Kaz says, "we can create this new world."
This may seem impossible, though anything is possible with God. To put it another way, everything is possible until proven otherwise.
The Rome Congress in April will aim to provide the momentum that will defy the laws of thermodynamics — actually, something easily done in the metaphysical realm. The body of mercy, in motion, not only will tend to stay in motion but will tend to accelerate.
'Nuts and bolts' of the Congress
How will the Church accomplish its mission? By doing something it has never done before in its 2000-year existence. It has called the World Mercy Congress, an historical event without precedent, representing the first time the Church has — in such a comprehensive and strategic way — attempted to actually begin further implementing the leviathan task Jesus assigned to St. Faustina. It plans to tell the whole world about God's mercy.
The entire span of time beginning from Feb. 22, 1931, when Sr. Faustina saw a vision of the Lord Jesus as The Divine Mercy, to April 2 of this year, when the Congress convenes, can be viewed as preparing the way. Past has been prologue to mercy's even richer present.
The "nuts and bolts" of the World Congress have involved an enormous effort of planning and logistics, in which the Marians of the Immaculate Conception have guided the Congress's International Executive Committee, headed by General Secretary Fr. Patrice Chocholski, a parish priest in the Diocese of Belley-Ars, France.
The World Congress will take place in multiple locations through Rome, including the Vatican, with programming for seven language groups: English, Italian French, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Lithuanian.
[View a break out of the week's activities.]
Mercy is afoot
A portentous movement of mercy is afoot. If the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy succeeds, humanity will eventually undergo a radical change, a counterbalance of love that will obviate the pandemics of war, global warming, and other human miseries.
This is not a pipe dream, unless you're willing to call Jesus insane, St. Faustina a fool, and Pope John Paul II a liar. They're not, and he wasn't. Divine Mercy will again invite mankind to live under Eternity's aspect.
Will mankind accept this priceless gift, or will it again run away? Humanity may not have another chance.
It is about to begin.
Learn how you can attend the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy.
Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, both online and in print. He is author of "Dan Valenti's Journal" for thedivinemercy.org.