Photo: Felix Carroll
Divine Mercy Takes the Shape of a Cross
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Oct 10, 2012)
Life can be brutal at times. For all the goodness in God's creation that we discussed last week, there are many experiences in life of nature's seeming indifference to human happiness — sickness, accidents, disease, and death — and beyond that, of "man's inhumanity to man" (e.g. murder, rape, theft, adultery, war, and injustice, lies and deceit). In short, God may be "loving us into being" at every moment, as we said last week, but the kind of world in which we must exist often does not seem to manifest the mercy of God at all.
Blessed Fr. Michael Sopocko, St. Faustina's confessor and spiritual adviser, was well aware of this. While he accepted the traditional proofs for the existence of God drawn from the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, he also knew that human vision is clouded by sin and suffering, and it cannot see the truth for what it is. Out of His merciful love for us, therefore, God pierced through the darkness and sent us the light of His Son:
Human reason can have knowledge of God by observing the visible things of nature, but, on account of original sin, it attains truth only imperfectly and with great difficulty, especially the ultimate Truth — God. It was fitting, then, that God should become Man in order to permit man to know Him more easily. In the person of Jesus Christ, God reveals Himself to the people. ... "Philip, he who sees Me sees also the Father" (John 14:9). ... He revealed to us the unfathomable perfections of God, and through this made it possible for us to know and to love God, and made us His brothers, as well as adopted children of God. (God is Mercy, p.7)
In his writings, Blessed Sopocko repeatedly points out the reason why God is so clearly revealed to us in Jesus Christ: Jesus is the divine Son, the "Word" (or self-expression) of God in human flesh. Who can reveal to us the Heart of God the Father more clearly than the God the Son dwelling among us, and sharing with us all of the joys, sorrows, and pains of the human journey? In fact, from the First Sunday of Advent onward, through this series, we are going to let Fr. Sopocko show us the merciful love of God manifested in the life of Christ in each and every Sunday gospel reading for the coming liturgical year.
Meanwhile, Fr. Sopocko asks us to meditate above all on the most stupendous demonstration of all of God's merciful love during the life of His Son on earth: namely, His passion and death for us. He writes:
The greatest evidence of God's Mercy is that his Son found a means unheard of, unique, unfailing, inconceivable, worthy of admiration and ecstatic praise. He resolved to take our human nature, so that in and through it He might reform human nature and bring salvation to all men. Only He, since He was equal to God the Father, and at the same time a man, could give God's Majesty worthy satisfaction for the offense of original and actual sin, and establish a treasury, from which in the future it would be possible to draw continually in reparation for sin. ... Our Savior chose the most painful kind of death [death on a cross] in order that He might make satisfaction to the Divine Justice for our sins and provide for us as ransom the frightful pains on the cross as evidence of His mercy. (God is Mercy, pp. 19 and 45).
As Catholics we often repeat the slogan, "Jesus died for our sins" without stopping to think what this really means. In the quote above, Blessed Sopocko has summed up for us the mystery of the Cross in a nutshell: God loved the world so much that He was determined to lift from our shoulders the burden of guilt that we carry because of our sins. We know very well we deserve punishment for our worst moral failings, and in fact, we often punish ourselves, and others, with destructive behavior as a result. Only the merciful God Himself, in human flesh, could take the penalty that our sins deserve on our behalf. In fact, His passion and death on the Cross more than made up for our debt to Divine Justice. As Fr. Sopocko said, it gained for us a whole "treasury" of merits and graces that we can draw upon at any time, through repentance, faith and the sacraments. In short, God did not just "balance the books" by "taking the rap" for our sins on the cross. Rather, He merited a whole ocean of graces for those who are willing to open their hearts to Him in repentance and trust.
Do we really appreciate what a gift of merciful love it is for us to live on this side of Good Friday? Even God's chosen people, the ancient Jews, who frequently extolled the mercy of God in their Scriptures, really had no idea that God's mercy could go so far as Gethsemane and Calvary. Christians are privileged to live in the light that shines upon us from the Incarnation and the Cross:
The Merciful Jesus preceded us with graces and created our souls when Satan was already defeated, death conquered, Heaven opened, Divine Mercy revealed, and the straight road to heaven clearly shown. Truly, this is the golden age of grace, since at any time, the sinner can easily repair the faults of His whole life. Divine Mercy descends upon us more plentifully than snow flakes in the winter. ...We have, by God's Mercy, received Baptism in His Church, learned the principles of the true faith, and profited by the means of sanctification. (God is Mercy, p. 70)
Thus, whenever we are weighed down by the burden of suffering or the burden of our sins, we have only to turn to the Cross to find reassurance that a God who loved us that much will never abandon us. As Jesus said to St. Faustina:
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. (Diary of St. Faustina, 1485)
Robert Stackpole, STD, is the director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, based in Stockbridge Mass.