33 Days to Merciful Love: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat... Read more
Father Michael Gaitley, MIC (left), and Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, bless a newly arrived shipment of Fr. Michael's new book 33 Days to Merciful Love: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Consecration to Divine Mercy.
Introduction: 33 Days to Merciful Love
EDITOR'S NOTE — Visit this website on March 1. Why? Because on March 1, we will be posting the first seven days of a new 33-day retreat by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC.
The Marian Fathers here in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, are encouraging everyone to begin Fr. Michael's 33-day consecration to Divine Mercy on Tuesday, March 1, because it would allow us all to consecrate together on Divine Mercy Sunday — April 3. You could consecrate on your own, or you could join with thousands around the world who will do so in tandem with the Marians during our Divine Mercy Sunday broadcast on EWTN. (The broadcast begins at noon, Eastern).
To do this specific consecration requires obtaining the new book by Fr. Michael, 33 Days to Merciful Love: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Consecration to Divine Mercy. But again, in the meantime, beginning March 1, we will be posting on this website the first seven days of the retreat. If you don't have the book, order now.
To give you a sense of what this consecration is all about, the following is the introduction to Fr. Michael's book:
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Meet Three Friends
I'd like to begin by introducing three friends.
PRIEST FRIEND: A CONSECRATION TO DIVINE MERCY. The first friend is Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, a priest in my community, the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.
One day, Fr. Chris burst into my office after having just offered Mass. He looked like he'd just seen a ghost, so I stopped what I was doing and gave him my full attention.
"Father Mike, do we have a consecration to Divine Mercy?" "No. At least I don't think so," I replied.
"Well, we need one. During Mass, it hit me like a ton of bricks that we need a consecration to Divine Mercy, and I think you should write it. But if you don't, I will. I think it's really important, Mike. Nothing has ever hit me so strongly. I feel that the Lord really wants it."
It was clear to me that the Lord had spoken to Fr. Chris' heart. But I didn't feel that he was also speaking to my heart, asking me to write such a book. So, I told Fr. Chris that he'd have to do it.
COLLEGE FRIEND: A SEQUEL TO MARIAN CONSECRATION. The second friend is Mark Moran, an old buddy from college. In a sense, Mark is one of the most important people in my life because he introduced me to the book that completely changed it.
It happened during my freshman year. I was walking to class, minding my own business, when Mark came up to me, basically shoved a book in my face, and said, "Gaitley, you've gotta read this!" With my heavy class load, I didn't have time for any extra reading, and I told him as much. Well, that didn't faze him. He kept pestering me. And so, not wanting to be late for class, I took the book.
The book is called True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort, and it describes a path to holiness called "Marian consecration" or "a total consecration to Jesus through Mary."
Most important for me, de Montfort basically claimed that such a consecration is the quickest and easiest way to become a saint. Well, when I saw that claim on the back of the book, I was sold. After all, I figured that only the "quickest and easiest" path could help someone like me to become a saint. So, I followed de Montfort's recommendation and consecrated myself totally to Jesus through Mary, and my life has never been the same. Of course, I'm still no saint, but at least I have hope that it's possible.
I hardly heard from Mark after college. But then, one day earlier this year, he called me out of the blue. While it was great to hear from him, I had to tell him I couldn't talk because I was rushing to meet a book deadline the next day. Mark said, "No problem. But that's why I called." I asked him what he meant. He continued, "Well, I was just praying, and I felt an inspiration to call you, because I know what your next book needs to be."
I thought to myself, "I already know what the next book will be. It's going to be on St. Thérèse of Lisieux and her Little Way." Still, to humor him, I replied, "Oh, yeah, what book is that?"
For the second time, Mark changed my life. He said, "You need to do for the Offering to Merciful Love of St. Thérèse of Lisieux what you did for Marian consecration. That's all I wanted to tell you. Talk to you later."
With those words, the dots immediately connected. I thanked Mark and hung up the phone. But before I connect those dots for you, let me introduce a third friend.
SAINT FRIEND: A SOURCE OF HOPE. The third friend is Thérèse of Lisieux, the saint I got to know while I was in the seminary. She's one of the most important people in my life because she saved my priestly vocation and gave me hope.
Now, I mentioned earlier that the book True Devotion to Mary had changed my life and given me hope in college because it claimed to offer the quickest and easiest way to become a saint. Well, shortly after entering the seminary, I began to feel that even the quickest and easiest path was not enough for me, which was a problem. I say that because I didn't want to become a priest unless I had at least some hope of becoming a saintly one. Well, I was losing that hope and felt tempted to give up.
About the time the temptations to leave the seminary were the worst, I started reading Story of a Soul, the spiritual autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. It changed my life, because Thérèse's spiritual doctrine (called "the Little Way") gave me hope that even someone like me could become a saint. The only problem was that I also ran into a lot of "thieves of hope" after reading it. That's the name I gave to the people I'd meet who would present Thérèse's teaching not as "the Little Way" for souls like me but as "the big way" for spiritual elites. For example, they'd say things like, "That little Thérèse isn't so little. She's actually quite big!" And then they'd go on to describe how heroic she was in her sacrifices, sufferings, virtues, and desires.
Hearing such things, I'd think to myself, "Maybe the Little Way is too big for me," and I'd get depressed. But then I'd go back to Thérèse's writings and find hope again ... and then I'd listen to the thieves of hope again. So, my spiritual life became something of a roller coaster — high with hope one minute and down with discouragement the next.
Alright, so when it came time for me to write my licentiate thesis (a big research paper for a degree in theology that most people have never heard of), I decided to take it as an opportunity to get off the roller coaster. In other words, I diligently searched through nearly all of St. Thérèse's writings in order to discover once and for all whether or not the Little Way really could give hope of becoming a saint even to someone like me.
So what did I find? I found hope. Great hope. I discovered hidden treasures in Thérèse's teaching that made me say over and over, "Why haven't I heard this before?!" I read things that totally demolished the arguments of the thieves of hope, and those discoveries completely changed my life. To use Thérèse's own words, her teaching set me "full sail upon the waves of confidence and love."
With this book, I now want to share those amazing treasures that gave me hope in the seminary and inspire me still. But before we begin, let me first connect the various dots that have come up as I've introduced you to my three friends.
Connecting the Dots
A CONSECRATION TO DIVINE MERCY — ST. THÉRÈSE-STYLE.
After my friend Mark called and told me that my next book needed to be on the Offering to Merciful Love, I knew what I had to do: Eat some humble pie. In other words, I had to go speak with my friend Fr. Chris and ask him if I could write the book on a Divine Mercy consecration after all. Thankfully, he was overjoyed to hear of my change of heart and enthusiastically gave me the green light.
So, this book truly is a consecration to Divine Mercy — but in the style of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Specifically, it follows the theology of her Offering to Merciful Love, which is essentially a consecration to Divine Mercy. But before I get into what her Offering is all about, I should first say something about what a Divine Mercy consecration is.
Divine Mercy Consecration in General. The word "consecration" means to set apart for God. For instance, in the Church, the "consecrated life" refers to those who make vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience for the purpose of serving God according to the charism of a religious community. For example, a Carmelite nun (like St. Thérèse) makes religious vows so as to be set apart for God and to love and serve him through a life of contemplative prayer.
Of course, a personal consecration to Divine Mercy is not the same as making vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Rather, it's a self-offering to God (a setting of oneself apart for God) that anyone can make — whether the person is a member of the clergy, consecrated religious, or laity — and they do it for the specific purpose of glorifying God's mercy.
One of the best examples of a personal consecration to Divine Mercy is actually a form of Marian consecration, a form that's taught by St. Maximilian Kolbe.
For Kolbe, Marian consecration means to offer oneself to God through Mary for the specific purpose of becoming an instrument of mercy in Mary's Immaculate hands as she is an instrument of mercy in God's hands.2 In a sense, then, to make a Marian consecration according to the spirituality of St. Maximilian Kolbe — Marian consecration Kolbe-style — is already to make a consecration to Divine Mercy. In other words, it's a setting of oneself apart for God for the purpose of becoming an instrument of his mercy through Mary, the Mother of Mercy. But what I mean by the consecration to Divine Mercy "Thérèse-style" goes even deeper.
A St. Thérèse-style Consecration to Divine Mercy. Over the years, I've come across various devotional prayers labeled "A Consecration to Divine Mercy," and they've been great. But St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church, has brought such devotional prayer to new and amazing heights. In fact, her consecration to Divine Mercy, what she calls her "Offering to Merciful Love," is really the culmination of her whole spiritual teaching on the Little Way, the crowning of her path to holiness, and, I'd even venture to say, the most powerful form of consecration to Divine Mercy.
While Week Three of the retreat will go into much more detail about St. Thérèse's Offering, here I'll just summarize its three most basic points.
First, Thérèse's Offering to Merciful Love is based on her profound insight into the love of the Heart of Jesus. Specifically, she recognized that Jesus' Heart is full of mercy and that he longs to pour out his Merciful Love, especially on sinners.
Second, she realized that sinners often close their hearts to the Lord's loving mercy, and their rejection of it causes Jesus great suffering.
Third, for the purpose of consoling Jesus, St. Thérèse asked the Lord to pour into her little soul all the rejected mercy that others don't want — and he gave it to her. All of it. And that experience set St. Thérèse happily on fire with Merciful Love.
Now, how the Lord gives this amazing gift of mercy, how we can receive it, and what all this means will be the topic of the retreat, which brings us to the next dot to connect.
A SEQUEL TO 33 DAYS TO MORNING GLORY. My old friend from college had said to me on the phone, "You need to do for the Offering to Merciful Love of St. Thérèse of Lisieux what you did for Marian consecration." Let me unpack that a bit.
Mark was referring to my book 33 Days to Morning Glory, which is an updated and easy-to-use preparation for making a total consecration to Jesus through Mary. His point was basically that that book helped to make Marian consecration accessible to many more people. So, with that in mind, I knew exactly what he was getting at regarding the Offering to Merciful Love. Let me explain.
Sadly, the Offering to Merciful Love is one of the best-kept secrets in the Catholic Church. But I don't understand why. I mean, with the Offering, you have the culmination of the central teaching of the greatest and most popular saint of modern times — a Doctor of the Church, no less. Yet hardly anyone has ever even heard of her Offering to Merciful Love! I know this because in my travels, when I've given talks about the Offering, I've often begun by asking, "Who here has ever heard of the Offering to Merciful Love?" Truth be told, I've never seen more than about 5 percent of the people raise their hands.
So, I know what Mark meant. He knew that the Offering to Merciful Love is not well known. But he also knew that it's a big stick of spiritual dynamite and that someone just needs to light the fuse. In other words, he wants this amazing teaching to explode onto the Catholic scene and fill hearts with hope and holiness. In fact, he believes in its power to transform the world — and so do I.
I truly believe that this book can help light the fuse of the great grace-and-mercy bomb that is the Offering to Merciful Love — and I'm just the person to write it! What? I say that because I'm one of what St. Thérèse calls "the little souls." And one thing is clear in her teaching: God is pleased to use such souls as the special forces of his army. So, because I believe her teaching, I'm convinced that I can change the world — and that you can, too. Really. I'll make that point later in the retreat, but first, I should say some things about the connection between this book and 33 Days to Morning Glory.
A Sequel That Stands Alone — But Shouldn't. You don't have to read 33 Days to Morning Glory before reading this book — but I recommend you do. I say that because the essence of Marian consecration is to allow Mary to bring us to the pierced side of Jesus, which is the Fountain of Mercy. Okay, well, 33 Days to Morning Glory is a book that prepares us to consecrate ourselves to Mary, so she can, in fact, bring us to that fountain.
This book, on the other hand, is about drinking from that fountain. And while we can get to the Fountain of Mercy without making a Marian consecration, such a consecration enables us to drink from it so much more deeply and easily. We'll learn the reasons for that during Week One of this retreat — which brings me to the structure of this book and how it works.
A Retreat That's Similar to Morning Glory. This book, like 33 Days to Morning Glory, is a 33-day do-it-yourself retreat in preparation for consecration that's based on heart-pondering prayer. In other words, it doesn't focus on lots of vocal prayers each day of the retreat but, rather, on short spiritual readings that you can easily ponder in your heart throughout the day. So, you'll want to go over the daily reading each morning or the night before. That way, you can have the whole day to reflect on it. Of course, you should try not to miss a day of reading, but if you do, don't worry. Just make up the reading the next day.
As I already mentioned, this retreat lasts for 33 days, but the idea is not to begin on just any day. Rather, ideally, you should begin your preparation 33 days before an appropriate feast day. Of course, for a Marian consecration, such a day would be any Marian feast — and the same thing goes for a Divine Mercy consecration. I say that because, as we just learned, Mary leads us to Divine Mercy. But there are other days that have a special connection to Divine Mercy that would also be appropriate as consecration days. The most obvious one is the Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday. A less obvious one is Trinity Sunday, which is the anniversary of when St. Thérèse first received her inspiration to offer herself to God's Merciful Love.
Of course, because the mystery of Divine Mercy touches all the mysteries of our faith and the life of every saint, you can certainly choose to consecrate yourself to Divine Mercy on any of the Church's solemnities, feasts, or memorials that are meaningful to you. Just remember to count back 33 days from the feast itself, with the day of consecration (the feast day) being the thirty-forth day.
What's Different from Morning Glory. Unlike 33 Days to Morning Glory, this book does not include four weeks with four different saints. Rather, the various weeks will focus on one saint: Thérèse of Lisieux and her spiritual teaching. And that's okay because St. Thérèse is the master, the Doctor of the Church on these matters. Having said that, I will also include some of the teachings of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, another great saint of mercy whose mission was closely related to that of St. Thérèse.
While the focus of this retreat is Thérèse of Lisieux, we'll deal with different subject matter each week. So, for Week One, we'll focus on the backstory to Thérèse's teaching, a backstory that goes way back to the Garden of Eden, to the patriarch Abraham, and to Mary, the Mother of God. Week Two will then get into Thérèse's Little Way. Week Three will treat the Offering to Merciful Love. Then, Week Four will cover the topic of darkness as a bittersweet mystery in our own lives as well as in the life of St. Thérèse. Okay, but four weeks is only 28 days, so that leaves us with an extra five days. We'll use four of those five to review the main teachings of each week. Then, we'll use the last day to prepare ourselves to make the Offering to Merciful Love as a Divine Mercy consecration.
Follow along with the series.