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Mercy Sunday During The Year of Mercy
By Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC (Apr 11, 2015)
On the Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, 2015, the papal bull of indiction declaring the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy was promulgated. The last jubilee year celebrated by the Church was the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, in honor of 2000 years since the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. In the new Marian Press book The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, discusses the significance of that Jubilee and its connection to Divine Mercy:
While Pope John Paul II proclaimed mercy throughout his whole pontificate, a particularly special moment of grace happened on Divine Mercy Sunday during the Great Jubilee Year of the Incarnation, 2000, the Year of Mercy. Before getting to what happened on that day, I should first say something about the significance of the Jubilee Year to the Pope.
After Karol Wojtyła's election to the papacy on October 16, 1978, the head of the Church in Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, said to him, "The task of the new Pope will be to lead the Church into the Third Millennium." John Paul took these words very much to heart. After all, he had witnessed how Cardinal Wyszynski prepared Poland for her 1966 celebration of 1,000 years of Polish Christianity, which led to an immense outpouring of grace for the entire country. With this powerful memory firmly fixed in his mind, from the beginning of his pontificate, John Paul saw his task as that of preparing the whole Church for an even greater event: the 2,000-year commemoration of the most important moment in history, the Incarnation of the Lord. The Pope himself eagerly looked forward to this time of grace as a "new springtime of Christian life," which, he hoped, "would be revealed by the Great Jubilee."
That Great Jubilee, inspired by the jubilee tradition of the Old Testament, would truly be a year of great grace and favor from the Lord, a year of reconciliation and forgiveness, a year overflowing with superabundant mercy. But for all its blessings, the key moment of grace, the heart of the "new springtime of Christian life" that the Great Jubilee did indeed reveal, fittingly happened on April 30, 2000, the Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday.
On that Divine Mercy Sunday of the Year of Mercy, John Paul II canonized St. Faustina as the first saint of the new millennium, an act, he said in his homily, that has a "particular eloquence." He revealed its particular eloquence as follows: "By this act, I intend today to pass on this message to the third millennium."
Now, what message was he talking about? The message of God's merciful love: a message that will help all people discover, he said, "the true face of God," a message that overcomes the false image of God that results from original sin, a message that gets to the heart of God's school of trust. In his homily, John Paul called it a "consoling message" that is addressed above all to those who, afflicted by a particularly harsh trial or crushed by the weight of the sins they committed, have lost all confidence in life and are tempted to give in to despair. To them the gentle face of Christ is offered; those rays from his heart touch them and shine upon them, warm them, show them the way and fill them with hope. How many souls have been consoled by the prayer, "Jesus, I trust in you," which Providence intimated through Sr. Faustina! This simple act of abandonment to Jesus dispels the thickest clouds and lets a ray of light penetrate every life. Jesus, I trust in you.
John Paul then ended his homily with a moving prayer to the new saint who, for the third time, he calls a "gift of God" to our time:
And you, Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole Church, obtain for us an awareness of the depth of divine mercy; help us to have a living experience of it and to bear witness to it among our brothers and sisters. May your message of light and hope spread throughout the world ... . Today, fixing our gaze with you on the face of the risen Christ, let us make our own your prayer of trusting abandonment and say with firm hope, "Christ Jesus, I trust in you! Jesus, I trust in you!"
Saint Faustina seems to have heard this prayer not only from heaven but, one might say, even during her own lifetime! I say this because it appears that Faustina experienced a mystical vision of that great Divine Mercy Sunday of the year 2000. To help us understand how profoundly important that day was for the Church and the world, let's read Faustina's own description of that vision:
Suddenly, God's presence took hold of me, and at once I saw myself in Rome ... . And I took part in the solemn celebration simultaneously here [in the convent in Krakow] and in Rome, for the celebration was so closely connected with Rome that, even as I write, I cannot distinguish the two but I am writing it down as I saw it. ... The crowd was so enormous that the eye could not take it all in. Everyone was participating in the celebrations with great joy, and many of them obtained what they desired. The same celebration was held in Rome, in a beautiful church, and the Holy Father, with all the clergy, was celebrating this Feast, and then suddenly I saw Saint Peter, who stood between the altar and the Holy Father. I could not hear what Saint Peter said but I saw that the Holy Father understood his words.
Then suddenly, I saw how the two rays, as painted in the image, issued from the Host and spread over the whole world. This lasted only a moment, but it seemed as though it had lasted all day ... and the whole day abounded in joy.
Then suddenly I saw on our altar the living Lord Jesus, just as He is depicted in the image [of Divine Mercy]. ... Jesus looked with great kindness and joy at the Holy Father, at certain priests, at the entire clergy, at the people and at our Congregation.
Then, in an instant, I was caught up to stand near Jesus, and I stood on the altar next to the Lord Jesus, and my spirit was filled with a happiness so great that I am unable to comprehend it or write about it. A profound peace as well as repose filled my soul. Jesus bent toward me and said with great kindness, "What is it you desire, My daughter?" And I answered, "I desire worship and glory be given to Your mercy." "I already am receiving worship by the institution and celebration of this Feast; what else do you desire?" I then looked at the immense crowd worshiping The Divine Mercy and I said to the Lord, "Jesus, bless all those who are gathered to give glory to you and to venerate Your infinite mercy." Jesus made a sign of the cross with His hand, and this blessing was reflected in the souls like a flash of light. My spirit was engulfed in His love. ...
I am immensely happy. ... I am happy with everything You give me.
Let's look at four key points from this remarkable vision.
First, notice that St. Peter appears in Faustina's vision and speaks with the Holy Father, who "understood" what the Apostle was saying. This is significant, because it seems to indicate that heaven was specially united with and authoritatively confirming this momentous occasion for the Church and the world. Also, as we'll see, it will prove to be the pinnacle of John Paul's ministry as the successor of St. Peter and the great Mercy Pope.
Second, notice that in Faustina's vision, the celebration in Rome was somehow simultaneously experienced at her convent in Krakow. She writes it as she saw it, but couldn't explain how the two could be experienced at the same time. Well, the organizers of the Divine Mercy Sunday 2000 event had set up giant TV screens in St. Peter's Square as well as at the sisters' convent in Krakow. Those screens did simultaneously broadcast the event such that the sisters in Krakow could see the people in Rome and the people in Rome could see the sisters in Krakow, which is exactly what Faustina describes in her vision. It seems that Faustina got a glimpse of modern technology!
Third, notice the conversation between Jesus and Faustina. Jesus asks her what she desires. She replies that she desires that worship and glory be given to His mercy. He responds, "I already am receiving worship by the institution and celebration of this Feast." Jesus' words here imply that the Feast of Divine Mercy had already been instituted. But when did that happen? It happened during the homily Pope John Paul gave at the canonization Mass! That was perhaps the greatest gift of the Great Jubilee Year. The Pope surprised everyone by stating in his homily, "It is important, then, that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called 'Divine Mercy Sunday.'" By those words, the Great Mercy Pope instituted a feast that, according to the Diary of St. Maria Faustina, Jesus deeply desired. For instance, we read this frank conversation between Faustina and Jesus regarding the Feast:
Today, Jesus, I offer You all my sufferings, mortifications and prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father, so that he may approve the Feast of Mercy. But, Jesus, I have one more word to say to You: I am very surprised that You bid me to talk about this Feast of Mercy, for they tell me that there is already such a feast and so why should I talk about it? [There was a Feast of Mercy in the early Church, but it had been forgotten.] And Jesus said to me, And who knows anything about this feast? No one! Even those who should be proclaiming My mercy and teaching people about it often do not know about it themselves.
Fourth, notice the joy and happiness that Faustina describes in her vision. She says that everyone was participating in the celebration "with great joy," that "the day abounded with joy," that Jesus "looked with great kindness and joy" on the people, and that Faustina herself was filled with an incomprehensible happiness and was "immensely happy." Even the Pope began his homily by saying, "Today my joy is truly great in presenting the life and witness of Sr. Faustina Kowalska to the whole Church as a gift of God for our time." But most amazing of all: At the banquet following the canonization ceremony, Pope John Paul II shared with the doctor who had investigated the canonization miracle, Dr. Valentin Fuster, a startling revelation. He said to him, "Today is the happiest day of my life."
Wow! But why was there so much joy?
Well, for one, the greatest joy comes in our lives when we have accomplished our God-given mission. John Paul II, who believed that divine providence had assigned to him the task of spreading the message of Divine Mercy, accomplished his mission on that day. He canonized St. Faustina, passed her message on to the new millennium, and declared that the Second Sunday of Easter was to be celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday, in fulfillment of the Lord's desires.
Also, the joy comes because of the very nature of the message. It proclaims Divine Mercy, a love more powerful than evil, a love that can even bring good out of evil. This is a profoundly joyful, hopeful, and consoling message that counteracts the often sad and depressing situation of the modern world. It's a message that announces God's particular closeness to us in our time, which is, in fact, the time of mercy. It's a message that shares the very good news that God is pouring out unprecedented mercy on the people of our time, because "where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more" (Rom 5:20). When we realize all this, when we see the true face of God, that He is love and mercy itself, that His love is more powerful than evil, and that He is pouring it out in a unprecedented way in our time, we cannot help but be filled with indescribable happiness and joy.
To discover ways to set your heart on fire for mercy in the Jubilee Year, check out our Hearts Afire: Parish-based Programs