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Day One: Becoming Holy Doors of Mercy
By Chris Sparks (Oct 21, 2016)
The second North American Congress on Mercy (NACOM II), running from Oct. 21-22, 2016, is being held at the Prince of Peace Catholic Community in Houston, Texas. Gathering internationally renowned speakers, authors, and witnesses to Divine Mercy, the Congress aims to prepare the faithful to be "holy doors of mercy" through the end of the Jubilee Year and beyond. Our coverage will continue throughout the Congress.
Visit our gallery for photos of the day.
Welcome to the North American Congress on Mercy! It's a beautiful, sunny morning here at prince of Peace Catholic Community in Houston, Texas. The grounds are lovely, ornamented with outdoor shrines to Divine Mercy, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and more. Clearly, their winters are mild!
The morning began with Most Rev. Edward B. Scharfenberger, bishop of Albany, welcoming pilgrims from across the country (and, indeed, from around the world), then leading the gathered congress goers in prayers from the votive Mass of Divine Mercy.
O God whose mercies are numberless and whose treasure of goodness is infinite, graciously increase the faith of the people consecrated to you, so that all may worthily understand by what love they were created, by what blood they were redeemed, and by what Spirit they were sanctified. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever.
Bishop Scharfenberger is the episcopal coordinator for NACOM and a great friend of the Marian Fathers, whose provincial superior for the United States and Argentina, the Very Rev. Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, followed Bishop Scharfenberger. Father Chwalek, the vice-coordinator for NACOM, presented to the gathered Congress a video from Pope Francis, which the Holy Father had sent to an earlier gathering of the Church in the Americas on the occasion of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Here's Pope Francis' special message to the American continent during the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy:
Then we went straight to the heart of the matter: the Sacred Heart, sacramentally present to us in the Holy Eucharist. Bishop Scharfenberger was lead celebrant at Mass, celebrating the votive Mass of Divine Mercy.
In his homily, he spoke of his initial reactions to the Holy Father's calling of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
First, he said, he thought how wonderful it would be to have a year when mercy was easy to receive. Then he thought about how hard it would be to close the year. How do you close the doors of mercy?
The solution, he said, was for all of us to become doors of the mercy of God, doors through which Jesus' mercy reaches the world. Then it won't matter if we close the doors in the cathedrals, because the doors of mercy will be open in every Christian.
At the end of the Mass, Bishop Scharfenberger led the Congress in the prayer of entrustment prayed by St John Paul II on behalf of the world in 2002:
God, merciful Father,
in your Son, Jesus Christ, you have revealed your love
and poured it out upon us in the Holy Spirit, the Comforter,
We entrust to you today the destiny of the world and of every man and woman.
Bend down to us sinners,
heal our weakness,
conquer all evil,
and grant that all the peoples of the earth
may experience your mercy.
In You, the Triune God,
may they ever find the source of hope.
by the Passion and Resurrection of your Son,
have mercy on us and upon the whole world!
After the Mass, Fr. Kaz shared the history of the congresses.
He spoke of Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna, Austria, and how the cardinal was present for St. John Paul II's entrustment of the world to Divine Mercy in 2002. The experience inspired the cardinal to begin to seriously promote the message and devotion of Divine Mercy, leading to his formation of the Missionaries of Mercy. During an August 2005 retreat for which Fr. Kaz was present, a "prominent businessman" asked about the possibility of a congress, like the already-existing Marian and Eucharistic Congresses, dedicated to Divine Mercy.
Cardinal Schoenborn brought the idea to Pope Benedict XVI< who wholly supported the idea and mandated that the first World Apostolic Congress on Mercy would be held in Rome.
After finishing his overview of the Congress history, Fr. Kaz introduced a video from Fr. Patrice Chocholski, the present rector of the shrine in Ars, France, where St. Jean Vianney once served. Father Chocholski is also the general secretary of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (WACOM), serving under the Congress president, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna, Austria, to help coordinate the international and regional congresses across the world.
Here's the talk that Fr. Patrice sent to NACOM II:
It's important to try to share with you how large the crowd is here, and how diverse. People from every walk of life are here, from every ethnic background and every level of mobility. One woman is here on a stretcher; there are several wheelchairs; a number of walkers and canes. The people have come from near and far, some from mainland Asia and the Philipines; many from Texas; many from elsewhere in the United States. I hope to have more specific information for you all soon,
But it's the Church, fundamentally. The universal Church has gathered for the North American Congress on Mercy, and it's because Divine Mercy has reached every strata of Catholic society, every culture, every land, as Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, former vice-postulator for the cause of canonization for St. Faustina Kowalska, observed to me last night.
And to offer hope to all those Divine Mercy devotees, our next speaker talked about how everyone can answer the universal call to holiness: by following the Little Way.
Father Michael Gaitley, MIC, delivered a talk on St. Therese of Lisieux's Offering to Merciful Love, her Little Way, and the universal call to holiness that brought the Congress to its feet in a standing ovation at the end.
Father Michael emphasized the papal teaching of recent years, expressed so well in Pope Francis' address to the priests of the diocese of Rome: Now is the time of mercy.
And what does that mean? Father Michael pointed to St. Paul's words, that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. We live in some dark, hard times, explained Fr. Michael, and so God has made available to us more grace than ever, especially through the Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Way for little souls, in which sanctity is opened up to even the weakest and most sinful of souls by means of trust, "trust in God's promise to little souls that He can raise little souls to holiness in His time and in His manner."
But, said Fr. Michael, we must continue to trust and try to be holy, even in the face of our own sins and faults; especially in the face of our own sins and faults.
"If we keep trusting and keep trying, the promise He makes us through St. Therese, Doctor of the Church, is that He will make us saints."
For more, see Fr. Michael's 33 Days to Merciful Love.
Lunch was a blessed experience. I got to hear a conversation about the message and devotion to Divine Mercy between Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, the director of the Association of Marian Helpers; Fr. Jan Machniak, a noted author and scholar of Divine Mercy sent to represent Cardinal Dziwisz at the Congress; Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, who brought the Diary of St. Faustina out from Communist Poland; and Doug Keck, president of EWTN. The gist of it was that we are obligated to have a devotion to the mercy of God, for we are to honor all of God's attributes.
After lunch, we were treated to a talk by Doug Keck, who shared memories of Mother Angelica; Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR; Fr. George Kosicki, CSB; and many other great figures in the promotion of the message and devotion to the Divine Mercy.
Divine Mercy was Mother Angelica's favorite devotion, he said, and she'd been faithful to it for as long as many of the nuns of her order could remember. She'd been very proud of being the first to put the Chaplet of Divine Mercy on the air.
And EWTN and Mother Angelica had seen many graces come over the years through Divine Mercy.
He recalled one day in particular: the day that St. Faustina was canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday in the Great Jubilee of the Incarnation. He was at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge to help run the broadcast of the day's festivities, along with Raymond Arroyo and Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR. The truck that would transmit the broadcast to the satellite dish was not getting through to the satellite, which was too low on the horizon. After some back and forth, Doug Keck recalled, he said, "Sr. Faustina, if you want people to see this, you'll have to do something."
Thereupon, the team found the satellite with their signal. They went on the air.
Keck said that he leaves it up to each individual's own discernment what happened that day.
He also talked about the challenges confronting Catholics who strive to be faithful in these days of so many losing the faith, talking about how Mother called people to "hurt people's feelings" out of mercy.
"If you don't realize you need mercy, you're not going to avail yourself of it."
Next was Bishop Eugenio Lira, bishop elect of Matamoros and general secretary of the Mexican episcopal conference, who addressed the Congress in Spanish. (English translations of his talk were made available ahead of time.)
He began his talk by discussing the fleeting happiness of life on earth and how quickly we face tragedy or even death. He quoted Pope Benedict XVI, who said that without Christ, life is a meaningless enigma. But reason and faith both point us to meaning, to the truth of the existence and benevolence of the living God. And that living God created us all out of mercy.
"By his mercy, God created us in his image and likeness so that we would be happy forever in him," said Bishop Lira. But we fell. Jesus, Divine Mercy Incarnate, made it possible for us to return to being happy, though, offering the definitive answer to suffering, death, and evil through merciful love. This is the path to true and abiding happiness.
During the 3 o'clock Hour of Great Mercy, the Congress gathered around the Eucharistic Lord for a time of prayer, adoration, and praise. Led by Fr Kaz, the Congress prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, received Benediction, and worshiped the Divine Mercy in the flesh.
After Adoration came witness and song. Kitty Cleveland, the internationally recognized singer and songwriter, shared her testimony to God's mercy with the Congress. She recounted her father's travails in the face of a federal investigation of some clients of the family law firm, an investigation that ended up sending her father to jail and causing serious distress to their family. Over the course of appeals, setbacks, and deep trauma for the family, the Divine Mercy abided as a source of consolation and strength in the face of serious trials.
"The truth is, we reach our greatest spiritual height when we are down on our knees," said Kitty. "The only real tragedy in life is losing a soul to hell. Everything else can be dealt with."
Eventually, her father was vindicated when the Supreme Court overturned his conviction. Kitty performed some of her original compositions, including some she had written specifically because of her father's experiences.
Then came the expert testimony to the Divine Mercy. A panel that included Bishop Eugenio Lira; Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC; Fr. Jan Machniak; Doug Keck; Fr. Chris Alar, MIC; and Fr. Kaz fielded an array of questions from the audience, including "Can non-Catholics receive the graces of mercy Sunday?" (Fr. Machniak's answer: yes, because God is not bound to convey graces only by the Sacraments; Fr. Kaz's answer: it's like "baptism of desire"); "With Hispanic Catholics being the future of the Church in America, how is Divine Mercy doing in Mexico?" (Bishop Lira's answer: Divine Mercy has spread to every part of Mexico; Fr. Kaz's answer: in large part because of Bishop Lira's efforts); and "How can you work in Divine Mercy to the role of being a parent who disciplines their child?" (Fr. Kaz's answer: If someone is going to do something stupid, you need to stop them. If a child is going to stick their hand in an electric socket, they need to be stopped. This is mercy.)
Throughout the day priests were hearing confessions in the back of the church, and the side chapel where the Eucharist is reserved saw pilgrims praying and spending time with the Lord.
After dinner, an evening of praise and worship music by the Catholic African American Mass Choir (CAAM), led by Dr. Andre la Cour and others, followed by the Mandolin Choir from Sacred Heart Church, Conroe, Texas, composed of Hispanic youth and adults. Pilgrims are praising the Lord. The charismatics amongst the crowd are easy to spot. Indeed, there has always been a relatively close connection between the charismatic renewal within the Catholic Church and the Divine Mercy grassroots movement.
So the evening ends in praise on this vigil of the Feast of St. John Paul II. Somehow, I think he'd approve.
Visit mercycongress.org to learn more about the Divine Mercy Congresses.