'No Limit to God's Mercy'
Coming from at least nine different states and two Canadian provinces, upwards of 15,000 pilgrims were welcomed on April 12, Divine Mercy Sunday, to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy on Eden Hill in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The Archbishop of New York, His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan, was lead celebrant of the day's Holy Mass, which was broadcast around the world on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).
"We know there is no limit to God's mercy," said Cardinal Dolan in his homily for the Mass. "It is the most powerful force in the universe.
"Nobody, nowhere, no how, no thing can be excluded from God's mercy — unless we ourselves are unwilling to accept it," the cardinal said. "God doesn't force his gifts on us. He doesn't jam mercy down our throat. He doesn't violate our freedom, you see. The only limit on God's mercy is the limit we ourselves put in place."
The two ways in which we can block the Lord's mercy, Cardinal Dolan explained, are despair (the belief that God cannot forgive us because our sins are too great or His love is too small) and presumption (the belief that we don't have any sins that need forgiving). He pointed to the example of Pope Francis, who was asked once by a journalist how he would describe himself. Pope Francis responded, "I am a sinner."
Cardinal Dolan shared a powerful story of meeting a recovering alcoholic at the rehab center St. Christopher's Inn. The man described to the cardinal his "gutter moment" that forced him to recognize he needed help. After a weeklong binge, the alcoholic man woke up in a gutter, dragged himself home, and fell asleep in his young son's room — only to be woken by the child's terrified cries for his mother, saying, "There's a man in my room and I don't know who he is! I'm frightened!"
That recognition of his own fallenness, said Cardinal Dolan, allowed the man to be honest about who he is, the help he needs, and begin to turn his life around. So, too, do all Christians need to recognize their own need for God's mercy and grace to become the holy children of God we're meant to be.
"We say with Pope Francis, 'I am a sinner,'" said Cardinal Dolan. "We recognize this Divine Mercy. And if we don't, we're missing out on the Easter gift of Jesus, which is Divine Mercy."
View Cardinal Dolan's homily:
The Most Rev. Edward B. Scharfenberger, bishop of the diocese of Albany, was one of a number of concelebrants at the televised Mass. This year marked the 25th anniversary of the live Divine Mercy Sunday broadcasts that the Marians air in collaboration with the EWTN Global Catholic Network. The broadcast was available to over 238 million television households in more than 140 countries and territories.
That broadcast may have had more viewers than originally anticipated. With deep sadness, on account of persistent rain over several days, on Thursday organizers had to notify the last 65 bus pilgrimages that registered for the Divine Mercy Sunday celebration at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy that they could not be accommodated due to limited hard-surface parking.
"For those whose buses were cancelled, we not only wish to apologize, but we assure you of our special prayers for your intentions including tomorrow's Mass," ran the statement released via social media. "In the meantime, for all those not coming here on Sunday, remember that wherever you are, you can obtain the promised grace of complete remission of sins and punishment on Divine Mercy Sunday (or this evening's Vigil) by going to Mass and worthily and trustingly receiving the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion, and by loving and caring for those in need."
This year's Divine Mercy Sunday celebrations were filled with a special significance as pilgrims and priests alike spoke about and reflected upon the papal bull Misericordiae Vultus.
Officially released by Pope Francis on Saturday, April 11, the Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, in a special ceremony outside the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica, the document authoritatively convokes the upcoming extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, to begin Dec. 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, and run through Nov. 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Christ the King and the close of the liturgical year.
In the morning before the televised Mass, several talks were offered, bookended by times of praise and worship. One of the speakers, renowned convert and author Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, shared with the pilgrims just how powerful he had found the papal bull. "My friends, you have to get a copy of this. It's brilliant. The floodgates of heaven open today and they're going to be open for this whole year because of what the Holy Father has done."
Read highlights from the bull here.
Father Donald then proceeded to explain the connections between Divine Mercy and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Mercy and the greatest recipient of God's mercy in her Immaculate Conception. "Jesus wants us to come to Him through her."
He emphasized that the Divine Mercy Chaplet is prayed using Rosary beads, then described some of the many great popes, saints, and blesseds who have prayed and recommended the Rosary, including Pope Francis.
"Do you know how many Rosaries this pope prays every day?" asked Fr. Don. "Three, at least. Do you know where he found that inspiration? Saint John Paul II," the Great Mercy Pope, whom then-Cardinal Bergoglio had seen in Rome leading a public recitation of the Rosary with such great devotion, it touched his heart.
The Rosary "is a great gift for us," continued Fr. Calloway, author of the recently released Rosary Gems, the largest published collection of quotes by popes, saints, blesseds, and other Catholic luminaries. Whenever we face doubts, questions, suffering, or struggles, we should pray the Rosary. "It's like holding Our Lady's hand." He shared that he always carries a rosary in his pocket — "sometimes two, one on each side. It's a weapon for the spiritual combat. The devil hates the Rosary like the devil hates Our Lady."
But the Lord is infinitely more powerful than the devil, and Our Lady is the woman with enmity to the ancient serpent (see Gn. 3:15; Rev 12), so, Fr. Donald said, the Rosary can defeat Satan and all his plans. He cited the conversion of Blessed Bartolo Longo, founder of the great Marian shrine at Pompeii in Italy, who had been deeply enmeshed in the occult in his youth, but converted through the power of the Rosary and the prayers of his friends. Blessed Bartolo was extensively cited in St. John Paul II's apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae and appears in Fr. Calloway's Rosary Gems.
The next speaker, actress Maria Vargo, is currently starring in St. Luke Productions' one-woman, touring drama Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy. She shared the opening lines of the drama with the pilgrims in character, and then proceeded to speak of what a tremendous grace she's found it to spread the message of Divine Mercy through art.
"It's like nothing else I've been a part of as an actress," she said. She knew she was supposed to apply for the part because she'd prayed a novena to St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, asking for a sign. On Divine Mercy Sunday in 2013, Vargo received a sign in the form of a red rose, applied for the part, and now travels the country, performing the part of St. Faustina Kowalska, the messenger of Divine Mercy.
"I'm the messenger for the messenger," she said laughingly, referring to the responsibility she has for giving many people their first taste of the person and mission of St. Faustina through her performance.
She'd been speaking to a naval gentlemen, she said, who was speaking about all the various missions he'd been sent on. It struck her that she, also, had been sent on a mission by the Lord to proclaim God's mercy.
After a year and a half, the drama recently held its 145th performance. Vargo said she's sometimes asked if she ever gets tired of reciting the same lines over and over. She responded, "How can you get tired of telling the truth?"
Vargo did acknowledge that as the show headed into its third season, she had thought they might be slowing down a bit. "Then Pope Francis declared a year of mercy. I don't think we're going to be slowing down a bit."
The day abounded with opportunities for pilgrims to allow the rays of Divine Mercy into their lives and the lives of their loved ones. As Jesus told St. Faustina,
I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 699)
Confession and Eucharistic adoration were available throughout the day, though if pilgrims had gone to Confession earlier in the week and were still in the state of grace, they could still receive all the graces of Divine Mercy Sunday without going to Confession again on the feast itself. Opportunities for intercession and meditation abounded at the various candle shrines, the Stations of the Cross, and other places of prayer around Eden Hill. Pilgrims had the opportunity to enroll their loved ones in the Association of Marian Helpers, a spiritual benefit society. They could also request Masses to be said or candles lit for their intentions.
Knights of Columbus from a variety of Councils in several states served as ushers, assisting pilgrims to see the Shrine and safely make their devotions, alongside more than 500 volunteers and staffers.
And their labors were not in vain.
Karen Daigle, a parishioner at Church of the Epiphany in Cheshire, Connecticut, has been coming to Divine Mercy Sunday at the National Shrine since at least 2003. "It's just an amazing experience," said Karen, talking about how much she appreciated coming to an event with so many "people who share the same faith, even the same devotion to Divine Mercy. It's grace-filled. It's Spirit-filled. I'm rejuvenated and regenerated, reenergized."
Chuck Papalia, a parishioner at St. Michael's Parish in North Andover, Massachusetts, has been here for Divine Mercy Sunday three times. "God's mercy is so great," Chuck said. "It's for everyone."
"To see so many people just lifts me up and makes me feel good. Hope springs eternal. I hope more and more people come."