‘Priests, Help Me In This’

“Priests, help me in this; use the strongest words [at your disposal] to proclaim his mercy, for every word falls short of how merciful he really is” (Diary, No. 491). These are words written in the “Diary of St. Faustina Kowalska” (1905-38).

The Lord himself commanded St. Faustina to speak to priests of this need to proclaim his mercy: “My daughter, speak to priests about this inconceivable mercy of mine. The flames of mercy are burning me — clamoring to be spent; I want to keep pouring them out upon souls; souls just don’t want to believe in my goodness” (Diary, No. 177). The Lord himself addresses us directly at one point: “No soul will be justified until it turns with confidence to my mercy; and this is why the first Sunday after Easter is to be the feast of mercy, and on that day, priests are to tell everyone about my great and unfathomable mercy” (Diary, No. 570). Last, Jesus gives a promise to priests who proclaim his mercy: “Tell my priests that hardened sinners will repent on hearing their words when they speak about my unfathomable mercy, about the compassion I have for them in my heart. To priests who proclaim and extol my mercy, I will give wondrous power; I will anoint their words and touch the hearts of those to whom they will speak” (Diary, No. 1521).

Jesus himself, through the first saint of the third millennium, addresses us as his priests who are to proclaim his mercy. Unfortunately, working at the Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, I hear complaints of the laity that pastors do not want to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. To some, Divine Mercy seems to be another private revelation, and hence optional in the strongest sense of that word. However, I propose that, even if the precise forms of the devotion to the Divine Mercy given to St. Faustina are not strictly necessary, we ought to heed the strong requests of both Jesus and St. Faustina to “help them in this.”

Message and Devotion to the Divine Mercy

The revelations of the merciful Jesus to St. Faustina fall under the category of private revelation. However, the Divine Mercy is not simply a devotion, though most often people associate Divine Mercy with what the Marians call “FINCH” — the Feast, the Image, the Novena, the Chaplet and the Hour of Divine Mercy. There is also the message of Divine Mercy, and Pope Benedict XVI went so far as to say, “Divine Mercy is the essence of the Gospel.” We have heard from Pope Francis in this past Year of Mercy how we ought to constantly return to God’s mercy, contemplating this mercy of God that shines forth from the heart of Jesus Christ.

St. John Vianney said, “The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1589). He understood the profound union that is to take place between the priest and Jesus Christ. Ordination does not merely confer the sacramental power to sanctify the Church; the gift of priesthood is a configuration of our very person to the person of Jesus Christ, who as God is love. Priesthood, then, cannot be reduced to certain tasks or duties. Rather, the Sacrament of Holy Orders transforms us into living channels of the love of Jesus Christ for his flock entrusted to us (see Jn 21:15-19).

In this light, then, it would do us well to turn to Pope St. John Paul II, quoted by Pope Francis in Misericordiae Vultus, who described how we know if the Church is authentically living its vocation. “The Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy ­— the most stupendous attribute of the Creator and of the Redeemer — and when she brings people close to the sources of the Savior’s mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser” (No. 11). I would suggest replacing the word “Church” with “priest”: As priests, we live our vocation authentically only if we profess and proclaim mercy, if we are trustees and dispensers of mercy.

The message of the Divine Mercy is none other than the message of the Gospel, and the forms proposed by Jesus to St. Faustina signal a kairos moment of grace for our times in refocusing us upon this center of the Gospel, the primary mission and vocation of the Church.

Superficial Mercy

Others worry that the proclamation of mercy encourages those who live in sin to remain in their sin. Pope Francis, however, on this point stated rather bluntly that to receive mercy, we first must acknowledge our sinfulness (see Diary, No. 1728). In the “Diary,” Jesus appears as the merciful savior to St. Faustina, but quite often he reprimands, chastises and rebukes her for various sins and failings. He also rebukes us, priests as chosen souls, and complains of our lack of trust and confidence in his mercy, stating that our sins hurt him even more than those who live in the world: “I am more deeply wounded by the small imperfections of chosen souls than by the sins of those living in the world” (Diary, No. 580; see also Diary, No. 698).

Our proclamation of mercy will be superficial if we preach the mercy of God merely as knowledge that we are sharing rather than an experience of the living God. If we are to proclaim, like St. Faustina, this unfathomable mercy of God, we, too, must experience our own weaknesses and sinfulness. Only if Divine Mercy becomes for us a daily experience can we authentically proclaim Divine Mercy, not merely as another devotion but as a living reality. For the message of the Divine Mercy is a message of conversion. In order to proclaim his mercy, we must first live that daily conversion like St. Faustina, experiencing both our sinfulness as well as the unlimited mercy of God.

For this reason, Divine Mercy is not merely “another devotion.” Rather, Divine Mercy makes explicit the very core of our vocation as Christians and as priests: For we all receive salvation by trusting in God’s mercy. By our preaching, we encourage others to trust in his mercy, and by the celebration of the sacraments, we make that mercy present today.

Who Knows About It?

One practical reason there is some confusion regarding Divine Mercy Sunday is the translation in the Roman Missal for the Second Sunday of Easter. In Latin, there are multiple words for “or.” In this particular case, the Latin uses “seu.” This is best translated as “namely” or “that is” rather than “or,” since to many the English translation seems to mean “[either] Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday” as if the choice was “either-or.” The translation would be best read as, “Second Sunday of Easter, that is, Divine Mercy Sunday.” Every Mass celebrated on the Second Sunday of Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday.

The fact that some priests don’t want to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday is unfortunate. Jesus asked that the Second Sunday of Easter be Divine Mercy Sunday for the universal Church because there was already, in St. Faustina’s time, a feast of Divine Mercy. When St. Faustina brought this to Jesus’ attention, Jesus responded with strong emotion: “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. That is why I want the image to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter, and I want it to be venerated publicly so that every soul may know about it” (Diary, No. 341).

Jesus clearly was saddened and angered by the lack of emphasis on his mercy in St. Faustina’s time. This has indeed changed — in particular through the recent Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. However, we ought to read and reread these words of Jesus, lest they become true again: Who knows about this feast of mercy? “Even those who should be proclaiming my mercy and teaching people about it often do not know about it themselves.” May these words of Jesus not be applicable to us!

‘Whoever Sees Me’

When Philip asked Jesus to reveal the Father, that the Greeks might believe, Jesus responds, “Whoever sees me sees the one who sent me” (Jn 12:45). For this reason, Pope Francis named the bull for the Year of Mercy “The Face of Mercy,” precisely because through this face of Jesus we can see visibly the mercy of the Father in heaven.

I propose, however, that these words be applied to us, who are conformed to Jesus Christ by ordination. We ourselves are to be the visible face of Jesus Christ upon this earth to our flocks. United to Jesus, we ought to be able to say, “He who sees me sees the Father.” This task far exceeds our strength, since we are sinners. Nevertheless, the mercy of God knows no limits, and if we desire to speak and proclaim the mercy of God, this mercy must also be present in our face and in each of our actions, so that each of our activities becomes sacramental — a mirror through which the flock can see the Good Shepherd.

On the second day of the novena, Jesus himself requests that priests and religious be immersed in his unfathomable mercy. He then continues: “It was they who gave me the strength to endure my bitter passion. Through them, as through channels, my mercy flows out upon mankind” (Diary, No. 1212). We are called to be channels of this mercy of the Father upon all mankind, and this begins with being a visible image of Jesus Christ, by which people can come to know the mercy of Jesus through our daily actions, interactions and duties.

The True Sacrifice

The Eucharist is the summit and source of our Christian lives, and this has a particular meaning for priests. However, St. Thomas Aquinas, writing on mercy in the Summa Theologica, clarifies the meaning of Christian worship and sacrifice: “We do not worship God with sacrifices and exterior gifts for him but rather for us and for our neighbor. He has no need of our sacrifices, but he does ask that these be offered by us as devotion and for the benefit of our neighbor. For him, mercy, which overcomes the defects of our devotion and sacrifice, is the sacrifice which is most pleasing, because it is mercy which above all seeks the good of one’s neighbor” (II-II, q. 30, a. 4, ad 1).

What does the Lord need from us priests? He needs trust in his mercy, the sacrifice that is most pleasing. The Eucharist itself is the greatest act of worship, because it is Jesus’ unconditional surrender of self in trust to the Father, who pours out his mercy upon us through his pierced heart. Our daily celebration of the Eucharist is to help us trust in the Father as did Jesus and obtain mercy for his people by our actions each day. We must remember this: Our worship of God does not end at “Ite, missa est,” but continues every time we reveal his mercy.

Mary, the Mother and Queen of Mercy

Let us, then, heed the request of St. Faustina, the secretary and apostle of mercy, and help her in “this” — the task of proclaiming the mercy of God our Father. But let us remember the Mother and Queen of Mercy as well: She experienced God’s mercy in an exceptional way and so has the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God’s mercy. She has a particular ability to help us, her sons, to experience this mercy and share in her knowledge of it, so that our hearts may be shaped by her maternal heart and become living reflections of the Divine Mercy to her children.

May we call out to her: “Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy….”

St. Faustina, pray for us!

Pope St. John Paul II, pray for us!

FATHER THADDAEUS LANCTON, MIC, was ordained a priest in 2015 and currently serves at the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.