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The mercy of God
A gift to receive, a mission to live
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Today, the Sunday after Easter, Catholics honor the Mercy of God.  Of course, we need God’s mercy year ’round.  So much needless cruelty and suffering in the world could be avoided - or at least overcome - -if mercy were in greater supply.  Think, for example, of the senseless violence in our own neighborhoods. But Divine Mercy Sunday focuses in a special way on God’s love at work through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In 1925, a young Polish woman entered the cloister.  Soon, Sr. Faustina Kowalska began having visions of Jesus.  He revealed his ardent desire to bring all souls - especially those farthest from the Light - -into the embrace of God’s mercy.  “I have opened my Heart,” he told her, “as a living Fount of Mercy.  I desire that all souls receive life from this Fount.  Would that they would draw near with great confidence to this ocean of Mercy” (Diary, 1520).  “On the cross, the Fount of my Mercy was opened wide by the lance for all souls; I have not excluded anyone” (1182)…”I will never reject a repentant heart” (1485).  “Heaven and earth would sooner return to nothingness than would my Mercy stop embracing a soul that trusts in me” (1777).

To make this Divine Mercy more accessible, the Lord asked Sr. Faustina to bring about the following:  1) To be his “Secretary of Mercy” - eventually, her writings filled volumes.  2)  To promote devotion to his Mercy by means of a “chaplet” - a series of prayers said on the rosary beads calling his Mercy down upon the world.  3)  To have an image painted just as he described it--with Jesus entering through a doorway, radiating beams of red and white light from his Sacred Heart.  4)  To ask for the establishment of the Novena of Divine Mercy, beginning on Good Friday and ending on the Sunday after Easter - this would be called the “Feast of Divine Mercy”.  5)  To honor the three o’clock hour daily as the Hour of Mercy.  6)  To urge people to share God’s mercy with others, so that their lives might become a gospel of Mercy.

With God, there are no accidents. This message spread throughout Poland just in time for the horrible years of Nazi and Soviet occupation.  In the midst of a century characterized by unending brutality and rebellion against all that is truly divine, Jesus spoke his tender words of compassion to the world through a simple Polish nun, who died at 33 years. At the same time, he warned of the consequence of rejecting God’s free grace.  Those who refuse to accept the Father’s Mercy, he admonished, will remain with his Justice.

As we celebrate the infinite love of a Father who “so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son” (John 3:16), we need to make that choice for ourselves.  This hit home for me most powerfully as I participated in Sandra Cantu’s memorial service.  By the grace of God, I sat behind her family and beside some of her school companions.  As tears filled our eyes at the image of such a beautiful angel and the brutal fact of her murder, I felt challenged to extend that Mercy toward her killer.  We don’t know the details yet, but if the suspect now in captivity should prove to have been the predator who took her innocence, and then her life, what would the Lord ask of me, a priest?

On Saturday, I began my article by expressing my anger and difficulty with the decision to forgive.  Today, I want to repeat what I said in the concluding lines: “May God forgive us for having ever caused an innocent human being to suffer…Sandra Cantu’s unspeakably tragic death will bear fruit in our lives if we never take the gift of life - nor the gift of eternal life in Christ - for granted.”  Knowing that my presence in Tracy, as a priest, might have added to the collective pain, I myself was there to ask for mercy.  Many at that event - and those who saw me on television - may have reacted with indignation, since far too many priests have abused innocent children.  Simply by being visible, I took the risk of being associated, not with the agents of healing, but with the one who took little Sandra’s life.  Far from sitting in judgment upon Melissa Huckaby, I was painfully aware of my deep need for compassion.

May we all embrace God’s Mercy, and live in love.  And may we remember that, were it not for God’s Mercy, we would be capable of the greatest evils.
Fr. Dean McFalls, St. Mary’s Church, Stockton, CA  written April 18, 2009.