My dear people of St. Mary’s:
This weekend, the Second Sunday of Easter, the universal Catholic Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday. The history of the Divine Mercy Devotion and how the feast came to be is one of the most remarkable stories in the Church.
On the evening of February 22, 1931, a 25-year-old nun was praying in her cell in the convent of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Krakow, Poland. Her name was Helen Kowalska, though in religious life she was known as Sr. Faustina. She would later write of her experience that momentous evening:
In the evening, when I was in my cell, I became aware of the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One hand was raised in blessing, the other was touching the garment at the breast. From the opening of the garment at the breast there came forth two large rays, one red and the other pale. In silence I gazed intently at the Lord; my soul was overwhelmed with fear, but also with great joy. After a while Jesus said to me, “paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the inscription: Jesus, I trust in You.”
Our Lord appeared to her regularly over the following seven years until her death, giving her detailed instructions about this devotion to His Divine Mercy. She kept a detailed diary of these apparitions in which she quotes Our Lord and His instructions to her at length. It is interesting that this devotion was to come into the Church and the world during one of the most unmerciful centuries in human history. Our Blessed Lord unfolded to Sr. Faustina an entire theology of mercy along with the devotion. Jesus said “I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first—by deed, the second—by word, the third—by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for Me.”
When Sr. Faustina died on October 5, 1938, it may have seemed to her as if she had failed in her mission to be Christ’s “Apostle of Divine Mercy,” and to bring the message of this devotion to the world. But then, in 1978, a Polish pope was elected who understood the importance of this devotion to the universal Church.
In 1980 Pope Blessed John Paul II published an Encyclical Letter entitled “The Mercy of God.” Although the Holy Father did not refer to Sr. Faustina or the apparitions of the Divine Mercy in the document, he later wrote that Sr. Faustina and the devotion were very much the inspiration for the encyclical. The following year, while visiting the Shrine of Merciful Love in Collevalenza, Italy, the Pope said: “Right from the beginning of my ministry in St. Peter’s See in Rome, I considered this message [of Divine Mercy] my special task.”