Marking the 90th anniversary of the apparition of Jesus to St. Faustina Kowalska, Pope Francis…
Come home to the Father’s Divine Mercy
Over my lifetime, Divine Mercy Sunday has grown in popularity within the Church, in particular because of the devotion of Pope St. John Paul II to St. Faustina Kowalska, the Polish nun to whom Christ revealed the mystery of his Divine Mercy. On the day of her canonization — April 30, 2000, the Second Sunday of Easter — John Paul added Divine Mercy Sunday to the General Roman Calendar, to be celebrated every year on the Octave of Easter.
While I am of the “John Paul II Generation,” Divine Mercy Sunday is a celebration it took me many years to embrace. Last year, in the early weeks of the pandemic, we prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet for the first time as a family from Good Friday through Divine Mercy Sunday. More recently, at OSV (or rather virtually, through Microsoft Teams), we have begun praying the Chaplet every Friday at 3 p.m. in commemoration of Our Lord’s passion.
For a political theorist by training, the idea that an unchanging God could be both just and merciful long seemed a greater mystery than the Incarnation. The classical definition of justice, in human terms, is giving each his or her due. Mercy, in human terms, is contrasted to justice. It’s synonymous with leniency or clemency — the suspension of justice for reasons of charity. Justice (again, in human terms) does not comprehend mercy. While the merciful man does not override justice capriciously, justice and mercy still represent opposite poles of human experience.
But God, of course, is constant in his will. If he is, as the whole of sacred Scripture testifies, both just and merciful, then the Divine Mercy cannot represent an opposite pole from divine justice; the two must be one.
We see glimpses of the answer to this paradox in Scripture, in verses such as Exodus 34:6, where God pairs his mercy with his faithfulness to those with whom he has made a covenant, and of course in the parable of the prodigal son, where the older son reads the father’s mercy in our human sense, as overriding the justice that would demand punishment, not a feast, for the prodigal son upon his return.
But it is precisely in the Father’s fidelity that we can see God’s justice and mercy reconciled. Because God is faithful, there is no end to his mercy. While we wander, as the prodigal son did, he remains; if we return, he is always there, abounding with love for us. We can freely choose to abandon God, and when we do, we experience the results of our unfaithfulness as divine justice in the face of his fidelity; but if we come back to him once again in repentance and contrition, we experience that same fidelity as Divine Mercy.
Though God’s mercy is freely given, it is not free. We must seek the Divine Mercy by returning to God. If, unlike the prodigal son, we choose to remain among the swine, afraid to return to our Father’s house, we will never know his mercy.
Msgr. Luigi Guissani, in “Morality: Memory and Desire,” writes of hope as “giving the benefit of doubt to Another,” a wonderful phrase that sums up the human predicament at the heart of our longing for mercy. Having squandered our inheritance like the prodigal son, and steeped in the human definition of justice, we fear that we do not deserve mercy. It is only when we give the benefit of doubt to God the Father, when we trust his words to Moses that he is “a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity,” that we can rise above our human understanding of justice and accept his Divine Mercy.
Having made that leap and experienced God’s mercy for ourselves, how can we not desire to share the good news? Unlike the older son in the parable, we know that the mercy God offers others does not take away from the mercy he extends to us; it multiplies it.
Rejoicing in his mercy, how can we not reach out to those around us to proclaim God’s faithfulness and call them back to our Father’s house, so that they, too, may experience his Divine Mercy?
Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.