Mercy and justice are difficult to balance in human affairs, and even more difficult can be the belief in their balance in the God from Whom we beg for the one while trembling in fear of the other. These are days when it is not difficult to believe we are feeling the heavy hand of justice as the world continues to cower before the coronavirus. Can we believe in and beg for mercy as well? Without justice, there can be no mercy, and so Divine Mercy Sunday comes with a new poignancy this year for our hearts, and a new potential to understand the purposes of the human heart and the Sacred Heart.
The Octave Day of Easter was proclaimed Divine Mercy Sunday twenty years ago by Pope John Paul II when he canonized Sr. Maria Faustina Kowalska, the first saint of the new millennium. On that day, the pope said, “This is the happiest day of my life,” a wonderful thing to note as we celebrate next month the 100th anniversary of the first day of his life. Mercy made that man rejoice because he knew God well. As Portia said in her famous speech regarding mercy,
It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.
From Saint Faustina’s diary recording her dialogue with the Lord, we may add this: “Proclaim that mercy is the greatest attribute of God. All the works of My hands are crowned with mercy.”
John Paul II considered the message of Divine Mercy as the special task of his papacy, and gave us far more than his encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, to come to know divine mercy. There is a little poem by our late saintly pope that speaks of the love we should feel and the mercy that carries our heart to the center of things, reminding us to be happy, too, for the quality of divine mercy is not strained. In the collection Easter Vigil and Other Poems, composed when Karol Wojtyła was a parish priest and Auxiliary Bishop of Kraków in the late 1950s, there’s a poem entitled “Girl Disappointed in Love,” which is worth reading in the context and contemplation of Divine Mercy Sunday 2020:
With mercury we measure pain
as we measure the heat of bodies and air;
but this is not how to discover our limits—
you think you are the center of things.
If you could only grasp that you are not:
the center is He,
and He, too, finds no love—
why don’t you see?
The human heart—what is it for?
Cosmic temperature. Heart. Mercury.
These are days of loneliness and isolation. The poem speaks the thoughts of a forlorn girl who feels alone, abandoned by her love. But she knows the secret of something more, a love beyond the physical, and of a mercy that awaits her.
These, too, are days of mercury measuring pain. The fever of Covid-19 is burning in all of our bodies in one way or another. These are also days of materialist misunderstandings, where a fear of death is vying to define our limits as the temperature of body and air, as if there were nothing more beyond. As if we were the center of things.
But, thank God, we are not. And a merciful peace awaits those who can and will grasp this truth. Christ is risen, indeed, and we are a people called to partake in His victory over death, and to live immeasurably beyond the measurable limits of the heat of bodies and air. The limits of our humanity are a distraction, a sidelining from the center, from the heart of the matter. There is a center that is real, that puts to shame those things that pose as a center but are merely sideshow attractions, and He is the center. But do we love Him? Do we see?
As Saint Faustina’s vision shows, the heart of Christ—His center and ours—is the fountain of mercy, flowing forth in clear and crimson power as it did on Calvary. The heart, whether human or divine, is for love and for mercy, and the quality of divine mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.
That is what the heart is for—for mercy, which “is enthronèd in the hearts of kings” where it applies a “cosmic temperature” that measures beyond the capacity of thermometers but remains elemental.
In the poem’s final meditative string, Mercury may also refer poetically to the Greek immortal who was the intermediary between earth and heaven, between men and gods. For, again, that is what the human heart is for. It’s for the Sacred Heart and divine mercy.
One year after establishing Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope John Paul declared, “Jesus said to Saint Faustina one day: ‘Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to Divine Mercy.’ Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity.” May the world remember these words and the miraculous promises of Divine Mercy this twentieth year since its official festal observation. Mankind is hungry for mercy, for healing and for hope. Christ was known for showing mercy to the sick when He walked the earth. His mercy rains down still from above, but we, like the sick who sought Him out with persistence and faith, must beg for mercy, for
in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy.
Saint Faustina’s words carry confirmation:
All grace flows from mercy, and the last hour abounds with mercy for us. Let no one doubt concerning the goodness of God; even if a person’s sins were as dark as night, God’s mercy is stronger than our misery. One thing alone is necessary; that the sinner set ajar the door of his heart, be it ever so little, to let in a ray of God’s merciful grace, and then God will do the rest.
Image: Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, Nepi (Wikimedia Commons)