Divine Mercy

divine mercy

I haven’t had much energy this month for writing. Its been one of those “everyone is fed, everyone’s clothes are clean, we did school today, everything else can wait” kind of months. However, I led a small group of women in a discussion of Divine Mercy today and I thought that I might share something that I learned as I prepared for that talk: God is love and His Divine Mercy is the outpouring of that love in response to our needs.

John 4:8 tells us that “God is love.” As incomprehensible as it is, His very being is love. When that Love encounters our many needs, He acts in mercy because that is what love does when it is confronted with need. Our needs are many, so we can see His mercy manifested in countless ways throughout or lives: comfort for our sorrow, peace for our fear, satisfaction of our hunger, justice when we are wronged, the presence of His Spirit to teach and grow us, and so many others.  In all these ways God’s Divine Mercy is manifest in our lives.

Yet, the most pressing of all of our needs, the one that threatens to separate us from God and even to destroy us is our sin. That is why, the most profound way that God demonstrated his Divine Mercy was by sending his Son to suffer and die and then to conquer death and rise again. Because God is love and His love for us is unchanging, He responded to the great need that our sin created by offering this incredible gift of love and mercy.

As we approach Divine Mercy Sunday, I pray that we will all have the time and the energy to spend quiet moments reflecting on God’s great love and Divine Mercy as they were revealed to us on the cross at Calvary and in the empty tomb. And I invite you to pray with me that each person on this earth will be filled with a deep, heartfelt knowledge of God’s mercy, for to be loved so deeply and not know it must be the greatest tragedy of all.

We Are A Resurrection People!

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Ten years ago, my friend and I got to spend Holy Week in Seville, Spain. Each day, we walked into the city to watch the procession of the pasos, which are giant sculptures of the Virgin Mary and Jesus’s passion. Musical bands played somber music and groups of barefoot penitents accompanied the pasos as they made their way through the city streets. As the days passed from Wednesday, to Maundy Thursday, to Good Friday, the excitement and sorrow surrounding the processions seemed to climax. By Good Friday evening, it was difficult to get around the city because each of the main streets was blocked off to make room for one of the processions. On the Saturday after Easter, things were quieter. There were a few more processions, but like the disciples on the day after the crucifixion, the whole city seemed to be waiting and anxiously anticipating Easter and the Resurrection paso.

On Easter morning in 2007, we jumped out of our beds and ran into the city. It was warm and sunny, so I was out of breath by the time we reached the city center; however, I was full of expectation! If the commemoration of Christ’s passion had been so powerful then, surely, the celebration of His victory over sin and death would be absolutely amazing! As we turned onto the street where the procession was suposed to take place we were surprised to find the road almost deserted. Eventually, we found a local resident who told us that the Resurrection paso had been canceled. Now, it is possible that this person did not know what he was talking about and that the procession actually happened at some other place or time in the city; however, for us, the Resurrection paso was “canceled.” As we stood in the street full of disappointment, we could not help but feel that all of the excitement of Holy Week had led only to a great, empty void. After all, why would we ever celebrate Christ’s suffering and death if not for the unbelievable victory of Easter morning? If it were not for the Resurrection, all of our penitence, all of our religious actions, all of our praise would be hollow, meaningless, futile.

In our own lives, we often cancel the Resurrection paso, don’t we? We get so wrapped up in our sins and sorrows that they become the central focus of our lives and even our faith. We repent and confess our sins but continue to allow our feelings of guilt to keep us at a distance from God. We talk a good talk about how selfish, or impatient, or jealous we are but we don’t let go of those identities in the face of Christ’s  salvation. When we grieve, we hold onto our grief by doing things like refusing to reintroduce color into our wardrobes, failing to give the deceased’s room a new purpose, even choosing not to lose the baby weight that reminds us of our lost children! When we have been mentally hurt by cruelty, we become acutely aware of our woundedness and held in bondage by our feelings of victimization. In other words, we live our lives in a way that proclaims why Christ had to die but doesn’t make room for the Resurrection.

Yet, with the dawn of  Easter morning, we are called to lay down our sins and sorrows, to proclaim that they no longer hold any power over us, and to trust in Christ’s amazing victory! We are called to remember that, through God’s great mercy, the sorrow of that first Holy Week ended in joy and victory! On that first Easter morning, Jesus’s grave was empty, but the promises of His Passion were anything but empty! His people would never again be irreconcilably separated from Him. Death would no longer wield any power. His love had paid the cost of all of our sins. Each of the chains that bound His created ones was smashed. As my four year old proclaimed, “When the tomb was empty, God had done everything He meant to do!” Hallelujah!!!

So, no matter what our lives may hold, no matter how high the cost of our discipleship, no matter what we have done or failed to do, no matter who we have lost here on earth, let us never forget that “We are a resurrection people,” (St. Augustine of Hippo) and we live in the power of our resurrected Savior. Let the unshakable joy of our lives be our Resurrection paso that proclaims Christ’s victory to all as we declare with our lips: He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Mother’s Sorrow

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“How long was she conscious?” I asked as the tears filled my eyes and spilled onto my cheeks.

“Are you asking did your baby suffer?” responded my perceptive obstetrician.

I thought of all the questions pounding on my heart: Was the last emotion she knew the panic of suffocation? As her body became bruised and beaten by frantic attempts at CPR, was she aware of it? Did she feel tubes pierce her sides, punching between bones and flesh? Did she wonder where I was and why I was not there to hold her? Did she ask why she was alone, why she was forsaken?

As I nodded my head, my obstetrician gently said, “No, I do not believe that she suffered.” Relief flooded through me.

–              –              –

I’ve never felt particularly close to Saint Mary. In fact, of all the Saints, I tend to be most detached from Mary. There are probably several reasons for this. First, as someone who was raised Protestant, I am wary of any honor that borders on idolatry and there is no other Saint whose veneration often teeters so close to the brink of worship. Second, pride has always wormed its way into my life by disguising itself as a tendency to dislike whatever everybody else likes (think insisting on dresses and leggings when everyone else switched to jeans during elementary school and being disgusted by Titanic when every other girl in my middle school class was swooning over Leonardo DiCaprio). Unfortunately for me, if there is one Saint who everyone loves to love, its Mary which means that I instinctively want to avoid her just because everyone else loves her. Third, I believe that the way that Mary is depicted in art makes it challenging for me to identify with her. For example, it is hard to connect with a woman who looks completely clean, put together, unswollen and calm after giving birth (without pain medication) in a place where they kept animals. Suffice it to say, I gave birth in a clean, animal-free environment with about a dozen doctors and nurses standing by and a nicely placed epidural in my back, yet I don’t have a single picture of me looking clean, put together, unswollen or calm after my children were born. Exhausted but not calm.

However, I recently realized that there was a more fundamental reason that I did not connect with Saint Mary: to really identify with Mary I would have to be willing to be drenched with her sorrows and they are sorrows that my humanness wants to avoid at all costs. Nonetheless, this week I overcame this aversion when I discovered the Catholic practice of meditating on Mary’s Seven Sorrows.  As I pondered the last four Sorrows, I felt that I had been introduced to the amazing Mother of Jesus for the first time. Here was a woman who knew my own pain intimately. In fact, her own pain greatly exceeded my own because, unlike my daughter, her Son absolutely suffered.

Good Friday is an ideal time for all Christians to reflect on the last four of St. Mary’s Sorrows in particular, because it was her Son’s death that caused her so much pain. Consequently, I share my own reflections on these sorrows below.

The Fourth Sorrow is when Mary met Jesus carrying His cross through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha. Even as a mother who has begged God to change His mind and restore life to my lifeless child, I can only begin to imagine the desperation and confusion Mary must have felt as she watched her Son carrying the horrible instrument of His own death on His back. How unbelievably awful it must have been to realize that crowds of people hated her Son enough to kill Him. She must have burned with longing to do something, anything, to help Him. She must have been filled with a desire to tear the crown of thorns from His head, to dress His wounds and to clean the lacerations on His back. She must have begged God for His help and intervention, for the protection of her Child. The Stabat Mater describes the scene thus: “Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled, she beheld her tender Child, all with bloody scourges rent. Can the human heart refrain, from partaking in her pain, in that Mother’s pain untold?”

The Fifth Sorrow is when Mary watched as Jesus was crucified and died. Her heart must have shattered as they pierced his hands with crude nails, punching between bones and flesh. I could not see my daughter as she died. In fact,I struggling with my own physical responses to surgery, I did not even know that she was dying. However, my husband watched as the doctors tried to save her and, having talked with him, I can only imagine Mary’s agony as she gazed upon her child’s body, so bruised and beaten. How she must have longed to run to Him, to hold Him as he cried out to His father, “Why have you forsaken me?” She must have wished that she could use her physical touch to show Him that He was not forsaken and to comfort Him. What horror did she know as she gazed up at her son’s face, that was contorted by the pain and terror of His last, gasping breath, unable to do anything at all except to bear witness to His sacrifice? What questions did she ask her God who silently allowed her world and the One in whom she placed her faith to be destroyed?

The Sixth Sorrow is when Jesus’s body was taken down from the cross and laid in His mother’s arms. Now, finally, I truly know her heart break for I have shared it with her. I know how anxious she was to wrap her arms around her Son’s broken, bruised body, to bathe His face with her tears, to cover Him with her kisses. I know the way she explored her Child, touched His wounds and tenderly kissed them, trying in vain to make them better. I know how good His weight felt in her arms and how she thought that she would never be able to let go. I know the cruelty of time which slowly marched forward, stealing the warmth, color, and softness from the limbs and the face of her precious Child. And I know the resignation of the moment when she realized that it was time to let go of her Son’s body because the physical changes convinced her that He was no longer there and that it was truly finished.

The Seventh and final Sorrow is when Jesus was buried. There are no words to describe the torment of a parent who is forced to bury their child. Even if Mary was experiencing shock and numbness, she no doubt felt the horror of her loss. While she must have trusted that God would raise her Son as He had promised, as she gazed at the stone rolled across the tomb, she must have also felt the excruciating absence of her Son. Did she, like me, feel that her heart was weeping blood? Did she wish she could catch all of her precious tears in a bottle and save them as tangible reminders of her Son that could sustain her until the day when she met Him again? Did she feel that she was dragging mountains behind her as she turned and walked away from the place where her Child’s body lay? Did she wake during that first night, thinking she heard her Son calling for her or shaking her shoulder, only to discover that she was all alone in the darkness? And how horrible those first moments must have been for her when she woke on Saturday morning and realized anew that her Son was gone and that she had to rise and live another day of torment without her Child!

This Sorrow, this suffocating Mother’s Sorrow, all the result of my sin, of your sin, of the sins of our world.