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Sunday Readings for May 1, 2011 (2EasterA)
By Fr. Phil Bloom
Bottom line: This Sunday let's ask the intercession of Blessed John Paul the Great that we would know deeply what we heard in the Psalm: "His mercy endures."
Today is a wonderful day for us as Christians. Perhaps you saw it on television or read in the newspapers: In Rome Pope Benedict beatified his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. We can now address him as Blessed John Paul the Great!
It is significant that the beatification takes place today - Divine Mercy Sunday. Since the early years of his priesthood, Blessed John Paul had a deep devotion to the Divine Mercy. In the year 2000 he officially established the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. On that same date he canonized a humble polish nun named Faustina Kowalska. St. Faustina received revelations from Jesus that became the basis for the Divine Mercy devotion. In spite of a somewhat rocky beginning, the devotion spread first in Poland, then throughout the entire world. After Pope John Paul canonized Sister Faustina, he said, "This is the happiest day of my life!"*
Devotion to the Divine Mercy, of course, was not a novelty. Our Psalm today say, "His mercy endures forever." St. Peter reminds us that we received a new birth because of God's "great mercy." And in today's Gospel the Risen Jesus gives mercy as his first gift: "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them..." Divine Mercy summarizes the message of the Bible and gift of our Savior.
So the devotion to Divine Mercy goes back to our origins. Nevertheless, Jesus chose St. Faustina to highlight and renew this devotion at a crucial moment - at a time when many people had lost faith not just in God, but in mercy itself.
In the forties humanity experienced its most horrendous war. Like all wars, it took the lives of young soldiers, but it had another dimension. On a scale never before seen, civilians became targets: children, their mothers, the disabled, the elderly. People asked: How could humans commit such atrocities? And: Where is God in all this? As Pope Benedict observed, people saw "the horrors of human history, especially of the most recent human history, as an irrefutable pretext for denying the existence of a good God and slandering his creature man."
Someone who particularly witnessed the horrors of recent human history was the man beatified today: Blessed John Paul the Great. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, he was in Warsaw's underground seminary. In the terror which the Nazis imposed, he saw fellow seminarians and priests arrested and summarily executed. After the war, Nazism was replaced by its twin evil - communist totalitarianism. The Nazi occupation lasted five years, but the communist oppression of Poland would last fifty years.
Many historians are recognizing the significant role Blessed John Paul played in the downfall of European communism. After the collapse of the Soviet empire, some of the secret archives became public. They reveal an obsession against the Catholic Church - and particularly against the Polish pope.**
I will leave it to historians to judge Blessed John Paul's role in the downfall of communism. This Sunday, though, we see his greatest weapon. It was not condemnation; it was not political intrigue and it surely was not economic power. The pope's great weapon was the Divine Mercy.
Against a materialist philosophy that viewed humans in terms of economics, Blessed John Paul presented a different vision. Yes, we are deeply flawed. Yes, we committed unimaginable crimes against each other. But we are not abandoned. God offers us something infinitely greater than our human cruelty.***
It's like this: Suppose you go the Pacific Coast. Your vision takes in a small part of a vast ocean. In your right hand you have something decayed with a foul smell. You place your hand in the surf and it disappears, absorbed into the immensity. Such are your sins and mine - and those of all humanity - if we yield them to the Divine Mercy. That is the great gift the Risen Jesus offers us. It is only antidote to the emptiness and despair we often feel.
You know, brothers and sisters, sometimes it seems like we are up against insurmountable obstacles. But remember that in the mid-eighties, many political experts scoffed at the idea that the Soviet empire would give way. Blessed John Paul saw something deeper - the Divine Mercy at work in human history. And in your life and mine.
This Sunday let's ask the intercession of Blessed John Paul the Great that we would know deeply what we heard in the Psalm: "His mercy endures." Amen.
*************And he died on the Vigil of Divine Mercy (April 2, 2005, at 9:37 p.m.). In his room, beginning that Saturday evening at 8 p.m., Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz had just celebrated the Mass of Divine Mercy Sunday and administered a final anointing.
**George Wiegel tells this story in The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II — The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy. Well worth reading. Here is what one reviewer wrote:
Indeed, drawing on a trove of previously classified documents from the KGB, East Germany’s Stasi and Poland’s SB, Weigel reveals the extensive surveillance and intrigues that, for years, centered on John Paul, reaching from his native Poland into the Vatican itself. While always situated in important historical, political and theological contexts, Weigel’s account of Iron Curtain secret-police work against John Paul makes for a flat-out exciting story, and no doubt this is the first-ever papal biography that reads, for great stretches, like a spy thriller.
*** Like most members of the "Baby Boom" generation, I have not experienced human cruelty on anything remotely approaching what other generations have known. Nor have we known significant deprivations. King Henry VIII or even Queen Victoria would envy the comfort we enjoy: ease of travel, central heating, indoor plumbling, a great variety of food and new forms of entertainment. All that, of course, does not mean we have been happy, but it has tended to make us apathetic about great questions. The intention for the final day of the Divine Mercy Novena applies well to us:
Ninth Day "Today bring to me souls who have become lukewarm and immerse them in the abyss of my mercy. These souls wound my Heart most painfully. My soul suffered the most dreadful loathing in the Garden of Olives because of lukewarm souls. They were the reason I cried out: "Father, take this cup away from me, if it be Your will". For them the last hope of salvation is to run to my mercy."