On April 23, the second Sunday of Easter, Archbishop Emeritus Alfred Hughes celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday to a filled St. Joseph Church on Tulane Avenue in New Orleans.
“We come here on this octave of Easter on a day John Paul II set aside as Divine Mercy Sunday,” Archbishop Hughes said. “As we celebrate this Eucharist, we come mindful of our own sins and our own continuing need for God’s mercy.”
Since St. John Paul II made Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska of Poland a saint in 2000 and created Divine Mercy Sunday, many have come to understand the boundless nature of God’s mercy through Jesus’ words given to St. Faustina Kowalska and recorded in her diary.
A vision of Christ in the 1930s
Sister of Our Lady of Mercy Maria Faustina, a Polish Catholic nun and mystic, said Jesus appeared to her in the 1930s with white and red rays pouring from his heart and asked her to be his “secretary of mercy.”
“I sent prophets wielding thunderbolts to my people. Today, I am sending you with my mercy to the people of the whole world,” St. Faustina recorded in her diary. “I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to my merciful heart.”
St. Faustina’s description of the Divine Mercy Jesus she saw was so detailed that artist Marcin Eugeniusz Kazimirowski portrayed the first image of God’s uncompromising love and mercy in 1934. It details a white ray – signifying the water that makes souls righteous – and a red one for the blood that is the life of souls.
Bearers of mercy today
Divine Mercy Sunday has grown over the past 17 years. This year in New Orleans, there were six priests – Jesuit Fathers Gregory Waldrop and Leo Nicoll, Fathers Denzil Perera, Chris DeLerno, Colin Braud and Richard Sudlik – and Archbishop Hughes available for confession two hours before Mass, according to Jeannette Dufrene, a member of the Divine Mercy apostolate of New Orleans who organized the Mass. The Divine Mercy chaplet also was recited prior to Mass.
Repentance of sin through confession is one provision to receive the special grace of complete forgiveness of sins on or before or after the week surrounding Divine Mercy Sunday. Other conditions cited by Archbishop Hughes include acceptance of Divine Mercy, participation in Mass and the reception of holy Communion in the state of grace, veneration of the image of Divine Mercy and the ability to extend mercy to others.
Archbishop Hughes opened the homily describing what he considers current givers of mercy in the world. He pointed out how families of nine innocent, African-American victims in the June 2015 massacre at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, forgave shooter Dylann Roof, for they had no room in their hearts for hate. Roof’s stated intention was to trigger a race war.
“This was a miracle of mercy,” Archbishop Hughes said, “an imitation of divine mercy,” because they were practicing God’s boundless mercy.
The Pentecost Gospel of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples in the upper room illustrates God’s extraordinary gift of mercy through the death and resurrection of his son, Archbishop Hughes said.
When Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven,” he made the disciples his representatives of mercy, Archbishop Hughes said. Then, a week later when Jesus reappeared, he gave mercy to the doubting Thomas who was not in the upper room the first time.
“Divine Mercy is the unique way in which God brings justice to us,” Archbishop Hughes said. “God offers the gift of mercy – forgiveness. But that gift takes effect only if (there is) truly repentant love” and a resolve to “make up, in some way, for the harm we caused.”
He said God does not follow the tallying – “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” but makes us just in three steps: by offering mercy, accepting repentant love and reversing the harm done, to the best of our ability, in cooperation with God’s grace.”
Archbishop Hughes thanked everyone for participating in the Divine Mercy liturgy.
“We are recipients of that invitation of the Lord’s prayer, ‘Lord forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ St. Faustina in her diary recorded – whoever approached the light on this day, Divine Mercy, we grant completely forgiveness of sins. …”
After Mass, several remained to venerate the 6-foot-tall Divine Mercy image brought from Stockbridge, Massachusetts, from the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy, Dufrene said, and to venerate a first-class relic of St. Faustina.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.