I. Doctoral Thesis incomplete
Long before the ‘Year of Mercy’ and the Synods on Marriage and the Family there was a doctoral student, whose specialization was marriage and the family, who attempted to make a comparative study between St. Faustina Maria Kowalska’s understanding of divine mercy, and that proposed by the great devotee of herself, Pope John Paul II. As the thesis was being written many things in the Church and the world happened and the student in question withdrew from the doctoral programme. He remembers discussing with an eminent professor the question of the importance of the theme of mercy in John Paul II’s writings – this was before he (not the eminent professor!) was canonized. The eminent professor dismissed the notion of it being the central theme; for him the question of the significance of the human body in theological terms was the nucleus. They agreed to differ.
Benedict XVI ended that discussion. He said that the theme of divine mercy was the ‘central nucleus’ of his predecessor’s pontificate.
There were various reasons why the student in question didn’t complete the task he had set himself: the first was his desire to spend more time with his children. Time waits for no man, and children don’t stop growing while parents are busy with ‘important things’. He thought that maybe in his old age – if God spared him – he would return to writing. He knows he’ll never be able to return to the most precious years of parenting.
The second reason was a recognition of his own inability to produce such a work. Some people can do; some can’t. He was in the later category.
And the third reason was that he could not reconcile some of the teachings of the two Polish saints. He felt as if he was betraying them both. His was a lack of appreciation that his own feelings had nothing to do with the facts that the Saints in question seemed literally worlds apart – even although their lives were deeply intertwined. Yes, they never met each other but her influence upon him was immense – long before the gaze of the world was on either the Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow or, as he was later to become, the Vicar of Christ. She lived before the revolution of the 1960’s; he lived through it – even although gripped in Communist Poland at the time. She lived with the threat of Russia’s revolution spilling over into Poland; he lived through the horrors of the European dictators of the Twentieth Century. These marked his soul, while other things formed her soul.
Within the Church also their experiences were different: he saw the glory of the Second Vatican Council, and its disastrous consequences; she saw many things known to herself and God alone. He had to promote what he thought was the answers to contemporary man’s problems but how many of his answers were from his own understanding of the events? Questions within questions; always more questions.
When it came to the theme of divine mercy she was not slow to speak of divine justice, and the manifestation of it in eternal damnation. He, on the other hand, shied away from this doctrine and flirted with a universalism. Furthermore, she did not live in a ecumenical age and so when it came to the question of baptizing a dying Jewish woman she did not think twice about it. For him, praying with pagan leaders at Assisi and encouraging world religions left a confused taste in the mouths of many. The evidence of her pre-Vatican II Catholicism can be found in her Diary; while his very modern post-Vatican II Catholicism leaves much room for head-scratching if one tries to read it in the light of the Church’s constant teachings. Much of what he says is superb but the doctoral student in question was puzzled. He was unaware of how much he had become an ultramontanist in his zeal for the Holy Father and it was painful to think he might be wrong.
How could the differences in thought be reconciled by our dear doctoral student without sounding uncharitable; without sounding as if his two great heroes where not pulling in the same direction on the question of “the greatest attribute of God”? Were they really both singing from the same hymn sheet, or rather, ‘from the the same missal’? The thought of being unfaithful to one or the other lay heavy upon him. Another soul would have to take up the task of considering where compatibility or incompatibility between them lay.
II. Kasper’s Ghost
While carrying out these studies the theme of mercy – if not ‘divine mercy’ – was becoming more and more popular with certain groups within the Church. There were those who for many years had promoted the devotions deriving from St. Faustina’s writings. They had been helped immensely in their task by John Paul II’s obvious personal devotion. This pontifical support had set in train some serious work by scholars, and had also attracted the attention of a few eminent Churchmen at international congresses.
One surprising name on the scene of mercy was that of Walter Cardinal Kasper. His work, originally in German, was known to the doctoral student in question. When it was released it was one of very few works on the topic – mercy as a theological theme was not in the ‘popular’ category as Kasper himself noted. That, however, was changed when his contribution was taken up by another pope.
Providence moves quickly. Popes came and popes went. Millions of words where spoken – most of them to produce noise rather than the silence that leads to love, prayer, and service (as Mother Teresa used to say). Mercy quickly became the word. What it was, however, was suffocated in a culture of death and moral relativism. Within this there was also to be found theological relativism where doctrines were sidelined or re-written to fit with the passing moment. Every man in the street could tell you not to judge – it’s time for mercy – but nobody seemed able to judge as to what was mercy and what was not. Sound bites and Tweets ruled any attempt at discussion and analysis.
Was there an organised conspiracy to use mercy as the Trojan horse with which to carry out the blitzkrieg of the destruction of all that previous popes had work to defend? Was there a plan hatched by Godfried Cardinal Danneels and the Sankt Gallen mafia to use mercy (and smile while kissing babies) to win over the masses – and empty the Sacredness of the Masses – so that any attempts at a Catholic restoration would die in the water? Maybe. Danneels was no respecter of abused children so why should he be considered a respecter of the Blessed Sacrament? That may sound harsh but is it not harsher still to place a man in charge of a Synod on the Family whose indefensibly defends a child-abusing bishop?
It was in this milieu – and contributing to this cacophony of nothingness – that Kasper’s spirit (an unholy ghost for sure) spread like wild fire. Having received advertising from the highest authority on earth his ideas about mercy were promoted at every turn about. No matter that the book was critiqued and shown to be a promoter of a pseudo-mercy, the cat was out of the bag. The dove-tailing between Kasper’s errors on mercy and the question of Sacraments as a free-for-all (with the legitimization of practices that have been occurring since the rejection of the Church’s teaching on marriage and children since the 1960’s) fitted perfectly with a culture in which the idea of making a judgement about anything was considered dictatorial. Paralysis of the faculty of reasoning due to Nominialism’s long march through the institutions had finally reached the point were every man, woman, and child had become a guard of the revolution under the banner of ‘Love Mercy, Hate Justice’.
It was, and is, a long way from St. Faustina.
III. St. Faustina’s Hard Sayings
St. Faustina was a red head! Thankfully she wasn’t a red-hat. It’s probably not the most significant point about her but it brings a smile to the face. She was as tough as nails. Now, is that because people would have undoubtedly mention her red hair to her; or was it simply because she was red-head? Nurture or nature? Whatever. If she had been alive today, maybe like St. Catherine of Sienna she would have kicked a few backsides – especially the red-hatted kind – into charitably into line on what is and what is not mercy.
She also loved to run. A reference to going running in one of her letters reveals this fact.
When it came to her love for Jesus she brought all of this to it – almost Pauline in her passion. What pained her most as she grew deeper in her union with Our Lord was seeing how much sin wounded Him. Her owns sins caused her agony because she knew how they made the One she loved suffer. This brought her to the point of asking Jesus why He didn’t simply punish sinners for their sins. Why did He not exercise His perfect Justice in a more manifest way? His answer is the answer that Cardinal Kasper fails to integrate into his work on mercy because of the error of universalism – the belief that everyone is going to Heaven. Like Hans Urs von Balthasar he thinks Hell is a divine concentration camp – a suggestion that totally misses the point regarding divine justice.
St. Faustina, on the other hand, gives a presentation of the truths concerning God’s mercy and His justice that holds these inscrutable mysteries in harmony. One finds her, for example, recording the following passage in n. 1180 of her Diary. She writes:
When once I asked the Lord Jesus how He could tolerate so many sins and crimes and not punish them, the Lord answered me, I have eternity for punishing…, and so I am prolonging the time of mercy for the sake of [sinners]. But woe to them if they do not recognize this time of My visitation.
Punishment. Divine Wrath. Divine Justice. Chastisement. They are not terms that are acceptable in many contemporary Christian circles. Indeed, a proper reading of St. Faustina would seem to be impossible without taking into consideration her difficult passages. Some may argue that her’s was a spirituality conditioned by its time, and that a ‘mature’ approach gives one a more enlightened understanding – an understanding which speaks of ‘Revelation [having] not identified the eternal damnation of any one concrete individual’ (Kasper). Well, if St. Faustina is trapped in a certain period of time, so too is Kasper, and what he said last week can be ignored. Such false reasoning ignores the truth, which does not depend on a certain period of time in order to be true. St. Faustina’s response to Kasper’s denial of punishments in Hell was just as firm as many of her other assertions:
Today, I was led by an Angel to the chasms of hell. It is a place of great torture; how awesomely large and extensive it is! The kinds of tortures I saw: the first torture that constitutes hell is the loss of God; the second is perpetual remorse of conscience; the third is that one’s condition will never change; the fourth is the fire that will penetrate the soul without destroying it – a terrible suffering, since it is purely spiritual fire, lit by God’s anger; the fifth torture is continual darkness and a terrible suffocating smell, and despite the darkness, the devils and the souls of the damned see each other and all the evil, both of others and their own; the sixth torture is the constant company of Satan; the seventh torture is horrible despair, hatred of God, vile words, curses and blasphemies. These are the tortures suffered by all the damned together, but that is not the end of the sufferings. There are special tortures destined for particular souls. These are the torments of the senses. Each soul undergoes terrible and indescribable sufferings, related to the manner in which it has sinned. There are caverns and pits of torture where one form of agony differs from another. I would have died at the very sight of these tortures if the omnipotence of God had not supported me. Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin. I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like.’
I, Sister Faustina, by the order of God, have visited the abysses of hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence. I cannot speak about it now; but I have received a command from God to leave it in writing. The devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God. What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: that most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell. When I came to, I could hardly recover from the fright. How terribly souls suffer there! (Diary, 741).
With regards to the question of ecumenical dialogue one finds that St. Faustina doesn’t seem to think along the lines of many of Catholics today. Would she be accused, as St. Maximillian Kolbe has been, of being anti-semitic? No doubt she would be – even though the term never seems to be defined whenever it is used. Again, reason is slain by brute force.
It is the following passage that just doesn’t seem to fit with the drive toward a one world religion, or even just polite conversation; political correctness is slaughtered in this section of her Diary, 916. One can’t imagine it being used as meditation at an inter-religious prayer service. It reads as follows:
In a private room next to mine, there was a Jewish woman who was seriously ill. I went to see her three days ago and was deeply pained at the thought that she would soon die without having her soul cleansed by the grace of Baptism. I had an understanding with her nurse, a [religious] Sister, that when her last moment would be approaching, she would baptize her. There was this difficulty however, that there were always some Jewish people with her. However, I felt inspired to pray before the image which Jesus had instructed me to have painted. I have a leaflet with the
Image of the divine Mercy on the cover. And I said to the Lord, “Jesus, You Yourself told me that You would grant many graces through this image. I ask You, then, for the grace of Holy Baptism for this Jewish lady. It makes no difference who will baptize her, as long as she is baptized.”
After these words, I felt strangely at peace, and I was quite sure that, despite the difficulties, the waters of Holy Baptism would be poured upon her soul. That night, when she was very low, I got out of bed three times to see her, watching for the right moment to give her this grace. The next morning, she seemed to feel a little better. In the afternoon her last moment began to approach. The Sister who was her nurse said that Baptism would be difficult because they were with her. The moment came when the sick woman began to lose consciousness, and as a result, in order to save her, they began to run about; some [went] to fetch the doctor, while others went off in other directions to find help.
And so the patient was left alone, and Sister baptized her, and before they had all rushed back, her soul was beautiful, adorned with God‟s grace. Her final agony began immediately, but it did not last long. It was as if she fell asleep. All of a sudden, I saw her soul ascending to heaven in wondrous beauty. Oh, how beautiful is a soul with sanctifying grace! Joy flooded my heart that before this image I had received so great a grace for this soul.
Not quite the approach of the non-proselytising members of the Sankt Gallen mafia! Likewise, St. Faustina’s teaching on worthy reception of the Blessed Sacrament. The laxity of the late Twentieth Century, and now the early Twenty First Century, would have undoubtedly caused deep suffering to her. As the Sacraments become more and more the property of those governing the Church-tax (legislation that ironically comes from an era when many German Catholics died for the Faith, and which now brings in 6 billion euros from those who want to buy the Faith) St. Faustina’s words cut across the sophistry and line up perfectly with the Church’s constant teaching and tradition. She notes in Diary, 1288 that:
Today, the Lord told me, My daughter, write that it pains Me very much when religious souls receive the Sacrament of Love merely out of habit, as if they did not distinguish this food. I find neither faith nor love in their hearts. I go to such souls with great reluctance. It would be better if they did not receive Me.
Surely, these words should make every soul who approaches the Blessed Sacrament tremble with Holy Fear, and repeat constantly: Domine, non sum dignum ut intres sub tectum meum… St. Faustina presents these words as the Church has done for centuries – words that are now being set aside by many. She continues in 1289:
Most sweet Jesus, set on fire my love for You and transform me into Yourself. Divinize me that my deeds may be pleasing to You. May this be accomplished by the power of the Holy Communion which I receive daily. Oh, how greatly I desire to be wholly transformed into You, O Lord!
It is union with God that she seeks – not public recognition. She isn’t interested in feeling welcomed. It is to be like another Christ, to be a soul stripped of all self-love, in order that other souls may find God’s mercy – this is all she is interested in since this is loving her Beloved. Careful reading of her writings show that she was prepared to suffer anything – even the sense of the absolute loss of God – if only to save one soul from the eternal fires of Hell. Deeply aware of the infamy of sin she is willing to be the victim with Christ who will bear the full weight of God’s justice, His own justice. She is united to Him, making up in her body and sufferings for the failure of so many members of Christ’s Mystical Body to live in accord with His will. If this means not receiving Christ – feeling nothing but the virtual pains of Hell – she is prepared to endure. She does not demand any right whatsoever. This is the heroic love that is called holiness. This is the love that goes beyond justice: it is what is called participation in God’s Mercy.
The question that opens up here is this: where does John Paul II’s understanding of Divine Mercy fit with St. Faustina’s? Is it in opposition to her or closer to her than Kasper’s mistaken presentation?
VI. The Riddle of Morality and Mercy
One wonders how God’s mercy has come to be an excuse for ‘having discerned peace with God’ when Christ’s commandments are not being followed. Is it really God’s voice that is being heard? Cardinal Kasper would claim he has had nothing to do with it – and one could gain that impression if one simply glanced at his work on mercy. And true enough, people have declared being at peace with God since time began while doing things that, to say the least, make one raise an eye-brow. So one cannot wholly blame the dear Cardinal. Is God’s name not invoked today to justify various acts? Do the perpetrators of such acts not claim to be at peace with God? Also, it should be noted that he presents a section in his book in which he tries to show that there is a such a thing as a pseudo-mercy. When he undermines God’s Justice, however, he either inadvertently or deliberately opens this way for the Trojan Horse he sought to slay. This is not the case with Pope St. John Paul II’s undestanding of God’s Mercy and morality. Here he is far closer to St. Faustina than Kasper’s attempt to be. The latter’s selective use of both of these Polish saints gives an impression of mercy that frames moral questions in a fuzzy, sentimentalist approach. Despite their weaknesses, John Paul II’s works do not do permit one to think that ‘being at peace with God’ is the criteria on which to judge the morality of an act. God’s name is invoked today to justify various intrinsically evil acts: do the perpetrators of such acts not claim to be at peace with God?
The most remarkable teaching given by John Paul II on divine mercy is found, surprisingly, in his seminal encyclical Veritatis Spledor, ‘Regarding Certain Fundamental Questions of the Church’s Moral Teaching’. In this work he affirms that there are acts that are intrinsically evil due to the object chosen. Yet, for all that has been said about this magisterial teaching, its most important section could be nn.118-120 where he concludes the work, dedicating it to Our Lady, the Mother of Mercy. It could be the most important because here one can see the ‘nucleus’ of his pontificate being applied to the living out of the Christian life. Noteworthy is that fact that the truth about mercy is not divorced from choices man makes in order to be happy.
Veritatis Splendor, nn.118-120, appears as a typical John Paul II act: ending his major writings with a turning toward Our Lady. Here one could ask: ‘Why in an encyclical dedicated to questions of morality – the philosophical and theological principles that guide good acts – did he invoke Our Lady under the title of “Mother of Mercy”?’ In almost 25 years since this encyclical was written this question has never been extensively considered. Cardinal Kasper does pick up the title but his presentation and that of John Paul II’s only has one thing in common: the same words are used. There meanings are different.
The act of entrustment John Paul II presents involves giving ‘…ourselves, the sufferings and joys of our life, the moral life of believers and people of good will, and the research of moralists…’ to the Blessed Mother under one of her specific titles. Two reasons are then given as to why she is ‘the Mother of Mercy’. Firstly, because of who Christ is; and secondly, because of what Christ has done. Both of these stand in relation to the mystery of God’s mercy.
John Paul II explains that God the Father sent God the Son to reveal God’s mercy: the Incarnation, as such, is ‘…the revelation of God’s mercy.’ Christ the revealer is Christ the revealer of divine mercy. He was sent ‘…not to condemn, but to forgive, to show mercy.’ From that little phrase one can see that mercy involves forgiveness. Yet, John Paul II implicitly speaks of a hierarchy of merciful acts when notes that ‘…the greatest mercy of all…’ is a twofold reality: God Incarnate being among fallen man, and God Incarnate calling fallen man to union with Him through Faith. This is ‘…the greatest mercy of all…’ since it is God going beyond His own justice to give (to for-give) Adam and his descendants what they do not deserve. It is God defeating the greatest injustice ever committed, for in this act of Adam there was contained the rebellion that led to every sin against the justice of God (including the sin of killing Christ Himself). Yet, God’s justice is restored in Christ and even more is given: Heaven is opened, and friendship with God is offered. The guilty are invited to enter into the power of God-with-us: living by God’s grace in response to God’s goodness.
The wonder of the reality of divine mercy being rooted in the Emmanuel-principle becomes even clearer when St. John Paul speaks more fully about the relationship between mercy and sin. Having noted that the Incarnation is in part ordered toward giving fallen man the grace of the theological virtue of Faith, he then alludes to the exercising of the theological virtue of Hope when he notes that ‘…no human sin can erase the mercy of God, or prevent Him from unleashing all His triumphant power, if only [man calls] upon Him.’ Sin does not have the last word, and if man calls out to God in Faith (which God gives to the elect), hoping to receive due to the merits of Christ the forgiveness of all his sin, then he will be drawn into union with God. Remarkably, it is the horror of sin – the greatest of all evils – that becomes the snare which God uses to reveal His mercy. Evil is conquered. Death is conquered by death in Christ who, as St. Paul teaches, ‘became sin for us’. It is in Him, where man is reconciled with God, that the Christian places his hope. This is why John Paul II says: ‘…his mercy towards us is Redemption.’
Having touched upon the reality of mercy as redemptive love – God’s love for man lifting him from his sinful misery – Veritatis Splendor completes its implicit references to the three theological virtues by noting that it is the work of the Holy Spirit that gives souls the life to love in Christ. In other words, it is the Holy Spirit who places a soul in a state of sanctifying grace, in friendship with God, wherein it lives according to Our Lord’s teaching. John Paul II notes that, ‘The one who loves Christ keeps his commandments (cf. Jn 14:15). The commandments of Christ are kept because of the supernatural love that is poured into man’s soul through the sacramental life of the Church – it is the love that unites the soul to God. John Paul II teaches that this is God’s mercy towards man and this mercy, which is Redemption, ‘…reaches its fullness in the gift of the Spirit….’
The pouring out of the Holy Spirit is a divine operation that draws man into union with the work of God – a work in which man responds under the influence of grace receiving both ‘…new life and [the Spirit’s] demands that [this new life] be lived.’ One notices, therefore, that the Spirit that is given in this ‘…mercy towards us [which] is Redemption’ is demanding. Indeed, one could say that Christ is demanding, not like a hard-task master but as the giver of Himself. It was He who said that His burden was heavy, yet His yoke light. Here, therefore, one has to note that John Paul II’s teaching is completely in harmony with the teaching of the Council of Trent which states that God cannot ask, and does not ask, the impossible of man. The work of justification is Christ’s gift to the undeserving sinner, yet it would be contrary to divine justice if God where to ask the impossible of man. Instead, the Pope notes that:
No matter how many and great the obstacles put in his way by human frailty and sin, the Spirit, who renews the face of the earth (cf. Ps 104:30), makes possible the miracle of the perfect accomplishment of the good.
It is possible to live the commandments of Christ because He makes it possible! In a way similar to the great truth about why one must believe what God has revealed (because He can neither deceive nor be deceived); so man must love what God commands (because He can neither command the unlovable nor be unlovable). Here is a principle of Christian morality seldom spoken of – God’s commandments are expressions of His divine love for man. They are filled with both His justice and His mercy.
John Paul II’s teaching shows that Christ is demanding – but he is not cruel. He knows what is in man; and he knows what man can do by the power of the grace He gives. Any good that man does – yes, ANY good – is due to the goodness of God. Without God’s aid man can only sin. This is why Veritatis Splendor speaks of ‘…the miracle of the perfect accomplishment of the good.’ Each good deed is a work of God in which man co-operates. Christ does not set ideals before man, rather He gives to man the graces through the Holy Spirit that make it possible for him to live up to His demands. According to John Paul II this work of the Holy Spirit gives: ‘… the ability to do what is good, noble, beautiful, pleasing to God and in conformity with His will…’ and ‘…is in some way the flowering of the gift of mercy….’ In other words, God’s commandments are kept due to the power of His mercy working in souls since it ‘…offers liberation from the slavery of evil and gives strength to sin no more.’
If one is left in any doubt that this is the work of divine mercy one needs only to read again VS, 118. God’s mercy is what makes it possible to live the commandments and it is only with this redemptive love that one can be faithful to Christ. It is this redemptive love that allows man to overcome the barriers built by ‘…human frailty and sin…’ since the Holy Spirit ‘…renews the face of the earth…’ by giving man the offering of freedom from sin. There is, therefore, no situation in which man cannot walk away from sin since divine mercy makes it possible for man to share in the God’s own life. Where God is there is no sin. As the Church has always taught: ‘Jesus makes us sharers in His love and leads us to the Father in the Spirit.’ Jesus – the Son who makes His Mother to be the Mother of Mercy.
Now, this traditional teaching found in Veritatis Splendor takes on a remarkable form when St. John Paul II returns to the theological virtue of Hope – the virtue that is repeatedly expressed in St. Faustina’s prayer, “Jesus, I trust in You.” (Interestingly enough, it could be argued that her main concern was to speak of the Goodness of God to poor sinners rather than His Mercy – which can be described as a manifestation of His Goodness. That discussion, however, is for another time). It is the virtue of Hope, ‘…the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit…’ (CCC 1817) that permeates VS, 119. For many, it will be remarkable to hear in an age of hopelessness – often disguised by a ‘false-mercy’ (a term explicitly used by John Paul II when speaking of euthanasia in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae) – that the sharing in the life of the Blessed Trinity, through the gift of divine mercy, gives to man ‘…the consoling certainty of the Christian Faith’. It is equally, ‘…the source of its profound humanity and extraordinary simplicity.’ These two features of the Catholic Faith (its ‘consoling certainty’, and its ‘extraordinary simplicity’) merit greater consideration – especially in the light of false teachings being given to poor sinners about being at peace with God even while contradicting His commandments.
The Gospel is simple. John Paul II repeats this teaching in the face of ‘….discussions about new and complex moral problems….’ He repeats it because, as he notes, ‘…it can seem that Christian morality is in itself too demanding,….’ Belief in this idea is contrary not so much to God’s mercy, as it is to His justice. It would be tantamount to claiming that God is unjust in asking man to keep His commandments. This has already been alluded to as being erroneous. The opposite of simple is difficult, but Christ does not give man something difficult even although he does place demands on him. What He commands is ‘…the simplicity of the Gospel…’ – this is Christian morality – and it involves the simple acts (engendered by grace) of ‘…following Jesus Christ,…abandoning oneself to Him, [and] letting oneself be transformed by His grace….’ Interestingly, the Holy Father also says, ‘…and renewed by His mercy….’ One could say, however, that it is the work of God’s mercy that brings about all the previously mentioned dimensions of the one act of following Christ. It is divine mercy that makes this simple; it is divine mercy – the light of the Holy Spirit – that makes it possible for everyone to understand ‘…the living essence of Christian morality….’
Before taking up the second reason why the Blessed Virgin is the Mother of Mercy, John Paul II already begins to point to this when he takes into consideration the fact that Christian morality is the morality of those who have received divine mercy ‘…in the living communion of [the] Church.’ In this communion the Gospel’s simplicity does not mean that the challenging questions of morality are evaded, but that one can see more fully the reality of life in Christ as that which gives ‘…the vital energy [i.e. the grace of God] needed to carry it out.’ This ecclesiologically lived reality involves the Church’s teaching body, which has the task of overseeing that:
…the dynamic process of following Christ develops in an organic manner, without falsification or obscuring of it moral demands, with all its consequences.
In other words, the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him – who should be in communion with Our Lord – have the duty to guard the Church’s inheritance and use it as the sure guide for situations in which Christians find themselves today. Responding to each situation involves responding to Christ: such is the duty of the Christian. This duty is summed up in the words already quoted: ‘The one who loves Christ keeps his commandments (cf. Jn 14:15).’ The simplicity of Christianity could be restated as simply loving Jesus. The Christian loves Jesus, and does whatever He asks. And when he fails to do so – by God’s grace – repents and begins to love again.
John Paul II takes up this implicit definition of what it means to be a Christian – one who loves Christ by keeping His commandments – in his short portrayal of the life of the Blessed Mother. She is the one who keeps His commandments and, therefore, ‘…obtains for us divine mercy.’ Her forgiving the killers of her Son, her docility to the Holy Spirit, and the openness of Her Immaculate Heart under the inspiration of God’s grace, brings her to the point of being able to ‘…embrace the entire human race.’ To her belongs that spiritual motherhood of the whole of humanity – a motherhood extending to every child of Adam, and especially to the those reborn in the life of the New Adam.
How does this motherhood allow Our Mother to receive divine mercy for all of her children? The answer to this lies again in Christian morality. Christ alone, is the One who has saved fallen humanity. It is His merits that are applied to the souls of the elect, making them worthy to stand in the presence of God. He is the first born from the dead. the Victor over Hades. Of all those who have followed, and ever will follow Christ, Mary is the model of life in Christ: she is the model of the Christian moral life. Quoting St. Ambrose, John Paul II notes that, ‘”…one person can serve as a model for everyone”‘. Our Lady is such a model due to her nobility – that which first inspires those who learn from someone else. She is the most noble of all creatures; the most glorious choice of God; the most free human person – since sin had no grasp on her. This Marian-freedom was ‘…lived and exercised…precisely by giving herself to God and accepting God’s gift within herself.’ She loved God; she kept His commandments. It is her life with Christ – carrying Him in the womb; raising Him at home; and sharing in His Passion – that shows what she has received. And what is given to a mother is implicitly given to her children for mothers are, by their nature, orientated toward giving everything to their children. How much more is this the case in the supernatural order. Does Christ not give everything to Our Blessed Mother in order that she may share it with us? Yes, she is given the fullness of divine mercy (the fullness of God’s love for man) in order that we may know of God’s presence among us, drawing us into union with Himself through her powerful intercession.
It is Our Lady’s fidelity on Calvary that is the act, or series of acts, that reveals her freedom in Christ, and how she shares in His ‘…supreme act of freedom….’ This is the complete sacrifice of her Son’s own life. One can say, therefore, that Mary’s fiat (her freedom in God) reaches its completion in her heroic act of accepting the death of her Son for the salvation of mankind. She did not understand every aspect of God’s plan, but she pondered the will of God – remaining faithful to His commandments – and so gave the example for Christians to follow. As Christ commanded so now does her example command us to follow Wisdom Incarnate by doing whatever He commands. It is this fidelity to Our Lord that announces love for Him.
Yet how does this make her the Mother of Mercy, the one who can give this to her children? Firstly, it has to be noted that she is the work of God. As the model disciple she is God’s creation. She is the Mother formed in the image of Her Son, by Her Son. There is nothing unnatural about her. In fact, she is more human than any other human person because sin was not permitted to wound her nature. Her Son protected her from the effects of Adam’s sin and so she did not labour under the effects of the first act of rejecting God’s law. Her suffering was great, however, due to her profound compassion for those who were wounded by sin. Her singular grace, however, was that her humanity was in no way diminished by sin.
It is this fullness that Mary has which is the key as to why she is able to receive divine mercy for her children. Having the advantage of being gratia plena, Our Lady is able to have compassion on those who are without this fullness, and from her fullness – a fullness that cannot be emptied – she is able to give to those who come to her. It is the mystery of Cana in Galilee repeated in the life of every soul who is brought from the death of sin into the life of Christ. As John Paul II puts it:
Not having known sin, she is able to have compassion on every kind of weakness. She understands sinful man and loves him with a Mother’s love.
Her Son, one could say, does not know how to refuse whatever His Mother asks – and she, in turn, only asks what is in accord with God’s will.
The Mother of Mercy cannot ask for a false mercy, or a pseudo-mercy that ignores what was paid in order for this divine mercy to be unleashed in the world. She cannot pretend that God’s commandments may be set aside; neither does she do so. As noted in Veritatis Splendor: ‘…she is on the side of truth and shares the Church’s burden in recalling always and to everyone the demands of morality.’ She is neither a rigorist nor a laxist – she is a Christian, one who loves Her Son and does whatever He commands. From her created fullness she is able to give a share in the compassion she has been given for sinners. The compassion she gives is true divine mercy.
Who receives this mercy from the hands of she who is the Mediatrix of All Grace? The final words of St. John Paul II in this encyclical contain certain fundamental points concerning the Church’s moral teaching giving an answer to this question. Once more it is within the context of she who knows the price that was paid in order to give God’s mercy to man. The words of the recent pontiff could be described as damming on certain ‘guidelines’ being offered to the Catholic faithful today. He notes that the Mother of Mercy – because of who she is, and what she has been given – doest not ‘…permit sinful man to be deceived by those claiming to love [man] by justifying [man’s] sin….’ Such an act of falsehood would empty Her Son’s sacrifice of its redemptive power in the lives of those beguiled by falsehood.
Is this not where many have been abandoned today due to the false prophets of a form of sophistry that divorces the truth of God’s merciful-justice and just-mercy? The power and simplicity of Christian morality flows from the Cross of Christ, into the Heart of Mary, and to those who God has predestined to be sharers in His own life. Those who love Jesus reject any ‘…absolution offered by beguiling doctrines, even in the areas of philosophy and theology,…’ since, by the proper use of reason and by God’s grace, they know that these cannot make ‘…man truly happy….’ No one can be in a state of grace while acting contrary to Christ’s commandments. True peace, the harmony that comes from order, and which gives happiness to a soul, can be found only in union with Christ. As John Paul II notes: ‘…only the Cross and the glory of the Risen Christ can grant peace to [man’s] conscience and salvation to [man’s] life.’
Did Walter Cardinal Kasper ignore this teaching when he proposed that married couples who have left their spouses to enter into acts of sexual intercourse with some one to whom they are not married could receive the Blessed Sacrament? Maybe he did. Then again, maybe he never read it, or was not interested in it. He confesses to having not been aware of the importance of divine mercy in the life of the Church until someone asked him to give a retreat on it. Years of theology had not brought him to see why this topic is so central; and years around the pontificate of John Paul II also failed to reveal it to him. One wonders did he ever discover what St. Faustina was referring to, or did he simply take his own ideas and put them inside the word ‘mercy’? The later looks more likely, as does the response of most people to ‘mercy’. Neither John Paul II’s presentation of it; nor St. Faustina’s fits with Cardinal Kaspers. Theirs is closer to one another – although not fully in agreement – but neither of theirs is close to Kasper’s. Whatever spirit inspired his thoughts, it was not the Holy Ghost, but some unfriendly-mercy ghost. Why it has been released at this period in the history of Christ’s Mystical Body is known to God alone. Maybe St. John Paul II’s prayer to Our Lady, Mother of Mercy, may act as an exorcism to defend us against it:
Mother of Mercy,
watch over all people,
that the Cross of Christ
may not be emptied of its power,
that man may not stray
from the path of the good
or become blind to sin,
but may put his hope ever more fully in God
who is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4).
May he carry out the good works prepared
by God beforehand (cf. Eph 2:10)
and so live completely
“for the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12).