Faith and Mercy

April 12, 2021

This is a reflection on the meaning and message of Divine Mercy as conveyed through His apostle, St. Faustina Kowalska. It delves into the nature of the relationship between faith, trust, and mercy and is meant to exhort and encourage readers to enter into a (deeper) relationship of trust in Jesus Christ, particularly in salvific power of Christ’s passion and death.

On the Second Sunday of Easter we now celebrate and seek for ourselves the great gift of Divine Mercy. Each member of the Church would do well to remember the reasons, catalysts, and stories behind the institution of this solemn feast, since there was a sense of urgency among the saints involved in sharing the message of Divine Mercy from the humble St. Faustina to St. John Paul the Great. Let us not forget that this is a relatively new solemnity in the life of the Church as it was only established in the latter part of the 20th century. The present generation of Christians is the intended beneficiary of this special message. Given these facts some important questions arise: Why did Christ desire this feast to be established? What is Christ preparing us for or protecting us from? What is to be our response to His message?

As the author of St. Faustina’s authorized biography states, God sends prophets, apostles, and visionaries–holy men and women–to His people to prepare and secure them for a turbulent time ahead given the social, political, and spiritual maladies contemporarily coursing through the veins of the world (see The Life of Faustina Kowalska: The Authorized Biography, by Sister Sophia Michaelenko, C.M.G.T. Servant Books: Cincinnati, OH, p. 11). Throughout the earlier parts of the 20th century Jesus and Mary appeared to numerous visionaries with urgent messages of repentance, prayer, and exhortations to faith. History will show that century to be the bloodiest and most disturbing century to date. Two world wars, the holocaust, the rise of atheist humanism, moral relativism, the sexual revolution, the acceptance of abortion, disordered relationship to material goods, the dilapidation of the family institution, and the list goes on. The wounds humanity suffered last century will continue to shape the world for decades into the next century. One of the reasons Jesus comes directly to St. Faustina is that we need the message of Divine Mercy for our healing and salvation.

Jesus wants trust in His mercy. It was a simple message and universal in its application. However, the problem was complicated by the world and its sin. So much had happened and so much was going to happen that humanity, in a false sense of humility and a limited imagination of the depths of God’s love, doubted that God could still love this fallen world which He still calls to Himself. Having come to a level of consciousness and understanding of the depths of the evil of which we are capable, mankind has concocted new doubts that are concomitantly about himself and God. We lack the imagination and faith to know that even as wretched as we collectively and individually are, God still loves us unconditionally. Those who say that God cannot possibly love us in the face of all the horrendous inhumanity we’ve committed has crafted an idol, a false image of God, in their own image. As this consciousness of sin blurs and distorts our definitions and real concrete understanding of love and goodness, and thereby of the nature of God Himself, we’ve become convinced that it is logically impossible for God to love such a wretched creature. However, we must quickly admit we are wrong. The depths of God’s love is unfathomable as we say in the opening prayer of the Divine Mercy chaplet. There is nothing we could do to get God to stop loving us or to forget us. It is a false humility to think that we ever could do something to that effect. And it is an egregious doubt to say that a God, who is love (cf. I John 4:8), is unable to love even the most vile of His creatures. It certainly doesn’t seem to make sense and it certainly is not just.

This extreme manifestation of sinfulness also cultivates a deeper doubt: How could a creature made in God’s image do such ungodly things? “Perhaps, we are not made in God’s image. Perhaps, there is not even a god in whose image we are to be made. Humanity is not worthy of any love.” These doubts are at the root of many of the philosophies and political agendas that threaten humanity, a culture coined by John Paul II as the culture of death. These existential philosophies narrowly define the human being by its animalistic desires and its enacted realizations in an even narrower window of history. It is as if modern thought seeks to free itself of morality and obligations to God by disproving His existence, disproving the realities of good or evil to “free” mankind of morality altogether, or, at the very least, to disprove God’s goodness through demonstrating the evil that lay in man’s heart. However, God is as loving as this line of reasoning is fallacious.

Jesus spoke to the heart of St. Faustina, commissioning her as His secretary and apostle of Divine Mercy in order to exhort the world to a keystone element of faith in Him–trust. Jesus calls the world to trust Him–to trust His mercy, His power to save, His love, His providence and His goodness. Jaded and confused by sin, mankind had largely grown distrustful of anything and anyone. Christ Himself says to Faustina that he wants the image of Divine Mercy to be signed with the words “Jesus, I trust in you” because “Distrust on the part of souls is tearing at My insides. The distrust of a chosen soul causes Me even greater pain; despite my inexhaustible love for them they do not trust Me. Even my death is not enough for them” (paragraph 50 of the Diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul). It is not difficult to sympathize with trust issues given the experience of living through and growing up in broken homes, broken communities, and experiencing our own brokenness. This brokenness was increasingly rampant as a result of the downward cyclical spiral of humanity as it seemed to somehow try to disprove God through how evil mankind can be. This is not a justification for the distrust in God, but as a fellow sinner, I can see how a soul might arrive at such distrust. Jesus counteracts and disrupts the spiral by calling all souls to a simple trust in His mercy.

Trust as mentioned above is a keystone element of faith but does not entirely comprise faith. Trust in God rests upon the dual foundation of knowledge of God together with the willingness to live in accord with that knowledge. In articulating the nature of faith, the Church has often turned to a language of personal relationship. And just as human relationships of trust are built upon experiential knowledge of the other, the same is true in our relationship with God. Prayer nurtures faith because through it we come to experientially know the God who already well knows us and our heart. It is not merely a conceptual or theoretical knowledge of God as if knowledge of God were like mathematics. But it is a lived relationship that bears real marks of cause and effect in our life, that we can articulate as a part of our personal history. As the faithful bears the fruits of the Spirit, that is the lived relationship with God in their lives, not only are they coming to know God, but the faithful themselves become more like God. In so doing, they come to know God “from the inside” in a sense. This growing intimacy breeds a trusting relationship because the faithful comes to know the real and concrete providence, goodness, and power of God– which is what makes God supremely worthy of all our trust, and in contraposition, the faithful grows in trustworthiness themselves and God is able to do more in and through the faithful. Knowledge of God and living out and making decisions based upon that knowledge are brought together in trust which inverts the cyclical spiral upward toward God. This whole structure is faith.

Christ’s message is, again, simply to trust Him. “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” the psalm says. Christ is asking humanity to take the leap and come to know Him a little better. With that little taste we will be quick to see that He is an “other” from us, markedly different, in one very key way. Yes, Jesus was incarnate which means He became really human like all of us in every way, in all ways except sin which is the key to being worthy of our trust. Christ and those already sanctified by His blood are the only ones worthy of trust. This reveals to humanity that even though everyone suffers the world of fallenness, sin is not really a part of our true nature as human beings. Sin is self-destructive and human nature goes on, not because of it, but in spite of it. And this is the real mark of humanity that Christ reveals to us. That which makes us capable of great evil is precisely the faculty that is capable of great goodness and holiness. It is the freedom of the human will. We can decide to enter the downward spiral of sin, distrust, and evil–death; or we can enter the upward spiral of faith, trust, prayer, and goodness–life.

This brings us to our own self-judgments and the doubts we have not just of our worthiness of love but subsequently about the very essence of our being. Our evil behavior proves neither that we are unworthy of God’s love, neither that God cares not about what we do to ourselves, nor that we are not God-like creatures. It only shows the true freedom and spirituality with which God made the human being. These doubts are a false humility because they ultimately doubt God’s mercy which is precisely what He sought to prove by sending His Son to be a propitiatory sacrifice. It was a mercy that He sent His Son so that we have something to offer back to God. This entire blog post so far has been about the utter wretchedness of mankind. As such, there is nothing mankind can offer to God on his own. Christ was truly given (in the full sense of the word) to us so that we can have something to give and satisfy our “accounts” with God. To not trust in Christ’s sacrifice is an implicit failure to to see the value of Christ and the paschal mystery. To pronounce a judgment against onself and say, “I am beyond even God’s power to save, much less love” is a kind of self-hating pride. It is a judgment of God’s merciful love to suffer the worst of man’s self-hatred and still say, “Father, forgive them…” (Luke 23:34). God in His freedom and love has decided to see us as His beloved and by that fact alone, we are worthy of love.

The difficulty of remaining in the upward spiral of faith is that our inclinations to sin (because it is easier, requires no effort, and seems reasonable to our fallen nature) makes the walk of faith a continual and continuous act of will. It demands every ounce of energy from our heart, mind, soul and strength to at every moment, say “Jesus, I trust in you.” But it is this “walk” of faith that turns our aimless exile into a sure pilgrimage. Jesus, aware of the complexities of sin, makes a simple plea “Come to me all who labor and are burdened… my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Matthew 11:28-30). As one who is likewise burdened by the fears and anxieties of life, but has found some measure of the relief that Christ presents to the world through His broken but nevertheless love-inflamed heart, I urge you to not trust in sinful mankind, but give that deeper trust in Christ a try. And for those who already profess faith in Christ, do not presume to already trust enough. There is always more to give.

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