St. John Paul II: Missionary of Mercy
“There is nothing more man needs than Divine Mercy – that love which is benevolent, which is compassionate, which raises man above his weakness to the infinite heights to the holiness of God.”
John Paul II spoke these words while visiting then Blessed Faustina’s tomb in Poland. It was one of many themes throughout his life and preaching, perhaps the most eminent theme. Early in his time as pope he wrote an encyclical on Mercy summarizing how essential this is to the character of God, to the dignity of man, and in the life of the Church. He canonized St. Faustina, the saint most dedicated to mercy, as well as instituting the feast of Divine Mercy. Throughout his life, he worked for the revelations to St. Faustina and the message of Divine Mercy to be made known to the world.
What is mercy? My favorite explanation comes from the Latin word misericordia, from the words for heart and misery, that is, having a heart for the miserable. We have a God who doesn’t remain distant from our suffering, but wants to enter in. As another saint put it, our weaknesses and miseries draw God even closer to us! This was the message John Paul desperately wanted the world to know! So much of this desire was forged in his youth, one shaped by the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. He saw the desperate need for man to receive God’s mercy and extend that compassionate love to one another.
Much of the time, we think of God’s mercy being his love and forgiveness for our sins. St. John Paul recognized that His mercy is more than that. “[Christ] also showed us the many paths of mercy, which not only forgives sins but reaches out to all human needs. Jesus bent over every kind of human poverty, material and spiritual.” It isn’t only sin that moves God’s heart towards us, He cares about all of us and is compassionate to our suffering and the effects of sin. He is with us and for us in all of it.
This infinite love and mercy God has for us is meant to be the heart of His Church as well. Too often this isn’t the case, sadly Catholics are more known for guilt than for mercy. Many of St. John Paul’s speeches and writings of mercy sought to bridge this gap, making it clear that our hearts and lives should look like Christ. Each of us in the Church is called to become missionaries of mercy, extending care to those around us as Christ would. Today as we celebrate the life of this holy man, may our hearts be moved to mercy for those near us. Here are some final words from St. John Paul as we reflect on this mercy that is available to us and that we can extend to those around us.
“...the message of Divine Mercy is also implicitly a message about the value of every human being. Each person is precious in God's eyes; Christ gave His life for each one; to everyone the Father gives His Spirit and offers intimacy. This consoling message is addressed above all to those who, afflicted by a particularly harsh trial or crushed by the weight of the sins they committed, have lost all confidence in life and are tempted to give in to despair. To them the gentle face of Christ is offered; those rays from His heart touch them and shine upon them, warm them, show them the way and fill them with hope.”