Our Lord told St Faustina that He wanted to institute a feast of Divine Mercy on the Sunday after Easter, and Blessed John Paul II willingly obliged. In a sense, this feast is a kind of commentary on all the events of the Paschal Mystery we have been celebrating since Holy Week. The Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ are all about divine mercy, since all of this was accomplished to take away our sins and to pave the way to Paradise for the repentant and (hence) the grateful.
These two elements, repentance and gratitude, are essential not only for receiving divine mercy, but also for bearing its fruits. The main laments we hear from Jesus and Mary in their various approved apparitions over the centuries are precisely that people refuse to repent and are ungrateful for all that God has done for them.
I was reading the Prophet Jeremiah during Holy Week, more or less selectively, since a large portion of it consists of divine threats of just punishment for God’s unfaithful and stubbornly sinful people, and a steady diet of that is a bit heavy. We do have to hear this message, however, even though much more is necessary to complete the divine revelation. A concise summary of the Lord’s justice and mercy, both of which are based on truth and love, can perhaps be found in these two verses: “…I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, says the Lord… Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the Lord your God” (Jer. 3:12-13).
In order for us to experience divine mercy precisely as mercy, we have to acknowledge our guilt. This ought to be obvious, but it seems that many aren’t interested in doing so. A strange thing has evidently happened over the past 50 years or so. There has been an increasing emphasis on God’s mercy, and a decreasing emphasis on sin. No one wants to talk about the just punishments of God, for He is loving and merciful, and no one wants to talk about sin, because we are “basically good,” the concept of sin is outdated, and Hell is just a medieval scare tactic, etc. But if we have little to no sin, we have no need for mercy, so what is the point of insisting both on God’s mercy and our lack of sin?
Perhaps a lot of people need to read Jeremiah, just for a reality check. Of all the prophets, he is most like a Christ-figure. He didn’t just pronounce doom on the intractable sinners—he wept for them, he suffered for them, he was in anguish over their refusal to repent, for he knew what chastisements were coming. He loved his people and didn’t want to see them punished or destroyed. It is like Jesus weeping over Jerusalem for its faithlessness, as He foresaw its destruction in a few decades.
Both Jeremiah and Jesus suffered anguish over the sins of the people. Too bad no one from our enlightened age was able to go back in time and assure them that it’s pointless to harp on that disagreeable topic of sin, for God is so nice that He wouldn’t harm a fly.
But see, God in all his righteous indignation over repeated grievous offenses, is much better than nice—He is merciful! To be merciful is to recognize the offense as such, to call sin sin, and then to forgive it. To overlook sin or minimize it out of existence is to be nice; to know the real horror and offense of it and still to forgive it is to be merciful. There’s still another problem with being nice: you stop living in the truth. God can never do this. He can’t minimize the seriousness of sin, because this “niceness” ends up being a lie, and God cannot lie. He knows very well what sin does to a soul, and how it could be its eternal ruin. What the Father allowed to happen to his beloved Son was not nice at all! But it was necessary to express both his truth and his love, to offer divine mercy to the world so that its sins could be taken away and eternal life given instead.
In St Faustina’s diary of all her extraordinary experiences and communications with Jesus, both the radical, soul-damning evil of sin, and the ineffable, infinite sin-erasing power of divine mercy are clearly emphasized. You have to know both of these to be living in the truth. You have to have a profound awareness of both, in order to know how good God is, what He has saved us from, and what He has prepared for those who love Him. Mercy isn’t granted without repentance, so when the Lord assures his people through Jeremiah that He is merciful, He immediately adds, as a condition for their receiving divine mercy: “Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the Lord your God.” When we do this, we will hear Him say something else He said through Jeremiah: “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (31:34).
Once we both repent and receive mercy, we overflow with gratitude, for we have no way to repay Our Lord for what He did and suffered for us. In a the words of a devotion to the Wounds of Jesus, we pray: “You labored to overtake me on the way to ruin, and bled amid the thorns and brambles of my sins… You bore the punishment for my wanderings and the guilty pleasures I have granted to my unbridled passions… You have spared me the scourges and eternal damnation which my sins have merited… You lavished your grace upon me with such love, in spite of all my most perverse obstinacy…” What can we offer Him in return for all this, for suffering immeasurably to take away our sins? We can only live henceforth in profound and continuous gratitude, making every effort to avoid sin and to live in faith and love. To minimize sin is to devalue Jesus’ sufferings, and I sure wouldn’t want to have that on my conscience when I’m ushered in before his Judgment Seat! No wonder that Jesus and Mary lament over the blasphemies and ingratitude of the people He suffered to save.
So let us celebrate the feast of Divine Mercy with both repentance and gratitude, and with ongoing trust in the loving mercy of Our Lord. Let us never minimize sin, for we thus minimize mercy, and we’ll find ourselves without it if we think we don’t need it! But let us live in the truth. The patriarchs knew it, the prophets knew it, the apostles knew it, all the saints knew it, because God revealed it! Let us not think we know better than the wisest and holiest people in history, better than God Himself. Let us humble ourselves, acknowledge our guilt, receive divine mercy, and then be happy and at peace—both now and forever!