This Sunday we celebrate the much-anticipated canonization of Pope John XXIII, the pope who opened the Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, the pope who helped us understand the Council better. It’s no accident that JPII’s canonization occurs on Divine Mercy Sunday: as pope, his first canonization in the new millennium was that of Sister Faustina Kowlaska, who introduced the world to the devotion known as The Divine Mercy of Jesus.
So, what is “Divine Mercy” anyway and how can understanding it help us in our parenting vocation? Father Ed Broom wrote a great summary of the main principles of the doctrine of Divine Mercy on Catholic Exchange yesterday. Here’s a little summary of his main points with some commentary from me:
1. God Is Rich in Mercy
God’s greatest attribute/virtue is His mercy. No matter how grave and numerous our sins, God is always ready and willing to forgive us if we simply say: “Jesus I am sorry and forgive me!” In a heartbeat Jesus is ready to forgive even the worst of sinners.
The more I understand myself as a disciple of Christ, the more I am forced to shed my habits of self-delusion (failing to recognize my own sinfulness, my own darkness). It’s hard to face the truth sometimes, but, when I do, I open myself up to conversion, to renewal, and to mercy. Mercy is total gift, nothing that I deserve or have earned. I have failed too often in my mothering: I failed to love, failed to be generous, failed to give. I have fallen as a wife, forgetting to give, refusing to forgive. Recognizing this reality of who I am, it would be human of me to give up, to despair. True conversion is about seeing the truth of our darkness and failure, but also our potential for goodness when we turn to God, when we commit ourselves to his path, to his will for us.
As God responds to me so mercifully, I am able to become more the kind of mother and wife he sees in me.
2. We Must Be Merciful
If we want to receive the mercy of God, then this is a two-way street, we in turn must be willing to forgive those who have hurt us and be merciful. Jesus once again teaches us: “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.”
Catholic parents, no matter their views on parenting style, should treat their children with mercy. This takes two forms: we forgive their trespasses (merciful discipline) and we relieve their need or suffering (responding with empathy). Notice these two aspects of mercy are two of the 7 Building Blocks to a Joyful Catholic Home.
Merciful/Gentle Discipline: Shouldn’t kids get what they deserve when they do something wrong? Doesn’t justice require a harsh consequence for harsh infractions? Isn’t God a god of justice? Yes, but his justice is always balanced by loving mercy. When justice isn’t tempered by mercy, cruelty can result. God takes everything into consideration and tries to reach our hearts. We should treat our children the same way. Extending mercy toward our child doesn’t mean we let them “get away with” things. It means we take everything into consideration: their state of mind, their maturity level, their perspective of a situation even if they are wrong on the facts. It means we try to reach their hearts, which is about gently shaping their character through guidance and mentoring in the virtues. When they’re old enough, we explain which virtue was missing in their actions and how they can exercise those virtue muscles in the future.
Empathy: Mercy is not only about forgiving others for their offenses; it’s also about relieving their needs and suffering. This kind of mercy requires empathy – the gift we use to know another person. Sometimes as parents we assume we know what our child feels or needs, and we attempt to remedy the situation only to find we didn’t understand our child’s experience very well. We assumed what they needed based on our own perspective. Through empathy, we can understand and respond to our children’s needs and feelings better. Sometimes this amounts to asking them a few questions, remembering what we know about child development, or just doing our best to comfort them when we don’t have clear answers about why they’re sad or angry. Even without clear answers, we can mirror their experience for them: “I can tell you are angry. Should we sit down for a while in our quiet corner together?” or “Oh I am so sorry you’re feeling sad. When I’m sad I need a hug. Do you need a hug?” Children internalize this mirroring and affirmation and over time they’re able to regulate their own emotional experiences.
God’s mercy is manifested most abundantly upon our soul when we have recourse to the Sacrament of Confession which can also be called the Sacrament of God’s mercy. Jesus expresses mercy in the person of the priest. If you have not been to confession in years, return. Jesus the merciful Savior is gently and patiently waiting for you.
If you are queasy about the idea of Confession, just remember that it’s more an opportunity than an obligation. Scott Hahn penned a beautiful reflection on the Sacrament of Confession that I recommend highly. He helps us see how practicing Confession is meant to move us along in our spiritual development, not make us miserable.
4. Daily Acts of Mercy
In Saint Faustina’s diary, Christ stresses that understanding mercy intellectually is important, but we also need to practice mercy every day. He gave three specific daily practices: praying for others, offering words of kindness, and offering deeds of kindness. Imagine what our homes would be like if we really put these suggestions into practice? These daily acts require no extra time in our day, but they set the tone for how we live together and treat others beyond our front door. This modeling so important for raising children who are naturally merciful and kind.
5. Divine Mercy Devotional Practices
Father Broom explained several Divine Mercy practices that I had never known about or understood (I may not understand them clearly yet; let me know if I goof!). Here’s a summary:
- Divine Mercy Image: In one of her visions, St. Faustina saw Jesus with two rays of light coming forth from his heart — one ray was red, the other blue. He instructed her to have a painting made of this image and promised to protect those who venerated it.
- Prayer at 3:00. 3:00 is the hour of mercy because our merciful Savior died at that hour. Perhaps we busy parents can say a short prayer at 3:00 no matter where we are, asking for God’s mercy and searching our hearts for any resentments or anger toward others we are holding on to that day. An Our Father or the Divine Mercy chaplet, perhaps?
- Divine Mercy Chaplet: This is a beautiful, stirring chaplet; some of the prayers come from Saint Faustina’s diary. Here’s a link to instructions on praying the chaplet.
- Divine Mercy Novena: This Novena was established through the instructions Jesus gave to Saint Faustina; there are different intentions for each day of the Novena. Here’s a link to instructions and all nine intentions.
You can find lots of ideas for crafts and food for Divine Mercy Sunday on the internet. Catholic Icing has a darling idea for a “Divine Mercy Sundae”. I’ve never read St. Faustina’s diary, but now I’m intrigued and looking forward to reading it. Don’t forget that Pope Francis just released a book on mercy — I can’t wait to get my hands on it!