Divine Mercy for Parents

Here’s an updated and revised version of my Divine Mercy reflection from 2014!

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Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter.

What is “Divine Mercy” anyway? I think understanding Divine Mercy can 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 that really helped me recognize the connection.

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 habits that harm my relationship with my children and my husband. 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. It’s hard to face the truth of my own failure sometimes, but when I do I open myself up to conversion, to renewal, and to mercy.

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. True conversion is also about recognizing that mercy is total gift, nothing that I deserve or have earned.

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 and we relieve their need or suffering. These two aspects of mercy are related to two of the 7 Building Blocks to a Joyful Catholic Home: gentle discipline and responding with empathy.

Merciful/Gentle Discipline: Doesn’t justice require a harsh consequence for harsh infractions? Shouldn’t kids get what they deserve when they do something wrong? 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 him “get away with” things. It means we take everything into consideration: his state of mind, his maturity level, his perspective of a situation even if he is wrong on the facts.

When we respond with mercy, we really reach his heart because we have the big picture in mind. We aren’t focused on punishing him, but rather on the unfolding of his character and the strength of his trust in us and God. We shape his character through guidance and mentoring in the virtues. In particular, when he’s old enough, we explain which virtue was missing in his actions and how he can exercise those virtue muscles in similar situations 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 he needed based on our own perspective. Through empathy, we can understand and respond to our child’s needs and feelings better. Sometimes this amounts to asking him a few questions, learning a little about child development, or just doing our best to comfort him when we don’t have clear answers about why he’s sad or angry. Even without clear answers, we can mirror his experience for him: “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.

3. Confession

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.

I wrote a guest post over on Dr. Greg’s blog about how to raise children who love Confession. I offer three tips: 1) Use gentle discipline methods because “how we respond to our children when they fall short of our expectations or rules will create a model in their minds for how God responds to them when they seek his forgiveness.” 2) Focus on helping your child identify what kind of person he wants to become rather than what sins he should avoid (reaching for greater heights rather than just avoiding the gutter). 3) Help him develop greater spiritual awareness through a daily examination of conscience.

4. Daily Acts of Mercy

Divine Mercy Sunday was instituted by Pope John Paul II in honor of Saint Faustina who received visions of Jesus and had conversations with him throughout her life. She recorded many of their conversations in her diary. Christ stressed to her 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 explains 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.

divine mercy

  • 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”. In addition to reading St. Faustina’s diary, don’t forget that Pope Francis wrote a book on mercy. I highly recommend it!

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