Sunday, April 27, 2014

Saint John Paul II: My Tribute To An Extraordinary Soul

Karol Józef Wojtyła - Saint John Paul II

Saint John Paul II has profoundly influenced my life in so many ways that to include the complete details would entail the publishing of a series of blog posts. My post of today and my previous posts under the new label "Saint John Paul II" have already begun to create that series. It would take several more posts to capture the vast contributions he has made to the Church and the world. To do so, would be part of a fitting tribute for such an extraordinary soul whose life example shall forever remain as a treasure for humanity to draw from.

For those of us who have come to know this wonderful saint and have benefitted from his life example, his canonization has been a time for joy and gratitude. Today's post is an expression of my joy and gratitude, my tribute to an extraordinary soul. It is one that I unite to all Catholics and Christians alike and all people of good will, who are remembering the life of a great man, a friend to humanity. 

In my view, one of the most intriguing aspects of Saint John Paul II's life has been his positive response to the negativity and evil of this world, which he personally experienced in so many ways. As a teenager and young adult, he responded to the circumstances of his life as an actor, philosopher, poet, playwright, but his greatest response to the enormity of evil that he witnessed was, as a priest. The ministry of the priesthood allowed him to broaden his reach and in a greater and more fundamental way, live his life in communion with others as a sincere and total gift of self. It was because he positively responded with love that he effectively tackled the many evils facing the Church and the world: war; totalitarian regimes; secularism; consumerism; the trappings, lies and deception brought on in part by modernity; the attacks on the family, on the dignity and respect for the human person and the value and inviolability of human life. 

Saint John Paul II's life was one deeply rooted in prayer. He had complete trust in Divine Providence, one that was centered on Christ and strengthened through the maternal intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. So great was St. John Paul II's trust in God and devotion to Mary that it had permeated his entire life and pontificate. He revealed this in many ways. His papal moto, Totus Tuus (Totally Yours), was borrowed from St. Louis De Montfort, another great saint in the history of the Catholic Church whose devotion to Mary produced two Marian classics: True Devotion to Mary and The Secret of The Rosary

That trust in God and Mary was revealed in one on his better known statements, one year after being shot in St. Peter's Square, "In the designs of Providence, there are no mere coincidences." His statement was an acceptance of God's plan that was fostered by his firm belief in the Blessed Mother's intervention in deflecting one of the bullets that otherwise would have caused massive internal bleeding and his death within a few minutes.

Saint John Paul II's trust in Divine Providence was nourished, strengthened and sustained by his prayer and devotions, by his relationship with the Holy Trinity and Mary that can be aptly described as Divine Intimacy. The result of which was a blessed and grace filled life that allowed him to tackle the many challenges he faced, both on a personal level and in his priestly ministry, from his first parish assignment at St. Florian's in Kraków to his election as Pope in Rome in 1978. 

Karol Józef Wojtyła, better known to the world as Saint John Paul II was born on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, Poland which is several kilometers south west of Kraków. Early in his childhood, he experienced tragedy on two fronts: the first was the death of his mother when he was nine; and the other was the death of his older brother Edmund in 1932, a doctor who contracted scarlet fever from a patient he was treating. With such losses, the principle figure in the young Karol's life was his father, the elder Karol Wojtyła, who was known to everyone in Wadowice as "Captain." The elder Karol was a retired army officer whose profound Catholic faith and integrity left a lasting impression on the young Karol as an example of manly piety.

During his exceptional years in high school, he had a thorough interest in literature of Polish Romanticism, which began to nurture a life long interest in the theater. In 1938, the young Karol and his father moved to Kraków where he began his studies in Polish philology at Jagiellonian University. Although his university life was interrupted by the double occupation of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, he continued with clandestine studies at the same university, which for a while had become an underground institution. There was some benefit to this interruption. 

During World War II, Karol spent his war years as a manual labourer. Forced to acquire a work permit, he worked in the Zakrzówek rock quarry in Kraków, then in the Solvay chemical factory in the southern part of Kraków. The experience gave him a profound understanding of manual labour and the dignity and rights that should be accorded to labourers.

Part of his university days were not only a time of study, but also a time discovery of Polish culture, which he helped to spread and promote through reading, poetry and acting. The Jagiellonian University sponsored the Rhapsodic Theater, a five member troupe that without costumes or props, practiced theater ensuring that classic Polish drama and poetry was not forgotten. This was vital in the effort to keep Polish culture alive in the minds and memories of Poles. It was a culture that was under attack by the Nazi occupiers who were attempting to eradicate all Polish culture and; thus, any tangible reality of Poland. It was at this time that he also took on the role of leader in the Living Rosary groups and discovered Carmelite spirituality.

Further trying times entered the young Karol's life. First, he narrowly escaped capture on two occasions from the Gestapo, the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Then, one night while walking home, he was hit by a truck and suffered a broken shoulder and concussion, left in a roadside ditch, only to be rescued by a local woman and German officer who took him to the hospital. The wartime experience was a vocational struggle that was exacerbated by the death of his father in the fall of 1942. After some time and a lot of prayer, he discerned that his life was not mean to be lived as a lay person in the theater, but instead he was being called to a greater dramatic role, that of a Catholic priest.

After resolving his vocation struggle over months of prayer Karol Wojtyla presented himself to archbishop of Kraków, Adam Stefan Sapieha, who accepted him as a candidate for the priesthood. In 1942, Sapieha gave Karol a place in the clandestine seminary he was conducting. It was young Karol Wojtyla's "yes" to the priesthood that officially began a life long journey as a pastor to many parishes in Poland and eventually throughout the world.

Saint John Paul II's vocational discernment and correct response to God's call to became a priest began a life of service to Church which all of humanity has benefited from. His meteoric rise in the hierarchy of the Church was a clear sign of the greatness of his life response to God's call. Saint John Paul II's deep faith, moral courage, heroic virtue, unwavering refusal to make any compromise against the truth, and firm belief in the power of God's word to cut through the world's lies has left us with one of the most important examples in recent Church history for millions around the world to follow.

I think it is most fitting to include in my tribute today an encouragement to learn more about the extraordinary life of Saint John Paul II. The Vatican web site has a dedicated section, Holy See: John Paul II, that provides a complete list of his documents, speeches, homilies and travels during his pontificate. In addition there is the Vatican Biography page of His Holiness John Paul II. You may want to consider reading a book or two on his life. I would like to recommend George Weigel's Witness To Hope and the sequel, The End and The Beginning. George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a Catholic theologian and one of America’s leading public intellectuals. He holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He was also personally selected by Saint John Paul II to write his biography.

As we endeavour to better understand Saint John Paul II's life and learn from it, let us set out anew following his words of encouragement to the world from his inaugural homily in October'1978, "...To all people of today I once again repeat the impassioned cry with which I began my pastoral ministry: “Do not be afraid! Open, in deed, open wide the doors to Christ!..."

Saint John Paul II, pray for us.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Divine Mercy Novena and Chaplet Begins On Good Friday

A photo of Pope John Paul II in a cell with his assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca
Pope John Paul II at Rome’s Rebibbia Prison on December 27, 1983, visiting Mehmet Ali Agca,
the man who tried to assassinate him on May 13, 1981, in St. Peter's Square.

If you have not been following my blog or if you have not visited it in quite some time, today's post continues with a series of posts on Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast that is celebrated on the Sunday after Easter.

Jesus requested the establishment of this feast to a Polish nun, Sister Faustina Kowalska, who published a diary several hundred pages long documenting all that Jesus communicated to her. The core message of Divine Mercy Sunday is nothing new, as it has been taught by the Church through scripture and tradition: that God is merciful and we too must be merciful. Divine Mercy Sunday emphasizes this in a greater way, calling people to a deeper understanding that God's love is unlimited and available to everyone, even the greatest sinners. 

Prior to the Feast of Divine Mercy Sunday, Jesus asked that it be preceded by a Novena to The Divine Mercy, to begin on Good Friday. Jesus gave a specific intention to Sister Faustina for each day of the novena, with the last day the most difficult intention of all, the lukewarm and indifferent souls. Sister Faustina had made note of this in her diary, "These souls cause Me more suffering than any others; it was from such souls that My soul felt the most revulsion in the Garden of Olives. It was on their account that I said: 'My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass Me by.' The last hope of salvation for them is to flee to My Mercy." 

Each day of the novena, we bring to Jesus' heart a different group of souls to be immersed in his ocean of mercy as is noted in Sister Faustina's diary, "On each day of the novena you will bring to My heart a different group of souls and you will immerse them in this ocean of My mercy...On each day you will beg My Father, on the strength of My passion, for the graces for these souls." Below are the different groups of souls prayed for each day of the novena:
  1. DAY 1 (Good Friday) - All mankind, especially sinners
  2. DAY 2 (Holy Saturday) - The souls of priests and religious
  3. DAY 3 (Easter Sunday) - All devout and faithful souls
  4. DAY 4 (Easter Monday) - Those who do not believe in and do not yet know Jesus 
  5. DAY 5 (Easter Tuesday) - The souls of separated brethren
  6. DAY 6 (Easter Wednesday) - The meek and humble souls and the souls of children
  7. DAY 7 (Easter Thursday) - The souls who especially venerate and glorify Jesus' mercy
  8. DAY 8 (Easter Friday) - The souls who are detained in purgatory; 
  9. DAY 9 (Easter Saturday) - The souls who have become lukewarm.
During the Solemn Novena leading to Divine Mercy Sunday, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, should be offered each day for the above noted daily intentions; that is, on Day One in addition to the novena prayer, recite the chaplet for that day's same intention. This would mean that for Day One, both sets of prayers (novena and chaplet) would be offered up for "All mankind, especially sinners." On Day Two, the prayers would be offered up for "The souls of priests and religious" and so forth. This pattern would continue until all the intentions for the novena were completed. It is important to note that a proper spirit of prayer must accompany the recitation of the novena and chaplet. It would not suffice to mechanically recite the prayers, content on completing them without true devotion. 

Here is what Jesus told Sister Faustina about the importance and significance of the Divine Mercy Chaplet:
Say unceasingly this chaplet that I have taught you. Whoever will recite it will receive great Mercy at the hour of death. Priests will recommend it to sinners as their last hope of salvation. Even if there were a sinner most hardened, if he were to recite this Chaplet only once, he would receive grace from My Infinite Mercy. I desire that the whole world know My Infinite Mercy. I desire to grant unimaginable graces to those who trust in My Mercy.... (Diary 687)

....When they say this Chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person not as the just judge but as the Merciful Savior.
An end note regarding the selected photo associated with today's post. As the caption mentions, it is Pope John Paul II visiting the Turkish assassin who tried to kill him. What the photo further spotlights about the Divine Mercy Devotion, that Pope John Paul clearly demonstrated, as followers of Christ we must be merciful. This is a requirement of the Divine Mercy Devotion. Jesus stated to Sister Faustina, "...[T]here must also be deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to our neighbours always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to absolve yourself from it. (Diary 742)

Jesus, have mercy on us. Our Lady Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Divine Mercy Sunday: An Opportunity to Obtain a Plenary Indulgence

A photomontage of Divine Mercy image with St. John Paul II and Sister Faustina
The Divine Mercy image, Saint Pope John Paul II,
and Sister Faustina Kowalska
Today's post builds upon and is a continuation of my previous post, Divine Mercy Sunday: The Message of Mercy From Jesus. The message of mercy from Jesus is a beautiful expression of Our Saviour and Redeemer's love for us. It is a love so great that we can not fully comprehend it, but He has made it known, in part, through Divine Mercy Sunday which comes with it an opportunity to receive a plenary indulgence. 

Jesus communicated this wonderful gift of a plenary indulgence to Sister Faustina Kowalska, the young Polish nun who wrote a diary of several hundred pages, documenting all that Jesus communicated to her about His message of mercy. Part of that message was concerning the plenary indulgence, which was noted as follows: 
On one occasion, I heard these words: My daughter, tell the whole world about My Inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. Everything that exists has come forth from the very depths of My most tender mercy...(Diary 699)
An important point to note regarding the Divine Mercy Devotion is the requirement that we strive not only to properly prepare to receive mercy from Jesus, but we must extend His mercy to others through our deeds. Jesus was very specific about this as noted in Sister Faustina's diary:
Yes, the first Sunday after Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to our neighbours always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to absolve yourself from it. (Diary 742)
A plenary indulgence is the full remission of temporal punishment due to sacramentally forgiven sins. This is granted by the merits of Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints. There are two kinds of punishment attached to sin, eternal and temporal. Sacramental confession absolves us and forgives the eternal guilt of sin, but it does not necessarily remove the temporal punishment. It depends on our degree of sorrow, which may result in the expiation of all the temporal guilt of our sins. For what ever is lacking in our sorrow and with it any remaining temporal punishment, we must expiate through prayer, penance and other means. What temporal punishment remains after death must be made up for in Purgatory.

The Divine Mercy Sunday indulgence is an opportunity for the complete remission of all temporal punishments resulting from our sins. Dependent upon this, in part, is our openness to God's grace. It is important that we perform the conditions of the Divine Mercy Sunday indulgence in a proper manner; that is, with true devotion and sincerity in our desire to receive the indulgence.

It is also important that we be detached from our sins; that we truly detest our sins. In doing so, we orient our will away from creatures and direct it toward God. This is a necessary condition that must be satisfied to receive the plenary indulgence. In this way, we open our will to God's mercy flowing into our souls, which alone is able to effect the complete remission of all temporal punishment. 

To receive a plenary indulgence, the following are the usual conditions:
  • Sacramental Confession, within about 20 days before or after
  • Eucharistic Communion, preferably on the day, or the days before or after
  • Prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff (the pope)

The specific conditions that must be satisfied, in addition to the usual conditions, for the Divine Mercy Sunday indulgence:
  • in any church or chapel, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, take part in the prayers and devotions held in honour of Divine Mercy
  • or, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed or reserved in the tabernacle, recite the Our Father and the Creed, adding a devout prayer to the merciful Lord Jesus (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!")

f any of the above conditions are not fulfilled, the indulgence is not considered a plenary indulgence, but a partial indulgence. 

As a friendly reminder, Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated on the Sunday after Easter.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Divine Mercy Sunday: The Message of Mercy From Jesus

Image of Divine Mercy with St. Pope John Paul II and Sr. Faustina Kowalska
Pope John Paul II, the Divine Mercy image and Sister Faustina Kowalska

Mark your calendars Divine Mercy Sunday is April 27. I decided to publish today's post well in advance of the feast day to afford those who have never heard of or practiced this devotion, the time to become familiar with it. If you are such an individual, I hope today's post will help you to understand and embrace this beautiful devotion.

The Divine Mercy message was nothing new, but it was a powerful reminder of what the Church has always taught through scripture and tradition: that God is merciful and forgiving and that we too must show mercy and forgiveness with others, always and everywhere. With the Divine Mercy Devotion, this message takes on a greater focus, calling the faithful to a deeper understanding that God’s love is unlimited and available to everyone, especially the greatest sinners.

The Feast of Divine Mercy Sunday which had initially been granted to Poland and celebrated within Vatican City, was extended to the Universal Catholic Church on April 30, 2000, by Pope John Paul II. The origin of the Divine Mercy Devotion comes from the writings of Sister Faustina Kowalska, a young uneducated Polish nun who in obedience to her spiritual director, wrote a diary of approximately six hundred pages recording the revelations she received from Jesus about God’s mercy. On February 22, 1931, Jesus appeared to Sister Faustina as was noted in her diary:
In the evening, when I was in my cell, I became aware of the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One hand was raised in blessing, the other was touching the garment at the breast. From the opening of the garment at the breast there came forth two large rays, one red and the other pale. In silence I gazed intently at the Lord; my soul was overwhelmed with fear, but also with great joy. After a while Jesus said to me, 'paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the inscription: Jesus, I trust in You.'
The dialogue continued later as Jesus explained the significance of the coloured rays emanating from His heart:
The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous; the red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the depths of My most tender Mercy at that time when My agonizing Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross....Fortunate is the one who will dwell in their shelter, for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him.
The message of mercy is that Jesus loves all of us, no matter how great our sins may be. Jesus wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins. With this recognition, we are to call upon Him with trust, that we will receive His mercy and let it flow to others. The result will be that everyone will come to share His joy. The following are three fundamental aspects of the Divine Mercy Devotion: 

  • Ask Jesus For His Mercy: Jesus wants us to approach Him in prayer constantly, with a spirit of true repentance, imploring His mercy upon us and the entire world. 
  • Be Merciful: Not only does Jesus want us to receive His mercy, but He wants us to let it flow to others, extending His love and forgiveness that we received.
  • Completely Trust in Jesus: Jesus wants us to understand that the graces of His mercy are dependent upon our trust in Him. The more we trust in Jesus, the more we will receive.

Living the message of mercy is essential to the Divine Mercy Devotion. The devotional practices associated with the Divine Mercy Devotion are but vessels of mercy through which God's love can be poured out upon the world. It does not suffice for us to recite the Divine Mercy Chaplet, nor to hang a picture of the Divine Mercy image in our homes or pray at 3:00pm each day, the Divine Mercy hour; we must strive to put mercy into action. This is not an option of the Divine Mercy Devotion, it is a requirement. Jesus made this abundantly clear in his direct communication to Sister Faustina, "I demand from you deeds of mercy which are to arise out of love for me. You are to show mercy to your neighbours always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse yourself from it (Diary, 742). 

If you are new to this devotion, showing mercy always and everywhere may seem somewhat difficult if not impossible under certain circumstances, but Jesus assures us that it is possible, "When a soul approaches Me with trust," He explains, "I fill it with such an abundance of graces that it cannot contain them within itself, but radiates them to other souls" (Diary, 1074). This is something we should not only strive for, but pray for daily that we may fulfill the Gospel command, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36).

The question remains, how do we radiate God's mercy to others? We do this in three ways: by our actions, by our words, and by our prayers. In these three degrees, Jesus told Sister Faustina, "is contained the fullness of mercy" (Diary 742). This threefold practice of mercy is what Jesus is calling us to, but we are not all called in the same way. Jesus who understands our personalities, and individual circumstances in our lives, knows perfectly how to help us recognize the ways with which we can show mercy in our daily lives; therefore, we must pray for this imploring Jesus to show us the way. 

In our sincere desire to live the message of mercy, we must completely trust in Jesus and His mercy. In so doing, we can be assured that He will grant us all the graces we need to fulfill the devotional requirements of being merciful with others. It is with such sincerity that we can be confident that Jesus will not categorize us as one of those people who "...[D]raw near with their mouths and honour me with their lips, while their hearts are from from me..." (Is 29:13)

Today's post is but an introduction to the Divine Mercy Devotion. There are other aspects of this devotion that I have reserved for subsequent posts. If after today's reading, you have welcomed Jesus' mercy in your life, then this post has accomplished its goal. For if we truly receive God's mercy and extend it to others, we will be deserving of Christ's wonderful promise, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (Matthew 5:7).