Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated on the Sunday after Easter. The observance exists, in large part, because of a Polish nun, Sr. Mary Faustina Kowalska, (1905-1938), canonized in April of 2000, as St. Faustina by Pope John Paul II. She received many visions and locutions from God and came to be His apostle for a message of mercy. Her diaries record these experiences during her life as a Religious Sister. They contain the prayers to the Divine Mercy, recited as a “chaplet” and invoking the merits of the saving and sorrowful passion of Jesus as a motive and cause of God’s beneficent kindness on the whole world. God also gave, through St. Faustina, an image of the risen Jesus moving toward us in love; rays of red and white shine from His heart – symbolizing His saving Blood and the waters of Baptism. Inscribed at the bottom, are the words, “Jesus, I trust in You.”
Pope John Paul II, who served as Holy Father from 1978 to 2005, was the Pope who acknowledged the authenticity of these apparitions and was instrumental in the Cause for the Beatification and Canonization of St. Faustina, and the promotion of the Devotion to Divine Mercy. John Paul II died on the weekend of Divine Mercy, April 2, 2005, and it was no mere coincidence that Pope Francis chose Divine Mercy Sunday to formalize St. John Paul’s Canonization.
Pope John XXIII, an Italian who was famously rotund and cheerful, had been elected Pope at the age of 76. It is perhaps true that the electors thought he would be an interim Pope; that he would only live a few years and not “change things” too much. While he served as Holy Father a brief four and a half years before his death at 81, on June 3, 1963, he surprised many by initiating the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council to address the challenges to the Church in the Modern World. While I have heard Pope John characterized as a “liberal” Church leader – in recent newscasts and commentaries, and John Paul II is contrasted as a “conservative,” I do not believe either label does justice to these two newly declared saints. Both of them came out of traditions of piety that were very traditional. Both of them wrote encyclicals on world peace, justice and human rights, that were viewed by many as stunningly “progressive.”
Pope John will certainly and justly be remembered as the Pope of Vatican II, though he inseparably shares that legacy with his successor, Paul VI, who oversaw the major portion of the Council and who also saw its initial turbulent aftermath. Good Pope John was, in the words of Pope Francis, “the Pope of openness to the Spirit. In convening the Council, John XXIII … let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader.”
After Pope Paul’s death in 1978, his successor, Cardinal Albino Luciani, took the name, John Paul, after the two “Council Popes.” After his reign of only 33 days, his successor, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, who, as a Bishop and scholar had actively participated in the Council, kept the name John Paul, and the mandate to implement the Council.
On Sunday, Pope Francis called St. John Paul “the Pope of the family,” a title that John Paul once indicated he would like to be remembered with. He wrote several encyclicals that affirmed the values and life principles on which marriage and the family rest. Surely today, we need a supernatural champion for marriage and family life.
I personally think of St. John Paul as the “Pope of the New Evangelization,” who realized that the work of interior renewal and conversion – and the transformation of the culture – was vital to the mission of the Church. The Church will always retain its apostolic mandate to bring the Gospel “to the nations,” to those who do not yet know Jesus Christ. In the New Evangelization, the work of Re-Evangelizing the baptized is at the heart of the Church. We can no longer take for granted that we live in Christian cultures which support faith and apostolic charity in the way they once did.
On Sunday, April 27, 2014, a few minutes after 10 a.m., Rome time, Pope Francis entered St. Peter’s Square crowded with 500,000 people and watched by millions more. He greeted the Pope emeritus, Benedict XVI. Moments later Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, accompanied by the postulators, asked Pope Francis to inscribe the names of the two Blessed Popes in the Book of Saints, and the Holy Father pronounced the formula for canonization:
“For the honor of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother Bishops, we declare and define Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II to be Saints and we enroll them among the Saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”.
St. John XXIII’s Feast Day is October 11, (marking the opening of the second Vatican Council). St John Paul II’s Feast Day is October 22 (anniversary of his Papal installation)
I invite everyone to join me for the Groundbreaking for the new St. Michael the Archangel High School in Lee’s Summit: 11:00 a.m. Saturday Morning. May 3, 2014.