By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — A parish, its choir, and its 93-year-old pastor would have been forgiven if they needed a breather a week after celebrating the rich liturgies of Holy Week and Easter.
But all three had plenty left in the tank April 12 as Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, the designated diocesan Shrine to the Divine Mercy and St. Faustina, celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday with Bishop Robert W. Finn.
At precisely the Holy Hour of 3 p.m. — the hour of Jesus’ death by crucifixion — Bishop Finn and Msgr. William Blacet led a full-house congregation in the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, followed by a Mass with the parish choir in full glory, singing complicated chants and spiritual works, mixed in with the familiar hymns that lifted every voice.
The reason for the glorious celebration was simple, said Msgr. Blacet.
“Easter is the biggest day we have. This is the Octave of Easter. This is the icing on the cake,” he said.
“Divine Mercy means everything,” Msgr. Blacet said. “Mercy is another word for love. When God pours out his love on us, it’s mercy. If it weren’t for God’s mercy, you and I wouldn’t be here. We thank God for his mercy in bringing us here.”
Yes, it was extra work for the parish choir so soon after long and intense Holy Week services that also demanded top form. But that’s why they do it, said Karen Eagle, choir director since 1998.
“We want to honor God in the greatest way we can,” she said.
“Our job is to help the people encounter God through the beauty of the Mass. We help the people pray,” Eagle said. “We’re singing for God. It’s like we are singing for our souls.”
Divine Mercy Sunday is a special day to give thanks at a very special place, designated as the diocesan Shrine to the Divine Mercy in 2005 in one of Bishop Finn’s first acts as ordinary of the diocese.
But be prepared, Bishop Finn told the congregation. Things could get quite busy soon at the parish at 39th Terrace and Washington in Kansas City’s Westport district.
In his homily, Bishop Finn said that just hours before, Pope Francis had issued the formal documents promised a month earlier proclaiming a Jubilee Year of Mercy that will begin on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, 2015, and conclude on the Feast of Christ the King, Nov. 20, 2016.
Bishop Finn promised that he would issue special directions and recommendations for the Year of Mercy in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph as soon as possible after he reads Pope Francis’ directions. But the diocesan celebrations will likely include pilgrimages to the Shrine of the Divine Mercy.
“This could be a very busy year at Our Lady of Good Counsel,” he said.
The special devotion to the Divine Mercy began with a young nun from Poland, St. Faustina Kowalska, who claimed to receive locutions and visions from Jesus, urging her to tell his people three things:
• Ask for his mercy.
•Show his mercy to others.
• Trust in his mercy completely.
St. Faustina’s confessor, the now Blessed Michael Sopocka, ordered her to undergo a complete psychiatric evaluation. When she was found to be of sound mind and even stronger spirit, Father Sopocko ordered her to write down everything Christ was telling her.
On Feb. 22, 1931, Jesus appeared to her as the King of Divine Mercy, clad in dazzling white, his right hand raised in blessing, his left hand touching his heart from which poured two beams of light, one red for the blood of salvation, one white for the purifying waters of baptism.
He told St. Faustina to recreate that image so that others may venerate it and receive his mercy, and he asked that Low Sunday, the Sunday immediately following Easter, be celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday.
She attempted to do so herself, but found her spiritual powers to be greater than her artistic abilities. Father Sopocko then commission the artist Eugene Kazimierowski to create the first icon of the Divine Mercy, which still hangs in the Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn Church in Vilnius, Lithuania. It is in that church where Father Sopocko, with St. Faustina in attendance, celebrated the first Divine Mercy Sunday on April 28, 1935.
The devotion quickly spread through Poland, and was well established, though not yet official, when St. Faustina died on Oct. 5, 1938, at the age of 33.
The devotion continued to spread as a source of strength and comfort as Poland suffered first through World War II and the Nazi invasion, then for decades of Soviet domination.
With the election of Krakow Cardinal Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II, the devotion gained even more momentum, culminating on April 30, 2000, when Pope John Paul canonized St. Faustina and proclaimed that the first Sunday following Easter would be celebrated throughout the universal church as Divine Mercy Sunday.
“There is nothing more man needs than Divine Mercy, that love which is benevolent, which is compassionate, which raises man above his weakness to the infinite heights to the holiness of God,” Pope John Paul II said during a 1997 visit to his homeland.
“What is mercy?” Bishop Finn asked the congregation at Our Lady of Good Counsel.
“Sometimes, mercy is contrasted with justice, another very important virtue,” he said.
“Justice may seem harsh, while mercy could be interpreted as a determination to presume forgiveness and overlook offenses,” he said.
Instead of being opposites, justice and mercy are complementary and are both acts of love.
“The goal of the virtue of justice is always charity or love, and mercy is perhaps the most God-like expression of love,” Bishop Finn said.
The “horrible opposite” of mercy, the bishop said, is indifference.
“Indifference is that attitude towards others that has no love, nor perhaps hate. It doesn’t care,” Bishop Finn said. “Mercy is an active love. It says, ‘I care. I truly care.’”
He reminded the congregation of the Corporal Works of Mercy — Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, ransom the captive, bury the dead — and the Spiritual Works of Mercy — Instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive willingly, comfort the afflicted, pray for the living and the dead.
“In the world, by comparison, we may often be told to mind our own business. Don’t judge. Don’t push our morality on others,” Bishop Finn said.
“But every day and often, we must make important judgments about right and wrong, not so that we can lord it over another, but so that we can assist each other on this often perilous path through life,” he said.
“These are works of mercy. The real and final cause or motive must always be love, an acting caring love which is authentic mercy,” Bishop Finn said.