Over the years, Vinny Flynn has been a presence on EWTN, singing the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Flynn, a father of seven, has been immersed in the message of Divine Mercy and a ministry of mercy for more than 40 years.
As former executive editor at the Marian Helpers Center and former general manager of Divine Mercy International, both based at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., Flynn has also worked extensively with two of the world’s authorities on Divine Mercy — Marian Father Seraphim Michalenko and the late Father George Kosicki. Flynn also helped edit the official English edition of St. Faustina’s diary. Before Holy Week, he spoke about his new book — 7 Secrets of Divine Mercy — and the importance of mercy.
How did you become immersed in the work of Divine Mercy?
I’m still living in the house I was raised in, four miles from the shrine [of Divine Mercy]. In my early teens, I was friends with many of the Marian seminarians and priests, and when they built the shrine, my parents started taking us to Mass there. It became “home away from home” for me.
I was introduced to the Divine Mercy message just before the ban came in 1959. For 20 years, the Church put it on the shelf, “pending clarification” of the Vatican’s concerns about poorly translated and misleading prayer cards and booklets that had been circulated in Poland, France and Italy. When the ban was lifted in 1978, the Marians started promoting the devotion again, and, for many years, my kids and I were involved in helping out with the music for their public celebrations of the “Feast of Mercy” on the Second Sunday of Easter (now officially known as “Divine Mercy Sunday”).
I had a teaching, editing and publishing background, so, in 1984, the Marians asked me to work part time with Father Seraphim and Father George in the Divine Mercy department. Then, in 1987, I began working full time, overseeing all the editorial publications at the Marian Helpers Center.
I was born on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and had always had a special devotion to Our Lady. Now I was also completely immersed in Divine Mercy. The two main threads of my life had become mercy and Mary. I recently found out that the church where I was baptized was consecrated to Our Lady of Mercy. I guess God knew all along where he was going to steer me.
Even to the timing of writing 7 Secrets of Divine Mercy, it appears.
I actually started writing the book back in 2009, but then decided to write 7 Secrets of Confession first. I put all my notes and files in a briefcase and never opened it again until January 2015, when I resumed writing, hoping for a Dec. 8 release in honor of Our Lady. So I was shocked and delighted by Pope Francis’ April announcement of a Year of Mercy that would begin on Dec. 8, 2015. Suddenly, I was very happy that I hadn’t written the book earlier. God’s timing is infinitely better than mine!
How do you see the Year of Mercy?
To me, the whole focus of the Year of Mercy is the heart of God the Father. There is the connection there with the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan. Pope Benedict XVI explains that the translation “He has compassion” is not strong enough. What really happens is that “his heart is wrenched open” so completely that he is compelled to do whatever he can to alleviate the wounded man’s suffering. This is the compassion of God. His fatherly heart is wrenched open by our suffering, our sins, and he is compelled to help us.
Pope Francis has picked up that same theme. The motto for this Year of Mercy is “Merciful Like the Father.” Touched by his compassion, we become compassionate with others. In The Face of Mercy, the Pope writes, “Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters … and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help.” We need to let our hearts be wrenched open by the plight of the people around us and become merciful like the Father.
How does this tie into “Secret 4” of your book — “God Loves Backwards”?
Compared to the way we love, God loves backwards. He doesn’t give or withhold love based on behavior. He is always loving us. Nothing changes that. Our sin doesn’t change God; it changes us. We separate ourselves from him. He’s always the merciful Father, waiting for us to come back to him.
Christ tells St. Faustina that the greatest sinners have the greatest right to his mercy. That’s totally opposite to the way we tend to respond to people. God knows that our sin wounds us, and no matter how badly we behave, he is always ready to forgive and restore us as his children.
As in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
Yes. In Rich in Mercy, St. John Paul II writes that, of course, the son’s behavior was bound to make his father suffer, but that, “after all, it was his own son who was involved, and such a relationship could never be altered or destroyed by any sort of behavior.” God loves and delights in us because he created us as his children. Our behavior doesn’t change the love of this Father. It cuts us off from him. Our sin is like going into a cave, cutting ourselves off from the light and warmth of God. Confession is coming out of the cave and finding him waiting with joy and love.
What else is important about God’s “backwards love”?
We have to realize how tenderly God loves us and receive that love so that we learn to love with the tenderness of his heart. Pope Francis calls it a “revolution of tenderness.” We enter the heart of God, receiving his tenderness and forgiveness so completely in our hearts that we are able to pass it on to others. … It’s a flow of love from the Trinity to us and through us to others.
How do you explain the great role our Blessed Mother has in Divine Mercy?
Pope John Paul II referred to Mary as “the first soloist in singing the mercies of the Lord [the Magnificat],” and he called her the Mother of Mercy. Pope Francis gives her the same title, asking her to watch over us during this Year of Mercy, “so that all of us may rediscover the joy of God’s tenderness.”
On Dec. 8 [the day he opened the jubilee], he visited her [Immaculate Conception image] at Piazza di Spagna. He said, “Looking at you, Our Immaculate Mother, we see the victory of Divine Mercy over sin and all its consequences. … There is space for everyone beneath your cloak, because you are the Mother of Mercy. … Your heart is full of tenderness towards all your children: the tenderness of God, who, by you, became incarnate. … You say to everyone: ‘Come, come closer, faithful ones; enter and receive the gift of mercy; do not be afraid; do not be ashamed: The Father awaits you with open arms. He will forgive and welcome you into his house.’”
Your book is so conversational, like talking to a friend across the table, yet profound. What’s your “secret”?
In my own reading, I have found that there are basically two types of religious books out there: academic books, in which theologians share great philosophical and theological truths with other theologians — and the rest of us have a lot of trouble understanding them — and inspirational books, written by deeply spiritual people who are trying to share the beauty of the faith in a simple, readable way to help and inspire others. Many of them are wonderful books, but some of the most important theology is often missing or watered down in order to keep it simple.
I want to take the full theology and make it so simple that everybody can understand it. And I feel that God led me into situations where I was essentially forced to learn how to do that — first as a high-school teacher for many years, and then as a writer and editor at the Marians. A big part of my job there was to read the writings of popes and theologians and then present their insights and teachings to the average reader of the magazine, newsletters, leaflets and books published by the Marians. So I really didn’t have much choice: It was a skill I had to learn. And I’m grateful now for the way God has enabled me to use that skill to bring others a deeper understanding of his great mercy.
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.