In his homily for the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska, Pope St. John Paul II reminded the faithful that Christ has taught us “man not only receives and experiences the mercy of God, but is also called to practice mercy towards others: ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’ (Matthew 5:7). … Jesus bent over every kind of human poverty, material and spiritual.In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, saints have much to teach us. They became saints by practicing the works of mercy and other acts of holiness.
“… This led to the spiritual and corporal ‘works of mercy.’ Here mercy became a concrete way of being ‘neighbor’ to one’s neediest brothers and sisters.”
And as Pope Francis has said, “A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just.”
Seven special saints did just that.
St. Teresa of Calcutta
Newly canonized St. Teresa of Calcutta is a shining example. She picked up the dying and the poor literally from the gutters, treated them with great kindness and dignity, fed them and attended to them as they lay dying of various diseases.
She called them all “Jesus in disguise.” And she did these works of mercy with an ever-present joy: “Keep the joy of loving God in your heart and share this joy with all you meet, especially your family,” Mother Teresa said.
“Speak tenderly to them. Let there be kindness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile, in the warmth of your greeting. Always have a cheerful smile. Don’t only give your care, but give your heart, as well.”
She also told us to find our own mercy missions: “Calcuttas are everywhere, if only we have eyes to see. Find your Calcutta.”
She emphasized: “Jesus made it very clear: Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me. Give a glass of water, you give it to me. Receive a little child, you receive me.”
St. Catherine of Siena
In the 14th century, St. Catherine of Siena put tremendous mercy into action during her 33 years of life. Declared a doctor of the Church by Blessed Paul VI, the lay (tertiary) Dominican patiently advised, spiritually counseled and prayed for endless lines of troubled people seeking her help. Three priests were assigned to no other duty but hearing the confessions of the people she counseled. She was even an adviser to popes.
At the same time, like so many other saints, Catherine engaged in tasks like caring for the sick and feeding the elderly. Fearlessly, she tended to those stricken during a plague, comforted the dying and even buried the dead herself.
Many times, her acts of mercy were even supernatural. For example, in her hands, food would be multiplied by God. She tended patiently to one woman, banished from the city because of her horrible leprosy, in the face of the woman’s bitter complaints. Eventually the woman converted through Catherine’s prayer and patient attendance.
Many others converted through Catherine’s prayers and sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. Her every deed was truly mercy in action.
Who can doubt the example of mercy in action in St. Pio of Pietrelcina? Through as many as 12 hours in the confessional every day, Padre Pio practiced mercy to countless repentant sinners, offering them forgiveness and conversion.
As St. John Paul II said of him, “Padre Pio was a generous dispenser of Divine Mercy.”
Yet he saw his own need of it, stating, “Jesus continues to love me and to draw me closer to himself. He has forgotten my sins, and I would say that he remembers only his own mercy. Each morning, he comes into my heart and pours out all the effusions of his goodness.”
St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, was a practitioner of mercy, too — all according to her “Little Way.”
As the saint told us in her autobiography, Story of A Soul, “I applied myself above all to practice quite hidden little acts of virtue; thus I liked to fold the mantles forgotten by the sisters and sought a thousand opportunities of rendering them service.”
“I ought to seek the company of those sisters who, according to nature, please me least. I ought to fulfill in their regard the office of the Good Samaritan,” she also wrote of her merciful aim. “A word, a kindly smile, will often suffice to gladden a wounded and sorrowful heart.”
She truly comforted the sorrowful. And many times, she, like Catherine of Siena, had to practice the spiritual work of mercy of bearing wrongs patiently.
St. Marianne Cope
St. Marianne Cope helped found two of the first Catholic hospitals in central New York. At St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, she was criticized for treating the outcasts of society, including alcoholics. But that never stopped her from giving them all ample attention with kindness.
Then, in 1883, a letter arrived asking her go to the Hawaiian Islands to work with those suffering with leprosy. She wrote: “I am hungry for the work, and I wish with all my heart to be one of the chosen ones whose privilege it will be to sacrifice themselves for the salvation of the souls of the poor Islanders. ... It would be my greatest delight even to minister to the abandoned ‘lepers.’”
With six sisters, St. Marianne first supervised the Oahu hospital that received leprosy patients. They also cared for the patients’ children, who were rejected by society.
When the government exiled the lepers to the island of Molokai, Mother Marianne and her sisters went, too.
They helped the dying Father Damien de Veuster, who has been canonized a saint himself, and ran homes for the little girls and boys. She said their primary duty was “to make life as pleasant and as comfortable as possible for those of our fellow creatures whom God has chosen to afflict with this terrible disease.”
Her own words show her desire to practice mercy: “My heart bled for the children, and I was anxious and hungry to help put a little more sunshine into their dreary lives.”
Sts. Faustina and John Paul
St. Faustina not only brought the world the message of Divine Mercy given by Jesus, but she acted with that mercy, even in the simplest service as porter of the convent gate.
“Oh, how happy I am that my superiors have given me such a task!” she exclaimed. “I understand that mercy is manifold; one can do good always and everywhere and at all times. An ardent love of God sees all around itself constant opportunities to share itself through deed, word and prayer” (St. Faustina’s diary, 1313).
What prompted this response in Faustina was an experience similar to what St. Martin of Tours had many centuries earlier. She described the story in her diary (1312):
“Jesus came to the main entrance today, under the guise of a poor young man. This young man, emaciated, barefoot and bareheaded, and with his clothes in tatters, was frozen because the day was cold and rainy. He asked for something hot to eat. So I went to the kitchen, but found nothing there for the poor. But, after searching around for some time, I succeeded in finding some soup, which I reheated and into which I crumbled some bread; and I gave it to the poor young man, who ate it. As I was taking the bowl from him, he gave me to know that he was the Lord of heaven and earth. When I saw him as he was, he vanished from my sight. When I went back in and reflected on what had happened at the gate, I heard these words in my soul: My daughter, the blessings of the poor who bless me as they leave this gate have reached my ears. And your compassion, within the bounds of obedience, has pleased me, and this is why I came down from my throne — to taste the fruits of your mercy.”
As St. John Paul II reminded the faithful at the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland, in 1997, “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.”
The Polish pope was indeed a mercy messenger, proclaiming God’s infinite love to the ends of the earth — even famously exhibiting mercy to the man who tried to assassinate him in 1981.
He is the pope who promulgated the message of Divine Mercy to the world, by canonizing Faustina as the first saint of the new millennium and designating widespread devotion of Divine Mercy on the Second Sunday of Easter.
These saints, and so many others, teach us we can practice mercy wherever God has placed us — whether through action, words or prayer.
As Jesus explained the three degrees of mercy to Faustina:
“The first: the act of mercy, of whatever kind. The second: the word of mercy — if I cannot carry out a work of mercy, I will assist by my words. The third: prayer — if I cannot show mercy by deeds or words, I can always do so by prayer. My prayer reaches out even there where I cannot reach out physically.”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.