Mercy Messengers: How the Divine Image Changes Hearts and Lives
The depiction of Jesus invoking mercy reminds the faithful to trust Christ.
When Daniel diSilva was a student at the University of Dallas, at 6am on Saturday mornings, a woman from a nearby apartment would stop by on her way to pray at an abortion facility, knock on his door, tell him about Divine Mercy and leave holy cards. “It really annoyed me because I was working as a professional musician. I’d get in at 2-3am from the jazz clubs and would sleep on Saturday morning.”
A couple of years later, in the late 1990s, his life changed during an “illuminative” moment, diSilva said. He remembered the Divine Mercy cards the woman gave him, found them on his bookshelf, and began praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
DiSilva is not alone in finding power in the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ, especially as devotion to it was popularized by the Polish religious sister St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), whose diary chronicles her visions of Christ appearing to her and the ensuing conversations she had with Christ regarding the Divine Mercy. Faithful such as Bernie McGinn have found inspiration in St. Faustina’s diary, while others, such as Lynette Bryant, have come to the Divine Mercy through the vast body of secondary literature and other media explaining the devotion. For still others, such as diSilva, devotion to the Divine Mercy began with the simplicity of prayer.
“I became devoted to the Divine Mercy prayers,” diSilva said, “trying as much as possible to pray the chaplet daily.” At the time, he was traveling the Catholic music scene with his band, Crispin.
In 2008 diSilva’s father, Rudy, was suffering with cancer and in his last few months of life. His son had been telling him about Divine Mercy. While on the road, diSilva wrote his father, “Dad, you have been unfathomably generous to me, gave me everything. I wanted for nothing.” He expressed how his father never refused a request of his. “I have one more thing to ask of you before you die, my final request. I want a father who is a saint in heaven and [could] shovel me and the rest of our family into heaven, too.”
He explained to his father the Divine Mercy requirements and that Pope Benedict XVI had promulgated a plenary indulgence that year for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8. He also arranged for Father Robert McGuire, a teacher from the university he had kept in contact with, to go to his father’s house on the feast day. “‘Go ahead and tell Father McGuire to come over,’ my father told me,” diSilva recalled. On that day in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at 3pm, diSilva was praying the chaplet. At 3pm in Texas, the priest was hearing Rudy diSilva’s confession and giving him Communion. “Your dad had a heck of a confession. You don’t have to worry about a thing,” the priest later told diSilva.
Two weeks after receiving the sacraments, Rudy was completely incapacitated. It was becoming apparent that he would soon die. So Daniel began the Divine Mercy Novena. “On the ninth day of praying a novena of chaplets,” diSilva recounted of his time with his father in his last moments, as they both prayed the novena, “after the last prayer in the chaplet, he took one last breath — after he said, ‘Amen.’”
The story didn’t end there. In 2009 diSilva retired the band. Their last concert was in Vilnius, Lithuania. “That day, a priest came up and asked if I’d like to spend the night with Jesus,” diSilva well remembers. He was eager to do so. The priest took him to the chapel where the original image of Divine Mercy as described by St. Faustina is venerated, something diSilva didn’t realize until the priest told him, believing it was elsewhere. He spent the night in the small shrine chapel by himself with the original image of Divine Mercy.
“That night was when I decided to do a documentary film about the original image,” he said. That documentary, The Original Image of Divine Mercy: The Untold Story of an Unknown Masterpiece, came out in 2016, has been translated into seven languages and has been shown around the world. Now he is ready to premiere a three-character play that deals with, of course, the Divine Mercy image.
In Grand Lake, Colorado, population 470, Bernie McGinn said that he was introduced to the message of Divine Mercy by the late Father Frank Gerber, pastor at St. Anne Church, and then grew in his knowledge of the mercy message with the current pastor, Father Michael Freihofer.
McGinn read St. Faustina’s diary and was quite taken with it. When the new and current pastor arrived to shepherd St. Anne’s and four other churches in the “Grand Catholic” group of parishes, he inspired the parishioners to “start saying a Rosary and a [Divine Mercy] Chaplet a day,” McGinn said. “And we read St. Faustina again. It was really phenomenal.”
McGinn’s devotion kept growing during the next four years in many ways, including through the church bulletins, which featured excerpts from Faustina’s diary — “Those tidbits went with the Gospel and helped” — and through the pictures of Jesus as the Divine Mercy that each church displayed by and in confessionals.
With these reminders, McGinn “started concentrating on the mercy of the confessional,” he said.
Referring to the promises Jesus made for Divine Mercy Sunday itself, McGinn wonders “how anybody could not or would not go [to celebrate the special feast] if they knew about it, to be part of the Mass, confession and veneration of the image — he’s [Jesus] given us everything.”
At St. Anne’s and Our Lady of the Snows in Granby in the Grand Catholic group, prayer is the first way McGinn puts mercy into action. “Since I’m in the public works department, I say prayers for the town and the people and for whatever else that comes along in the day. I try to always have that at the forefront — even just the name ‘Jesus.’” And he tries to be a good Christian example to everyone he encounters, too.
Lynette Bryant in Winter Park, Florida, has also been touched by Divine Mercy. “It’s been an amazing adventure,” Bryant explained. Having heard about Divine Mercy in church and from others, she “knew there was a devotion of Divine Mercy,” she said, “but I didn’t know what it meant.” Her first “Aha!” moment, she said, came in 2015, when she read The Second Greatest Story Ever Told by Marian Father Michael Gaitley. “It lit this fire — I had this insatiable thirst, and I started reading everything I could to learn about Divine Mercy,” she noted.
Then, as part of a group in her parish of St. Margaret Church, she was asked if she knew of diSilva’s film on the Divine Mercy image and asked if the parish could see it; Bryant procured the pastor’s permission for the showings.
Next, women from another parish asked her help to get the film shown at their parish, including having director diSilva speak about the film.
Accepting an invitation by the parish for a showing and presentation on Palm Sunday 2018, diSilva came with full-size replicas of the Divine Mercy image, including one he gave to Bryant to help her in her work of spreading the Divine Mercy devotion.
“I took the image places,” Bryant said, “even to the hospital and the IC unit where my dear friend’s mother was passing away. We prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet with the image, and it was very powerful.”
Then Bryant and her husband, Kevin, decided to join a pilgrimage to see the original image in Vilnius. When the trip fell through, Bryant explained, “My husband said to me that it’s our 35th anniversary and we’re going to go ourselves.” To counter any anxiety she had upon traveling outside of the country for the first time, she prayed, “Jesus I trust in you.” “God knew exactly what he was doing with my husband and me going to Vilnius by ourselves,” she explained. “It turned out to be the biggest gift of mercy I got in my life. It changed my marriage. It was the opening door to seeing mercy in my marriage, which I had never seen before. My husband has been the most tangible image of Divine Mercy in my life.”
Back home, while praying to further deepen her Divine Mercy devotion, these words came to Bryant: “merciful marriage.”
After resisting the idea for a few months, she started a local group of 12 couples called “Merciful Marriage,” “where couples can get together to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and to socialize, as well as to attend local events” and practice “mercy within the sacrament,” she said. She started an Instagram account for the ministry and is working on a website.
“It’s amazing to see what God has done in the last year,” Bryant told the Register. “There is something about that image that will transform your life. … Only God in his infinite mercy could have done what he has done. When we step out and say, ‘Jesus, I trust in you,’ he will give you everything you lack. I am a living example of that.”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.