Marian Message: Discipleship Embodies the Core of Divine Mercy
Father Michael Gaitley explains how to manifest the heart of Divine Mercy in our lives.
How can Catholics learn from Mary, the Mother of God, about the true meaning of Divine Mercy?
While at Little Way Farm, which belongs to the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy in Lee, Massachusetts, about 10 minutes from the Shrine of Divine Mercy, and surrounded by sheep and comforting a dog recovering from surgery, Marian Father Michael Gaitley took the time to speak with the Register about Mary’s connection to the Divine Mercy message. The director of formation for the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy and author of 33 Days to Merciful Love reflected on how Catholics can learn from Mary’s discipleship about how to follow Jesus, believe in the Gospel and manifest the heart of Divine Mercy in their lives.
How do we understand Mary’s role in Christ’s gift of Divine Mercy?
Mary is the mother of our Savior. So she gives us Divine Mercy incarnate through her “Yes.” A core part of the message of Divine Mercy is “Jesus, I trust in you.” In a way, that echoes Mary’s Fiat, where she said, “Let it be done to me, according to thy word.” She expressed that trust in the Father and in the announcement of the angel Gabriel. So she goes before us, along the way of faith, along the way of trust. One of the things that was, for me, very inspiring in terms of Mary and her faith in getting to the core of the Divine Mercy message is just to trust in Jesus.
St. John Paul II wrote an encyclical letter called Redemptoris Mater, and there’s a remarkable part of that encyclical where he highlights the blessing of Elizabeth at the Visitation, where Elizabeth says to Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
Basically, John Paul says, that’s sort of the key to understanding Mary’s whole life of faith. She received this word of the Annunciation about her Son, that he would be great and that his reign would last forever. And in all the stages of her Son’s life, according to John Paul, that faith was tested. Mary had to cling with faith to what was promised, even in the face of [apparent] contradiction to that word — the most important moment of which is obviously Jesus dying on the cross. Because it seemed like, here’s her Son, where there was a promise that his reign would last forever and he would be great, now dying on a cross, that sign of ignominy, the Roman Empire and torture. And yet Mary, like Abraham [as with his son Isaac], hoped against hope that God could even raise him from the dead. The reason I think that’s important for Divine Mercy is because that prayer at the bottom of the Divine Mercy image — “Jesus, I trust in you” — can be taken sort of as “just a little devotion.” But the reality is that trust is most important for us. That trust has the greatest meaning when we’re in times of darkness and difficulty. Mary certainly expressed her faith and her trust in difficulty, in the pain of the crucifixion of her Son, and in the hidden life of Nazareth. The Christian life is a life of faith, and Mary is a reminder for us of that.
Is there another connection between Mary and Divine Mercy?
The other connection I love with Divine Mercy and Mary on the topic of faith is the apparition of Our Lady Guadalupe, which is another image given by heaven. Similar to the Divine Mercy image, which was requested by Jesus, I see Our Lady of Guadalupe as almost a flipside of the Divine Mercy image. Whereas the image of Divine Mercy at the bottom says “Jesus, I trust in you,” the words of Mary to Juan Diego are an invitation to trust in Mary … to trust in the midst of fear, in the midst of pain, and in the midst of confusion. They’re images that are unique and that come directly through God’s initiative. And both of them have kind of the same message: Trust your Mother; trust your Savior. That’s the echo of Christ in Scripture and part of why God gave us Mary as our spiritual mother: so that we can find the comfort that comes through faith.
What do you think Mary’s own discipleship of Christ reveals to us about Divine Mercy?
One of the most poignant moments in the Gospels of Mary’s relationship to Divine Mercy is her Magnificat. There’s a theme of mercy in the Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day, all generations will call me blessed. The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the power of his arm …”
What’s a repeated theme is truly mercy for the poor, mercy for the weak, mercy for the broken; and that those who are arrogant, those who are mighty, those who are prideful, they don’t receive mercy. So part of the way Mary experiences mercy or testifies to mercy is that: God favors the lowly; God favors the weak; God favors the broken; God favors the poor. The Church talks about the “preferential option for the poor,” and
we don’t experience the joy of Divine Mercy unless we become like Mary.
What prayers or practices can the faithful use to follow Mary’s example of discipleship and really embrace the Divine Mercy message?
One of the things that Mary did, according to Scripture, was she had the attitude of pondering in her heart; that she pondered in her heart the word of the Lord, the things the Lord was doing, and, traditionally, there’s a spiritual practice of imitating Mary’s pondering in her heart; it has been an examination of conscience, properly understood. And they say properly understood, because, often, examination of conscience is just seen as kind of a laundry list of our sins. But the reality of the way that St. Ignatius of Loyola presents it is that most of the time an examination of conscience should actually be spent looking at the blessings and the gifts of the Lord. And so by imitating Mary’s attentiveness to what God was doing in her life, how God is present to her life, that’s how we can encounter mercy.
This is a lifelong process. Mercy is the mystery of God’s love for us sinners and for us in our weakness in our brokenness. And that’s a mystery. Sometimes in Catholic spirituality, we move on too quickly from the fundamentals. It’s like, “Oh, mercy. I’ve heard of that.” No, this [mercy] is the center of the Christian life. This is the Gospel. The Gospel is, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Good News in Jesus Christ with God’s mercy for sinners. Pope Francis talks about the joy of the Gospel, that if we want joy, then mercy is something that we need to constantly be deepening our experience of and our understanding of, which includes the sacrament of confession, or the examination of conscience, which is a daily encounter with Jesus in his mercy.
How can we follow Mary’s lead on Divine Mercy Sunday?
I would say to wholly enter into Divine Mercy: Repent and believe in the Gospel. I know it can sound facetious, as opposed to “do the [Divine Mercy] Chaplet; do this or that.” But I’m finding more and more that sometimes it can happen that devotees of Divine Mercy can live the devotions but forget the Gospel. Everything about Divine Mercy and the message of Divine Mercy is meant to bring us back to the Gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ. So how do we enter into Divine Mercy? Repent; recognize our sin. That’s what we’ve been doing all Lent.
Divine Mercy Sunday is believing in the Gospel.
It’s believing in God’s mercy for sinners. It’s believing that as we’ve turned away from sin in our lives, as we striven to turn away from sin, now we turn to the God of mercy, who embraces us in our contrite hearts.
And Mary helps us to do everything with mercy.
And she challenges us to love mercy more than we do.