This Sunday is called Divine Mercy Sunday and, fittingly, the Gospel reading describes the risen Christ coming to the Apostles on Easter Sunday and giving them clear authority to confer forgiveness of sins. The occasion is a good time to discuss the Divine Mercy devotion that Jesus asked Saint Faustina to promote and that has spread throughout the world in recent years.
This article will briefly describe the background of this devotion and the image inspired by it. Next week’s article will describe the four other aspects of the devotion and its approval by St. John Paul II.
Born into a Polish farming family in Poland in 1905, Helen Kowolska sensed a call to enter religious life from the age of seven. And, in 1925, she joined the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, taking the religious name Sr. Maria Faustina of the Most Blessed Sacrament. She was a devout, unassuming nun who worked as a cook, gardener and porter. But, unknown to all but a select few, Jesus soon began appearing to her and asked her to promote devotion to His Divine Mercy. Even as she suffered great physical infirmities, particularly tuberculosis, she also had many deep mystical experiences, including these visions, a hidden stigmata, the ability to read souls, and the receipt of prophetic messages. Her spiritual director, Fr. Michael Sopocko investigated the visions and the messages she was receiving. Examining carefully the evidence of her life and the messages, he concluded that they were authentic, as did Mother Michael Moracrzewska, Mother General of the congregation.
Starting in 1931, Jesus asked Sr. Faustina to promote the devotion to Divine Mercy, starting with having an artist paint an image of the way in which He appeared to her. Although she realized that no artwork could fully capture the glorious radiance of Christ, she described the image to an artist, whose portrayal of Divine Mercy is seen so frequently now, and which is displayed next to the lectern in this church. In that image, the Risen Christ appears with His right hand raised teaching and conferring forgiveness as He did for the Apostles on that first Easter Sunday. His left hand points toward His heart, with white and red rays issuing forth. The rays represent the water and blood that flowed forth from Jesus’ side on the Cross, which are signs of the purity especially given