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The Thread of Divine Mercy

Two saintly popes, one fount of mercy

By Jason Godin

Divine Mercy Sunday has a relatively recent history, one that began on April 30, 2000, with the canonization of Maria Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who chronicled her conversations with Divine Mercy in six notebooks published posthumously as a single diary. For 2014, the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday includes the canonizations of two new saints – Karol Wojtyła and Angelo Roncalli, known more widely as Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII, respectively.

This Sunday, April 27, is a day to celebrate, especially for young people like me who reached adulthood at the threshold of the third millennium. The moment marks what we had always expected for John Paul II, the pope who seemed to identify with us personally just as much as people identified him with our entire generation. His canonization on Divine Mercy Sunday along with John XXIII, however, hints that the meaning of the moment runs deeper than simply adding a new member to the Polish pantheon of saints. It also challenges men and women of faith to find Divine Mercy speaking a common message through the voices of both saintly popes and, in the process, threading both them and the modern Church closer together in history.

The Second Vatican Council opened with the words of Pope John XXIII on October 11, 1962. Through the council, the Holy Father said in his inaugural address, the Church “desires to show herself to be the loving mother of all, benign, patient, full of mercy and goodness toward the brethren who are separated from her.” In doing so, Pope John continued, the Church “opens the fountain of her life-giving doctrine which allows men, enlightened by the light of Christ, to understand well what they really are, what their lofty dignity and purpose are” (7.3; italics added for emphasis).

Vatican II still serves as the first critical clarion call for witness in the modern world. Its documents inspire ways to engage others where they are, beginning on their terms when necessary and in their words when appropriate, all toward showing them the life offered by the Word made flesh who dwells among us in the Eucharist (cf. Jn 1:14). When read today with senses more attuned to Divine Mercy, the message of John XXIII also seems to elevate history into a timeless model for mankind, where mercy arrives in infinite supply.

“What will the years ahead bring us? What will man’s future on earth be like? We are not given to know,” observed John Paul II almost 40 years later, during his canonization homily for St. Faustina in 2000. “However,” he continued, “it is certain that in addition to new progress there will unfortunately be no lack of painful experiences. But the light of divine mercy … will illumine the way for the men and women of the third millennium” (3).

Through John Paul II, the thread of Divine Mercy has been weaved into history with a person of Poland, a place that was on the precipice of world war for most of the 20th century. But for the rest of that century and into the next, this thread connecting the two popes has testified to how trials and tragedies, when endured within the love and light of Divine Mercy, transform into triumphs for the whole world.

John XXIII and John Paul II are linked together in history by a thread of Divine Mercy, one that trumps misery and takes heart from the rays of water and blood that flow from the heart of Jesus. The days ahead allow us to hold firm in the joy of faith to that same thread.

Jason Godin lives in College Station, Texas, with his wife and their two children. He teaches United States history.