Dear friends. Three years ago, our parish went on pilgrimage to Krakow where we spent six wonderful days of prayer, travel and lots of fun! Reflecting back on our time in Poland, one of the blessings our parish and many others enjoy is the presence of so many Polish friends who have made Ireland their home. We came home with a real sense of the culture and history of that beloved country whose story has many similarities to our own. Where Poland is unique is the extent the nation suffered during and after the Second World War. One fifth of Polish people died at that time.
Those years were times of darkness, the hour of Satan as we felt it when we visited the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp where unspeakable things happened 80 years ago. Yet from that terrible darkness at that time came lights that the darkness could not overpower. I am thinking of the witness of St John Paul II, St Faustina, St Maximillian Kolbe and St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). What all of these have in common is that at a time and place where humanity was at its worst, they showed humanity at its best. They were and continue to be, prophets of hope and mercy.
Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has made the theme of mercy a central theme of his pontificate. He has moved the gift of divine mercy into the very centre of the Gospel message. Whereas before it belonged to the realm of devotion, now it is a constitutive part of the Good News of Jesus Christ – the mercy of God and the mercy the world so badly needs to receive. We might ask ourselves where did this new emphasis on God’s mercy come from? St Faustina, who was an Apostle of Mercy, died in 1938, the year before the war began but not before she left a body of inspired writing dedicated to the theme of mercy. During her life and after her death, a young polish priest named Karol Wojtwla began to promote the cause of mercy, convinced that the Church and the world needed to know the tender mercy and love of God in new way after the events of World War II. In October 1978, this man was elected Pope John Paul II which gave him the global platform to be a witness to mercy and hope across the globe. Since his death in 2005, the cause of mercy has been taken up by Pope Francis who has placed the Gospel of Mercy at the heart of his mission.
Pope Francis asks us all to be missionaries of mercy and ‘to make the tender and merciful love of Christ visible to all’. How can we do this? By making our own the prayer of the tax collector in the synagogue in the Gospel today: ‘Lord be merciful to be a sinner’. The experience of divine mercy starts with me. Only if I have experienced the warmth of the mercy of Christ at first hand can I be a missionary of mercy myself. Before God we are all indebted and therefore humbled before him, just like the tax collector who returns home changed and righteous in the eyes of God.
My friends, be missionaries of mercy. Overcome evil by doing good. Don’t ever think that you are incapable of evil or cruelty. We all are. Divine Mercy was the message the world needed to hear most in order to cope with the burden of grief and tragedy that marked the 20th century. Divine mercy, radiating from the heart of the risen Christ, was God’s answer to the human wickedness that had never been seen before in Poland, in Europe and in the world. The world needs people of mercy and a culture of mercy so that evil never triumphs again. But it starts with you and me. It starts today with an encounter with the merciful love of Jesus Christ who is waiting patiently for us. Today let us make the prayer of the tax collector our own: ‘Lord, be merciful to me a sinner’.