By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published June 23, 2017
COLLEGE PARK—During the English track of the Eucharistic Congress, Father Michael Gaitley presented the second greatest story ever told—a story he believes proves divine mercy.
Using history and humor, Father Gaitley told the engaging story of the connection between St. Faustina Kowalska and St. Pope John Paul II and how the world has come to know the Divine Mercy devotion.
Father Gaitley is director of evangelization for his congregation, the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. He is also the author of several books, including “33 Days to Morning Glory,” “You Did It To Me: A Practical Guide to Mercy in Action” and “The Second Greatest Story Ever Told.”
He began his talk with his favorite quote from Pope Francis while speaking to the priests of Rome.
“Listen to the voice of the spirit that speaks to the whole church in this our time, which is in fact the time of mercy. I am certain of this,” Pope Francis told the clergy. “We have been living in the time of mercy for the last 30 or more years up to now. It is the time of mercy in the whole church. It was instituted by St. John Paul II. He had an intuition that this was the time of mercy.”
The pope said the focus on mercy became explicit upon the canonization of St. Faustina in 2000, but it had been “maturing” in John Paul’s mind for some time.
“Today we forget everything too hastily,” Pope Francis told the priests.
He urged them not to forget that divine mercy is a great gift to the people of God, and as ministers of the church to keep it alive.
Father Gaitley stopped mid-sentence as his timer seemingly stopped. “Actually, does anyone have the time?” he asked the crowd. After an audience member said 11:35, Father Gaitley countered, “It’s the time of mercy. I love that joke. I never get tired of it.”
How quickly we forget about mercy, he remarked.
God doesn’t want people to get discouraged
Father Gaitley said that Pope John Paul II knew “that in a time of great evil, God would give even greater grace.”
God doesn’t want people to get discouraged but to trust even more, said the priest. “Jesus, I trust in you” is the heart of the message of divine mercy and appears at the bottom of the image given to St. Faustina.
“God is more powerful in his mercy than all the evil of the whole world. So that’s the message John Paul is giving to the world,” said Father Gaitley. “And that’s the message Pope Francis keeps repeating.”
John Paul II is the main protagonist of the second greatest story ever told, said Father Gaitley.
“It’s the best story in all of church history after sacred Scripture,” he said.
Father Gaitley lived in Poland for a time and learned much about the country’s history.
“One of the things that amazed me was that God used Poland so many times throughout history to save the world, to help save Christian Europe,” he said.
During a mini-history lesson, Father Gaitley gave examples of Poland’s successes, including the victory of Polish King John III Sobieski at the battle of Vienna in 1683, the Polish defeat of the Soviets at the battle of Warsaw in 1920 and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
King John III invoked the name of Mary before battle and wrote the pope afterward, “I came, I saw, and God conquered.” The pope declared the day of defeat, Sept. 12, the feast of the Holy Name of Mary. The rest of the world forgot the day, but the Polish people did not.
“They believed it was a miracle because they invoked the name of Mary,” said Father Gaitley.
Better than all of this was what happened on the eve of World War II in Poland, said Father Gaitley.
“Jesus appeared to a little nun named Sister Faustina Kowalska, and he gave to her the modern message of divine mercy,” he said.
“It’s the good news that God doesn’t love us because we’re so good but because he’s so good,” explained Father Gaitley. “We think in human terms. We think we have to earn God’s love.”
But the message is that God shows mercy to those with a contrite heart.
“It’s a free gift,” he said.
St. Faustina’s diary tells of devotion
This message and devotion to Jesus as the Divine Mercy is based on the writings of St. Faustina. She was an uneducated nun who, in obedience to her spiritual director, wrote a diary recording the revelations she received. Before her death in 1938, the devotion to the divine mercy had already begun to spread and even more so after World War II.
As her diary was translated, it contained errors and the body now known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith drafted a document to ban the devotion permanently. However, Pope Pius XII was ill and never signed the document. His successor, St. Pope John XXIII, realized Polish bishops needed to be consulted first but could not contact them due to the Iron Curtain of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. As a result, he made the ban only temporary. St. Faustina’s diary had predicted such a delay.
Pope John Paul asked for a copy of the published St. Faustina diary at the hospital after surviving an assassination attempt in May 1981, said Father Gaitley. Soon after the pope said bringing the message of divine mercy to light was his “special task.”
He celebrated the canonization Mass of St. Faustina in 2000, also establishing the second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.
Father Gaitley said Pope John Paul II told people at a banquet afterward that it was the “happiest day of my life.”
“I suggest to you that the happiest days are when we feel we have completed a God-given mission,” said Father Gaitley.
The pope also blessed the Shrine of Divine Mercy in 2002 in Poland and consecrated the whole world to divine mercy, saying, “may it be known to all the peoples of the earth.”
St. Faustina had written about a spark in her diary, and Pope John Paul’s statement about it at the consecration converted many to the devotion, said Father Gaitley.
“May the binding promise of the Lord Jesus be fulfilled: from here there must go forth ‘the spark which will prepare the world for His final coming,’” said the pope.
“That spark is mercy; it’s divine mercy,” said Father Gaitley.
He said the pope knew the urgency of these times.
“This is the time of mercy because the times are so evil,” he said. “It’s not a message of fanaticism. It’s a message of hope.”
Divine mercy has become the largest grassroots movement in church history as Catholics rediscover the heart of the Gospel, he said. While there were naysayers to the devotion, Father Gaitley described St. Faustina as an “authentic” messenger.
The vigil Mass of Divine Mercy Sunday was celebrated in his room as Pope John Paul II was in his final hours. “He went home in the arms of mercy,” said Father Gaitley.
His homily for that Sunday had already been written and should be considered his last words, said the priest.
“How much the world needs to accept and understand divine mercy,” wrote Pope John Paul. “Jesus, I trust in you. Have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
To learn more about divine mercy, visit www.thedivinemercy.org.