In recent years I’ve pondered the timing of the Church’s celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday—the week after Easter Sunday.
It was when Pope John Paul II canonized Sister Faustina on April 30, 2000 that he surprised everyone by proclaiming that “throughout the world the Second Sunday of Easter will receive the name Divine Mercy Sunday.” He called the new feast day an invitation to Christians to face “with confidence in divine benevolence, the difficulties and trials that mankind will experience in the years to come.” The Pope went on to declare, “This is the happiest day of my life.”
With the liturgical calendar reaching its glorious height at Easter, I’ve always considered the celebration of Divine Mercy the following Sunday to be—to put it in non-theological terms—the “cherry on top.”
At the Easter Vigil, we welcome with open arms those who have journeyed home to Mother Church. Our elect, bathed in the waters of baptism and anointed with the chrism oil of confirmation, are sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. On Easter Sunday, our “Alleluia” proclaims the Resurrection, the source and summit of our salvation. The tomb is empty and our hearts overflow with joy at the fullness of God’s love. And a week later, on Divine Mercy Sunday, we pause to ponder Jesus’ revelations to St. Faustina and her stirring devotional prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
Although St. Elizabeth Ann Seton lived two centuries before the promulgation of the teachings on Divine Mercy, her spirituality shared the same unwavering trust in God’s mercy. Her spiritual journey took a life changing turn in the weeks surrounding Easter 1805. During the Lenten season that year, on March 14, Elizabeth professed her faith and joined the Catholic Church. On March 20, she made her first confession and received absolution for her sins. On March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation and the date of her first Eucharist, she wrote in a journal entry to her dear friend Amabilia Filicchi, “At last Amabilia—at last—GOD IS MINE and I AM HIS…”
As I ponder the pages of her spiritual journal written during those holy weeks, St. Elizabeth Ann’s spiritual euphoria is tangible.
On April 14, 1805, Elizabeth wrote again to Amabilia about the joy of receiving the Eucharist on Easter Sunday, sharing with candor her ignorance of Church teachings about the particulars of the Mass. She wrote, “I was quite at a loss, but made it up with that only thought, My God is here, he sees me, every sigh and desire is before him, and so I would close my eyes and say the dear litany of JESUS…” (CW I, 377).
New to the Catholic faith, Elizabeth faced not only a deficit of knowledge about church dogma and practices, but the difficulties of caring for her five children without her recently deceased husband, as well as the scorn of family and friends who objected to her conversion. Her solace was Jesus, her beloved, now truly present in her heart.
Elizabeth would encounter yet more hardship after settling in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and establishing her religious community, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. She would also endure the loss of two daughters to illness. Yet her trust in her Savior’s redeeming love continued to deepen throughout her short but extraordinarily fruitful life. She conversed with God in prayer “literally without ceasing,” felt his merciful presence in her suffering, and devoted her entire life to the mission that he had chosen for her—to “bring each Soul to its center of blessedness.” She would write:
“My JESUS first called me from nothing, drew me in pity to him, loved me first with an Eternal Love, and then called me to love him, and gave himself for me…”
Divine Mercy Sunday affords each of us the opportunity – a week after celebrating the glory of the Resurrection – to give thanks for the gift of our personal salvation as Mother Seton did. As we gaze upon the Divine Mercy image of Jesus, let’s summon within our hearts that same sense of assurance: We are truly his and he is truly ours. Our God is here. He sees us.
Assured by this confidence in God’s love and mercy, let’s eagerly seek out opportunities to pour that same love and mercy into the hearts of those most in need.
Jesus, we trust in you.
LISA M. HENDEY is the Founder of CatholicMom.com, an award-winning international speaker, the host of the weekly “Lisa Hendey & Friends” podcast, and the author of several books for adults and children including “I Am God’s Storyteller”. Discover her work at LisaHendey.com and connect with her on social media @LisaHendey.