Sunday, April 12, 2015

Miracles of Divine Mercy

(Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday, Year B): This homily was given on April 12, 2015, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read John 20: 19-31.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Divine Mercy Sunday 2015]

Today is the Second Sunday of Easter—a day which has been known as “Divine Mercy Sunday” since 2000, the year that Pope John Paul II officially put the feast on the Church’s liturgical calendar.

Most of us are familiar with the origin of the Divine Mercy devotion, but for the few who might not be: In 1931, a young Polish nun, Sr. Faustina Kowalska, saw a vision of Jesus with two rays of light coming out of his heart.  Jesus told her to have a painting produced depicting the vision, and to have it signed, “Jesus, I trust in you!”

A replica of that image is here next to the pulpit this morning.  Normally we keep it next to the tabernacle.

Over the next 7 years, the Lord gave Faustina a number of private revelations concerning his merciful love.  These she recorded in a diary, as Jesus had instructed her to do.  Fr. George Kosicki—who was an authority on the Divine Mercy devotion—once said that through these revelations, “Jesus taught the young nun that his mercy is unlimited and available even to the greatest sinners.  He revealed special ways for people to respond to his mercy in their lives, and he gave her several promises for those who would trust his mercy and show mercy to others.”

Then, on April 30, 2000, Sr. Faustina became Saint Faustina when she was canonized by Pope John Paul II in Rome.  Looking back on it now, it was one saint canonizing another saint.

How appropriate!

On that note, during this past week I read a couple of online articles about the two miracles which led to Faustina being recognized as a saint.  Remember, strictly speaking, the Church doesn’t “make” saints.  Jesus is the one who “makes” a person a saint.  What the Church does is officially recognize the fact that this has already happened.  And as evidence that a certain person is actually there in the kingdom of heaven, the Church requires that two miracles be attributed to the person’s heavenly intercession.  Some Christians don’t believe that the saints in heaven pray for us here on earth.  Well, those people need to read the Book of Revelation, chapters 5, 6 and 8.  In those chapters we see angels, martyrs, and men who are called “elders” (in other words, we see angels and saints) praying for those of us here on earth—which is precisely what the Catholic Church teaches that they do!

And by the way, the Church is very tough about what she will accept as an official miracle.  For a miracle to be officially recognized, it has to be verified by a number of doctors, and they all have to agree that there’s no possible natural explanation for what’s occurred.  For example, in Lourdes (where the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858) there have been about 7,000 cases of unexplained cures, but only 69 of those have been officially recognized by the Church as “miraculous”.

In the case of Faustina, the first accepted miracle involved a woman from Massachusetts named Maureen Digan; the second involved a priest from Maryland, Fr. Ron Pytel.

Here’s how the miracles were described on the Divine Mercy web site:

Before the age of 15, Maureen Digan enjoyed a normal healthy life. Then she was struck down with a very serious, slowly progressive but terminal disease called lymphedema. This is a disease that does not respond to medication and does not go into remission. Within the next ten years Maureen had fifty operations and had lengthy confinements in the hospital of up to a year at a time. 

Friends and relations suggested she should pray and put her trust in God. But Maureen could not understand why God had allowed her to get this disease in the first place, and had lost her faith completely. Eventually her deteriorating condition would require the amputation of one leg.

One evening while Maureen was in the hospital her husband Bob watched a film on Divine Mercy and there he became convinced of the healing powers of intercession by Sr. Faustina. Bob persuaded Maureen and the doctors that she should go to the tomb of Sr. Faustina in Poland. Together with her husband, son, and Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC … they traveled to St. Faustina's tomb at the Shrine of The Divine Mercy outside Krakow, Poland. They arrived in Poland on March 23, 1981 and Maureen went to confession for the first time since she was a young girl.

At the tomb Maureen remembers saying "Okay, Faustina I came a long way, now do something." Innerly she heard Sr. Faustina say: "If you ask for my help, I will give it to you." Suddenly she thought she was losing her mind. All the pain seemed to drain out of her body and her swollen leg, which was due to be amputated shortly, went back to its normal size. When she returned to the USA she was examined by five independent doctors who came to the conclusion that she was completely healed. They had no medical explanation for the sudden healing of this incurable disease.

And regarding the second miracle:

On Oct. 5, 1995, the Feast Day of St. Faustina (who was then a blessed), Fr. Ron Pytel and some friends gathered for prayer at Holy Rosary Church, which is also the Baltimore archdiocesan Shrine of The Divine Mercy. After a time of prayer for the healing of his [severely damaged] heart through Sr. Faustina's intercession, Fr. Ron venerated a relic of St. Faustina and collapsed. He felt paralyzed, but was completely at peace. A subsequent visit to his cardiologist showed that his heart had been healed. 

Although he was healed through St. Faustina's intercession, Fr. Ron is quick to point out that Jesus healed him. "I know in my heart that Faustina put in a word with Jesus, and His Heart touched mine. It's as simple as that," he explained.

After almost three years of examining Fr. Ron and his medical records, doctors and theologians from the Congregation for the Cause of Saints concluded an exhaustive investigation of the healing. And on Dec. 20, 1999, Pope John Paul II ordered publication of the fact of the healing as a miracle through Sr. Faustina's intercession, leading to her canonization on Mercy Sunday, April 30, in St. Peter's Square.

So today is a day to ask St. Faustina to pray in a special way for us: for the needs of the Church, for the needs of the world—and for our own personal needs.

Because miracles do happen!

But today we also need to remember that the greatest miracles of all are not the kind which led to St. Faustina’s canonization—as important and as spectacular as those were.

The greatest miracles of all are the ones to which Jesus points us in this gospel text we just heard from John, chapter 20.  The story begins on Easter Sunday in the Upper Room.  There Jesus appears to his apostles for the very first time after he’s been raised from the dead.  And what’s the first thing he does?  What’s the very first thing he does for them after his resurrection? 

He gives them power!  He gives them power to work miracles!  He gives them power to work the greatest and most important miracles of all.  He says, “Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

This is why we have a sacrament called “Penance” (also called “Reconciliation” or “Confession”).  It was all Jesus’ idea—on Easter Sunday!

As the Scriptures remind us, only God can forgive sins.  But God gave the power to human beings—specifically his priests—to be his instruments in bringing forgiveness to his people whenever they sin after Baptism.

Now it really shouldn’t surprise us that God uses human beings in this way, because Baptism is the first sacrament we receive which brings us the Lord’s forgiveness (it says that in Acts 2 and 22), and we’re always baptized by another person—another person whom God uses instrumentally at that moment to take our sins away.

So if I asked you, “What was the greatest and most important miracle that Maureen Digan experienced when she went to Poland back in 1981?” I hope you would not say, “Her healing from her physical illness”—because that would be wrong!

The greatest and most important miracle she experienced occurred when she went to confession for the first time since she was a young girl and had all her sins taken away!  That’s because, sooner or later, her body will break down and die—not of the disease she was cured of, but certainly of something else.  Maybe just because of old age.  But the sanctifying grace that she received into her soul when the priest absolved her in that confessional in Poland can last forever!

So the bottom line is this (and I’ll close with this thought):

Not everyone will experience a Divine Mercy miracle in their life like the ones Maureen Digan and Fr. Ron Pytel experienced in theirs. 

But everyone, without exception, can experience the most important Divine Mercy miracle of all: forgiveness.

And it’s great that everyone, without exception, can experience this miracle of forgiveness because everyone, without exception, needs to.