As we stand on this threshold of the 40th Anniversary of the first Wednesday audience of Theology of the Body (TOB), I cannot help but call to mind the love that Pope St. John Paul II had for the message of Divine Mercy. TOB and Divine Mercy may seem to be unrelated to one another, however, this is far from the truth. They are inseparable. Within the first two years of his pontificate, the late Holy Father began to promote these two messages, side by side, as if to communicate that you cannot have one without the other. For a man who suffered so much, and witnessed so much evil — he was unmistakably consumed by God’s love and mercy, and longed to share these two Divine attributes with the world.
The problem of suffering and the mystery of evil are two concepts that mankind has wrestled with since the beginning, and will continue to struggle with until the end of time.
Absence of The Good
St. John Paul II relays, “It can be said that man suffers whenever he experiences any kind of evil.” (Salvifici Doloris, 7) We see evil all around us, and it can be very hard to understand. But for the Christian, John Paul II continues, “the reality of suffering is explained through evil, which always, in some way, refers to a good.” (7) In other words, one suffers when one is deprived of a good. However, the Holy Father saw that in and through the passion, death, and resurrection of our Redeemer, Jesus gave suffering a whole new meaning and purpose: suffering became redemptive. And it was by knowing God, who is Goodness itself, that he was able to expose evil for what it truly is: a deprivation of the Good.
Since the fall of our first parents, we have suffered greatly because we have been deprived of the greatest Good: living in perfect harmony with our Creator. But in recent times, other events have also caused great suffering. Through Divine Providence, the messages of TOB and Divine Mercy came to us at a pivotal time in history, namely surrounding the events of World War II. As we know, this war was horrendous and was a direct result of man continuing to distance himself from God, time and time again. But it is no coincidence that Jesus would choose to begin revealing his message of Divine Mercy on the eve of this horrific war. He knew how much turmoil and destruction would be caused from the unspeakable actions that were about to unfold, and so he desired to come to mankind and to invite us to turn with haste to his Divine Mercy, to trust in him.
In his apparitions to St. Faustina, known as the saint of Divine Mercy, Jesus revealed that “mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My Mercy.” (Diary, 300) He longed to take us by the hand, and to teach us once again who he is and who we are to him: He is Love, and we are His Beloved. Following the war, the world fell into ruin, and in a sense, man forgot who he was – especially since he had forgotten God. But as an attempt to put the pieces back together, the Church responded with the Second Vatican Council, and began to declare, “God fully reveals man to himself” and man “cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes, 22, 24).
The Message of Divine Mercy
After Vatican II, John Paul II picked up the battalion, and continued to “run the race and fight the good fight” (2 Tim 4:7), by delivering the teachings of Theology of the Body and promoting the message of Divine Mercy. Both reveal that since God is love, we are called to love as well. We begin to learn again:
1) Who God is (God is love and mercy)
2) Who we are in relation to God (that we should trust God) and one another (each person is a gift, and we are called to give ourselves in love to another)
3) How to treat one another/live our lives (with love and mercy).
Living Divine Mercy Today
John Paul II knew, though, that Divine Mercy is a particular form of love. Mercy is love when mercy encounters suffering, and decides to respond. So often we do not do anything when we see someone suffering. Just yesterday, I was driving home from work on the highway and saw two cars that had collided on the side of the road, and no one was stopping. I too almost kept driving past them, until I saw the face of the woman in one of the cars. It was an elderly woman, and I was afraid she was seriously injured. I stopped several yards ahead of the collision, and had to back my car up to where they were. I got out, as oncoming traffic kept speeding by, to make sure both people were okay. I went up to the elderly woman’s car, who was clearly shook up by what had happened. I asked if she was okay, and she said she was upset but not injured. She seemed to be confused as to why I was there, but then it clicked as she asked, “Are you a good Samaritan?” I nodded my head, and waited with them until the police showed up, and then I departed. As I drove off, I heard the woman’s question again in my head, and recognized that I had just carried out a work of mercy: comforting the afflicted.
As I conclude this reflection, I hope that after we celebrate this 40th Anniversary, we might see the world through a different lens; we might change our approach in how we interact with one another, and how we speak with God, and I hope we might come to know who God is, a God who is Mercy and Love.
John David R. Kimes,
High School Curriculum Consultant, Ruah Woods Press
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