In the late 1970s, there were few outside of Poland who were aware of the private revelations given by our Lord to a young Polish nun, Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska, in the 1930s. Jesus had revealed to her that God wanted to give humanity one last opportunity to take advantage of His mercy before the day of judgment arrived when Christ would return in glory at the end of time:
Souls perish in spite of My bitter Passion. I am giving them the last hope of salvation; that is, the Feast of My Mercy. Tell souls about this great mercy of Mine, because the awful day, the day of My justice, is near.(Diary, 965).I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.(Diary, 699)I want to grant a complete pardon to these souls…on the Feast of My mercy.(Diary, 1109).
For more than 40 years, however, this message from Heaven remained hidden from the world. The Vatican had received a poor translation of Faustina’s Diary and it was viewed with suspicion. Then, on October 16, 1978, something very unusual happened in the Sistine Chapel: for the first time since 1523, a non-Italian was elected to the Chair of St. Peter. Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła of Kraków became the first pope ever from Poland. He might not have been the first choice among the cardinals at that conclave, but he clearly was the individual that God wanted to bring His offer of mercy to the world, and to put Divine Mercy Sunday on the Church’s universal calendar.
The gift that is available to us on the Second Sunday of Easter sounds like just another opportunity for an indulgence, but it’s actually far greater than that. The special grace promised by our Lord for Divine Mercy Sunday is nothing less than a complete renewal of baptismal grace in the soul. Graces from Divine Mercy Sunday return a soul to its baptismal state (i.e., to the state it was right after you were baptized). The sacrament of Baptism wipes away all sin, as well as the temporal punishment that is owed for sins (the reason why Purgatory exists). Every year on Divine Mercy Sunday, I’m given the opportunity by God to completely start over; to forget about my past mistakes and to begin anew.
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father’s mercy was always available to his younger son. However, the father needed his son to return home first (seeking forgiveness) before that mercy could be given and received (Luke 15:11-32). Similarly, on Good Friday, mercy and forgiveness were also available to both thieves. Only one chose to accept it (Luke 23:32-43). I have to do my part in order to take advantage of the incredible mercy that God wants to extend to me as well.
If you’re reading this on Divine Mercy Sunday and haven’t been to Confession recently, you can still reap the benefits of today. Just go within the next week and a half. There’s still time. According to the Marians of the Immaculate Conception– the guardians of the Divine Mercy message and devotion – you do NOT have to go to Confession on Divine Mercy Sunday itself. Spend a little time today venerating the image of Jesus that was given to St. Faustina: “I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish” (Diary, 48). Finally, recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, while good, is also not necessary to receive the extraordinary graces available today.
On Saturday, April 2, 2005, at approximately 3:30 pm, John Paul II spoke his final words: “Allow me to depart to the house of the Father.” He fell into a coma about four hours later. The Mass of the vigil of the Second Sunday of Easter commemorating Divine Mercy Sunday and the canonization of St. Faustina had just been celebrated at his bedside.