Catholic in Yanchep

The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium)


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My little tale of Divine Mercy

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Divine Mercy Holy Hour, 2017, at St Andrew’s Parish, Clarkson.

What can one say about the Feast of Divine Mercy that hasn’t been said before elsewhere?  As I was mulling this question over, wondering what to write, I remembered a story of Divine Mercy that I had witnessed personally.  The thing about the Resurrected Christ is that He is alive and acting in the world; He isn’t merely a figure of historical interest.  He promised to be ‘with us always’, so if we are on the alert for His action, we will see his signs and guidance all over the place.  In telling this story, I will change the names of a few people to protect their identities.

Several years ago I came across a man – let’s call him Józef – who was of Polish heritage and had been baptised a Catholic, but had fallen away from the practice of his faith.  This man became the subject of my prayers from time to time.  I could see that he was a good man, a great contributor to the community, and heavily involved in volunteering, but it made me sad to think that he had not quite realised the potential of the Holy Spirit given to him at baptism.  If only we could understand the abundant life God offers us, we would all want to enter into his joy.  But most of us live on a somewhat superficial level, getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of life without considering the question, “What must I do to be saved?” and getting to know their Creator.  I’m not saying that most people are bad; all I am saying is that we are rather careless about our final end and purpose and this puts our souls in jeopardy.  So I used to pray that God would find a way to save Józef and bring him into relationship with Him.

Enter Divine Grace.  Grace has a funny way of showing itself.  In this case, Józef developed early onset dementia.  I know that dementia doesn’t sound like a gift from God, but when one doesn’t take the opportunities God gives as Plan A, sometimes God has to chase after us with a Plan B.  God’s aim is to help us make it to heaven, but He can’t compel us, or our free will is compromised, so he sometimes resorts to steering us by slow degrees, especially if we are assisted by someone praying for us at the same time.  I had visited Józef at his home at some point during this time and asked if he would like to see a priest, but his family declined.  In the meantime, I kept praying for him – not regularly, I must admit, but every now and then, I would dart an intercession his way.  Well, after a few years of slow deterioration at home, Józef had to be moved to a local nursing home which happened to be run by a Christian denomination.

Now the local Catholic priest used to attend this aged care facility once a week to offer Mass, and every Wednesday, the Catholic residents (and there were quite a few) would be wheeled in to the activity room to participate in the Mass  – among them Józef.  By now Józef’s dementia had progressed to a point where his former resistance to receiving Holy Communion had been replaced by an openness and even an eagerness.  Perhaps some mental barriers had been dislodged.  How much Józef understood and how much assent of the will was involved God alone knew. I remember praying at this time, ”Lord, Józef is going rapidly downhill.  Please give me an opportunity to pray the Divine Mercy prayer with him before he dies.”

Now why would I ask this?  Well, one of the things that Our Lord revealed to St Faustina during her mystical experiences, was this:

Encourage souls to say the Chaplet which I have given you (1541). Whoever will recite it will receive great mercy at the hour of death (687). When they say this Chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the just Judge but as the Merciful Saviour (1541). Priests will recommend it to sinners as their last hope of salvation. Even if there were a sinner most hardened, if he were to recite this Chaplet only once, he would receive grace from My infinite mercy (687). I desire to grant unimaginable graces to those souls who trust in My mercy (687). Through the Chaplet you will obtain everything, if what you ask for is compatible with My will. (1731) 

I thought, ”If only God can help me pray this prayer with Józef before he dies, there is a chance that he will be saved.”

Anyway, after some years, Józef’s mobility decreased to the point where he became confined to his room.  I am ashamed to say that he didn’t receive many visits from the Catholic Church once he was bed-bound, although the nursing home Chaplain used to visit and provide emotional support to the family.  So suddenly Józef was no longer receiving Holy Communion, and, as far as I can understand, the priest did not seem to be aware of the situation or in touch with the family.

Enter God’s grace again.  The priest was due to take four weeks of annual leave and he obtained permission from the Archdiocese for one of the parishioners to distribute Holy Communion while he was away.  The parishioner, a generous-hearted woman, together with a friend, decided to go from room to room, finding all the Catholic residents who were bedbound and not able to attend the Activity Room Masses.

It was while they were doing this that one of them decided to ring me.  ”It’s Pat here.  I’m phoning you because Father’s away and I don’t know what to do!  The Chaplain has told us that Józef has not long to live and he might need the Last Rites!”  Fortunately, I had the phone number of the Supply Priest, but – oh no – it was a Monday, priest’s day off!  What if Józef died before he’d received an anointing?  Praise God, Fr Demetri answered his phone.  And what’s more, he wasn’t having a day off; he was in between two funerals.  ”Don’t worry.  I’ll come up and give him an Anointing after the second funeral,” he said.

In the meantime I was thinking, ”Thank you, Lord, that you have timed this so that I can pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet with Józef.  I want You to stand between Your Father and Józef, like you said, not as the just Judge but as the Merciful Saviour.”  I planned to pray a Divine Mercy Novena, if possible – nine days, or as long as God might give me.  This was what my dear friend, Cathy, did with me before my own husband passed away.  So every day after work for that week, I would turn up at Józef’s room to pray out loud or silently by his bed.  His family were very kind to me, and allowed me to carry on.  But his wife was concerned about Józef.  He was not at peace, she said, even though he had had an Anointing.

I wondered what else I could do for Józef – and then I had an inspiration!  People with dementia often respond to things that strike a chord with their history from the distant past, rather than more recent times.  What about if I could get a Polish priest to come and pray for him in Polish?  It so happened that God’s Providence had placed a Polish Deacon in a neighbouring parish, someone whom I already knew, who had a devotion to the Divine Mercy and, what’s more, had just recently returned from a visit to the Shrine of St Faustina.  But the neighbouring parish was an active one, the Deacon couldn’t come straight away, and in the meantime,  Józef was sliding further downhill. I had already reached Day 4 of the Novena.  Was there anything I could do to speed things up?  Perhaps they thought I was being a bit too demanding, so I popped a thank you card with a donation in the parish mailbox (a donation which he insisted on returning, by the way) and waited to see what would happen. On the next day, when I visited for Day 5 of the Novena, Józef’s wife said that the young Deacon had been to visit.  ”I’m afraid I must have scared him because he arrived at a time when we were all crying and upset.  Józef had been so agitated through the course of the day.  But then the Deacon prayed with him, and Józef calmed right down.  He gave him peace.”

After that, Józef went into a rapid, but peaceful, decline, and he died on Day Seven of the Divine Mercy Chaplet – the number of completion, you could say.

How good was God to dear Józef! Yes, I know his last years were a struggle both for him and his devoted family – but God did these things …

  • provided a Priest to give him an Anointing before he passed,
  • brought him parishioners to give him Holy Communion in his last days,
  • gave him a Chaplain who saw the need for alerting the Catholic Church,
  • granted me my wish to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for him on his deathbed, and
  • arranged for a Deacon to pray him into peace at the last in the language of his childhood.

We just need to see the struggle with God’s eyes, and not our own.


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2nd Sunday of Easter | Just coincidence or God’s Cunning Plan?

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The Incredulity of St Thomas, Caravaggio, (1602), oil on canvas, Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam, Germany.

If there really is a God in charge of the Universe, and a personal God at that, he would want to let us know, right?  Well, it turns out that he has, but you have to have a humble heart that is open to persuasion in order to be convinced.  There is a fascinating series of coincidences of dates associated with The Apparitions at Fatima, the Divine Mercy devotions, Pope St John Paul II and now most recently, the death of Mother Angelica.  God gives us these clues because he knows how much we tend to be like Doubting Thomas in the gospel reading for today …

13th May and other thirteens

I’ll start with 13th May 1917, when the Virgin Mary appeared to Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, three peasant children from Fatima in Portugal.  There were a total of six apparitions, one on the 13th of each month from May to October that year.  (The August apparition was on 15 August, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.)  About 70,000 people were present for the final apparition, and many supernatural phenomena, including the Miracle of the Sun, were observed.  But the point of the appearance of the Virgin Mary was to encourage penance and prayer, especially the rosary, a meditation on events in the lives of Jesus and Mary.

13th May 1917 also just happened to be the date when Pope Pius XII, then Eugenio Pacelli, received his episcopal ordination.  It was he who subsequently formally defined the ancient belief in the Virgin Mary’s Assumption, and he himself confirmed that he had witnessed the Miracle of the Sun several times in 1950, the year he proclaimed this dogma.

Meanwhile, in Poland …

Meanwhile in Poland, Sr Faustina (1905-1938), a Christian mystic, began to experience apparitions of Christ.  She recorded her conversations with him in diaries over several years.  It was February 1931 when he first appeared to her as King of Divine Mercy.  Over the course of the apparitions, he asked her to have a painting made showing him with red and white rays emanating from his heart and instructed her to promote prayer through the Divine Mercy Chaplet, whose purposes were threefold: to obtain mercy, to trust in Christ’s mercy and to show mercy to others.  Sr Faustina died of suspected tuberculosis at the age of 33, one year before Hitler invaded Poland, and for some time the Divine Mercy Devotions were destined to remain mostly hidden from the wider world.

Fast forwarding to World War 2, Karol Wojtyla, the future Polish Pope John Paul II, was told about the Divine Mercy Devotions by a classmate in the seminary he attended secretly in Krakow (the Communist government had attempted to eradicate religion from society) .  He began to visit the grave of Sr. Faustina at the Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy on his way home from night shift at the Solvay Chemical Plant.

There’s a long and fascinating story of how devotion to the Divine Mercy was banned and went underground for several decades, but to cut to the chase, Karol Wojtyla involved himself in collecting information about Sr Faustina’s life and in removing the prohibition that had been placed on her diaries.  Six months after he had achieved this, he was elected Pope.  The message of Divine Mercy was still close to his heart, and his second encyclical, Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), published in November 1980, was a reflection on God’s superabundant mercy and a plea for Christians to implore God’s mercy on the sinfulness of mankind.

Only six months later, on 13th May 1981, an assassination attempt was made on Pope John Paul II.  He survived four shots from a 9 mm Browning fired at him by the Turk, Mehmet Ali Agca.  Multiple perforations of his colon and small intestine caused him to lose three quarters of his blood before he was stabilized after five hours of surgery.  But by October of that year he was back at work.  In his audience address of 7 October 1981 (The Feast of the Holy Rosary) he said:

Today it has been granted me, after a long interruption, to resume the general audiences which have become one of the fundamental forms of pastoral service of the Bishop of Rome.

                The last time, the pilgrims who came to Rome gathered for such an audience on 13 May.  However, it could not take place.  Everyone knows why …

                Today, after an interval of five months, beginning this meeting so dear to me and to you, I cannot help referring to the day of 13 May.

                … Could I forget that the event in St Peter’s Square took place on the day and at the hour when the first appearance of the Mother of Christ to the poor little peasants has been remembered for over sixty years at Fatima in Portugal?  For, in everything that happened to me on that very day, I felt that extraordinary motherly protection and care, which turned out to be stronger than the deadly bullet.

                Today is the memorial of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.  The whole month of October is the Month of the Rosary.  Now that nearly five months later it has been granted me to meet you again at the Wednesday audience, dear brothers and sisters, I want these first words that I address to you to be words of gratitude, love and deep trust, just as the Holy Rosary is and always remains a prayer of gratitude, love and trustful request: the prayer of the Mother of the Church.

But even while Pope John Paul II was recovering from this attack, another milestone was unfolding in the history of the Church.

Broadcasting to the World

August 15th 1981 (yes, the Feast of the Assumption, again!) heralded the first broadcast from the Eternal Word Catholic Television Network (EWTN), an initiative of Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, a Franciscan nun.  Mother Angelica, who died last week on Easter Sunday, was known for the great suffering she endured throughout her life, her radical trust in Jesus, her no-nonsense style and her orthodoxy.  Born Rita Rizzo, she was the only child of Italian-American immigrants who divorced when she was six years old; her father had abandoned the family when she was very young, and her mother struggled with chronic depression.  She remembered her childhood as a constant battle to keep food on the table.  But instead of thinking God had abandoned her, she developed an intense prayer life and her love of Jesus bore fruit in many miracles, which are amply described in Raymond Arroyo’s biography.  EWTN has now grown to be the largest global religious media network, with a viewership of 250 million homes, not including those who watch it streamed online.  You could say that God used EWTN to promote devotion to both the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the Holy Rosary – these are on its schedule every day of the week.

Not only that, but God organised things so that EWTN took off in the midst of the period when the Holy Father was undergoing a recovery from an attempted assassination.  One could almost say that the Holy Father was required to undergo a great suffering himself in order for fruit to come forth elsewhere in the church.  In similar fashion, according to Michael Warsaw, the CEO of EWTN, the network’s reach exploded most markedly in the 14 years since Mother Angelica suffered a debilitating stroke on Christmas Eve 2001.  She had spoken many times of the redemptive power of uniting one’s sufferings to the Lord and had written a book on the subject, The Healing Power of Suffering (1977).

So how else did God orchestrate a new focus on his Divine Mercy?  In April 2000, Sr Faustina became the first saint of the new millennium, when Pope John Paul II officially designated the 2nd Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday and canonized her on that day.  A year later, the Pope was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and now began his time of deteriorating health and preparation to meet the Lord.  He had achieved so much during his period as Pope: one of the chief forces behind the downfall of Communism in Eastern Europe, inspirational on the Theology of the Body, and tenacious in defending both faith and reason and bringing unity in the Church. His funeral was reportedly the single largest gathering of Heads of State in history with more than four million mourners gathered in Vatican City. So what time did God choose for his death?  It was just after the Mass of the Vigil of the 2nd Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday for 2005 had been celebrated in his room.

Only two months previously, the last of the Fatima visionaries was taken to heaven.  Sr Lucia was 97 years old and yes, the date was another of the series of thirteens connected with the Fatima apparitions: 13th February 2005.

And what of Mother Angelica, the woman who brought Catholic teaching to the world through her television network?  How wonderful that God chose the day of her death as Easter Sunday, the most important day of the year for Christians.

EWTN Priest, Fr Joseph Wolfe recounts:

Mother began to cry out early in the morning from the pain that she was having. She had a fracture in her bones because of the length of time she had been bedridden. They said you could hear it down the hallways, that she was crying out on Good Friday from what she was going through. These two people said to me she has excruciating pain.  Well, do you know where that word ‘excruciating’ comes from?  ‘Ex’, from, ‘cruce’, from the cross.  Excruciating pain.   After the 3 o’clock hour arrived on Good Friday she was more calm, she was more peaceful.

On Easter Sunday, Fr Wolfe was called again to her bedside.

I anointed her, did the litany for the dying, gave her the apostolic pardon that the church grants to someone who is dying, and the sisters prayed their divine office around her bed – the morning prayers.

 At 10:30 Father Paschal offered Mass in her room and she received the precious blood, Viaticum, the food for her journey.  The precious blood by which we have been saved. All of us have been saved by the precious blood of Jesus…., a drop or two of the precious blood, into her mouth. 

It was in the afternoon that Father Miguel and I went to her bed at the hour of mercy, at 3 o’clock.  We had just finished praying the divine mercy chaplet. We all continued to pray silently around her bed. Then it was shortly before 5 p.m. that she went to the Father’s house. She breathed her last.

Not only was it Easter Sunday, but as Fr Mitch Pacwa reported, it was also the Feast of the Annunciation in the Maronite Rite, and Mother Angelica had taken as her title, the name, Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation.  And then, look at the year which God chose for her to die: she could have had another stroke at any old time in the last fourteen years, but she died in the year which Pope Francis has proclaimed as the Jubilee Year of Mercy, a time for all of us to say to him, “Jesus, I trust in you”.  And, by the way, Pope Francis was ordained on 13 December 1969 and became Pope on 13 March 2013 and announced the Jubilee Year of Mercy on 13 March 2015.

I like to think of God as the creator of a glorious symphony, bringing in one part here, while another fades into the background after performing its virtuoso piece, making different voices interweave and coalesce into the climax of a harmonious chorus, while the instrumental section repeats an ostinato pattern underneath.  In this last century we have seen the Holy Rosary, Divine Mercy, the Assumption and all those fabulous thirteens appear and reappear as motifs for our enjoyment and encouragement as we participate in the great symphony of the life of the Church.

Today’s readings:

Word format:Year C Easter 2nd Sunday 2016

Pdf format: Year C Easter 2nd Sunday 2016

 


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2nd Sunday of Easter, Year B | Does God’s Divine Mercy mean you don’t have to do anything to be saved?

The Incredulity of St Thomas, Caravaggio, (1602), oil on canvas, Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam, Germany.

The Incredulity of St Thomas, Caravaggio, (1602), oil on canvas, Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam, Germany.

This Sunday is the Divine Mercy Sunday, and Pope Francis is about to convoke a Jubilee of Divine Mercy starting on 8th December.  A jubilee year is a time of joy and universal pardon (see Leviticus 25).  Does this mean we are all going to be pardoned without our cooperation?  Let’s remember what St Augustine said:

“He was handed over for our offenses, and He rose again for our justification (19).” What does this mean, “for our justification”? So that He might justify us; so that He might make us just. You will be a work of God, not only because you are a man, but also because you are just. For it is better that you be just than that you be a man. If God made you a man, and you made yourself just, something you were doing would be better than what God did. But God made you without any cooperation on your part. For you did not lend your consent so that god could make you. How could you have consented, when you did not exist? But he who made you without your consent does not justify you without your consent. He made you without your knowledge, but He does not justify you without you willing it.” (Sermon 169, 13, ca. 391-430 A.D.)

To quote Billy Kwan in The Year of Living Dangerously, “What then, must we do?” To understand what you need to do, listen to Fr Barron’s homily here.  It’s not enough just to be ‘a nice person’.  Or as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ. (The Cost of Discipleship)

Today’s readings can be downloaded here:

Word format: Year B Easter 2nd Sunday 2015

Pdf format: Year B Easter 2nd Sunday 2015