What is his greatest contribution?
He wrote more in the first three years of his pontificate than Pius XII did in 20 years and Pius XII was thought to be the most prolific pontifical teacher in the last two centuries. The papal visits of John Paul II made him the most encountered world figure in the history of mankind. Little wonder that well over a billion people viewed his funeral. It was like saying a final farewell to a family member.
There are some who offer that his confrontation with the Soviet Union led to the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe. Certainly his contact and support for the Solidarity Movement contributed to that sense. His sensitivity to Judaism brought about a healing rarely experienced in the history of the church or Christianity.
His social encyclicals further developed the social justice teaching of the church and offered clear principles in a modern world burdened by inequalities. His bold defense of the dignity of human life empowered a new generation of believers who refer to themselves as the “John Paul II generation.”
But perhaps the greatest gift that John Paul II left the church was what we celebrated last Sunday – Divine Mercy. It’s a concept so simple yet so profound that it is found in the very core of our relationship with God. There is a need in all of us to seek and share God’s mercy and love.
An obscure Polish nun, Faustina Kowalska, performed her often times monotonous tasks with a devout commitment to her religious life. She experienced visions, private revelations and spiritual insights. Even her spiritual director, a brilliant priest, questioned the sanity and veracity of her statements. After a psychological examination and various interviews, her spiritual director not only believed her but became an advocate of her spiritual insights.
Saints come in all shapes and sizes. It has everything to do with one’s faithfulness to God, a type of divine resignation. Human resignation is often accompanied by a hopelessness because of an inability to change a situation, but divine resignation offers hope that in joining one’s action to God’s will, we will be an instrument of his love and mercy.
Sr. Faustina never saw her works receive the affirmation and the profound effect on the church and the world. She died at 33 years of age (the same age of the obedient Son of God). Those who encountered her works preserved in her diary were influenced by the message of Jesus’ mercy and love. One person who was spiritually moved by her work was Archbishop Karol Wojtyla. He carried that insight of God’s mercy into his years as Pope John Paul II.
In an encyclical written in 1981, John Paul II explicated the root of mercy, “Dives in Misericordia” (Rich in Mercy). Christ is the incarnation of mercy. This mercy we are to profess, proclaim and seek. As people of God we have a right and duty to introduce God’s mercy to our world:
“Authentic knowledge of the God of mercy, the God of tender love, is a constant and inexhaustible source of conversion, not only as a momentary interior act but also as a permanent attitude, as a state of mind. Those who come to know God in this way, who ‘see’ him in this way, can only live in a state of being continually converted to him” (13.7). John Paul II gave us Divine Mercy Sunday celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter.
In the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist we experience the Lord’s love and mercy through the action of the priest given to his church. Last Saturday I participated in a Day of Mercy at St. Jerome Parish, Oconomowoc. The day was dedicated to experiencing the Lord’s mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation. Approximately a thousand faithful celebrated the Holy Sacrifice, prayed together and listened to inspiring presentations by Scott Hahn and Matthew Kelly.
We have been devotionally starved for a number of years. The opportunity of celebrating Divine Mercy grounds and strengthens our prayer life and moves us to extend God’s love and mercy to the world.
I was proud to be with the faithful who willingly sacrificed their Saturday for Divine Mercy. I was proud to be the bishop of so many who were willing to witness for the faith. I was and am proud to be Catholic. His mercy is there for our asking; nothing can separate us from the love of God.
In the end, the greatest gift that John Paul II left to the church may be the recognition of the spiritual insights of a pious nun who reminds us that mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to Jesus’ mercy. Begin the conversion of the world by frequenting the sacrament of reconciliation and praying for those in need of God’s mercy.