Although ubiquitous now, the image known as Divine Mercy is a relative newcomer on the Catholic devotional scene. It originated with Maria Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), Poland’s “Apostle of the Divine Mercy.” With only three years of formal education, Maria Faustina was hired as a domestic servant while a teenager. But the “bright lights” she’d seen in prayer from a young age continued during her employment, eventually drawing her toward religious life. Entering the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, Maria Faustina served as cook, gardener, and doorkeeper—jobs reserved for the humblest members of a community. For the next half dozen years she continued to experience visions, prophecies, and “internal stigmata”: a spiritual sharing in Christ’s sufferings with no physical mark.
In 1931 Sister Faustina had a vision unparalleled by those that had gone before: She saw Jesus clothed in white, one hand raised in blessing, the other at his breast. From his body two radiant streams flowed, one red, the other pale. Faustina felt called to recreate this image with the signature “Jesus, I trust in you.” Her spiritual director procured an artist to reproduce what she saw in her vision. Pope John Paul II canonized Faustina in 2000 and established the Second Sunday of the Easter season as Divine Mercy Sunday in accordance with her revelation, heightening the familiarity of this image.
In the gospel for this same Sunday, the Octave (eighth day) of the Easter celebration, Jesus imparts the Holy Spirit to disciples who had so recently deserted their Lord in his darkest hour—a gift brimming with mercy when you think about it. An additional reading for this feast reminds us of “the water and the blood” that flowed from the side of Jesus on the cross. The beams of red and white light radiating in the Divine Mercy image are thought to be reminders of these signs. The white light recalls the water of baptism, which by the mercy of God redeems us from original sin. The red light represents the cup of the Eucharist, Christ’s blood shed for our redemption.
On Divine Mercy Sunday we recall how the compassion of God restores us to life through these sacramental actions. What was once revealed to a humble Polish nun in this benevolent image remains a moving portrait of the ever-present mercy of God, radiating relentlessly from the heart of Christ.
• How to recite the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy
• Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska (Marian Press, 2003)
• Faustina, Saint for Our Times: A Personal Look at Her Life, Spirituality, and Legacy by George Kosicki, C.S.B. (Marian Press, 2010)
• John Paul II: The Great Mercy Pope by George Kosicki, C.S.B. (Marian Press, 2006)
• The Chaplet of Divine Mercy in Song [audio CD], the Marian Helpers and others (Marian Press, 2005)
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