With each passing year, more attention is given to the feast of Divine Mercy, which is the Sunday following Easter. With the death of John Paul II taking place on the eve of that feast that he had done so much to promote, onlookers were intrigued to know more.
It was the Polish Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska to whom Our Lord appeared concerning this devotion, and like so many, she knew great suffering. Indeed, it is through such suffering that souls are tested and pious gestures are stripped of all pretence. During intense trials, with faith being purified and some without faith nearing the brink of despair, it is more important than ever to remind those who suffer that abundant graces are always available. All God wants from His cherished creatures is an assent — a nod of the head affirming that His generous gift of mercy will be accepted.
One group of people dedicated to making the Divine Mercy better known are health care workers who combine their professional work with spiritual formation that translates into ardent prayers for their patients. This began on Sept. 11, 2001, when many nurses rushed to New York City to offer assistance, but given the nature of the tragedy they found that there were few actual survivors in need of medical care. Thus, some gathered to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for all affected by that horrific event, and they realized that this should always be an essential part of their work.
Doctors and other health care professionals joined in this mission, and the apostolate soon added educational programs covering bioethics as well as the spiritual dimension of suffering. In this way, their dedication to prayer and study allows them to turn their ordinary jobs into a ministry, bringing solace to their patients as well as medical assistance.
Interestingly, while actual studies on the effects of prayer for the sick show mixed results, it is difficult to assess the results of intercessory prayer because God’s mercy is not measured in bodily healing. Death is usually a complicated process that combines physical ailments with a host of anxieties about material goods, human relationships and the need to face one’s fears about the afterlife. While some might merely pray for physical healing, those with a richer faith life know that there’s much more at stake in such situations.
Jesus’ often repeated message to Saint Faustina was to trust in the great mercy of God. Each illness can be daunting to those who are close to the one who suffers, but it is in this setting that a well-formed caregiver can do so much to alleviate the mental anguish. Our Lord said, “I have opened My heart as a living fountain of mercy. Let all souls draw life from it. Let them approach this sea of mercy with great trust. Whoever places his trust in My mercy will be filled with My divine peace at the hour of death.”
Imagine the tremendous good that could come from someone at the bedside who sees with the love of Christ, who understands the open door of grace and the abiding peace that will come if the patient can simply make an act of faith. Truly, it’s never too late to embrace God’s mercy. This is the beauty of our faith, and this is what happens when those who care for the body know the importance of his soul.