You know that I do writing and occasionally I am contacted to do some volunteer writing usually for Catholic events. I was asked to interview a Fr. Kaz from the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge about Love and Mercy: a new movie that will be shown nationally for one night on October 28th. It is about St. Faustina Kowalska and the origins of the Divine Mercy devotion. It is excellent and I highly recommend it to you. I can give you more details if you request them after Mass.
The first thing I said to him was that I know little about this devotion. They never taught it to us in the seminary and so I knew nothing about it until I ended up in my first parish in Dorchester and the Sisters of Divine Mercy rented the convent. That was the first I learned anything about it.
There is an interesting dimension to this teaching. If you have never seen the image, you will notice that it is of Jesus standing in front of black background with two rays of light coming from his heart. They represent the blood and water of his mercy extended to all who seek it.
I went to the National Shrine on Thursday and spent some time in prayer in front of the image and one thing struck me: It was not the image but the blackness that was behind it. If you look carefully at the image, you will see that this is Jesus, being exactly what he says He is, the light shining in the darkness. Purposely, there is nothing else in the painting besides the image, but the background is not not painted, it is instead a deep black.
So, if you were to encounter Jesus and just pridefully ignore him, where would you go? Deep into where there is no light and no presence of God. We know that through Jesus, we are forgiven of our sins, that there is no sin that he will not forgive, save the sin of refusing to be forgiven of our sins.
So then what sin is represented by the blackness? The sin of pride. The sin of refusing to humble ourselves before Christ and receive His mercy and forgiveness. The sin of saying, we are in no need of what He offers us.
Today’s Gospel features the lepers who humble themselves before Christ and receive his healing. They were lepers, they were ostracized from the community and had only themselves for companionship and support. One was a Samaritan, so among the lepers he was also an outsider because he was not a Jew.
They are all healed, but he alone comes back indicating just how appreciative he was at being healed. There was no other recourse. He had only Christ and humbling himself before Christ he was healed. The others did nothing wrong by not going back, but he demonstrates a full understanding of what he received.
The saints often related this to the sacrament of reconciliation also known as Confession. Never forget that this is a sacrament of healing. I think too often our teachings are made to be lifeless sets of rules. When that happens, they lose their meaning and their power. The Sacrament of Reconciliation does two things to us that we can also see in the story of the lepers.
Through the mercy of Christ, it gives us the freedom from the darkness behind his image in the painting. It is not only that we recognize that Jesus is the source of this healing but that when we humble ourselves before him, we become free from getting lost in the darkness—no matter how many times we need to approach him
But we need to look at something else. It is this great humor that is in the Gospels. What happens next to the lepers? They are healed. They go show themselves to the priests and now they are free to return to society. That is something that they cannot keep a secret. Now people will see that they are healed and they will spread the word and this is now Jesus’ notoriety happens.
The same can be said for us. What does Jesus save us from, that deep eternal mysterious darkness that you can see behind the image of the Divine Mercy. Every time we go to confession, regardless of the sins, this is the darkness from which we are saved. However, there are so many others that need to know that experience is real.
There are many people out there who believe they are beyond the mercy and love of Christ. Some people, like those who ostracized the lepers are telling them that they are evil sinners beyond the mercy of God, believe it or not. I have little hope for them going to Heaven compared to those they condemn.
I have dealt with people over time who believe that they are so bad that Jesus cannot forgive them, or they did some awful sin that makes them unable to be forgiven. It is a terrible thing to see someone who has been lost in that pain and it is a better joy when they learn they are wrong.
People can get lost in thinking that they are worse than they are. Every so often someone will come to me desiring to go to confession and tell me that it will be a long confession for they broke all the commandments. My first response to them is always: “Who did you kill?” They say no one. Then I respond, “then you did not break all the commandments.” They realize they are not as bad as they thought they were.
This is the power of Confession for what it does is opens us up to God’s mercy through His son, Jesus Christ and saves us from that mysterious darkness behind the image of the Divine Mercy. It the darkness of pride and may even be self-imposed because we thought we were something good or bad that we were not.