The practice of prayer

When a football team prepares for the big game, they must perform a number of physical drills, each one exercising different parts of their bodies to help them become better players. In the Catholic Church we are blessed to have a number of spiritual “drills” or exercises called devotions. We have devotions to help us grow in our love for Christ and His Church. The root of the word “devotion” means giving oneself completely (Michalenko 8). So Catholic devotions are prayers and practices that on the one hand, express our love for God, and at the same time, help us to grow in holiness.

One of the newest devotions in the Catholic Church, encouraged by Pope St. John Paul II, is the Divine Mercy Chaplet. This devotion began with Sr. Maria Faustina Kowalska, a poor, uneducated Polish nun from the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. Unbeknownst to her fellow sisters, Faustina began to experience extraordinary interior gifts, including visions, bilocations, prophecy, and a hidden stigmata. Only her confessor and spiritual director, Fr. Michael Sopocko, knew about her gifts in the beginning. He commanded her to write down all of her visions in her diary. In 1935 Faustina had a startling vision of an angel who was sent by God to destroy a city. St. Faustina immediately started praying for mercy, then saw the Trinity and felt the grace of Jesus inside of her. She heard and began saying these words: “Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world; for the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.” The angel was suddenly unable to punish the city as St. Faustina recited the prayer. When she was in the chapel the following morning, she heard the same voice giving her instructions on how to say the prayer, which later became known as “The Chaplet.” St. Faustina recited this prayer every day from then on. She especially prayed for the souls of the dying. As time went on, Christ revealed that this Chaplet was meant not merely for her, but for the entire world. He promised extraordinary graces to those who prayed it. Jesus said, “Whoever will recite this chaplet will receive great mercy at the hour of death. 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 Savior… I desire to grant unimaginable graces to those souls who trust in My mercy. Through the Chaplet you will obtain everything, if what you ask for is compatible with my will” (Michalenko 56-57).

To pray the Chaplet, all that is required is a regular set of Rosary beads. Similar to saying a rosary, you begin with the Sign of the Cross, the Apostles Creed, one Our Father, and one Hail Mary. Next, on the Our Father beads, you pray, “Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Your dearly beloved Son, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.” On the Hail Mary beads you say, “For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” It only takes about seven minutes to do, and it is recommended to pray the Chaplet right after Communion, or at 3:00 p.m., which is called “the hour of mercy” because it is the time of Christ’s death on the cross.

Along with the Divine Mercy Chaplet, there is also a powerful Divine Mercy novena. This novena was taught to St. Faustina by Jesus himself and is for everyone else to pray as well (Gaitley 14). The novena begins on Good Friday and ends on Easter Saturday, in preparation for Divine Mercy Sunday, which is the Sunday after Easter. On each day of the novena you pray the chaplet, but the intentions are for different souls (Gaitley 14). On the first day the intention is for all mankind, but especially sinners. The second day is for the souls of priests and all religious. The third day (Easter Sunday) is for all devout and faithful souls. The fourth day is for those who do not believe in Jesus and those who do not know him yet. The fifth day is for the souls of those who have separated themselves from the church. The sixth day is for the meek and humble souls and the souls of little children. The seventh day is for the souls who especially glorify and venerate His mercy. The eighth day is for the souls who are detained in Purgatory. The ninth and final day day of the novena has the most difficult intention: for the souls who have become lukewarm.

We owe our practice to this devotion in large part to St. John Paul II. He has been called the Mercy Pope, and he even wrote an encyclical on the Divine Mercy, entitled Rich in Mercy . He preached repeatedly that Divine Mercy is the answer to all the world’s problems in the violent and confused 20th century. In the encyclical he wrote, “The message of Divine Mercy has always been near and dear to me… which I took with me to the See of Peter and which it in a sense forms the image of this pontificate.” On April 30, 2000, Pope Saint John Paul II canonized Faustina as the first saint in the Jubilee Year. During the canonization homily, he proclaimed that the second Sunday of Easter would now be celebrated as the Divine Mercy Sunday throughout the universal church. “This is the happiest day of my life,” he said at the canonization ceremony. It is fitting that the Pope of Mercy died on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday on April 2, 2005.

There is a popular image associated with the Divine Mercy. It is a picture of Jesus with his hand over his heart, with blue and red rays streaming out. The bottom of the image says, “Jesus, I trust in you.” The Lord asked Faustina to paint this image. He said, “I am offering people a vessel with which they are to keep coming for graces to the fountain of mercy. I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and [then] throughout the world.” Many people pray the Chaplet while pondering the image, and it has become synonymous with Divine Mercy.

On his historic trip to Poland in 1977, Pope John Paul visited the tomb of Sr. Faustina. He said, “There is nothing that man needs more than Divine Mercy – that love which is benevolent and compassionate, which raises man above his weakness to the infinite heights of the holiness of God …Anyone can come here, look at this image of the merciful Jesus, His Heart radiating peace, and hear in the depths of his own soul what Faustina heard: Fear nothing; I am always with you. And if this person responds with a sincere heart, ‘Jesus, I trust in You,’ he will find comfort in all his anxieties and

fears “ (Michalenko 7).

Indeed, as St. Pope John Paul II later wrote in his encyclical, “Now is the time for mercy.”

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