Divine Mercy Sunday

It was St. John Paul II who created Divine Mercy Sunday, which falls today, the first Sunday after Easter.  In fact, he canonized one of the  20th century’s chief promoters of Divine Mercy, St. Maria Faustina Kowalski in 2000, making her “the first saint of the New Millennium.”  As Providence would have it, this great and holy pope passed away on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, April 2, 2005.

Friends, you can click on either of the links above to learn more about this rich devotion of the Church. I would like to propose to you today that we are at an important time in history, and our calling upon God’s divine mercy in our daily prayer (see Divine Mercy prayers using links) will have positive affects beyond our understanding. Let these words from St. Faustina be some of the first and last of our daily prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you.”


The Cathedral of Notre Dame

Like many today, I had a hard time taking my eyes away from the television images coming from Paris. The incredible Cathedral of Notre Dame was being destroyed by a raging fire.  I was flooded with sadness over such a loss, but also grateful that I had the chance to experience this glorious and majestic place of worship.  Started in 1163, this cathedral was meant to glorify God, and so it has for over 800 years.  Many years ago, I was talking with a priest friend who was living in Rome at the time.  We were talking about St. Peter’s Basilica, and he shared a thought.  Even though the building is a magnificent work of architecture and art, it was built for one purpose:  The celebration of Mass.  It was built with one goal in mind: To glorify God.  The same can be said for Notre Dame.   
I was only in Paris once, in the mid 80’s, me a college student with a friend studying in Germany.  We planned such a grand tour that some of my family wanted to come.  We were together in Rome for Christmas, and then my friend and I headed to Switzerland, while my family went… I can’t remember!  I’ll have to check with them on that.  Anyway, our plan was to be together again in Paris for New Year’s.  I know, what a life. 
On December 31st, my friend and I  arrived in Paris and checked into our hotel.  I asked the attendant if my family had arrived, and he checked the registration book.  Desk top computers were still several years away, and no one had cell phones.  “There’s no other reservation for someone named Gallagher.”  I told him that was impossible, so he checked again, then gave me the book to see for myself.  I knew there must be a mistake, so when I got to my room, I made some calls back home.  First, I tried the travel agent who made all our reservations, but being New Year’s Eve, they were closed.  Next, I was able to reach one of my brothers, but he only had the itinerary, not the list of our hotels.  I was in Paris, I guessed my family was in Paris, but the travel agent booked us in different hotels, and we didn’t know where the other was staying.
To say I was upset was an understatement.  My traveling companion recommended we go out to dinner and do our best to celebrate New Year’s in the City of Lights.  Yes, the food and wine were great, but I really missed not being with my family.  I’m sure I wasn’t the most fun person to be with that night, but my friend understood.  We walked around the streets, happy to be in Paris to bring in the New Year, but eventually we went back to the hotel room in somber moods. 
I woke up early the next morning with an idea.  Since New Year’s Day is a Holy Day for Catholics, I knew for sure my mom would go to Mass.  When I told this to my non Catholic friend, he was indifferent.  “Paul, we saw tons of churches since we’ve been in Paris.  How would you know which one she would go to?”  “Notre Dame,” I replied.  “I’m sure she would go to Notre Dame.”   After breakfast, we headed out to find the Cathedral, which from our hotel, was no easy trip.  As I recall, we got lost a few times before eventually making it to our destination. 
When we arrived, Mass had already begun, and the Cathedral was packed.  I learned later that the church held over 9,000 people, and let me tell you, there was probably 9,500 there that morning.  My friend asked how I would ever find my family in such a crowd.  “Come with me,” I said, and off we went. 
You see, my mom was a creature of habit.  In those days, she tended to sit in the same area of the church, regardless of what church she was in.  Hoping beyond hope, and silently praying, off we went, making our way to the left aisle of this huge cathedral.  About half way up, just where I thought I would, I found my family.  If I were to talk with my friend today, I would guess that he would say he was still shocked that I was able to find them so easily.  Maybe St. Mary was guiding me, answering my prayers, but I can’t say for certain.  All I know is that in a vast cathedral, filled with many thousands of people, I walked right up to my mom like it was all planned, and we reunited for one of the best New Year Days I have ever had. 
After Mass, we had the chance to walk around and tour the Cathedral.  I will always remember those beautiful rose windows, with the  glorious richness of the light shining through the blue glass.  Today, I texted with my sister and brother who were with me that day, and we all mentioned the rose windows, lost forever now. 
After walking inside for awhile, my buddy and I walked up the spiral staircase, all 387 steps.  Only my trip up to the crown of the Statue of Liberty was more, well, thrilling would be the wrong word, but anyway, when we eventually made it to the up and outside, my friend took this photo of me.  The image has faded with time, but my memory of that day hasn’t.  I call it my “miracle of Notre Dame,” and I’m still amazed at the blessings which came to me that New Year’s Day in 1987, a lifetime ago now. 
For those people who have lost their beloved Cathedral, where generations have been baptized, married, received Eucharist and reconciliation,  been buried from, and where millions have come to pray in this place built to glorify God, I am so sorry for your loss.  Our faith is bigger than buildings, though, even the most ancient and glorious of them.  As the prophet Jerimiah reminds us, when we seek the Lord with all our hearts, we will find Him.  St. Ignatius would remind us that we can find God in all things, and I would add all places.  The loss of Notre Dame is a great one, but God was not lost at the same time the fire destroyed the building.  Just look around.


Living In Expectation

Many months before this beautiful image was captured, a series of events took place which led up to its creation.  One day, maybe it was still in the deep of winter, someone purchased some sunflower seeds.  It could have been they already knew the field they wanted to sow the seeds, but maybe not.  It could have been that the planting of sunflower seeds in this particular field had been an annual tradition going back generations.  Or, just maybe this field had been abandoned and was fallow for many years, and finally, a young farming family purchased the land and was ready to create something new.  I could go on forever, but I think you get the point.  There are lots of events which bring something into being, many of which are so routine that we miss the wonder in them.

When it was time to sow the sunflower seeds, the ground had to be prepared.  The sower had an expectation that, one day in the future, the seeds would sprout and grow into glorious sunflowers, filling the field from one end to the other.  I’d like to think the sower had an expectation that his/her field would look exactly like this image.  It would take months and it would take some effort, along with sunny days and plenty of rain, but it would happen.

Right about now, the season of spring is swirling all around us.  Some of the flower bulbs I put into the ground last November are just now blooming, others are just breaking through the soil, with blooms coming in a month or so.  Other bulbs, planted years ago by the former owner of my property, are also blooming.  How long they have been in the ground, planted to return each year, I have no idea.  But Mary, the former owner, and I shared a common expectation.  If we prepare properly, good things will happen.

That preparation is critical to our success.  I’ve been talking about seeds, flowers, and soil, but my main point is to talk about the spiritual life.  As Christians, we should live in a constant state of expectation.  As St. Ignatius would remind us, we can find God in all things, and God is an ever-present source of love, mercy and consolation to everyone.  We can do nothing to earn that love, mercy, and consolation.  God gives it freely to all who ask for it.  We should live with an ongoing expectation that when we seek God with our whole heart, we will find Him with us, and He will change our lot (Jer. 29:13-14).  How wonderful!  Jesus tells us to “ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).  How encouraging!  Jesus also says, “stop judging, that you may not be judged.  For as you judge, you will be judged, and the measure which with you measure will be measured out to you.  Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-3).  How challenging!

As the season of Lent quickly winds down towards Holy Week and Easter, let’s remind ourselves that we are called to live with expectant hearts and minds, that we need to be mindful of the seeds we are planting right now, and that the mercy of God is forever available to all who call.

Let’s use these last days of Lent to start tilling the soil of our lives, removing anything which may hinder the good seeds we intend to plant, so that in the months and years ahead, our lives will bear a bountiful harvest of fruit.  Remember the Lords words, “It was not you who chose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit which will remain, so whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.  This I command you: love one another” (John 15:16-17).

That’s right, fellow pilgrims, it all comes down to love.  Let’s live in the hopeful expectation of both receiving and giving that love.  Remember, they will know we are Christians by our love.  Let’s go till some soil and plant some seeds.  The time is now!