Today not only marks the beatification of Blessed John Paul II. It is also Divine Mercy Sunday. Many Catholics know little about this special day (I had never heard of it until Allison mentioned it to me this morning), perhaps because it achieved official recognition by the Church only recently. Divine Mercy Sunday is rooted in the writings of the Polish Saint Faustina, who experienced a vision in which Jesus encouraged her to spread the word of God’s mercy. According to Saint Faustina’s diary, Jesus revealed to her that on the Sunday after Easter any person in a state of grace who seeks God’s mercy is assured to receive it. Although few Catholics know much about this holy day, many are familiar with the image associated with it: a picture of Jesus with colorful rays of light emanating from his heart. Typically, the bottom of the picture carries the saying “Jesus, I trust in You!”
The point of my first post, though, is not to bore you with an historical account of Saint Faustina. Instead, I want to share some thoughts on what has been perhaps my most difficult struggle with our journey: trust.
Many of you know that I am a pretty intellectual person, and also that I feel most comfortable when I’m in control. I generally operate with the confidence that I can achieve anything I want through intelligence, sheer will, and dogged persistence. I don’t like to ask for help, mostly because it makes me feel weak and threatens to undermine my false conceit that I can do it all. This is especially true when it comes to providing for my family: I am a man, and it is my responsibility to ensure the safety and security of my wife and child.
All of that changed — and fast — in the past weeks. I can’t do anything to cure Allison’s cancer; I have to trust (incredible) doctors with that task. Nor was I able to do much of anything to help little John Paul for the first month of his life; if it weren’t for his equally incredible doctors, he’d be in heaven right now. Even now, with JP fully healthy and Ali’s health improving, my world would crash around me without the help of our families and friends, and the unparalleled compassion and generosity of my co-workers. Needless to say, I no longer think I can do it all. I have no choice but to trust others.
More importantly, though, I finally trust in God. No doubt, I have always believed that God exists. But what good is that belief if you don’t also trust in His grace and mercy? True, full faith requires that trust. And I don’t mean some naive notion that God will shuffle my family around and make all of our earthly sufferings disappear if I only trust that he will. What I mean is the trust that, regardless of these sufferings, ultimately, all will be Good. A belief that God exists, and a trust that His love is all we need. And, thus, a confidence that our sufferings and shortcomings will mean nothing when we come to live in full communion with Him again.
So, what does all this have to do with Divine Mercy Sunday and Saint Faustina? At 10 am, on February 28th, 2011, I stood outside an operating room at Fairfax Hospital not knowing if I would ever see my wife again, or ever meet my sweet little boy. As I waited, I found myself repeating the refrain “I trust in you God.” It came to me from deep within. Some might have said I had little reason to trust much in God on that day: my wife had cancer and my son’s life was in danger before he even left the womb. But at that moment, at perhaps the most powerless moment in my life, I had no other choice. My intellectual belief in God would either live or die depending on whether it became faith through trust.
I had never prayed the phrase before and, at the time, I knew nothing of Saint Faustina or the image of Divine Mercy. But looking back from today I can make some connections to the phrase that emerged in my soul that day. I had in fact seen the image of Divine Mercy many times before today. I first saw it in a small room in a retreat center at Notre Dame. I probably shouldn’t have noticed it; it was hanging in the back corner of a room that was adorned with plenty other images and crucifixes. But for some reason it stuck with me — I found myself thinking about it from time to time over the past five years, although I never had any inkling why it occasionally crept back into my memory. Next, during the week before her c-section, Ali received a small card of the image from Sister Mary Jo, the angel on Earth who visited us almost everyday in the hospital. Then, today, the brilliant priest at our church, Father Stefan, built his homily around the story of Divine Mercy Sunday and Blessed John Paul II’s famous saying, “Be Not Afraid.” You see, Saint Faustina was canonized and Divine Mercy Sunday was officially recognized while John Paul II was Pope.
And that draws me back to little JP. When Ali and I were trying to pick a name for our little boy, “John Paul,” the name of the holy man beatified in Rome today, suddenly just came to us as his name and immediately it felt right. This was before we knew that Ali was sick, but once she was diagnosed we knew the name was no coincidence. “Be Not Afraid” was (and still is) our mantra. But, until today, I had no idea it is so inextricably linked to the mantra that brought me peace on the day of JP’s birth.
It makes perfect sense, though. How can we march forward everyday, repeating to ourselves “Be Not Afraid” unless there also lingers within us the irrepressible whisper, “I trust in you God”?