Last of two parts
It may well be the great tension in the Catholic Church today: justice or mercy?
Two millennia of teaching and practice have stressed theological, liturgical and moral principles and practices for believers to believe and live by. But in the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, and since 2013 under Pope Francis, unbending dos and don’ts are giving way to discernment and Divine Mercy.
At the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines annual retreat two weeks ago, the same themes emerged, with the Fatima message of God’s warnings and instructions on salvation dovetailing with His promise of boundless mercy, which grows to overcome the rise and spread of evil and discord in the world.
One retreat speaker, Fr. Michael Gaitley of the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy, directly juxtaposed justice and mercy, saying that today is the time of mercy, not justice. Instead of past fire-and-brimstone admonitions about eternal punishment for sin, the Church preaches that even if one keeps falling and failing, God is always ready to forgive and uplift the sinner from sin to virtue.
“What time is it?” Fr. Gaitley repeatedly asked the 300-odd gathering of prelates, priests, nuns, and laypeople during his five talks. To which the audience, including this writer, promptly replied: “The time of mercy.”
Christianity, in fact, preaches both. One fundamental belief is that man sinned against God, and had to be redeemed by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Thus, the God the Son’s offering of Himself satisfied God’s justice, even as His mercy forgave repentant sinners asking for divine pardon.
Yet different perspectives have swung Catholics between stern justice and all-embracing mercy, with the latter now dominant under Pope Francis, who has constantly stressed God’s unrelenting mercy, prompting certain conservative quarters to fear that moral strictures are being dismantled, along with the need for contrition and reparation.
Thankfully, both the will and the mercy of God were given ample attention and exposition at the CBCP’s National Marian Retreat on the Centennial of the Apparitions at Fatima, commemorating the Blessed Virgin’s visits to three shepherd children in the rural parish of Fatima, Portugal, from May to October 1917.
Repentance and reparation for children
Leading Fatima scholar Professor Americo Pablo Lopez Ortiz of Puerto Rico recalled the admonition of both Our Lady and the Angel of Peace for Lucia dos Santos, then 9 going to 10, and her cousin Francesco, turning 9, and his sister Jacintha, 6 going on 7, not only to worship God, but also to pray for sinners and make reparation of sins.
That seemingly unchildlike message was, in fact, reprised in subsequent apparitions to Lucia in Pontevedra and Tuy, both in Spain, years after her cousins died in the 1918-19 Spanish flu epidemic, which killed 20 million worldwide. These messages of penance and reparation, Ortiz lamented, had been lost on the faithful.
“This forgotten message,” explained the president of the World Apostolate of Fatima, “is associated with obtaining world peace, the conversion of sinners, the special grace of final perseverance for those practicing it, the grace of unity and strength for the Universal Church against inner distortions opposing the Magisterium of the Successor of Peter. All these four graces are related to the definitive triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
Let’s go over that mouthful bit by bit. In the messages to Lucia as a nun in Spain, she learned of the devotions to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on the first Saturdays of every month — confession, communion, praying the Rosary, and meditating on the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries for 15 minutes in reparation for offenses against the Virgin Mary.
Through Our Lady of Fatima, God instructed humanity to undertake these reparations to gain the graces for salvation at the hour of death, to convert sinners, and to advance world peace and faith and virtue in the Church. Sadly, Ortiz laments, people have forgotten these devotions and messages due to the “mystery of iniquity” or sinful tendencies, “making people forget precisely what is most crucial for them to be saved.”
Thus, both as just punishment for sins and as merciful awakening of souls blindly heading for hell, God allows chastisements, including war and calamity, to jolt humanity and turn us back to the right path.
That’s justice and mercy, the Fatima way.
‘The Second Greatest Story Ever Told’
Not everyone, however, may have the diligence for daily rosaries, devotions on five consecutive first Saturdays, and the offering of every act and sacrifice in reparation for sin. Fr. Gaitley certainly was not a staunch devotee in his youth, initially resisting the call to holiness and seeking fun, frolic and romance.
But his conversion from beach-loving Southern California teenager to a leading preacher of the Divine Mercy devotion and graces, depicts how God’s patient mercy and uplifting grace can lead even the unwilling, distracted soul to saintliness.
Fr. Gaitley tells the lives and struggles of Polish nun Saint Faustina Kowalska and the man who espoused her advocacy for the Divine Mercy, Pope St. John Paul II, in his book “The Second Greatest Story Ever Told.” The priest also cites the simple Carmelite nun St. Therese of Lisieux as another vivid demonstration of heavenly grace and mercy lifting little things to great holiness, if done with the boundless love of God.
But probably the most persuasive tale of all, especially for today’s unbelieving, self-seeking and fun-obsessed world, is the life of Fr. Gaitley himself.
Like many, if not most people, and not just the young, Michael wanted the good, fun life, and was ever the reluctant servant of Jesus, unhappy with priestly study and living, and bitter over giving up the love of a beautiful lady who even professed love for him.
At various times, he would even ask God to point the way He wanted specific signs like the price of a vocation weekend in Boston (between $60 and $65) or the color of flowers being delivered to decide where to attend college (red for his preferred University of California at Los Angeles, and yellow for the staunchly Catholic Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, where he went).
Well, God never tired of gracing Michael despite his wavering and even open disdain for the holy way He wanted for him. He kept falling and failing, but our Lord kept lifting him up and helping him along.
He now preaches to millions with his books and talks, including “33 Days to Morning Glory” and “33 Days to Merciful Love”, outlining retreats for Marian and Divine Mercy consecration. With God’s mercy he shows believers how to live His just and loving way. Amen.