Making a promise is no small order, for it requires a full and complete understanding of one’s freedom and desire concerning the subject of one’s promise. It is perhaps the single most important action we take in our earthly existence, for it requires us to stand before the threshold of uncertainty and CHOOSE eternity. That threshold requires a giant leap of faith from us, but it is God’s mercy that gives us the hope to actually do it!
You see, when we woke up on our 12 day as pilgrims, we had hit our stride, no longer worried about if we were going to see this or experience that. In fact, it was about as blissful a wakeup as we could have possibly experienced on this epic adventure! Some of us had gotten good sleep, others…not so much! But we made it to 7am Mass at our home parish anyway, and from there, we were set to begin our “Pilgrimage of Mercy” to the place where the origins of our covenantal encounter were waiting for us!
The St. John Paul the Great Center was our first stop, and when we got off the bus and began walking, it looked like our handy travel app was going to make us walk into the side of the mountain! But we quickly found our way, and in the footsteps of sanctity, the massive structure finally came into our field of vision. The charter buses were exploding with fellow pilgrims, and we were casually strolling up the hill to meet them! As we walked into the center, we were captivated by the blood-stained cassock that graced the man who endured the terrifying bullet wound on May 13, 1981.
On the Feast Day of Our Lady of Fatima, a man named Mehmet Ali Agca made an attempt on the life of the Holy Father, shooting him at point blank range. He never escaped, and was actually tackled by a nun that day. Within a few years, JPII recovered and felt the incredible call to visit that man in prison and forgive him for the great and horrible deed. This is the ESSENCE of Divine Mercy, and our great Mercy Pope survived and continued his legendary pontificate for Christ’s continued sanctification of the world!
Without him, the Theology of the Body may never have come to fruition. Communism in Poland may have continued to reign. The powerful message of Divine Mercy would not have been given to the world, and the canonized examples of many holy men and women would not have come about without his faith in God’s wondrous mercy and grace!
The security guard was kind enough to hold our personal items within inches of his cassock so we could perhaps glean a deeper connection to the man who brought Christ’s Love to us in a way our generation could embrace! Without JPII, my Lord Jesus, we wouldn’t have been standing in Poland for World Youth Day at all…because there wouldn’t have BEEN a World Youth Day to attend! It made us so sad to see such a disappointing gift shop outside in the square because we would have cleaned house with the holy items we would have purchased at that beautiful memorial! We did get a few nice things though! 🙂
Oh, but it wasn’t over yet! While Madeline had passed out from exhaustion in our small corner of the square waiting for Sr. Caryn and I to finish buying our gifts (sorry, couldn’t resist!), the group was preparing itself for the short but peaceful walk to the most important stop of the day: The Shrine of Divine Mercy…where St. Faustina Kowalska is entombed and where the most famous image of Divine Mercy, painted by Adolf Hyla in 1947, was kept!
The loud speakers were quietly praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet with us in different languages as we walked up to the great sanctuary, and the image of Christ was broken down to us on these huge billboards of reflection on the sidelines. Each aspect of Christ’s Divine Mercy was explained in great theological detail, going from his pierced feet walking toward us to the red and pale rays emanating from his Sacred Heart. It finally rested on the sacred gaze of Our Savior, and it invited us to enter ever more deeply into that gaze. Ironically, it reminds me of Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous quote: “When you stare into the abyss, the abyss also stares into you!”
Ah, but he was talking about addiction and the danger of falling victim to the allure of darkness and temptation! What could this possibly have to do with the gaze of our merciful Savior?!
In truth, “the abyss” Nietzsche speaks of “is as light to God”, for even in the darkness, we can still see the light…if only we open our eyes and endure the burning sensation that is required to adjust to it! This is where the Image of Divine Mercy meets the facade of modernism, where so many people get caught up in the lie that to be vague and uncommitted toward the truth is to be praised and upheld as good. So many people have come to believe that God doesn’t even exist, that the great nothingness spontaneously exploded into organized existence. This is where you can even get “spiritualism”…not just atheism! Yet, as Christians who have the hope to believe in something more and substantial, we can simply say to those naysayers that the “great nothingness you speak of IS the something of God we believe, and He LOVES us enough to give us the capacity to bring the reality of His being to mind!”
As we stare into the eyes of Jesus in the Divine Mercy, it is perhaps the most unnerving gaze I’ve ever felt upon me. Yet, somehow, some way, since deepening my resolve to TRUST in Him over these past few years, I have maintained the sense of wonder and awe as I have felt His gaze on my heart this whole time. Yes everyone, Jesus Christ invites us ALL to just look into His eyes for longer than the passing glance of generic approval toward His most famous selfie (considering He dictated it’s composition after all!)
Just look into His eyes and you’ll see what I’m talking about!
It’s INTENSE, and it burns away all the disappointment of modernism and dumbed down Catholicism–as if we the faithful can survive without solid evidence and substantial beauty permeating our every day lives. NO, WE WANT MORE, and Poland showed us what is so lacking in our home country of the United States. And yet, even there in Poland, we saw the grip of modernism making its attempts to infect their rich and glorious culture!
And so, we prayed at the Shrine of Divine Mercy in front of what I thought was the original image. We then spent a great period in line for Reconciliation out in the “Mercy Tents” on the Field Hospital. Literally, the World Youth Day Organizers were all wearing what looked like military outfits, like you’d see in old re-runs of MASH or something! And then there were dozens of white tent-shaped wooden stations where priests from all over the world were sitting and waiting to open the gates of mercy for each one of us. Kristin got the full experience of this beautiful encounter, and after we walked back up the hill to join the rest of our group…we realized the startling truth of what Reconciliation had brought us!
The REAL Image of Divine Mercy still lay before us, and it was tucked away in the traditional chapel that was originally built for St. Faustina’s order all those years ago…just down the street and out of sight. This is the chapel where her remains were being kept, and directly above her body hung the mystical canvas that has inspired the Third Millennium of the Catholic Church!
It was “The Act of Contrition” that brought forth the beauty that lay before us.
“Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee, and I detest my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell–but most of all, because they offend thee my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. So, I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to confess my sins, to do Penance, and to amend my life. Amen.”
I firmly resolve…
What else is a promise, but a resolution which stands the test of time?! Only God can make the perfect, unbreakable vow–and without even breaking it, He chose to DIE anyway, just to prove to us how free and total He was making His promise to us! This is amazing everyone, that Jesus would enter so completely into our humanity in every way but sin, and yet STILL allow Himself to die such a miserable death as He did!
And so, it brings to life the meaning of making a promise to someone else. Yes, we are imperfect, and we all still sin and break our promises. We also make promises without knowing the full situation or understanding the person to whom we are making the promise. Yet, in no way should that discourage us from striving toward that “Pure Love Promise”. This goes beyond the obligations of fraternal charity everyone, for as we quite gracefully prayed in front of that sacred image of Divine Mercy, we knew our precious seconds in that great OCEAN were instilling within our hearts the capacity to “never give up”. Indeed, the resolve to become saints was enkindling our hearts for the great encounter still to come!
But that will have to wait until Part 2! Oh, and it’s a wondrous encounter indeed!
In Christ, for Love & Life!
– John Sohl & the WYD 2016 Contingency