Today is the Octave Day of Easter, a day designated by the Church as Divine Mercy Sunday. It is a time to recall with special attention the great gift of mercy that we receive from the risen Christ. Divine Mercy Sunday is intimately connected to the early 20th-century Polish nun Saint Faustina. Her famous diary recounts visions and revelations from throughout her life in which Jesus shared the abundance of His mercy and expressed His desire that this Sunday be dedicated to remembering that gift. On one occasion Saint Faustina heard these words from our Lord,
I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day, the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. […] On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened.
What a blessed day this is to drink from the overflowing springs of mercy offered to us through the Easter mysteries we’ve celebrated. Several decades before the birth of Saint Faustina, nearly 1000 miles west of Poland, another young nun was singing the mercies of the Lord: Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. There is an interesting connection between the Polish saint of Divine Mercy and the saint of Divine Mercy from Lisieux. Saint Faustina wrote the following in her diary:
I want to write down a dream that I had about Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. I was still a novice at the time and was going through some difficulties which I did not know how to overcome. They were interior difficulties connected with exterior ones. I made novenas to various saints, but the situation grew more and more difficult. The sufferings it caused me were so great that I did not know how to go on living, but suddenly the thought occurred to me that I should pray to Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. I started a novena to this Saint, because before entering the convent I had had a great devotion to her. Lately I had somewhat neglected this devotion, but in my need I began again to pray with great fervor. On the fifth day of the novena, I dreamed of Saint Thérèse, but it was as if she were still living on earth. She hid from me the fact that she was a saint and began to comfort me, saying that I should not be worried about this matter, but should trust more in God. She said, ‘I suffered greatly, too’ but I did not quite believe her and said, ‘It seems to me that you have not suffered at all.’ But Saint Thérèse answered me in a convincing manner that she has suffered very much indeed and said to me, ‘Sister, know that in three days the difficultly will come to a happy conclusion.’ When I was not very willing to believe her, she revealed to me that she was a saint. At that moment, a great joy filled my soul, and I said to her, ‘You are a saint?’ ‘Yes,’ she answered, ‘I am a saint. Trust that this matter will be resolved in three days.’ And I said, ‘Dear sweet Thérèse, tell me, shall I go to heaven?’ And she answered, ‘Yes, you will go to heaven, Sister.’ ‘And will I be a saint?’ To which she replied, ‘Yes, you will be a saint.’ ‘But, little Thérèse, shall I be a saint as you are, raised to the alter?’ And she answered, ‘Yes, you will be a saint just as I am, but you must trust in the Lord Jesus.’ […] This was a dream. And as the proverb goes, dreams are phantoms; God is faith. Nevertheless, three days later the difficulty was solved very easily, just as she had said. And everything in this affair turned out exactly as she said it would. It was a dream, but it had its significance.
This connection between Saint Thérèse and Saint Faustina is no coincidence. Saint Thérèse herself shared the message of Divine Mercy years before Saint Faustina was born. She both begins and ends her autobiography, Story of a Soul, in praise of God’s merciful love,
It is to you, dear Mother, to you who are doubly my Mother, that I come to confide the story of my soul. The day you asked me to do this, it seemed to me it would distract my heart by too much concentration on myself, but since then Jesus has made me feel that in obeying simply, I would be pleasing Him; besides, I’m going to be doing only one thing: I shall begin to sing what I must sing eternally: “The Mercies of the Lord.”
The entirety of Saint Thérèse’s life—her Christmas miracle, her entrance into Carmel, her Little Way, her terrible suffering and illness–all of it is a beautiful hymn of Divine Mercy. She reminds us that we are weak. We are sinful. We are imperfect. Even the just man falls seven times a day. We get frustrated with our spouses. We get impatient with our children. We miss times of prayer. We eat and drink too much. We hold grudges. We waste time on the internet and watching TV. We gossip with our friends. We tell lies. And STILL, God loves us. STILL, God comes down to us and meets us there in our weakness. He takes hold of us and raises us up. He strengthens us. He transforms us. He makes us saints.
This was the realization that Saint Thérèse had about Divine Mercy: not that we should be content with our sinfulness, but that because of our weakness, we should thank God all the more for his forgiveness. The gap between us and God is infinite. He is perfect, and we are limited and weak. We desire to be with Him, but on our own, it is impossible for us to cross the infinite gap that exists between us and God. When we try on our own efforts to reach God, we are telling God that we don’t need him, that we can do it on our own. God respects our freedom and does not force us. But we are trying to break through a steel wall with our bare hands. We cannot attain sanctity on our own.
Instead, we must, like Thérèse, acknowledge that we are too small to climb the rough staircase of perfection, we cannot get to the summit of Mount Carmel relying on our own strength. We are small and weak, but praise God for this because, in his great mercy, He comes to us and scoops us up in his arms and raises us up to Himself. The moment we admit our littleness, He runs to our aid and places us in the elevator of His arms. This is Saint Thérèse’s Little Way. This is Saint Thérèse’s way of Divine Mercy.