Shrine Celebration Offers An Rx for Modern Ills

More than 1,000 people gathered at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., on Saturday Oct. 2, for a double celebration: the feast of St. Faustina (actual, Oct. 5) and the 1st gathering of the Regional North American Congress on Mercy.

The Northeast regional meeting stems from its "parent," the inaugural North American Congress on Mercy (NACOM) held last November in Washington, D.C. Despite the regional event's more economical size and program, the quality of mercy came through in all its radiant power, for wherever two or three - or 200 or 2,000 - are gathered in His name, The Divine Mercy is there.

View a photo gallery of the day.

The daylong affair unfolded a ribbon at a time under a brilliant, cloudless early fall day. The torrential rains of the prior two days had, on cue, barreled out of the Berkshires to the Atlantic Ocean, making way for a mild sun, pleasantly chilling air, and hearts showing the warmth of enthusiasm for the healing message of Divine Mercy.

The convocation and celebration, sponsored by the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, took place at the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine. The 300 who attended the morning plenary session learned about mercy from the experts in the message, meaning, and devotion of Divine Mercy, which Jesus revealed to St. Faustina in the 1930s as a prescription for the ills of the post-modern age.

The Meaning of the Mystery of Suffering
Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD, director of the Marians' John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, shared his insights, especially into the nature of suffering. This topic emerged as one of the themes of the day.

Noting that everyone, without exception, experiences suffering as the ultimate consequence of sin, Dr. Stackpole said it is all too human, and all too easy, to ask God why He is "doing this" to us. Why does God sometimes seem to remain silent in the face of evil? Why does He let His children continue in torment?

The answer, Dr. Stackpole said, comes from God Himself when He tells us in Scripture, "My ways are not your ways." Dr. Stackpole said we will never come to the "full answer" for why we suffer "this side of heaven," but he said the Church provides the most complete hint of an answer in and through the life of Jesus Christ, who is "our heart's deepest desire."

Dr. Stackpole noted that in sending us His Only Begotten Son, God did not exempt Jesus from suffering. In fact, His suffering and death on the cross provided the lynchpin to God's plan of salvation, bringing us back into His friendship following the fall of Adam and Eve.

Let Trust Trump 'Self-Seeking'
To attain an accurate understanding of suffering, we need to trust in God's plan for our lives, Dr. Stackpole said, but "our own self-centeredness gets in the way." When "self-seeking" replaces total trust in Jesus, we block the understanding into the mysteries of our life such as why we suffer. With reliance on God, however, we can "nestle up to the truth."

Dr. Stackpole, who also served as master of ceremonies, then recommended passage 57 from the Diary of St. Faustina: "Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Savior." The passage is much longer than that, and he said it would be worthwhile for people to meditate on the full entry.

Other presenters at the regional NACOM meeting included Fr. Matthew Mauriello, NACOM president; Bob and Maureen Digan, who gave witness to Maureen's healing through the intercession of St. Faustina that the Vatican accepted as the miracle needed for the Faustina's beatification; Dave and Joan Maroney, cofounders and codirectors of Mothers of Mercy Messengers (MOMM); Deacon Michael Gaitley, MIC, who will take over as "Fr. Joseph," director of the Association of Marian Helpers on Jan. 1, 2011; and Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, current "Fr. Joseph" and director of the AMH.

Reaching, Teaching Children about God's Mercy
The Maroneys of MOMM took the day's most novel approach to the topic of mercy when they spoke of the need to teach children and young people not only about Divine Mercy but also about the most basic tenets of their Catholic faith. The latter is not being taught in many households, Catholic schools, and parishes.

How do you reach today's youth?

"We tell them that Jesus was the Son of God, but He came to earth, was born, and He was just like a regular guy. He was just a carpenter, so you can approach Him," said Joan. "This gets their attention." In working with youth, Dave and Joan often have to teach children how to make the sign of the cross and why; how to genuflect and why; and the purpose of the tabernacle on the altar.

Joan said that she and Dave use Diary entry 7 when they approach children, since it begins when Faustina was seven years old:

From the age of seven, I experienced the definite call of God, the grace of a vocation to the religious life. It was in the seventh year of my life that, for the first time, I heard God's voice in my soul; that is, [I heard] an invitation to a more perfect life. But I was not always obedient to the call of grace. I came across no one who could have explained these things to me.

'God Has a Plan for Everyone'
"Kids can understand this," Joan said, adding that children are more perceptive and receptive to religious teaching that we sometimes think. She said Diary passage 7 confirms to children that it's not unusual for God to speak to young people and that, therefore, He can and does speak to all kids in a similar way. Joan said the children MOMM reaches are invariably open to learn about Divine Mercy, and when they believe God can speak to them, they being to listen for His voice.

"Our message to children," Joan said, "is that God has a plan for everyone. He has a plan for you, just as He had a plan for St. Faustina. Everyone has a unique calling from God."

Dave said that when children hear about Jesus and Divine Mercy, "they calm down." Kids being kids, before MOMM's multimedia presentation begins, there can be a lot of talking, noise, and horsing around, but when the lights dim and MOMM begins, "A calmness comes over them. It's miraculous. They open their hearts to [the message]. It's obvious." We invite you to learn more about MOMM and its programs.

The afternoon session of the NACOM regional conference began with Eucharistic Exposition, followed by a meditation on the Eucharist; a Rosary for Life; Holy Mass, with Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, serving as homilist; praying of the Divine Mercy chaplet with Exposition, and a question-and-answer session involving pilgrims and panelists from the day's presentations.

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal.


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