On Divine Mercy Sunday faithful urged to trust in Christ’s mercy, pass it on

Maronite church’s event offers sacramental graces, highlights plight of persecuted Christians

Roxanne King

On April 23, Divine Mercy Sunday, hundreds of people turned out at St. Rafka Maronite Catholic Church for a celebration that offered the chance to earn a plenary indulgence and to be inspired by religious leaders to share Christ’s mercy with others.

The day included the opening and closing of a Holy Door at the Lakewood church, and a Divine Liturgy (Mass) celebrated by Maronite Bishop Elias Zaidan and concelebrated by St. Rafka pastor Maronite Father Andre Mahanna, who founded and heads an apostolate to aid persecuted Christians. Archbishop Samuel Aquila delivered a message on Divine Mercy.

Maronite Father Andre Mahanna addresses the congregation during Eucharistic benediction on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 23 at St. Rafka Maronite Catholic Church in Lakewood. CREDIT: Roxanne King

To help people earn the indulgence (remission of punishment due for sin), the sacrament of reconciliation, Eucharistic adoration, and veneration of the Divine Mercy image were available. The iconic image with the words “Jesus, I trust in you,” shows the risen Christ giving a blessing while rays of light (red for Eucharist, white for baptism and reconciliation) stream from his breast.

Other events included a brunch with ecumenical leaders that featured multicultural entertainment, including Jewish, Indian and Samoan dancing and music, and an inter-Christian dialogue that focused on helping persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

“The 2016 Open Doors report on persecution found that 215 million Christians experienced hostilities of some form over the past year,” Archbishop Aquila told the congregation. “Sadly, one only needs to look to the recent Palm Sunday bombings in Egypt that were claimed by ISIS to see the flesh and blood reality of the suffering Church: 49 dead and 78 injured.

“In the face of our afflictions, how should we respond as Christians?” he asked. “By immersing ourselves in Divine Mercy and carrying it to others.”

Christ’s passion, death and resurrection show that submission to and trust in God’s will and goodness yields eternal victory, the archbishop said.

“Divine Mercy,” he added, “… can transform our country and the world.”

In the year 2000 St. John Paul II designated the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday and canonized Sister Faustina Kowalska. The Polish nun had died in 1938 and is called the Apostle of God’s Mercy as it was through her writings the message and devotion to Jesus as “The Divine Mercy” came to be known.

“At the heart of Jesus’ message to St. Faustina is the necessity of complete trust in Jesus’ mercy for all who seek it,” Archbishop Aquila said, adding that Christ told Faustina: “’The graces of my mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is—trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive.’”

St. John Paul II, the archbishop said, noted that Jesus’ message of mercy isn’t new, “’but can be considered a gift of special enlightenment that helps us to relive the Gospel of Easter more intensely, to offer it as a ray of light to the men and women of our time.’

“The work of building a culture of mercy, of building the Kingdom of God, is needed everywhere,” the archbishop said. “It must be done on the streets of Denver, in the highways and byways of every corner of our country; it must be done in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. And most importantly, it must be done in your homes and in your families.”

The inter-Christian dialogue, which in addition to the bishops and Father Mahanna, included representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a Syriac Orthodox deacon, and evangelical laymen who work to educate and empower inner-city youths and families, discussed past and current collaborative works of charity and mercy to help victimized Christians in the Middle East and urban needy in the United States.

Inter-Christian dialogue participants: from left, Syriac Orthodox Deacon Elias Naoum, Maronite Bishop Elias Zaidan, Archbishop Samuel Aquila, Latter-Day Saint lay leader J. Craig McIlroy, Maronite Father Andre Mahanna CREDIT: Roxanne King

The Maronite Church is Eastern Catholic and in communion with the pope. It traces its roots to the Apostles’ visits to Antioch where followers of Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). The Maronite patriarch (senior religious leader under the pope) is in Lebanon.

“As you know, the Middle East is where Christianity started. Unfortunately, waves and waves and waves of persecution over the centuries has pushed Christians out,” Bishop Zaidan told the group. “I hope the little tiny remnant still there will be respected. We hope their voice will become your voices … to make sure this country will do whatever it can to preserve Christianity in the Middle East.”

Father Mahanna wrapped up the discussion with a call to action.

“What are we trying to achieve?” he asked. “A network of common causes to enable (us all) to defend life from conception to natural death.”

Echoing Archbishop Aquila’s comments on building a culture of mercy, he added, “It will be a new movement—the new wind to flow all over.”

COMING UP: Relativism: An obstacle to the pursuit of truth

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When I was a kid, my favorite television show was The Partridge Family. Mostly because I was completely enamored of the late David Cassidy, whom I was convinced I would marry some day. But also because the show featured just the kind of mildly corny humor a seven year old is inclined to enjoy.

I remember one joke in particular. Keith (David Cassidy) is trying to give big brotherly advice to Danny (Danny Bonaduce). He says “If you just believe, you can be anything you want to be.”

Danny responds, “Great! I want to be a black woman.” Laugh track ensues. Because everybody knows that a pale white, red-headed, freckle-faced kid cannot grow up to be a black woman.

I was thinking about that scene as I was listening to Bishop Robert Barron Feb. 6, giving a riveting talk on relativism to a packed house here in Denver. As he spoke about the philosophical underpinnings of relativistic thinking, I realized that joke couldn’t be told today. Because, as a society, we don’t seem to agree that race, gender, or just about anything else, are based in any kind of objective truth.

Bishop Barron spoke of a video you may have seen. A rather short male interviewer asks college students what they would think if he told them he identifies as a woman. Then an Asian woman. Then a 6’4” Asian woman. They hesitate at times, but all ultimately agree that if that is his “truth,” then he is indeed entitled to be a tall Asian woman.

That is the ultimate expression of relativism.

Relativism, boiled down, is essentially the belief that there is no “objective” truth that is true for all. Rather, we as individuals, each establish our own subjective “truths,” and we live “authentically” to the extent that we honor these individual “truths.”

The speed with which we have descended down this path is breathtaking. When I was in my 20’s (which was not long ago at all — right???), I used to debate abortion at Berkeley. Not exactly a friendly audience — I remember mentally noting exits, including windows, that I could utilize if things got out of hand. But they showed up, and they listened, because there was still some understanding in society that there was such a thing as truth, and hence an openness to listen to others to see if together we could arrive at that truth. Or, at the very least, that I could employ the truth as I see it to convince you that your understanding of the truth is flawed.

Not so today. Open discussion of controversial issues is almost nonexistent on most college campuses. Of course. If I have my truth and you have your truth, what would be the point? We are just supposed to respect each others’ truths and move on.

But the problem is that we all have to play together in the same sandbox. Somebody’s truth has to rule our social interaction. If we can’t come to an agreement about whose truth is truer, then the only option left is force. And so, instead of listening to what you have to say, I attempt to forcibly shut you down. I smash windows. I disrupt your talk. Or, alternatively, I call on the authority of the university to do that dirty work for me while I hide in a safe space with my crayons and puppy videos.

Pope Benedict XVI called relativism a “dictatorship.” And, ironically, it is. The philosophy that purports to allow everyone to believe as he wishes, actually allows no one to believe in anything but relativism. And because there need be no rhyme nor reason behind any individual belief, enforcement through persuasion becomes impossible. Hence, the inevitable clash of ideologies. And it will be the stronger, not the most persuasive, who will prevail.

Parents, please — teach your children that there is such a thing as truth. That yes, we may disagree with others about what that truth is. That we respect people — all people — regardless of their beliefs. (Another objective truth.) But beneath the disagreement, there is a truth. There is a God or there isn’t. Jesus Christ is divine or He isn’t. Sexual expression has an inherent meaning or it doesn’t. Gender is fixed or it isn’t.

[And parents, if you want help with this, get your hands on Chris Stefanik’s book Absolute Relativism, and check out his YouTube videos on the same subject.]

In any disagreement about objective truths, someone is right and someone is wrong. Or perhaps both are partially wrong and neither grasps the full truth. But the truth is there.

In the old days, our goal was to find it.