Mercy changes everything

In the 1930s, Jesus Christ appeared to Sister Faustina Kowalska, a young Polish nun from Krakow. He told her that: “my mercy works in all those hearts which open their doors to it. Both the sinner and the righteous person have need of my mercy. Conversion, as well as perseverance, is a grace of my mercy.”

Nearly 80 years later, we still need to hear the Lord’s message as given to St. Faustina. Each one of us is a sinner. Each one of us needs God’s mercy.

And God’s mercy is available, freely and abundantly, to each one of us.

Last month, as Pope Francis began his pontificate, he reminded the world that: “God never tires of forgiving us, never! … He is the loving Father who always forgives, who has that heart of mercy for all of us.”

So often, we are afraid to confess—afraid to admit that we have been wrong; afraid to admit that over and over again, we fall into the traps of sinfulness. We are afraid that in the sacrament of penance, we will admit that we are weak and will not be loved in our weakness.

But God does not expect us to be strong. He loves us because when we are weak, he gives us strength. Many of us have experienced the merciful love of God the Father. We know the strength that comes with the confession of our sins—strength comes through the grace of forgiveness.

To forgive is to accept the weakness of another and to share in the struggle to be strong. This is how God forgives us. It is also how God asks us to forgive.

As we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, we should remember the words of Pope Francis: “Let us … learn to be merciful with everyone.”

Divine Mercy Sunday is about God’s forgiving love for us. But it should also be about our forgiveness of others. If we receive God’s mercy, we receive his patience, his warmth and his embrace.  If we give mercy—we become agents of that grace. To forgive is to share the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ.

To forgive is to be patient and kind and generous to those who have fallen in weakness. To know that sanctity is a process—that no one becomes a saint without a struggle. To forgive is to offer our help to those who are struggling.

In family life, forgiveness can be hard. We struggle to forgive our parents, our children, our spouses. But forgiveness means that we have entered into God’s own life—and that we have chosen to love with God’s own love. If we want to be saints, our mercy, like God’s, should be available freely. Our hearts should become hearts of mercy.

If you have difficulty in forgiving someone ask the Lord to grant you the grace to forgive as he forgives. In asking for that grace, the Lord will help you to be merciful as his Father is merciful.

“Mercy,” said the Holy Father, “changes everything.” As we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, I pray that mercy changes us. I pray that we might be transformed in mercy—and that we might transform others in the enduring mercy of God’s love.

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”