John Paul II's understanding of Divine Mercy gives hope when evil seems limitless
The phone rang. My husband, reporting that he was on his way home from the splash pad and asking if I could be at the ready to nurse the baby. Just a few words and we hung up. I was annoyed by the interruption from work but headed toward the back door to meet the van of kids as they unloaded.
He came in carrying our youngest and handed him to me with a groan. I looked up from the child to see terror in my husband’s face. “He’s all sweaty,” he told me, and then sobbing, “it’s because I left him in the car. I forgot him …”
Panic and anger surged through me simultaneously as I looked over my infant, noting now that his onesie was damp. I’d read the stories that occasionally pop up on Facebook feeds. Excruciating details of what a child endures when he dies in a hot car. Court battles. The angst that guilty parents can never work through, until it’s destroyed their marriages and their whole lives. Smart, successful parents who love their kids and would never neglect them in any way, but who forget that their normal routine is different one day, and remember their sleeping child when it’s already too late.
“The kids were playing and then I remembered him and ran back to the van,” my husband was explaining frantically, “and when I got there, he was still asleep. It didn’t look like he had been upset.”
I was taking in the information as my brain raced through what needed to happen next. Mental estimations based on the temperature now and how long they’d been at the splash pad. A phone call to ask a doctor if he was still in danger. Did we need to go to the ER? Screaming at my husband, who was already crumpled in guilt. And finally, eventually, calm returning with the realization that we had been spared. Because it was not yet summer, because it was a cloudy day, because it was only late morning, because the van isn’t a dark color, because something reminded him in time … because God had mercy. My baby son was playing and smiling and well-fed and well-rested after what had been merely a warm nap.
As I cuddled and nursed him, my preparation for Marian consecration came to mind. I was following a do-it-yourself retreat called 33 Days to Morning Glory by Father Michael E. Gaitley. On Day 28, the author considers John Paul II’s trip to Fatima, where the pope went “in order to give thanks that the mercy of God” had saved his life during the assassination attempt, which occurred on the 64th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima’s first apparition. John Paul II credited Mary with diverting the bullet. Father Gaitley says, “According to John Paul, divine mercy is the limit imposed by God on evil.”
I couldn’t help but see what John Paul II saw: Divine mercy had halted what threatened my son that day. My baby’s own connection to both John Paul II (he’s named after him) and Fatima (he was baptized due to a series of scheduling “accidents” on the feast of Blesseds Jacinta and Francisco, the Fatima visionaries) only made it all the more clear.
Now in this Jubilee Year, as we go deeper into what mercy is, I keep going back to John Paul’s insight: the limit imposed by God on evil. It brings to mind an image of our omnipotent God, posed like Moses with staff in hand at the Red Sea, declaring to an encroaching wave of suffering and hate: Halt! Up to here, but no more!
As I go through my days, when I see, hear about, or feel evil, “Lord, have mercy” has become my prayer.I beseech his mercy even as I know that he will respect our free will, and that the structures of sin are deeply rooted in our fallen world, where even nature has been left topsy-turvy because of Original Sin. I beg his mercy, even when I have to accept that sometimes he allows the suffering of innocents and permits evil time to run its course. In the darkness of that mystery, I think on Pope Francis’ words of consolation:
“I often think of Our Lady, when they handed down to her the dead body of her Son, covered with wounds, spat on, bloodied and soiled. … Our Lady, too, did not understand. Because she, in that moment, remembered what the sngel had said to her: ‘He will be King, he will be great …’; and inside, surely, with that wounded body lying in her arms, that body that suffered so before dying, inside surely she wanted to say to the angel: ‘Liar! I was deceived.’ She too had no answers.”
In this address, the Pope went on to note the stage in life when little children start to ask incessant whys.
“They don’t really want to hear the explanation,” he suggested. Rather they are seeking their parent’s attention, wanting Mom’s eyes or Dad’s eyes to rest on them.
Like them, the pope said, “We can ask the Lord: ‘Lord, why? Why do children suffer? Why this child?’ The Lord will not speak words to us, but we will feel his gaze upon us and this will give us strength.
“Do not be afraid to ask, even to challenge, the Lord. ‘Why?’ Maybe no explanation will follow, but his fatherly gaze will give you the strength to go on.”
And that, I suppose, would have been the truth I would have had to accept, had that early summer day turned out differently.
Claire Vedaswrites from Los Angeles.