To help us get ready for Divine Mercy Sunday, I asked Robert R. Allard, Director of the Apostles of Divine Mercy, to share some of his insights into the importance of this feast and some resources on how parishes can prepare and I asked some friends of mine to share their story of how the Divine Mercy healed their lives.
Kochan: Robert, does Divine Mercy Sunday get the attention it deserves in all the parishes in our country?
Allard: No, many parishes do not observe it and 90% of those that do, celebrate it as some type of “party for devotees”, neglecting to go out and bring poor sinners (Easter-only and fallen-away Catholics) to the feast at any Mass. Jesus never said to say the Chaplet and to have afternoon devotions that only devotees attend.
Kochan: What are some of the reasons you think that it gets neglected?
Allard: Devotees have turned priests away from the desire to celebrate it because they want Confessions for themselves on that Sunday, and they really don’t need to confess. Divine Mercy Sunday has nothing to do with having afternoon devotions at 3 pm with a bunch of devotees saying the Chaplet. Most of these people will tell their pastors that they “must hear their Confessions on that day”. Jesus never told us that we had to confess on that day…. Communion yes, Confession no. In fact, St. Faustina herself always went before. If devotees already confessed for Easter, then let them make room for those who haven’t confessed yet. The feast is a feast for sinners, not the righteous. How would you like to be in Jesus’ shoes, having suffered greatly and no one is taking advantage of it. We need to go out and bring sinners to all the Masses on that day, not create devotional parties that only devotees attend. We need to switch gears and take the feast to the next level and that means celebrating at all Masses.
Allard: Jesus said that the Feast of Mercy would be the last hope of salvation. Jesus has given us this feast to rebuild the Church before He comes again.
Kochan: How does Divine Mercy Sunday tie in with evangelization?
Allard: Everything about it is evangelistic. That Sunday is set apart from any other day because a whole ocean of graces falls from Heaven. People who really need it are experiencing being “born again” or second conversions of heart.
Kochan: Why should parishes begin preparing now for Divine Mercy Sunday?
Allard: Because all of the work is in the preparation. Jesus does all of the work on the feast. It is our job to get sinners there.
Kochan: What suggestions would you make for parish preparation?
Allard: Focus on getting every Easter-only and fallen-away Catholic back to Church for Mercy Sunday. Use radio, TV, newspapers, and go door to door.
Kochan: What can families do to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday?
Allard: Get everybody in your family and in your neighborhood to go to the feast. Use our new door to door leaflet “Come to the Feast of Divine Mercy“.
Kochan: Tell us about the resources you have for parishes and families.
Allard: By the Grace of God, our website: www.MercySunday.com is loaded with good resources for pastors and parishioners and a lot of the resouces are available in Spanish as well. Pastors should read our “How to Celebrate Mercy Sunday” leaflet that is on the website. It will tell them everything they have to do as the Vatican is requesting. Our Bulletin Insert is used by many parishes for Easter. Families can read the many articles that will help them to understand what this feast is about.
Jeffery Schwehm, founder of the Fellowship of Catholic ex-Jehovah’s Witness once mentioned to me that his wife’s conversion was very much effected by the Feast of the Divine Mercy, so I asked him about Kathy’s story and when he shared it with me, I was amazed at how relevant it would be to the lives of so many people in our culture of death. Kathy picks up the narrative after her once-Catholic family had become involved with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a strict and joyless cult.
I soon discovered that the more my family studied with the JWs the more restrictions were placed on me by my mother who was starting to follow more and more of the JWs’ rules. For example, we were no longer allowed to celebrate holidays (including Christmas which was my favorite) and participation in extracurricular activities at school (such as cheerleading, student government, and school social clubs) was also discouraged by the JWs.
As my mother became more restrictive due to introducing the JW lifestyle into the family, the more rebellious I became. This led me to make some very bad decisions in my teenage years which resulted in lifelong consequences. About this time, I met a very troubled young man who had a very different upbringing than I did. When we first met, he had just been released from juvenile detention. He was also five years older than me and was outgoing, vivacious, dangerous, and exciting. He was everything that I was not in that I was coming from a very sheltered, safe, and structured life. He showed me a very different world that I found scary but exciting.
Within a matter of four months, he talked me into alcohol and drugs and out of my virginity. So, that by the time I was sixteen I had gotten pregnant. Being scared and naïve, I had no idea what to do about being pregnant. However, I had friends who had had abortions (some of them more than one) who encouraged me to get rid of “IT”. They said it was no big deal and many of them commented that they went out to party in the evening after having an abortion in the morning. Unfortunately, no one really explained to me that there were other options besides abortion. The Planned Parenthood counselor told me nothing about adoption or keeping the child but simply told me what the abortion procedure would be like. That was the extent of the counseling that I received there. I was told by the counselor at Planned Parenthood that I was to go home and think about it and that if I wanted to have the abortion to come back later.
By this time my mother knew that I was pregnant and contemplating what to do. She offered up no support in either encouraging me to keep the baby or placing the baby up for adoption. She also never lobbied for me to have an abortion either. However she was very angry with me in that I was having premarital sex and that I had gotten pregnant and at the same time she did not want me to become a single mother like she had become at the same age of sixteen.
So, I decided to have an abortion since that was the only information that I really had at the time. It is a day that I will never forget. It was a snowy winter day and I was standing on the corner waiting for a bus to take me to Planned Parenthood in the city. My mother drove by knowing where I was headed and never stopped me. It took forty minutes for me to get to the abortion clinic. My friend who had already had three abortions in her life was there to support me. While we were waiting my friend kept assuring me that this was the right thing to do. For my friend, this was no big deal. To her it was like they were going to take out my appendix. The procedure took twenty minutes. I was awake for the procedure and they placed me in the recliner in the recovery room. I was only supposed to have some minor cramping. However, I was in severe physical pain to the point where I could hardly move. I was having extreme cramping so I had to stay in recovery much longer than anyone else. After about 90 minutes, my friend came in to take me to the bus stop. She was holding me up in the snow as I was hunched over in pain so that I could make the forty minute bus ride home.
During the bus ride, I was in extreme pain and people were just staring at me. I was in so much pain that I could not button my pants. I got off the bus and walked another 3 blocks home. When I entered the house, my mother was sitting at the kitchen table and watched me as a I literally crawled up the stairs and got into bed where I stayed for two whole days. (There were no parties for me that night.)
The procedure was not nearly as easy as everyone had said. Something in me instinctively said that this was wrong. I never knew what this wrong in my soul was until my mother entered the room and called me a murderer. At this point the haziness and confusion was gone. My mother was right. It was never an IT! It was a boy or a girl. They had not removed an appendix, they had removed my child, they had removed a person, and I allowed it to happen. Even though I was ignorant, I was the one who made this dreadful decision and I was the one who allowed this to happen. I am the one who holds the greatest responsibility for this action. In this moment, I realized that I am a MURDERER!
The first thing I tried to do after the abortion was to try to figure out how I could fix what I had done. I went into a period of great self-loathing and despair. I believed that what I had done was totally unforgivable. To make amends, I got myself pregnant again within 9 months. This time I firmly decided that I was going to keep this child even though my mother tried to talk me into giving this child up for adoption. Unfortunately this time, five months after I became pregnant, I had a miscarriage. I was devastated because I was going to give everything to this baby that I took away from the first child.
I thought that God had taken this second child away from me for what I had done to the first child. I truly believed that God was telling me that what I had done to the first child was so unforgivable that He was not going to allow me to have this second child. (An eye for an eye, you know?)
After the miscarriage, I hit the bottom of the barrel when it came to self-loathing. I thought I was unlovable particularly unloved by God and just waiting to die. So, for the next four and a half years, I spiraled out of control to the point that I became homeless and lived in the local public park.
Around the age of 20, God had mercy on me and gave me back some of my self-worth. My reasoning was that since God was not going to kill me at this point, I might as well do something worthwhile until He was ready to destroy me. I wanted my mother’s love and approval again so I made amends with my family and moved back home. In order for this to work, however, I had to start studying with the JWs again. It was not long before I had gotten a decent job, an apartment of my own, and became a JW myself.
Kathy met Jeff, who had grown up in the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the two fell in love and married. Jeff was beginning to have serious doubts about the teachings of the JWs and was suffering from emotional turmoil as he contemplated leaving the religion that he had grown up in and severing his relationship with his family. He began to doubt the very existence of God, realizing that so much of what he had been taught was a lie. Kathy, who had come into the Jehovah’s Witnesses later in life, was more sanguine about leaving the organization, but was deeply distressed at the thought that her husband might lose all faith in God. She continues:
One day while driving to work, I poured out my heart to God in prayer. I begged God with all my heart that morning to bring my husband home to Him and to give my husband back his faith. I told God that if the JWs were not teaching the truth about Him that was fine but then I begged God to lead my husband home to Him and that I would follow.
Over the next 7 years, my husband and I went on a spiritual odyssey. It was very dark and scary at times. During this time my husband started doing lots of research into Christianity and the Bible and would share his findings with me. Eventually, after my husband finished his undergraduate degree, we moved to Arkansas where my husband began graduate school. While in Arkansas, my husband and I decided to make a complete break from the JWs and since my husband had relatives who were Lutheran we joined the local Lutheran Church. By the time, my husband had completed his Doctorate, he was hired to teach at a Lutheran liberal arts college in Nebraska.
While my husband was teaching there, he became interested in the history of the early church. He began to read the Early Church Fathers and would share what he was discovering with me. My husband spent the summer of 2002 doing research at the University of Arkansas and when he came back to Nebraska he told me that if he was going to be intellectually, spiritually, and academically honest with me and with everyone else he was going to have to become Catholic.
My response to him was “Why?! I have been there and done that and God is not there!” But instantly the Holy Spirit reminded me of my prayer that if God led my husband to Him, I would follow. This meant that I had to discover what it was that was drawing my husband to the Catholic Church. So, my husband and I joined an RCIA program at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln, NE. During this time my husband gave me a Rosary and I would not touch it. However, one day I saw the Divine Mercy Chaplet on EWTN and asked my husband about it. He told me that it was a prayer asking for God’s Divine Mercy and then he showed me how to recite it using the Rosary that he had given me. After this I would watch the people saying the Divine Mercy Chaplet on television and I would just cry and sing it with them.
Christmas of 2002 was coming soon and I asked my husband what he wanted for Christmas. He said that he wanted the Diary of St. Faustina entitled Divine Mercy in My Soul. I asked him who this St. Faustina was. He told me that she was a Polish nun who had private revelations about the Divine Mercy of Jesus and that she wrote about this in her Diary. I ordered the book and on Christmas Day I gave it to him. But I was so curious that when he was not looking I began to read it. My husband eventually figured out that I had been reading the Diary and we agreed that we would read it together in the evening before going to bed.
While reading the Diary, we discovered that the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy was part of these private revelations. I knew now why the Chaplet had affected me so much. It was because it was speaking about the mercy of God and I realized for the first time in my life that God’s mercy also applied to me. For decades I believed that God could forgive and show mercy to others but not to me. After all, I was the one who had killed her own child (a gift from God) and then lost my second child to a miscarriage. This was the first time I realized that the Lord was not just waiting to destroy me for my sins but was really waiting for me to accept His divine love, unfathomable mercy and forgiveness. This brought me to my knees both literally and figuratively. For the first time in decades, I realized that I could have an intimate relationship with God and that the Lord really wanted me to spend eternity with Him in heaven looking upon Him face to face.
Even though, I had learned about God’s Divine Mercy through the private revelations of a Catholic nun, I was still unsure about becoming Catholic. My husband was ready to become Catholic yesterday and I still had many fears and doubts about the Catholic Church. I was still viewing Catholicism to a large degree based on my poorly catechized Catholic upbringing. I was also afraid that the Catholic Church might create a division between me and my husband that could destroy our marriage. So, I went and prayed to God before the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Cathedral of the Risen Christ and I poured out my heart to the Lord. I begged God to reveal to me the truths of the Catholic Church. I told Him that if He was in the Catholic Church, He would have to show me. I was surrounded by walls of doubt and fear that I could not climb over nor get around without Him removing those walls. God had to show me that the Catholic Church was my final destination. While praying, I realized that I had to totally rely on the Lord’s providence in leading me to the Catholic Church and not on my own reasoning because my own reasoning had been so tainted. Once I submitted completely to the Lord’s will the walls of fear and doubt came tumbling down and I was finally able to accept the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Once it became clear that the Catholic Church was now my home, I spoke with our priest and made arrangements to be reconciled to the Church. So, I went to confession for the first time in 25 years. At least this time, I did not have to worry about coming up with only three sins. I had plenty of sins including mortal sins to share with the priest. However, this still did not remove the fear and stress of confession for me particularly since I was going to finally confess my sin of murder. After hearing the words of absolution and hearing that I had been forgiven by God, I felt such relief that it is difficult to describe. It was like a weight that I had been carrying all alone for the past 25 years was suddenly removed. The Lord had given me Divine Mercy in MY soul and I accepted it. This experience was so liberating and with great joy I was welcomed back home to the Catholic Church on Easter Vigil 2003. [The complete version of Kathy Schwehm's story is here.]
Kathy’s story points to the heartache and need that so many women have in our society, where abortion is so common. it is estimated that about a quarter of all women in the US have had abortions. The figure appears to be no different for those identifying themseves as Catholics. Will this be the year that some woman you know will avail herself of the Divine Mercy, receive forgiveness for abortion, and be reconciled with the Church? It can be if you do your part, prepare for the Feast of Divine Mercy, and invite her.