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The Divine Mercy (Part 2)

Fr. Hugh Barbour and Cy continue their discussion about the Divine Mercy on Catholic Answers Focus.

Cy Kellett: We continue, with our chaplain, a discussion about the divine mercy. Hello and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I am Cy Kellett, your host. Our guest again this week is Father Hugh Barbour, our chaplain, and we continue our conversation begun last week about the divine mercy, both Divine Mercy Sunday and the devotion.

Cy Kellett: Well, let us get, then, to the message of the divine mercy, a message that we’re told comes directly from Jesus to Saint Faustina Kowalska. What is it that … Well, first of all, is the message of the divine mercy in itself at all innovative, or is it emphasizing something that’s always been in the tradition and to a higher degree because maybe that’s what’s needed at this moment?

Fr Hugh Barbour: Well, I’d say that the latter point you make is the clearest one in the sense that the divine mercy devotion, it pulls together the whole tradition of the Church, not disregarding Lent and Paschaltide and all of that, but also the Church’s practice, or sacramental practice, and her faith in the redeeming merits of the God-man. And that’s the key. It’s not a kind of a divine mercy that guarantees that nobody goes to hell and that purgatory is not de rigueur anymore. Quite the contrary. It’s very clear in the Revelations that that’s what our Lord is earnestly trying to remedy. That is, to free souls from the effects of their sins so they will not be eternally lost and that they will not spend “a whole lot of time” in purgatory. So the doctrine regarding the last things, death, judgment, heaven, and hell, is completely reaffirmed in its traditional form by this devotion.

Fr Hugh Barbour: But the devotion has an emphasis on that aspect of these mysteries, which is more consoling for us who live in a very difficult time with lots and lots of sin. And therefore, we have to see where the grace of God abounds. Where sin abounds, as Saint Paul points out, grace abounds all the more. And so the core of the devotion is confident recourse to the power of Christ’s passion as he now implements it from Heaven and in the Church through the sacraments of the Church, especially through the sacrament of penance and the Blessed Sacrament. And so it’s actually a devotion, basically, of confidence, that is, that no matter how bad you are, if you turn and have recourse to his sacred passion and his body and blood and soul and divinity, then you will be saved.

Cy Kellett: Yeah.

Fr Hugh Barbour: That’s it. There it is. And I think that that’s the key there, is a confident recourse to the power of Christ’s passion as presented to us in the sacraments of the Church. That’s the key to this devotion, basically, and that’s something we’ve always taught, but is emphasized in a particular way, giving us a visual, the image, and giving us a season to celebrate–that is, the time of divine mercy between Good Friday and the octave of Easter–and practices–the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which has liturgical resonances with the thrice holy prayer and the repetition of those invocations–all those things basically pull those things together in order to give our souls, so worn out by sin, something to cling to in order to be healed and restored by the mercy of the savior.

Cy Kellett: And what about the other side of it, as well, the insistence on … This comes straight out of the Gospel, actually. Recently, we just had a Gospel reading here in the last week of the Lenten celebrations about “if you won’t forgive, you won’t be forgiven.” There’s something about withholding mercy from others. But this is a way of God, of Christ himself pushing us. This is what you need, not just what you need to receive, but this is what you need to do.

Fr Hugh Barbour: Right, and the awareness of who is in need of mercy, poor sinners generally, most of all the lukewarm and indifferent–which in the Novena, that gets a big underline–the souls in purgatory, and then also those who are heretics and systematics, and in the new devotional books they usually say “our separated brethren” or something like that, but she used the words “heretics and schismatics.”

Fr Hugh Barbour: Whatever. They have a little footnote, “Oh, this was the terminology of the time.” Okay, fine, but I think there are a lot of heretics–maybe she wasn’t talking about-

Cy Kellett: Outside the church.

Fr Hugh Barbour: … the ones outside the church. Maybe she’s talking about the ones in it.

Cy Kellett: Hey, fair enough. Right.

Fr Hugh Barbour: They still exist. And all the different categories of sinners, those who are at the moment of death, those who are hardened in sin, all those who are the most despaired of, these are the ones–our attention is drawn to them so that we can imitate our savior in calling on God’s mercy for the whole world and for all souls, not only for ourselves, but for all our fellow sinners, great and small.

Cy Kellett: I have noticed that some of the critiques of Catholic Answers, our apostolate here, run towards that we’re too liberal, and I think too liberal in our … Well, I don’t know, maybe some of it includes defending Pope Francis, but some of it is that we’re not worried enough about justice. We’re too into this new “love and mercy” thing. So what about justice as it relates to the divine mercy?

Fr Hugh Barbour: Well, of course, in God, His attributes, which are his perfections, are identical. God is utterly and completely simple. And so in God, justice and mercy are identical things. They’re not distinct. They’re distinct according to the apprehension of our minds. Where God gives to someone what is is due, that’s justice; and where God condescends–in the good sense, He bows down and restores or heals a person’s a misery–that’s called mercy. But as one of my professors said once, justice is the minimum of love and the minimum of charity. It’s the beginning.

Cy Kellett: Ah, yeah.

Fr Hugh Barbour: And we have to consider that even in the most lavish remission given to the worst of sinners, someone had to pay the price of justice for that person’s sins, and that someone is Jesus Christ, who thus has the right to demand of us that we show at least some measure of mercy to other people.

Cy Kellett: To at least try.

Fr Hugh Barbour: Because he has done it for everybody else. And so if you’re worried that that someone has overemphasized mercy over justice, you’ll have to take it up with Jesus, the son of Mary.

Cy Kellett: All right, when you say that they’re the same in God, justice and mercy, the image for me is Christ on the cross. Justice is utterly satisfied by his actions, but his actions are absolutely merciful.

Fr Hugh Barbour: Yeah. At the same time, sure. That’s it. That’s it, and it’s a mysterious thing, but there it is. And that’s why we can hold out hope for everybody. I think it’s imprudent for people to say, given what the scriptures say, what our Lord says in the scriptures, that there’s nobody in hell or no one goes to hell. That that would be rash to make such an assertion, because it’s so clear in the scriptures, and it appears to be the case, that there might be some way unknown to us that that could be resolved. John Paul II refers to that possibility in his Lenten retreat given to the Papal Court under Paul VI. But the fact is that it is not prudent to teach such a thing, because our Lord taught so clearly the danger of eternal loss over and over again.

Cy Kellett: It could not be clearer.

Fr Hugh Barbour: Right. It really could not be clearer. And so the message of divine mercy is not that ultimately no one is lost, but rather that, you might say, there’s absolutely no excuse for being lost, because God’s mercy has descended to you in every way conceivable and lavishly throughout the course of your human life, that the least little sign of repentance will be answered with a merciful response on the part of God. And that’s what we need to know, so that sinners can turn to him. It’s not to justify or minimize the works of God or the malice of sin, because obviously the malice of sin is very, very great.

Fr Hugh Barbour: Sometimes people think of mercy because they don’t really realize the malice of sin. And so they say, “Well of course God will forgive that. It’s just my little faults, you know?” There’s always an excuse.

Cy Kellett: The cross has a remedy for that, too. Just look at a crucifix.

Fr Hugh Barbour: Right, right. Exactly. And so I think that that’s a key there, that the devotion is not … It’s very traditional in its view of the last things and definitely should inspire in us a fear of eternal loss and a desire to be united to God as effectively as possible through the means of grace, which he offers us so lavishly.

Cy Kellett: I have to say, growing up in a Boston Irish Catholic family, I have some aversion to pious imagery sometimes. It gets a little saccharine for me and all that kind of thing. Maybe because it was everywhere and it was often covered in plastic or whatnot. I’m telling you this because a few years ago-

Fr Hugh Barbour: You’re fulfilling my stereotype of the-

Cy Kellett: Of the Irish Catholic?

Fr Hugh Barbour: … of the Irish Catholic.

Cy Kellett: Yeah. Well, there’s a little bit of-

Fr Hugh Barbour: Because I was raised an Episcopalian, so it kind of sounds like what I was told as a kid.

Cy Kellett: I know that you’re … Well, just to let you know, you have confirmed many of my stereotypes about southern Episcopalians, so we’ve confirmed each other’s. But years ago, I was editor of a Catholic newspaper here in San Diego, and a woman paid out of her own pocket to have the divine mercy put up on a billboard in Pacific Beach, which is a place with lots of, let’s say, tattoo parlors, bars and-

Fr Hugh Barbour: Scantily clad people.

Cy Kellett: Scantily clad people, right.

Fr Hugh Barbour: Who are probably getting tattoos of the divine mercy image on their chests.

Cy Kellett: So she puts the image up there, and it says next to this image of the divine mercy, it says “Trust in My Mercy,” and I kind of myself thought “It’s a little bit too pious. It’s a little bit too…” Well, I’m the editor of the Catholic newspaper; we started getting letters to the editor of people saying how beautiful that image was to them, and how that’s exactly what the Church should be saying, and these were not Catholic people. And so I thought, “Well, score one for Jesus on that. I was such a fool about it.”

Fr Hugh Barbour: Well, it is the first message that people should hear from us, because the repentance that we ask is also the announcement of God’s time of mercy. It’s the Good News. It’s the Gospel.

Cy Kellett: Yeah. Right. Okay. So I will conclude then with this question, having confessed what a jerk I am and how good Jesus is, and having confirmed your prejudices about the Irish. Okay, so here’s somebody listening to this and they say, “Okay, I want that. I want to avail myself of this Novena and of this feast of the divine mercy.” Give them some advice about what to do, how to do that.

Fr Hugh Barbour: Okay, well, of course the information on the devotion is easily available. You could just Google online “Novena to the divine mercy,” and you’ll find it, which begins on Good Friday and concludes on the Saturday before the Sunday after Easter. But the chief thing is, to make that Novena, you don’t have to use any particular form. The prayers and intentions are there. You could use the Divine Mercy Chaplet, which is a good way to make the Novena that simplifies it, but it’s to make a good confession and a good holy communion in view of the celebration of the Feast of Divine Mercy.

Fr Hugh Barbour: The confession, although in the devotion as our Lord describes it, is to be made on the feast of divine mercy, and there are many places where that opportunity is offered to people. The Church’s discipline, now that the feast is established, allows you to make the confession within two weeks or so of the feast, although it’s more significant, I think, if you do it right there the day before or the day of. So good confession and a fervent holy communion and some experience of Eucharistic adoration or the veneration of the image of divine mercy, which is set up in various places. And if it isn’t, you can always get one and put it up in your house and venerate it then, because our Lord promised particular graces to those who would venerate the image.

Cy Kellett: Just for those who don’t know, what does it mean to venerate an image?

Fr Hugh Barbour: An image, well, venerate, it could be anything. You can venerate with your eyes. You can integrate with your lips. You can kiss the image. You can kneel in front of it. But basically treating with reverence and using the images of focus of your devotion and adoration of the Lord of mercy and his precious blood.

Cy Kellett: Well, thank you very much for explaining divine mercy to us. I’m happy to hear that as Catholics, we are still in favor of mercy.

Fr Hugh Barbour: Absolutely.

Cy Kellett: I always feel encouraged when I hear that, and also that little prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you.” It’s about the most powerful prayer. It’s a beautiful prayer.

Fr Hugh Barbour: Yeah, that’s at the bottom of the image there. That’s what it says. “My Jesus, I trust in you.”

Cy Kellett: I say “Iesu, in te confido.”

Fr Hugh Barbour: That’s nice, because you’re-

Cy Kellett: Because I’m Latin.

Fr Hugh Barbour: Right, because it’s classier.

Cy Kellett: It’s a classier Catholic. I’m a classier type of Catholic. Father Hugh Barbour is our chaplain. He’s also a Norbertine priest. Again, Father, thank you very much for taking the time to do this.

Fr Hugh Barbour: Very welcome.

Cy Kellett: And thank you to everybody who joins us on Catholic Answers Focus. Please share it with other people. Let them know they can go to, put in their email address, and they’ll get a notice each week when a new Catholic Answers Focus that comes out. We’ll see you next time, God willing, right here on Catholic Answers Focus.


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