By TARA CONNOLLY Staff writer
“We are living in a time of great and extraordinary grace. In times of great evil, God gives greater grace. God won’t be outdone by evil and that is why this story is a script only God could write,” said Father Michael Gaitley Nov. 5 during Spirit 2016 “Encounter Mercy and Truth” at DeSales University, Center Valley.
Father Gaitley, a member of the Congregation of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception and director of the Association of Marian Helpers and Hearts Afire: Parish Based Programs for the New Evangelization, was one of three keynote speakers at the men’s conference that drew an estimated 550 men.
According to Father Gaitley, who titled his recent book “The Second Greatest Story Ever Told,” the story stems from the heart of St. John Paul II’s witness for today’s world and proclaiming the Feast of Divine Mercy on the Sunday after Easter.
Aside from the Bible, Father Gaitley said, the greatest story begins with Poland, St. John Paul II’s homeland, and how God used the tiny nation to reveal his mercy.
The birth of the late pontiff occurred in 1920 – the same year as the Battle of Warsaw, also known as the Miracle of Vistula. Poland, which was on the edge of defeat, suddenly managed to push back the attacking Red Army and overcome the enemy power before creating a peace treaty.
“God also used little Poland in 1989 with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. But the best way the Lord used little Poland was on the eve of World War II when Jesus appeared to St. Faustina and delivered his message of divine mercy,” said Father Gaitley.
“Mercy is a particular kind of love. We don’t need to jump through hoops for God’s love. We have to receive it with faith and a contrite heart.”
In turn, Father Gaitley said, the people of Poland took great comfort in the message of divine mercy that ultimately spread like wildfire after Pope John Paul II lifted the ban on the feast – it had been banned due to inconsistencies in translation of St. Faustina’s diaries.
“Pope John Paul II considered the message of divine mercy to be his special task because he knew the modern world would need it so much,” he said.
In 2000, he instituted the feast of Divine Mercy on April 30 during a Jubilee Year of Mercy. On the same occasion, the pope canonized Maria Faustina Kowalska, now known as the Apostle of Divine Mercy.
“The pope said that was the happiest day of his life. You see, that was the day he completed the mission given to him by God. That’s what he did and that’s why he was happy,” said Father Gaitley.
“He is saying that this time of mercy is an important time for the church. There is a particular urgency. It’s not about fear or preparing for the final coming. In a certain sense God is making it easier for us to become saints. We are fools if we don’t make use of divine mercy,” he said.
Pope John Paul II died April 2, 2005, on the eve of the Feast of Divine Mercy after the vigil Mass.
“Sure, it would make a great story if he died on the feast he established. But he received a droplet of the precious blood and whomever receives the sacrament on Divine Mercy Sunday receives a clean slate. He died a half hour later in the arms of mercy. That is divine providence,” he said.
The story gets better, according to Father Gaitley, when his assistant discovered that the ailing pontiff had prepared a homily for the feast that places “Jesus, I trust in You” as its motto and the excerpt:
“As a gift to humanity, which sometimes seems bewildered and overwhelmed by the power of evil, selfishness and fear, the risen Lord offers his love that pardons, reconciles and reopens hearts to love. It is a love that converts hearts and gives peace.
“How much the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy! Lord, [you] who reveal the Father’s love by your death and Resurrection, we believe in you and confidently repeat to you today: Jesus, I trust in you, have mercy upon us and upon the whole world.”
Bishop of Harrisburg Ronald Gainer
Bishop of Harrisburg Ronald Gainer, formerly a priest of the Diocese of Allentown, presented “Encountering the Truth” and asked the men to strengthen their personal experience with God and demonstrate it to others.
“There is a spiritual battle being waged for our immortal souls, and to be victorious we have to put on the armor of Christ and do battle,” he said.
Urging the men to make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he told them confession is where personal sins are forgiven and they are restored to sanctifying grace.
“The only requirement that God’s mercy makes on us is that we admit we need his mercy,” said Bishop Gainer.
He then advised the men to ponder how they manifest sacramental graces in a manner in which others will recognize them as authentic witnesses to Christ and how they have seen the Lord.
“Direct personal experience of Jesus is essential, if we are to live our lives according to the mind and heart of the risen Lord. And this is the greatest pitfall – the most serious obstacle we face in our life of discipleship,” said Bishop Gainer.
If men do not experience the divine mystery of Jesus Christ, he advised them they will lack the necessary energy needed in being a disciple of Christ.
“We must be able to announce ‘I have seen the Lord,’ just as the lives and the word of testimony of the first disciples after Easter did. People want to see evidence that we know and love Jesus Christ personally. They want to see a Catholic faith that reaches every part of our being and that is revealed in our words, actions, manner, smile and friendships,” said Bishop Gainer.
He also raised the issue of the large number of inactive Catholics and said reputable surveys point to the claim that they never experienced the presence of Christ when they were in the Catholic Church.
“It is essential then, that we Catholics be in habitual contact with the mystery of God and that we be able to speak with familiarity of that mystery – not with profound theological words, but with heartfelt words drawn from our encounter with the truth, the person of Christ. How can we be men of the truth, if we ourselves have not experienced this intimacy with the mystery of Jesus Christ?” stressed Bishop Gainer.
He noted when two of John the Baptist’s disciples left their master to follow Jesus they were asked, “Whose disciples are you? Whom do you follow?”
“Today many think that identity derives from independence: ‘I’ have no identity or importance until ‘I’ am on my own – doing my own thing – finding myself – standing on my own two feet. That contemporary concept of identity poses another serious obstacle to genuine discipleship and it has taken a great toll on many of us in American society, in married life, in family life, religious life and also in the priesthood,” said Bishop Gainer.
In John’s Gospel, he said, discipleship means to come, to see, to stay and to introduce others.
“The effect of our example will be truly good only if it is apparent that we have seen the Lord. Our barking won’t do it. Giving directions or mere information is insufficient and ineffective. Only when we give evidence that we have seen the Lord and have kept that experience alive and vibrant can we truly be men of truth and authentically invite others to come closer to Christ,” he said.
The conference, which is supported by the diocesan Commission for Men and Secretariat for Catholic Life and Evangelization, also featured a presentation from Marcus Grodi, author, speaker and president of the Coming Home Network and host of the EWTN Journey Home television program.
In addition, the Sacrament of Reconciliation was offered and Bishop of Allentown John Barres concluded the conference by celebrating a Vigil Mass.