COLUMBIA — “God is truly rich in mercy, and he wants his mercy to flow to us like Niagara Falls. Don’t think he is stingy with mercy just because we are. His love is unconditional,” said Msgr. Joseph James, director of Mercy Retreat Center in Slaton, Texas. He recently led a Divine Mercy Conference at Good Shepherd Church in Columbia March 28-31.
Msgr. James took the 80 participants on a spiritual pilgrimage with daily Mass, devotions and talks. In addition he set aside time every day to hear confessions, a sacrament where he is known as an insightful and compassionate confessor.
“Because I am a result of his mercy, I want everyone to know of his mercy, and I thought the conference would be a great way for our Lord to show us that God will forgive. All we have to do is ask — for love is mercy and mercy is forgiveness,” said Good Shepherd parishioner, Barbara House. She helped to coordinate the event with the retreat center’s organizer, Scott Scaria.
“The biggest Catholic sin is when we say, ‘I am not worthy of God’s forgiveness,’” said Msgr. James. It makes him sad to meet people who did not think they could even ask for forgiveness until they got their lives in order.
“We feel like our hands have to be clean before we receive God’s mercy, but it is his mercy that cleans our hands,” he added.
The steps needed for receiving God’s mercy are simple according to the priest; first one must recognize the need for mercy and ask for it. Then they have to receive it, and finally they must give it to others.
He showed how Jesus taught these steps in the Our Father, the Sermon on the Mount and in parables. For example in the Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall have mercy.”
“Mercy is given not just received. Mercy comes from God to me and through me. It must pass through me to others to complete the circuit. If I don’t let it flow, I am not doing God’s job in my heart,” he said. “You don’t have to be perfect to receive mercy, but you must be grateful enough to show mercy to someone else. If you can’t, then it didn’t really take root in your heart.”
After listing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, he warned about the things that get in the way of mercy. “When we are selfish, jealous of others or fear that we are not loved, forgiveness and mercy are blocked because it is hard to forgive when you are full of yourself,” he warned.
He urged everyone to look at the Blessed Mother as an example of someone who was not full of herself but so full of grace instead that she is called the Mother of Mercy.
Lavinia Bruce, a member of First Baptist in West Columbia who is thinking about converting to Catholicism, said she has heard much of this message, but now sees it in a different light.
“Msgr. James talked to us like we were children of God, making the message simple and putting it in a way I can believe it,” said Bruce.
Msgr. James also spoke on St. Faustina and called her a disciple of Divine Mercy. He showed how Pope John Paul II has embraced the mission of spreading the devotion too through his writings and by formally designating the Sunday after Easter as “Divine Mercy Sunday.”
“I learned so much about Divine Mercy and the symbolism of the famous picture showing Jesus with mercy flowing from his heart,” said Valerie Lopez, a parishioner from Transfiguration Church in Columbia.
“God’s business is to change hearts. His merciful love is given to us to help transform our hearts so we can be merciful to others,” said Msgr. James. He ended with the words of Christ, “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
Don’t miss out
There will be a Divine Mercy Celebration April 27, Divine Mercy Sunday, at 2 p.m. at Our Lady of the Hills Church. Father Adam Kasela from Savannah, Ga., will hear confessions, pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet and say the Mass at 3 p.m. in Polish. A covered dish dinner will follow the Mass. Everyone is invited to come and bring their favorite Polish dish. For more information call Teresa Greaney at (803) 749-8024.
In Charleston, Divine Redeemer Parish will host a Divine Mercy Sunday celebration on April 27 from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. All are invited to the celebration that will be held at the church at 1106 Fort Drive. For more information contact the parish at (843) 553-0340.
And Our Lady Star of the Sea Church, 1100 8th Avenue North in North Myrtle Beach, will celebrate April 27 at 2:45 p.m. All are invited to attend this special devotional service (no Mass) with benediction and veneration of the relic of St. Faustina. Bring your rosaries for the recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.