In 2018 before undertaking my masters, I decided to do what seemed like every other young person did before they started university (and what I’d always wanted to do) - I backpacked across Europe for 6 weeks. With my best friend from high school, a very tight budget from our savings and only a few pairs of clothes, we travelled across 8 different countries in the snowy winter, visiting old friends, meeting weird and wonderful travellers, praying in grand churches and cathedrals, experiencing the Viennese opera, hiking in Scotland, road tripping in Spain, running into rioters in Paris and London, saying hello St Peter and the Pope at Vatican City and many other great adventures. It was quite a wild ride, and honestly I was just as nervous as I was excited before we began. Instead of being consumed by fear, I left it into the hands of God, my guardian angel and my sister in heaven, St Therese who was the first statue or painting I saw in every church I walked into during our trip, so I knew she was taking good care of me.
It’s always a good idea to bring a book with you on your travels, and mine was “St John Paul the Great: His Five Loves”. I knew St JPII was a wonderful Pope and I’d heard Jason Evert (a great Catholic evangelist) speak fondly of him so I knew it’d be a good read. It didn’t disappoint, however I was beginning to become disappointed when I saw that I still had a few weeks left of travel and I’d almost finished my book. Reading the book had not only helped me learn more about the holy life St JPII had led, but increased my prayer life in meditating upon each chapter and praying for his intercession.
Whilst in Vienna, having finished my book and my travelling friend unfortunately sick in bed, one morning I decided to explore and find a new church in the city where I could pray for my friend to get better and guidance for the rest of our trip.
After about an hour of walking, slightly disappointed I hadn’t found a new church (and a little lost), I finally saw a dome with a crucifix on top just around the corner. Hidden by scaffolding and construction outside, I walked around it for a few minutes trying to find an entrance, finally squeezing through secret door hidden behind signs and scaffolding.
Inside it was dim, with small rays of sunshine pouring in and perfectly silent. Not a soul in sight, just Jesus and I alone. Genuflecting to the Blessed Sacrament, instead of immediately kneeling to pray in a pew, I walked around the church looking at the religious art and statues.
At the back of the church I was drawn to a larger than life statue of Mary and went to her, unsure of where to start in my prayers, trusting she’d guide me but instead I was interrupted by the sound of a door opening. It wasn’t my secret door and I was sure the direction he’d come from was closed off completely by construction outside.
His eyes piercing and walking straight towards me, a hunched over man with a beard sticking in all directions and ragged winter clothes called out “excuse me, I want to give you something”. Immediately I was shocked - how did he know I spoke English? I hadn’t met anyone outside our hostel that spoke English yet. What luck?! Usually my nervous system would have kicked in, alone in the dark with a stranger, pulling out a mysterious item from his dirty bag - my first instinct as a woman is to recall my nearest exit but instead I felt completely at peace and knew this stranger had good intentions. Plus, with Mother Mary towering over us, evil didn’t stand a chance. Pulling out a book with St JPII and the Divine Mercy Jesus on the cover he handed it to me. Showing the book, he explained to me the message of St Faustina from Our Lord, to pray for the dead, to remember all souls, to seek the Divine Mercy and love of God that wants to over pour grace upon us all and reveal to us the joy of eternal life and his tender embrace. Accepting the gift in thanks, he responded with "God bless you child". I looked down at my book in amazement, I wanted to say more - how did you get in here? Where did you come from? How many English copies do you have of this book? How did you know I spoke English? Why did you choose me? Did you only come into this Church to give it to me? ...but he had disappeared, I didn't even hear the door close or his footsteps leaving. The church was perfectly silent once more, only a few streams of sunlight shining in and Mother Mary smiling down on me.
Feeling goosebumps all over, I laughed in wonder - truly, my guardian angel had come to visit me in the flesh and give me a gift...it was the most unexpected and grace filled moment I’d ever experienced.
The simplicity of this angel really spoke to me. He didn’t have wings, a glowing appearance, grand robes or elegance, but was very much like Jesus was to the Jews - meek, humble and unexpected.
Running back to my hostel room, I devoured the Divine Mercy booklet, praying the Chaplet with great fervour. When I returned home to Melbourne at the end of my trip, I had moved to a new suburb. By God's grace I found a nearby church that prays the Divine Mercy chaplet on a weekly basis! When I would usually go there to pray it, I continue it in my own home during this pandemic time.
The Divine Mercy Chaplet is a beautiful prayer that encapsulates the incredible sacrifice of our Lord, asks for pardon of our sins, grace, strength in troubling times and intercession for all souls across the world who are suffering and drawn away from the freedom of God’s love and Mercy. Never has there been a more appropriate prayer for this season we find our world in. St Faustina’s meditations on Stations of the Cross are truly beautiful and recommend you pray them too.
On Good Friday I began the Divine Mercy Novena and reflected again on my encounter with my angel in Vienna and how God continues to invite me into his love and mercy so that I may too share it with others. This Sunday I rejoice on the feast day of Divine Mercy, created by St John Paul II who canonised St Faustina for her great intercession for all souls on earth and the dead so that we may all experience the overflowing Mercy of God! I will ask you the same question I asked to my young adults group in preparation for Divine Mercy Sunday this week - what does God’s Mercy mean to you? How have you experienced it and how do you respond to it?
I gift you with resources for continued Divine Mercy prayer and faith formation:
Podcast on Divine Mercy: https://open.spotify.com/episode/5HHyVBVpIwQQPSjOi55tgD?si=qlTGcCUQSt-N1zCheUCsgw&fbclid=IwAR3qqU3Fr6Dd2GUoeJF4jjw5_nwpAf0OvAUBZeCGl_lJV6iNmgTw5yCQPNI Summary: Two mothers and a religious sister talk about what Divine Mercy is for them during this time of pandemic and reflect on their relationship with God’s Mercy throughout their lives over a cup of coffee.
The Divine Mercy Chaplet: https://www.thedivinemercy.org/message/devotions/pray-the-chaplet Summary: How to recite the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
The Divine Mercy Chaplet Sung Prayer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZT0MNmFkgG4 Summary: Sung by our very own Melbourne Priest, Fr Rob Galea!
St Faustina’s Diary: https://www.faustyna.pl/zmbm/en/diary-full-text/ Summary: Read the Diary of the Saint who spread the message of Divine Mercy from her own personal interactions and visions with Jesus Christ!
Way of the Cross/Stations of the Cross Prayer: Read: https://www.shrineofdivinemercy.org/stations-way-2 Listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F__HqheNLF0 Summary: Pray the Way of the Cross/Stations of the Cross with St Faustina’s meditations
Learn More about Divine Mercy: https://www.thedivinemercy.org/ Summary: Articles, prayers, outreach, online mass, videos, information about relics, books, daily reflections, free apps and online store.
Enter into the abundant Mercy of God! Happy Easter.