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Dives in Misericordia Novena

This Totus2us novena contains the whole of Pope John Paul II's second encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), which JPII gave to his 'Venerable Brothers and dear sons and daughters' (on the 1st Sunday of Advent, 30th November 1979).

It is beginning on Good Friday, in unison with the Divine Mercy chaplet. The music is from 'Triduum - Contemporary Sacred Music' by David Bevan and Neil Wright, and sung by the Holy Redeemer Choir.

You can read Dives in Misericordia n English, French, German, Italian, Latin, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak & Spanish on the Vatican's website.

Day 1 of the Novena to God the Father, Rich in Mercy

Venerable Brothers, dearest Sons and Daughters,
greetings and Apostolic Blessing!

I. He who sees me, sees the Father (cf John 14, 9)

1. The Revelation of Mercy

"God rich in mercy" (Eph 2, 4) is the one whom Jesus Christ has revealed to us as (the) Father: it is his very Son, in Himself, who has manifested Him and made Him known (Jn 1, 18; Heb 1, 1). Memorable in this regard is the moment in which/when Philip, one of the twelve apostles, turning to Christ, said: "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied"; and Jesus replied: "I have been with you for so long, and yet you do not know me...? He who has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14, 8). These words were spoken during the farewell discourse, at the end of the paschal supper, which was followed by the events of those holy days during which confirmation was given once and for all of the fact that "God, rich in mercy, through the great love with which He has loved us, when we were dead through sin, made us alive again with Christ" (Eph 2, 4).

Following the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council and adhering to the particular needs of the times in which we live, I devoted the encyclical Redemptor hominis to the truth about man, which in its fullness and depth is revealed to us in Christ. A demand/esigenza of no less important, in these critical and not easy times, impels me to discover once again in this same Christ the face of the Father, who is "merciful and God of all consolation" (2 Cor 1,3). In fact it is read/we read in the constitution Gaudium et Spes: "Christ, who is the new Adam... fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his highest vocation"; he does it "by revealing the mystery of the Father and of his love" (GS, 22). The words cited clearly attest that the manifestation of man, in the full dignity of his nature, cannot take place without - not only conceptual, but integrally existential - reference to God. Man and his supreme vocation are revealed in Christ through the revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love.

It is for this that it is now fitting for us to turn to this mystery: it is suggested by the multiple experiences of the Church and of contemporary man; it is also demanded by the invocations/appeals of so many human hearts, their sufferings and hopes, their anxieties and expectations. If it is true that every man is, in a certain sense, the way of/for the Church, as I affirmed in the encyclical Redemptor hominis, at the same time the Gospel and the whole of tradition constantly indicate to us/show us that we must travel/walk this way with each man just as Christ traced it, revealing in himself the Father and his love (cf ib). In Jesus Christ, every pathway to man, which has once and for always been assigned to the Church in the changing context of the times, is simultaneously an approach to the Father and to his love. The Second Vatican Council confirmed this truth for our time.

The more the mission carried out by the Church is centered upon man, the more it is, so to speak, anthropocentric, the more it must be confirmed and realised theocentrically, that is orientated in Jesus Christ towards the Father. While the various currents of human thought in the past and present have been and continue to be likely/propense / have tended and still tend/ to divide and even to counter/oppose theocentrism and anthropocentrism, the Church instead, following Christ, seeks to join them (up) in the history of man in a profound and organic way. And this is also one of the fundamental principles, and perhaps the most important one, of the magisterium of the last Council. If, therefore, at this stage of the Church's history, we propose as the preeminent task the implementation of the doctrine of the great Council, we must act upon this principle with faith, with an open mind and with all our heart. In my encyclical already cited/mentioned, I sought to reveal that the deepening and the multiform enrichment of the Church's consciousness, fruit of the same Council, must open our intellects and our hearts more fully to Christ. Today I would like/wish to say that openness to Christ, who as Redeemer of the world fully reveals man to man himself, can not accomplish this other than through an ever more mature reference to the Father and to his love.

2. The Incarnation of Mercy

God, who "dwells in inaccessible unapproachable light" (1 Tim 6, 16), at the same time speaks to man with the language of the whole cosmos: "indeed, since the creation of the world, his invisible perfections can be contemplated with the intellect in the the works accomplished by him, with his eternal power and divinity" (Rom 1, 20). This indirect and imperfect knowledge, work of the intellect which seeks God by means of creatures through the visible world, is still not the "vision of the Father". "No one has ever seen God", writes St John so as to give greater emphasis to the truth according to which/that "the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has revealed him" (Jn 1, 18). This "revelation" manifests God in the unfathomable mystery of his being - one and triune - surrounded by "inaccessible light" (1 Tim 6, 16). Through this "revelation" of/by Christ, however, we know God above all in His relationship of love towards/for man: in his "philanthropy" (Tit 3, 4). It is precisely here that "his invisible perfections" become in a particular way "visible", incomparably more visible than through all the other "works accomplished by him": it becomes visible in Christ and through Christ, by means of his actions and words and, finally, through his death on the cross and his resurrection.

In this way, in Christ and through Christ, God also becomes particularly visible in his mercy, namely there is emphasized that attribute of divinity which already the Old Testament, availing itself of various concepts and terms, defined (as) "mercy." Christ confers a definitive meaning on all the Old Testament tradition about divine mercy. Not only does he speak about it and explain it by using similes and parables, but above all he himself incarnates it and personifies it. He Himself is, in a certain sense, mercy. For the one who sees mercy/it in him - and finds it in him - God becomes particularly "visible" as (the) Father "rich in mercy" (Eph 2, 4).

The contemporary mentality, perhaps more than that of man in the past, seems opposed to the God of mercy and tends also/altresi to marginalize from life and to divert/remove/distogliere from the human heart the very idea of mercy. The word and the concept of "mercy" seem to put man at unease, who, thanks to the enormous development of science and technology, never before known in history, has become master and has subjugated and dominated the earth  (cf Gen 1, 28). Such dominion over the earth, understood at times unilaterally and superficially, seems to leave no room for mercy. In this regard we can, however, profitably refer to the image of "the condition of man in the contemporary world" which is outlined at the beginning of the Constitution Gaudium et Spes. There we read, among other things, the following sentences: "Under these circumstances, the world presents itself today as powerful and weak, capable of doing what is best and worst, while before it opens up the road of freedom and of slavery, of progress and of regression, of fraternity/brotherhood and of hatred. Moreover, man realises that the forces he himself has unleashed depend on him to be well orientated/guided well and can enslave him or serve him" (GS, 9)

The situation of the contemporary world manifests not only transformations that give hope in a better future for man on earth, but also reveal multiple threats which far surpass those known before. Without ceasing to denounce such threats in diverse occasions (as in speeches/addresses at the UN, UNESCO, FAO and elsewhere), the Church must at the same time examine them in the light of the truth received from God.

The truth, revealed in Christ, about God "Father of mercies" (2 Cor 1, 3) allows us to "see him" particularly close to man, above all when man is suffering, when he is threatened at the very nucleus of his existence and dignity. And this is why, in the situation of the Church and the world today, many men/people and many groups guided by a lively sense of faith are turning, I would say, almost spontaneously to the mercy of God. They are certainly being impelled/moved to do so by Christ himself, who through his Spirit works within human hearts. Indeed, revealed by him, the mystery of God Father of mercies" becomes, in the context of today's threats against man, almost a unique appeal which is addressed to the Church.

In this/the present encyclical I wish to accept this appeal; I wish to draw from the eternal and jointly, for its simplicity and depth, from the incomparable language of revelation and faith, so as to express with it once more before God and men/humanity the great concerns of our time.

Indeed, revelation and faith teach us not only to meditate in the abstract upon the mystery of God as "Father of mercies", but also to have recourse to this same mercy in the name of Christ and in union with him. Did not Christ say that our Father, who "sees in secret" (Mt 6, 4, 6, 18) waits/is waiting, it seems, continually that we, having recourse to him in every need, gaze/watch always at/for his mystery: the mystery of the Father and of his love?

I wish therefore that these considerations bring this mystery closer to everyone and become, at the same time, a clarion call/ heartfelt/vibrant appeal by the Church for mercy of which man and the contemporary world have such great need. And they need it/mercy even though they often do not know it.

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Day 2 of Totus2us's Dives in Misericordia Novena   ¤

THE MESSIANIC MESSAGE

3. When Christ Began To Do and To Teach

Before His own townspeople, in Nazareth, Christ refers to the words of the prophet Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. "These phrases, according to Luke, are His first messianic declaration. They are followed by the actions and words known through the Gospel. By these actions and words Christ makes the Father present among men. It is very significant that the people in question are especially the poor, those without means of subsistence, those deprived of their freedom, the blind who cannot see the beauty of creation, those living with broken hearts, or suffering from social injustice, and finally sinners. It is especially for these last that the Messiah becomes a particularly clear sign of God who is love, a sign of the Father. In this visible sign the people of our own time, just like the people then, can see the Father.

It is significant that, when the messengers sent by John the Baptist came to Jesus to ask Him: "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?", He answered by referring to the same testimony with which He had begun His teaching at Nazareth: "Go and tell John what it is that you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them." He then ended with the words: "And blessed is he who takes no offense at me".

Especially through His lifestyle and through His actions, Jesus revealed that love is present in the world in which we live - an effective love, a love that addresses itself to man and embraces everything that makes up his humanity. This love makes itself particularly noticed in contact with suffering, injustice and poverty - in contact with the whole historical "human condition," which in various ways manifests man's limitation and frailty, both physical and moral. It is precisely the mode and sphere in which love manifests itself that in biblical language is called "mercy."

Christ, then, reveals God who is Father, who is "love," as St. John will express it in his first letter; Christ reveals God as "rich in mercy," as we read in St. Paul. This truth is not just the subject of a teaching; it is a reality made present to us by Christ. Making the Father present as love and mercy is, in Christ's own consciousness, the fundamental touchstone of His mission as the Messiah; this is confirmed by the words that He uttered first in the synagogue at Nazareth and later in the presence of His disciples and of John the Baptist's messengers.

On the basis of this way of manifesting the presence of God who is Father, love and mercy, Jesus makes mercy one of the principal themes of His preaching. As is His custom, He first teaches "in parables," since these express better the very essence of things. It is sufficient to recall the parable of the prodigal son, or the parable of the Good Samaritan, but also - by contrast - the parable of the merciless servant. There are many passages in the teaching of Christ that manifest love-mercy under some ever-fresh aspect. We need only consider the Good Shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep, or the woman who sweeps the house in search of the lost coin. The Gospel writer who particularly treats of these themes in Christ's teaching is Luke, whose Gospel has earned the title of "the Gospel of mercy."

When one speaks of preaching, one encounters a problem of major importance with reference to the meaning of terms and the content of concepts, especially the content of the concept of "mercy" (in relationship to the concept of "love"). A grasp of the content of these concepts is the key to understanding the very reality of mercy. And this is what is most important for us. However, before devoting a further part of our considerations to this subject, that is to say, to establishing the meaning of the vocabulary and the content proper to the concept of mercy," we must note that Christ, in revealing the love - mercy of God, at the same time demanded from people that they also should be guided in their lives by love and mercy. This requirement forms part of the very essence of the messianic message, and constitutes the heart of the Gospel ethos. The Teacher expresses this both through the medium of the commandment which He describes as "the greatest," and also in the form of a blessing, when in the Sermon on the Mount He proclaims: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

In this way, the messianic message about mercy preserves a particular divine-human dimension. Christ - the very fulfillment of the messianic prophecy - by becoming the incarnation of the love that is manifested with particular force with regard to the suffering, the unfortunate and sinners, makes present and thus more fully reveals the Father, who is God "rich in mercy." At the same time, by becoming for people a model of merciful love for others, Christ proclaims by His actions even more than by His words that call to mercy which is one of the essential elements of the Gospel ethos. In this instance it is not just a case of fulfilling a commandment or an obligation of an ethical nature; it is also a case of satisfying a condition of major importance for God to reveal Himself in His mercy to man: "The merciful...shall obtain mercy." - Dives in Misericordia

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Day 3 of Totus2us's Dives in Misericordia Novena   ¤

III. THE OLD TESTAMENT

4. The Concept of "Mercy" in the Old Testament

The concept of "mercy" in the Old Testament has a long and rich history. We have to refer back to it in order that the mercy revealed by Christ may shine forth more clearly. By revealing that mercy both through His actions and through His teaching, Christ addressed Himself to people who not only knew the concept of mercy, but who also, as the People of God of the Old Covenant, had drawn from their age-long history a special experience of the mercy of God. This experience was social and communal, as well as individual and interior.

Israel was, in fact, the people of the covenant with God, a covenant that it broke many times. Whenever it became aware of its infidelity - and in the history of Israel there was no lack of prophets and others who awakened this awareness - it appealed to mercy. In this regard, the books of the Old Testament give us very many examples. Among the events and texts of greater importance one may recall: the beginning of the history of the Judges, the prayer of Solomon at the inauguration of the Temple, part of the prophetic work of Micah, the consoling assurances given by Isaiah, the cry of the Jews in exile, and the renewal of the covenant after the return from exile.

It is significant that in their preaching the prophets link mercy, which they often refer to because of the people's sins, with the incisive image of love on God's part. The Lord loves Israel with the love of a special choosing, much like the love of a spouse, and for this reason He pardons its sins and even its infidelities and betrayals. When He finds repentance and true conversion, He brings His people back to grace. In the preaching of the prophets, mercy signifies a special power of love, which prevails over the sin and infidelity of the chosen people.

In this broad "social" context, mercy appears as a correlative to the interior experience of individuals languishing in a state of guilt or enduring every kind of suffering and misfortune. Both physical evil and moral evil, namely sin, cause the sons and daughters of Israel to turn to the Lord and beseech His mercy. In this way David turns to Him, conscious of the seriousness of his guilt; Job too, after his rebellion, turns to Him in his tremendous misfortune; so also does Esther, knowing the mortal threat to her own people. And we find still other examples in the books of the Old Testament.

At the root of this many-sided conviction, which is both communal and personal, and which is demonstrated by the whole of the Old Testament down the centuries, is the basic experience of the chosen people at the Exodus: the Lord saw the affliction of His people reduced to slavery, heard their cry, knew their sufferings and decided to deliver them. In this act of salvation by the Lord, the prophet perceived his love and compassion. This is precisely the grounds upon which the people and each of its members based their certainty of the mercy of God, which can be invoked whenever tragedy strikes.

Added to this is the fact that sin too constitutes man's misery. The people of the Old Covenant experienced this misery from the time of the Exodus, when they set up the golden calf. The Lord Himself triumphed over this act of breaking the covenant when He solemnly declared to Moses that He was a "God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness." It is in this central revelation that the chosen people, and each of its members, will find, every time that they have sinned, the strength and the motive for turning to the Lord to remind Him of what He had exactly revealed about Himself and to beseech His forgiveness.

Thus, in deeds and in words, the Lord revealed His mercy from the very beginnings of the people which He chose for Himself; and, in the course of its history, this people continually entrusted itself, both when stricken with misfortune and when it became aware of its sin, to the God of mercies. All the subtleties of love become manifest in the Lord's mercy towards those who are His own: He is their Father, for Israel is His firstborn son; the Lord is also the bridegroom of her whose new name the prophet proclaims: Ruhamah, "Beloved" or "she has obtained pity."

Even when the Lord is exasperated by the infidelity of His people and thinks of finishing with it, it is still His tenderness and generous love for those who are His own which overcomes His anger. Thus it is easy to understand why the psalmists, when they desire to sing the highest praises of the Lord, break forth into hymns to the God of love, tenderness, mercy and fidelity.

From all this it follows that mercy does not pertain only to the notion of God, but it is something that characterizes the life of the whole people of Israel and each of its sons and daughters: mercy is the content of intimacy with their Lord, the content of their dialogue with Him. Under precisely this aspect, mercy is presented in the individual books of the Old Testament with a great richness of expression. It may be difficult to find in these books a purely theoretical answer to the question of what mercy is in itself. Nevertheless, the terminology that is used is in itself able to tell us much about this subject.

The Old Testament proclaims the mercy of the Lord by the use of many terms with related meanings; they are differentiated by their particular content, but it could be said that they all converge from different directions on one single fundamental content, to express its surpassing richness and at the same time to bring it close to man under different aspects. The Old Testament encourages people suffering from misfortune, especially those weighed down by sin - as also the whole of Israel, which had entered into the covenant with God - to appeal for mercy, and enables them to count upon it: it reminds them of His mercy in times of failure and loss of trust. Subsequently, the Old Testament gives thanks and glory for mercy every time that mercy is made manifest in the life of the people or in the lives of individuals.

In this way, mercy is in a certain sense contrasted with God's justice, and in many cases is shown to be not only more powerful than that justice but also more profound. Even the Old Testament teaches that, although justice is an authentic virtue in man, and in God signifies transcendent perfection nevertheless love is "greater" than justice: greater in the sense that it is primary and fundamental. Love, so to speak, conditions justice and, in the final analysis, justice serves love. The primacy and superiority of love vis-a-vis justice - this is a mark of the whole of revelation - are revealed precisely through mercy. This seemed so obvious to the psalmists and prophets that the very term justice ended up by meaning the salvation accomplished by the Lord and His mercy. Mercy differs from justice, but is not in opposition to it, if we admit in the history of man - as the Old Testament precisely does-the presence of God, who already as Creator has linked Himself to His creature with a particular love. Love, by its very nature, excludes hatred and ill-will towards the one to whom He once gave the gift of Himself: Nihil odisti eorum quae fecisti, "you hold nothing of what you have made in abhorrence." These words indicate the profound basis of the relationship between justice and mercy in God, in His relations with man and the world. They tell us that we must seek the life-giving roots and intimate reasons for this relationship by going back to "the beginning," in the very mystery of creation. They foreshadow in the context of the Old Covenant the full revelation of God, who is "love."

Connected with the mystery of creation is the mystery of the election, which in a special way shaped the history of the people whose spiritual father is Abraham by virtue of his faith. Nevertheless, through this people which journeys forward through the history both of the Old Covenant and of the New, that mystery of election refers to every man and woman, to the whole great human family. "I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you." "For the mountains may depart...my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed." This truth, once proclaimed to Israel, involves a perspective of the whole history of man, a perspective both temporal and eschatological. Christ reveals the Father within the framework of the same perspective and on ground already prepared, as many pages of the Old Testament writings demonstrate. At the end of this revelation, on the night before He dies, He says to the apostle Philip these memorable words: "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me...? He who has seen me has seen the Father." - Dives in Misericordia