By Kristine Correira
Special to The CFP
WORCESTER – An annual conference that focused on Divine Mercy included a surprise for the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Father Patrice Chocholski told about the surprise before his second talk and brought it out at Mass.
He was the keynote speaker for the 12th annual Divine Mercy Medicine, Bioethics & Spirituality Conference, held May 4 and 5 at the College of the Holy Cross.
He is general secretary of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy, which is held every few years in a different country.
He is also rector of the Shrine of the Curé of Ars in Ars, France. He talked about St. Jean-Marie Vianney, the famed Curé of Ars, and about the Church as an emergency room and the use of the Divine Mercy message and devotion in patient care.
Jean Vianney deserted during the Napoleonic Wars, he said. Wanting a replacement, the army drafted his brother François, who died in battle. After learning of the death of François and not knowing the whereabouts of Jean-Marie, their mother died of despair. When Jean returned home, his father would not let him into the house until he prayed at his mother’s grave because, “It was your fault she died.”
Jean returned to seminary and wrote to his father, “I do deserve perpetual indignation. I am the unworthy son who deserves only contempt.” But during his studies he discovered Christ’s mercy and offered his wounds to the Holy Trinity. He said, “Our sins are like grains of sand in front of the great mountain of God’s mercy.”
St. Jean Vianney’s early homilies were influenced by the heresy of Jansenism, which was widespread in France and other parts of Northern Europe at the time, Father Chocholski said. It emphasized original sin, human depravity, and strictly interpreting the law.
To combat this heresy, the pope sent many bishops to Venice to study the teachings of St. Alphonsus Liguori, which focused on God’s love and mercy, the keynoter said. Due to his own encounter with Divine Mercy, St. Jean Vianney became one of the first parish priests to adopt Liguorism when his bishop returned from Venice.
Priests in Gaul would not grant absolution at the time of confession, but only after they verified that the assigned penance had been completed. St. Jean Vianney instead believed God’s mercy trusted his people.
Other priests used a manual of penances to give for each sin, so the more sins one confessed, more penances were added. St. Jean Vianney thought this led people to despair, so he gave small penances and told penitents: “Go, my friend; I will do the rest.”
“Neither the laxist nor the rigorist bears witness to the mercy of God,” Father Chocholski said. “Neither … takes care of the person he encounters. The rigorist washes his hands of them. In fact, he nails the person to the law understood in a cold and rigid way. And the laxist also washes his hands of them. He is only apparently merciful, but in reality he does not take seriously the problems of the conscience by minimizing them. True mercy takes the person into one’s care.”
Before his second talk, Father Chocholski brought out his surprise: a relic of the incorrupt heart of St. Jean Vianney, which conference participants got to venerate at the closing Mass. In so doing, he not only shared the message of Divine Mercy, but the very heart of someone who encountered God’s mercy and gave it to those around him, leading him to sainthood.
In his second talk Father Chocholski described the conversion to Divine Mercy (though not to Christianity) of 20th century humanist Albert Cohen, who wrote about the experience in his diary two years before he died.
Cohen grew up with an alcoholic father who abused his mother. When his father died, his mother asked Cohen to forgive him, saying, “If you had gone through the same trials as your father, what would you have become?” But Cohen would not forgive him.
Years later, Pierre Laval, a French politician, was sentenced to death for his collaboration with Hitler. Cohen, himself culturally Jewish but not believing in the faith, applauded the court decision. But then the words of his mother came back to him and he was led to forgive Laval and his father.
Also speaking at last week’s conference was Sister Inga Kvassayova, a member of St. Faustina’s congregation, the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland. Sister Inga told stories about caring for cancer patients and the elderly, and explained the importance of human and divine mercy in the lives of the sick and their families.
– Kristine Correira, a physician assistant, belongs to Christ the King Parish in Worcester.