I never learned to rely on Divine Mercy as much as I did during the year I taught fourth grade. A newly minted Master of Arts in English, I had planned to teach middle school language arts or high school literature, but, as so often happens, the Lord had other plans and called me to interview for a fourth grade position instead. Drawn by the school’s classic Catholic approach to education and the opportunity to guide students toward truth, beauty, and goodness, I was willing to overlook my utter lack of experience in elementary education to accept the position.
With plenty of perfectionism to spare, however, as a first-year teacher, I held myself and my students to unreasonable standards. Most often, I expected to override their natural propensity to talk with my stimulating lesson plans, and I hoped to make it through entire mornings without losing any of my carefully planned activities to endless side conversations or botched transitions between classes. When we inevitably fell short, I became irritated with them and with myself. The picture of a merciful educator I was not — just someone who felt consistently burned out by the mental and emotional toll of the first year of teaching.
I confided in a colleague and dear friend of mine at lunch one day last October, certain that eight weeks of school should have made me a professional at classroom management, and dismayed when they had not. I had shouted at my students too much earlier that day; once again, I hadn’t been able to love them the way God loves me, and I was sure he was upset with me for it, because I was upset with myself.
She responded to my concerns with an excerpt from St. Thérèse’s writings:
“And if the good God wants you weak and helpless like a child… do you believe that you will have less merit? …. Agree to stumble at every step therefore, even to fall, to carry your cross weakly, to love your helplessness. Your soul will draw more profit from it than if, carried by grace, you would accomplish with enthusiasm heroic actions that would fill your soul with personal satisfaction and pride.”
Thérèse knew that our weakness is not a reason to hide our faces in shame, but rather, to rejoice. Our littleness invites God close to us when we offer it up in trustful surrender, rather than pity ourselves. And God delights in taking his little children over and over again into his loving arms. Instead of beating myself up for my next mistake, I could ask God to meet me right there in his tender mercy, and imagine him smiling gently at me as he did so. And then, I could extend his mercy to my students in turn. I felt enormously comforted and encouraged by this realization.
In short, this is what Divine Mercy is: God’s promise that he will be there to embrace us every time we fall. God’s response to our failings is always, only, and forever mercy. In response, I am called to place complete and confident trust in his goodness — but this is something I am always working on, always learning how to do.
So this year, to celebrate the anniversary of my reintroduction to and adoption of Divine Mercy as a guiding principle of faith in my own life, I’d like to consecrate — to set aside or devote — the entire month of October to Divine Mercy, and I’d recommend that you do it, too! Luckily, there are three saints associated with it whose feast days give us the perfect opportunity to celebrate all month long:
St. Thérèse: October 1
St. Thérèse learned to revel in her littleness as a gift from the Father. In celebration of her feast day, enjoy a favorite childhood pastime to recall your own smallness, and continue to cultivate a childlike heart. For me, the day will probably involve coloring books and a favorite childhood novel or film (and also probably cookies — because nothing evokes warm childhood memories like the smell of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies).
St. Faustina: October 5
Jesus revealed his merciful heart to St. Faustina just prior to World War II, and she kept a record of these encounters in her diary. Today would be the perfect day to begin a new habit of praying the Divine Mercy chaplet daily, for peace in our world today. The chaplet is especially powerful if prayed at 3 p.m., during the Hour of Mercy, and I’ve found that setting a daily reminder on my phone for that time offers a helpful way to get in the habit of praying it.
St. John Paul the Great: October 22
John Paul II knew that a deep understanding of Divine Mercy is the remedy for all of our ills: “There is nothing that man needs more than Divine Mercy… Anyone can look at this image of the merciful Jesus, his heart radiating grace, and hear in the depths of his own soul what Blessed Faustina heard: ‘Fear nothing; I am with you always.’ And if this person responds with a sincere heart: ‘Jesus, I trust in you,’ he will find comfort in all his anxieties and fears.” Procure an image of Divine Mercy to display in your own home, and turn to it whenever you need a reminder of God’s infinite mercy. Mine is placed above my nightstand, so it’s one of the last things I see before I go to sleep, and among the first things to greet me in the morning. It’s a lovely reminder that God’s mercy is with me and holding me always!