Most Catholics have heard of St. Faustina. It was to her that Jesus entrusted the revelation of the Divine Mercy, a form of piety that has done nothing but grow in popularity over the past few decades, especially since it was clearly beloved by her fellow Pole, Karol Wojtyla, who went on to become Pope John Paul II and establish Mercy Sunday as a special feast of the Church.
And hey! What’s not to like about mercy—especially if you are an adult living in the early years of the Third Millennium? In a world crawling with evil and at a time when we are all made to be more and more aware of our own participation in it, mercy sounds mighty attractive. As Chesterton observed, “Children are innocent and love justice; while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.” So fairy tales are naturally full of gruesome punishment meted out to villains which make us blanch and children cheer, while contemporary adult fiction is filled with moral ambiguity and pleas for understanding the rich tapestry of motivations for repellent criminals.
That’s not to say contemporary adult fiction is mere sophistry, but it is to say that the hunger for mercy is more often seen among adults, who know their guilt rather than children who often only know their powerlessness. I, for one, certainly appreciate the Church’s teaching on mercy and have had recourse to the sacrament of Reconciliation more times than I can remember. I have a lively appreciation for the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, which regarded the forgiveness of sin as a greater miracle that the creation of the universe.
Just how great may be seen in another prominent figure in Polish history who is not so well-remembered these days: Hans Frank.
Frank was the Nazi gauleiter (territorial governor) of Poland during the German occupation in World War II. In addition, to overseeing the slaughter of two million Jews in camps under his administration, he also oversaw the slaughter of an additional two million Poles. His brutal reign also saw to it that millions of Poles were enslaved and the whole population suffered terrible deprivations as the Nazi regime labored toward their eventual goal of either exterminating or enslaving all the untermenschen so that the Master Race could pursue the goal of expanding in the “living space” left in East once their racial plans were fully enacted. Next to Hitler and Himmler, Frank bore perhaps the most responsibility for the mass murder of millions of innocent men, women, and children at the hands of the Nazi barbarism.
After the war, he was captured by the Allies and, along with the rest of the major criminals of the Nazi regime who survived the war, he was tried at Nuremburg. During the course of his imprisonment, he underwent a reversion to his childhood faith, repented his monstrous crimes, and sought the sacrament of Reconciliation. He received it, and went to the hangman’s noose declaring, “My conscience does not allow me simply to throw the responsibility simply on minor people…A thousand years will pass and still Germany’s guilt will not have been erased.” As he mounted the scaffold and was asked for any last statement, he replied “I am thankful for the kind treatment during my captivity and I ask God to accept me with mercy.”
How we respond to the proposition “…and a few seconds later, this man—who was responsible for the murder of four million innocent men, women, and children, as well as the enslavement and devastation of a whole nation—entered into eternal bliss and the everlasting love, mercy, and peace of Almighty God” is the measure of how much we really believe in what the Church actually proclaims about Divine Mercy. It is not the mercy we accept for ourselves that shows our trust in God’s mercy; it is the mercy we grant others and, especially, the mercy we grant to those disgusting, loathsome creeps we are quite certain even God will not forgive. The good news is: if God can and does forgive even a man like Hans Frank, there is abundant hope for the rest of us.
For the sake of his sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.