The Greater the Sinner, the Greater the Mercy I watched as many poor people walked about in tattered clothing, visiting, eating tacos . and smiling. "What do they have to be so happy about?" I wondered. I was attending a medical conference in Mexico City in 1991 and had taken time out to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The image of our Blessed Mother on the five-hundred-year-old cactus fibers of a peasant's tilma is truly amazing. But it was the crowd milling around outside the shrine that captured my attention. I could not understand why I, a successful physician with a prestigious medical practice in Florida, should find happiness so elusive while joy radiated off these poor peasants?
I had it all, and yet I had nothing. In spite of money, status, material possessions and a beautiful family, personal satisfaction eluded me. The fact that I had a wonderful wife and three children and was a Catholic since birth should have been my compass in life. Instead, I was on a course for disaster. Trapped in a lifestyle of women, materialism, and workaholic tendencies, I was sinking fast. There's a saying: "Your sin will find you out," and thankfully, mine did. Although I did not feel that way at the time, by being confronted with my involvement with other women, the last shreds of my life began to unravel. Looking back, I can see I was not thinking straight. My twisted life needed to unravel before I could begin again to be straight with my family and with God.
When I hit rock bottom, I was anxious and depressed, wondering how I ever could rebuild my life with who I was. How could my wife Susan and I start to build a new relationship on the rubble of my past? It was at this time that a friend sent me literature on the devotion of Divine Mercy. The pamphlet explained that the Polish nun, Saint Faustina, canonized in 2000 and the first saint of the new millennium, had written a diary in which she recorded her mystical experiences -- in particular Jesus Christ's desire that the world accept His unfathomable mercy. When I read, "The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to my Mercy (Diary of St. Faustina, 723)," I was overcome with remorse and gratitude. Tears of sorrow flowed like a river, as if expelling the pus of my wounds of sin. I read the words again and again realizing that in the depths of sin, there was help - even for me.
Christ's Divine Mercy became a life jacket that kept me afloat and kept me from drowning in a sea of misery. Later that year, in 1992, Susan and I went to counseling and slowly, through God's grace, began constructing a solid marriage. We both became part of the Divine Mercy ministry, sharing our own story, as well as educating people on Divine Mercy and the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Initially, I balanced my medical practice with volunteering in the ministry, but over the ensuing five years, I felt called to leave medicine behind. I cried the day I wrote a letter to the medical board giving up my license to practice medicine. But in my heart, I fully believed God was calling me out of one healing ministry to another; from the physical to the spiritual. Although it meant making big changes in our lifestyle, Susan and I decided we could manage by living off our savings. It was a new path in our walk down the road of life. I knew we needed to fully trust in God.
On September 9, 1995, the fruit of our healed marriage was born - John Paul. He was special from the start. At his birth, he struggled with life; turning blue and unable to breathe. We prayed intently and John Paul soon stabilized and fully rebounded. A friend distributing Holy Communion walked into the room and said: "Wow, what happened? I can really feel the presence of God."
I understood in my heart how God had truly blessed us. My three oldest, Andrea, thirteen, Bryan eleven, and Patricia, eight, did not always fully understand the changes of going from being doctor's kids to children of one dedicated to simple life of service to God. And yet they surely benefited from the renewal of our marriage and my commitment to fatherhood as a holy vocation.
********** In early November, fourteen months later, I returned home from a conference in the early morning hours. That evening a Mass was going to be celebrated in our home. In spite of very little sleep, I awoke early to take care of some of the outside work. I stepped onto our back patio, opened the gate to our swimming pool and walked out to the backyard. Young Bryan suddenly yelled from the front for help starting the lawn mower. After helping him, I was reminded that it was time to drive Andrea to swim practice. We jumped in the car with Patricia and hurried off.
While on our way, I received a call on my cell phone from Bryan. "Dad," he said in a strained voice, "John Paul is dead. Someone left the pool gate open."
Susan had found John Paul lifeless; he was not breathing and did not have a palpable heart beat. As a trained nurse, she was already administering CPR in an effort to pump life back into John Paul's little fourteen-month-old body.
I told the girls what had happened and we immediately said a Hail Mary together. The rest of the drive was spent in tears and silent prayers. "Jesus, have mercy on John Paul and me," I cried. Guilt overwhelmed me as I envisioned my helpless little boy bobbing up and down in the pool, all because I left the gate open. John Paul had been a part of my healing-a child of promise for Susan and me. "Jesus, why would You take him from us now?" my heart cried.
Then, as I frantically had to wait at a red light, I was suddenly hit with the scripture story from Genesis of Abraham being asked to offer his son, Isaac, up to God. "God, are you asking me for my son?" I asked, my heart breaking. It was the moment of truth for me. I had been preaching trust in God's Divine Mercy for four years. God was calling me to a deeper trust. I wanted my little boy to live. I loved him with all my heart. Could I accept God's will if it meant never holding John Paul again in this life?
"Jesus," I prayed. "I trust in You, in all situations. I submit to Your will, whatever that means." I told God that I did not understand why He would take John Paul from us at this time, but that I offered my son back to Him. I also thanked God for the time He had given us with John Paul. I told Jesus that I placed my trust in Him and wanted only that His will be done. I reflected on the deep trust of Abraham as he was told to sacrifice his son, Isaac. I felt a deep sense of peace after that.
When we arrived at the house, the emergency squad had also just gotten there. Although John Paul was bloated and unresponsive, Susan felt a slight pulse after doing CPR. I was ecstatic. There was still hope! Upon arriving at the hospital, I called my sister who lives in another town and asked her to pray for John Paul that night with her prayer group. Over the next thirty-six hours, John Paul's mental clarity improved hourly. Within two days, he was released, totally normal!
I saw my sister a couple of weeks later as she drove up to join our family for Thanksgiving. She said to me, "I never told you this story. But the morning following our prayer group, my friend, Irma, called and said that she knew John Paul was going to recover. While praying in the morning, she had a vision of Abraham offering Isaac back to God the Father. Then Jesus, The Divine Mercy, stepped in the middle and gave him back." Tears streamed down my cheeks, and I said to her, "Well, let me tell you the rest of the story...."
I'm happy to report that John Paul, our child of the promise, is now a typical, healthy seven-year-old boy. And the rest of the story is really that I have never been the same since that lesson in trusting Jesus. In fact, "Divine Mercy as a Way of Life" sums up the mission of Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy (EADM), the lay outreach ministry that I founded in 1996 -- the same year that I almost lost my son.