*Today's post is by Dillon Bruce, seminarian at John Paul II Seminary and actor in Richmond Catholic Theatre's World Youth Day performances of The Jeweler's Shop: a meditation on the sacrament of matrimony, passing on occasion into a drama."
In high school school we learned about several key events of the Second World War. We learn about the general catalysts that provoked the sequel of the "War to end all wars," the American entrance after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the invasion of Normandy. But in all these topics we focused on the American point of view; how it affected us and what we had at stake. However, we also focused on one particular aspect of WWII that the Americans had nearly no involvement in: the atrocities committed at Auschwitz. It was not until the end of the war that America really grasped the magnitude of the genocide carried out by the Nazis. To be sure, America knew something was wrong when thousands of Jews and other Europeans began showing up at its ports for refuge, but certainly we had no way of comprehending the magnitude and intensity with which millions we're being led to the slaughter.
The magnitude of it all was what jumped out most to me as I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau this past week. Auschwitz, though on a smaller scale than Birkenau, was saturated with the feeling of helplessness. It was there that the first experiments of the gas chambers where carried out. Birkenau's massive layout is unfathomable; one cannot see from one side to the next. Birkenau a systematic, carefully planned, and diligently executed death machine. Every person that passed through there was judged to live and work or to died immediately. There is no comprehension of the evil that ran rampant there for years.
Though no man can ever grasp the hate, the despair, and the suffering that occurred at these camps and in the rest of the Second World War, we have been given a beautiful and powerful response to it all: Divine Mercy. God knew before all time that humanity was going to suffer in that time and in that place like never before. He understood the vast scale and insidious intentionality of it all, and responded with His infinite goodness and boundless mercy. He knew that after the war, people would doubt the goodness of humanity, the meaning of life, and trust in Him. After all, this was the second time the world tried to terminate itself.
You see, the word 'mercy' is from the Latin misericordia, which literally means "misery of the heart." To have mercy on someone is to join in their suffering, to know the pains of their heart. Thus, Jesus began to prepare the world to know His mercy for us. He spoke to us about his unfathomable goodness and Most Compassionate Heart through His Secretary of Mercy, Saint Faustina. Jesus's response to our misery, to our brokenness, to our suffering, is His insurmountable Love for each one of us. How appropriate, then, that after we visited Auschwitz and Birkenau, we made our way to the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy and Saint Faustina's convent where she received the message of Mercy and was instructed to commission the Image of Divine Mercy. In this part of the pilgrimage we embodied the continuous history of man's repeated fallenness and God unrelenting response of Love.
So, too, in our own lives we are reminded of this great story of Love. In our own suffering, we may ask, "Where is God? How can anyone else understand what I am going through? Where is the meaning in all this?" But just like those who suffered in the death camps of Poland, God is closest to us in our suffering. We are united to His most intimate Passion and Death, through which He redeemed humanity and opened to us the gates of Paradise. In our misery He responds with His inexhaustible treasury of compassion. Just as He crafted the message of Divine Mercy to counter the pain and confusion after of WWII, he personally responds to each and every one of the trials and sufferings in our own lives. It is my prayer that each of us will begin to have great trust in Jesus, who is Divine Mercy itself. When we go through our times of physical suffering or spiritual darkness may we retreat into His rays of Mercy and say, "Jesus, I Trust in You."