In 2020, I participated in my first novena — the Divine Mercy novena. Today was the final day. A novena, for the unfamiliar, is a nine-day period leading up to a feast day in the Catholic Church, in which you say the same prayer (or set of prayers) for various intentions.
In the Catholic Church, Divine Mercy Sunday falls on the Sunday immediately after Easter, so the novena begins on Good Friday each year, and concludes on the Saturday before Divine Mercy Sunday. The feast finds its origins in the life and writings of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), who purported to have conversations with Jesus, and her life’s mission was basically the propagation of this devotion to the Divine Mercy.
St. Faustina had a vision of Jesus with blood and water flowing from his heart and a painting was commissioned that is still venerated. I’ve blogged before about the chaplet of Divine Mercy (here), so if you’re interested in specifics, definitely check that link out. What I’d like to share for a few minutes were my impressions of the novena and what I’d do differently, or recommend for first-timers, so if that sounds of interest, I hope you’ll keep reading.
I’ll be honest, here. I’m not one of those Catholics that prays the Rosary every day, so sitting down for a while to pray the chaplet of Divine Mercy, took a chunk of time and adjustment. Even with the added optional prayers, if I’m not mistaken, it’s still shorter than saying a full set of mysteries (of the Rosary). And even rushing through the prayers, it was still a good 20+ minutes of my day that I wasn’t spending answering emails, scrolling through social media, or reading.
For me, I found it easiest to do it at the most quiet part of my day (mornings). This also helped me be consistent about getting it ‘out of the way’ before the day got away from me. Beyond the repetition of the prayers, I wish there was more of a meditative aspect as I wasn’t entirely clear where to direct my thoughts. Instead, I tried to focus on Jesus, and on the group of intentions for that day. That didn’t always work though, and it’s a humbling reminder that I’m human, same as everybody else.
This nine-day period has been a time of increased spiritual attack. On Good Friday-Holy Saturday, while I slept, a demon visited me in my sleep and began speaking vile profanities against the LORD. I could not pick out a word or phrase, only the sense in my spirit that this was its intent. Having been to the Sacrament of Reconciliation a few days prior, I hoped that I was still in a state of grace, and I rebuked it, and immediately it was gone.
That demonic visitation began a period of various trials in my day-to-day life that challenged me, humbled me, and left me depressed, stressed, and afraid, as so many uncertainties and fears were snowballing, and I flung myself headlong onto Christ’s divine mercy. I wish I could transition here and say that the miraculous happened and all my worries and fears vanished at once. But they didn’t. Sometimes, the act of praying daily was a comfort. Some days, I could sense God’s peace descending. Other days, the cares and anxieties just made that peace seem fleeting, like a bird unable to land on a tree branch, thrashing in a fierce storm.
I can tell you that I felt my interior life has begun to change. I was more honest. To myself, more than anyone. I let go, a little, of my constant desire for perfection, recognizing that only God is perfect. And I think He’s shown me that I can get through more than I think I can, if I’m only willing to lean on Him absolutely. Because in His power, nothing is impossible.
But that starts with learning to show mercy at home. If we cannot learn to forgive ourselves, how can we ever hope to forgive others? I suspect that the lessons will not cease tomorrow, but I will need to find new ways to challenge myself to keep reaching higher in my climb with Christ.
If we compare a novena to a spiritual exercise, I would caution you to pray and discern whether you are meant to give this a try, in the same way you might consult with a physician before embarking on a new exercise regimen or diet. The great Physician knows exactly what you need, and He’ll never steer you wrong. If you decide some year to attempt this novena for yourself, keep reading for a handful of tips I’ve compiled from what I’ve found useful in my own journey. God bless you.
5 Tips For Participating in a Novena:
– Join an email list so you get the prayers and reminders sent to your inbox each day. For this novena, I joined for free at praymorenovenas.com.
– Decide to pray at the same time each day, and keep to that schedule.
– Swipe/delete your email reminder only AFTER you’ve completed it that day. This way, it’ll remind you each time you check your email.
– You may find it helpful to set up a prayer reminder. If you’re using the MyParish app, you’ll find the chaplet of Divine Mercy under the “Prayers” section, and you can set up phone notifications.
– Use a five-decade (or “Dominican” rosary). The chaplet has five decades in it, like your standard rosary. This might be a no-brainer, but I used a pocket rosary (single-decade) and it took extra effort just to remember which set I was on at any given time, which pulls you away from the prayers.