Joyfully accepting the free gift of Divine Mercy
Fr. Michael Gaitley speaks of the popular ministry
by Trent Beattie
Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, is well known —not only for his speaking presentations on Divine Mercy, but for his written ones, as well. The 43-year-old priest from the Marians of the Immaculate Conception has a list of bestsellers that includes Consoling the Heart of Jesus, The ‘One Thing’ Is Three, and 33 Days to Morning Glory.
His most recent book is called 33 Days to Greater Glory: A Total Consecration to the Father through Jesus Based on the Gospel of John. Despite his publishing and speaking success, Fr. Gaitley says that his main concern is no different than any other priest: making God the Father’s merciful love known to those entrusted to his care.
Those under the care of Fr. Gaitley include the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy, a group of young men and women near the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Co-founded by former NFL linebacker Eric Mahl, the missionaries commit to a year of service to the poor (often homeless) in the northeastern United States.
Fr. Gaitley spoke to Catholic Digest of the profound impact the missionaries have on his ministry, the biggest surprise he has encountered as a priest, and his newest book in anticipation of Divine Mercy Sunday on April 19.
Q With all the distractions in the world today, how did you choose to become a priest?
A It was pretty simple: Jesus called me, and I said yes. And I’m so grateful that I did say yes. Still, I have to admit that when I first experienced the call, it felt like I had won “the anti-lottery.” In other words, I felt that while others got to experience the joy of marriage and family, I was doomed to a lonely and miserable life.
In fact, many times during my 15 years of studies toward the priesthood, I was tempted to say no to the call. Now I thank Godwith all my heart that he gave me the grace to say yes. And while the life of a priest is certainly one of sacrifice, I also know it to be one of astounding meaning, fulfillment, and joy.
One thing about my own call is that I heard it before smartphones were invented. So today, with the many distractions of contemporary society, I imagine it’s difficult for young people to hear the voice of the Lord. In that case, for those who have some inkling that they might be called to the priesthood or religious life but who are having a hard time knowing for sure because of all the noise of the world, I recommend doing something like a year of service with a group such as NET (National Evangelization Teams) Ministries, FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), or the one with which I work closely, the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy.
Q What have been the biggest surprises in your ministry?
A First, the biggest surprise has been the suffering. While the priesthood is not the lonely and miserable life I had expected, there have been many other kinds of suffering that I didn’t expect. At the same time, I’ve been blown away by the joy I’ve found in serving Christ and the Church. This relates especially to my work promoting the message of Divine Mercy,which is really the heart of the Gospel: God’s mercy for sinners.
On a daily basis, I witness how that message changes lives and brings “the joy of the Gospel.” Moreover, I encounter that joy not only in the lives of others but in my own life, as well —which says a lot. Let me put it this way: By temperament, I easily get depressed, but by the grace of the Gospel, I tend to be filled with joy, even amid more suffering than I ever expected.
For this “melancholic,” then, that’s the biggest surprise. To borrow a phrase of C.S. Lewis, I’ve been “surprised by joy,” even amid great suffering.
It was pretty simple: Jesus called me and I said yes.
Q You’ve been nicknamed “Fr. Burnout” because of all your apostolic activities. Have you cut down on thenumber of events you speak at or the number of books you write? Also, what are the safeguards against being a “celebrity priest”?
A I hope to God I am never a celebrity priest —a term some have used but one that doesn’t sit well with me. As an ordained priest, I find my identity in being a son of God the Father and in exercising spiritual fatherhood. I suppose that is my “safeguard.” In other words, because I know who I am and because I’d rather be a father than famous, the idea of a “celebrity priest” has no appeal for me. I pray it never will.
Regarding “Fr. Burnout,” I don’t recall ever being called that. However, it wouldn’t be so far off, because there was a time after ordination when I was very close to burnout. What saved me from that and what brings me tremendous joy to this day is getting to be a spiritual father to a group of young men and women who serve the poor, called the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy.
Being a father to them gives me strength to sacrifice a lot and pour myself out in service. The way I see it is this: Mothers and fathers can put up with a lot and suffer a great deal for the sake of their children without becoming burned out. For me, my identity as a spiritual father gives me a great deal of strength to work hard for my spiritual children, because love gives strength.
Q I hear you have a new book coming out. Could you tell us about that?
A Sure. It’s called 33 Days to Greater Glory: A Total Consecration to the Father through Jesus Based on the Gospel of John (Marian Press, 2019). It’s the third installment of the 33-day consecration series that begins with 33 Days to Morning Glory (Marian Press, 2018). Then, because Mary
always leads us to Jesus, the Divine Mercy, there’s 33 Days to Merciful Love (Marian Press, 2016). Finally, because Jesus wants to bring us home to the Father, there’s 33 Days to Greater Glory. And I think it’s a case of saving “the best” for last, because I believe a consecration to our heavenly Father truly is the greater consecration, the one to which all others find their origin and end.
Q What are the biggest misconceptions Catholics have about Divine Mercy?
A Perhaps the biggest misconception about Divine Mercy is that it must be earned, that we must be perfect to go to Jesus, and that the more perfect we are, the more worthy we are to draw close to him. Of course, there’s the problem of presumption, where people think that they can have God’s mercy without confessing their sins, without being sorry for their sins, and without making a firm purpose of amendment. However, I myself have rarely experienced that in ministry. What I have experienced and found to be prevalent among “active” Catholics is the first problem, the idea that God’s love must be earned by following all the rules, saying all the prayers, and giving money to the right causes. In fact, I’ve met many such people who, after a fall, an infraction, or some negligence, have doubted God’s love for them and kept their distance from the Lord. I’ve met many people who tend to be formal with Jesus, who respect Jesus, and who are reverent in worship but who avoid divine intimacy and being vulnerable with the Lord. I’ve met many people who may be willing to kiss the feet of Jesus but not his face (as if that’s what pleases him best). I’ve found that to be the biggest misconception.
Again, it’s the notion that the more perfect we are, the more worthy we are to draw close to Jesus. The reality is that Jesus invites us spiritually poor, weak, broken, and overburdened people to come as close as our faith will dare. The reality is that Jesus likes it best when we come to him, our hearts broken because of our sins, and kiss not only his feet but his face.
Q What are the most basic pieces of advice you would give to Catholics today?
A I’d recommend listening intently to the Word of God, and I’d start with these words from Jesus: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). And also this: “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid of what? Do not be afraid to come to him as you are with all your weakness, brokenness, and sin, and let us always pray, “Jesus, I trust in you.” His love and mercy will do the rest.