We know of the intimate relationship St. Faustina had with Christ. But there was someone else who guided her and protected her. Author, speaker, and director of vocations for the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, has published a new book, Purest of All Lilies: The Virgin Mary in the Spirituality of St. Faustina (Marian Press). In the following interview, he sheds light on the Blessed Virgin Mary's profound influence on the life and spirituality of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska.
Father Donald, how did the book come about?
At the end of my seminary studies, our Marian Provincial allowed me to go to Dayton, Ohio, to the International Marian Research Institute and begin studies for a Licentiate in Mariology. That began in 2002. I got my Licentiate in 2005, and the book is basically a condensed version of my thesis.
How does the book contribute to the study of the life and spirituality of St. Faustina?
Most people, when they think about St. Faustina, they automatically think about The Divine Mercy, and rightly so. That's first and foremost. So what happens is, a lot of people don't really go into the other aspects of St. Faustina's life and spirituality. When you read through the Diary of St. Faustina, the Virgin Mary pops up all over the place, but nobody has really studied and written about it in any great depth. I write in there at one point how when Fr. George Kosicki, CSB, undertook the project of compiling a thematic index to the Diary, he was struck by how many times the Blessed Virgin Mary came up, and yet how little attention had really been paid to that aspect of St. Faustina's life.
From the beginning of her life, St. Faustina was exposed to Marian devotions. I've read how her father once put a little shrine to Our Lady around the family's pear tree, and young Helen (Faustina) would gather the other children around it to sing hymns.
Yes, her father had a great devotion to Our Lady, especially as the Immaculate Conception. And even as a little girl, St. Faustina had dreams of the Virgin Mary. From a very early age, she was saturated in a very Polish, Catholic, Marian environment, and that helped form her into very much a child of Mary. She knew she could confide in Mary. It's not surprising then that when she goes to Warsaw to begin her religious life, when she doesn't know a soul in this big city, the first thing she does is she cries out to Mary: "Mary, lead me, guide me" (Diary, 11). It was so natural to her. It was ingrained in her. It was in the culture, it was in the family, and then later, in was in her religious order.
Would you describe the special role Mary plays a St. Faustina's spirituality?
Saint Faustina has a very Eucharistic spirituality. There are things that the Eucharist and Mary share in common, such as the suffering, and being Immaculate. Just as the Host is white, St. Faustina's favorite way of referring to Our Lady is as "the Immaculate." And just as the Eucharist is God's humility in what looks like bread, she is always talking about Mary's humility. And just as the Eucharist is silent, St. Faustina finds in Our Lady a model of silence. She's always talking about silence. It's amazing to consider when you look at Christ's appearances to Faustina, with the exception of the ones that focus on the Image of The Divine Mercy, the vast majority of them are Jesus appearing as a Child in the arms of Mary. When you read the Diary, you might not pick that up. Mary was pretty much always there.
What is the significance of that?
At one point, St. Faustina asks Jesus why He appears to her as a Child so much, and the reason He gives is because He wanted her to be humble, to realize she, too, had to be child-like. I think the reason He appears to Faustina in Mary's arms is because we are to understand that we cannot have the Baby Jesus without Mary, His mother. At one point in the book, I do note, "In the spirituality of St. Faustina, there is no separating Jesus from His Mother. They always go together."
You note, too, how Mary also taught St. Faustina to trust.
Yes, trust is a cornerstone of the Divine Mercy message. So during all the trials St. Faustina faced in her life, she always turned to Mary as an example of trust. Mary, of course, endured her own trials and suffering, such as in watching her Son die, and so St. Faustina knows she can turn to Mary because Mary has "been there." She's been through hardship. Yet Mary always trusted, and St. Faustina knows she herself needs to trust. Saint Faustina went through a nightmare with her community. They sent her for psychological evaluation. They thought she was weird and a freak. They made fun of her. They didn't believe her. They spied on her. So she was really needing to trust in our Lord's plan for her, and so she turned to Mary.
Considering how few families today practice Marian devotions such as St. Faustina's family did, as a Marian priest, what challenges do you face in spreading devotion to Mary Immaculate?
What I find is that people in the last 40, 50 years have been so poorly catechized on who Our Lady is and what her privileges are — that she is immaculate, that she was assumed into heaven, that she doesn't have any sin. So many Catholics today don't even know the fundamentals about the teachings of the Church on Mary. When I'm giving talks at various conferences, I take that opportunity to give a talk on Our Lady and talk about what the Church teaches about her, and I am amazed at how many Catholics walk away from that saying, "You know what? I never knew that." That's why I have a whole section in the book where I go through the doctrinal aspects of St. Faustina's Marian spirituality — Mary's Divine Motherhood, her maternity, her intercessory role, her virginity, Assumption, Immaculate Conception, Queenship, etc. — so that people can get some familiarity with these concepts and how important they were for St. Faustina and that they come to understand that these things really are important in the life of this great saint. Hopefully, it will inspire people to grab the Catechism and read what the Church teaches about Our Lady.
I'm interested in your thoughts on this: Here was this woman, St. Faustina, whom Jesus Himself would speak to. With that in mind, what role could Mary play in a life like that? Why is Mary so important, when St. Faustina was already meeting Jesus every step of the way?
In many ways, it's like the Wedding Feast at Cana, where Mary says, "Do whatever He tells you" (Jn 2:5). Whenever Jesus comes to Faustina by Himself, Mary follows up and affirms and tells Faustina to obey and to do what He says and to trust.
And St. Faustina entrusts everything to Our Lady.
Yes. For instance, at first she had spiritual directors who weren't addressing her spiritual needs, and so St. Faustina prays to Our Lady, and then Faustina gets two very holy spiritual directors. She even gets a belt of chastity from Our Lord, but through Our Lady. Saint Faustina, having grown up in Poland, knew of the Our Lady of Czestochowa image. She would know that that image was carried into battles by armies, and she even refers to Mary as her shield. She knows she's in a spiritual battle, and she knows, just from living the life of the Church, that Mary is the one who has the victory over the darkness. She's the one who crushes the head of Satan. She's the promised one in Genesis. If you want to be on Jesus' side, completely and totally, and if you want to completely trust Him, you have to kind of nestle up close to Mary. She's going to be the teacher. Our Lady actually teaches St. Faustina about the interior life. You see that in how Faustina has to really keep her mouth shut a lot of the times and practice abnegation and self-sacrifice when people are saying stuff about her or doubt her. I think she finds her strength in being able to do that with Our Lady there able to comfort her as a mother does. At one point, her spiritual advisor, Fr. Andrasz, tells her, "Place yourself in the hands of the Most Holy Mother" (Diary, 1243.) Jesus actually tells Faustina at one point, just before she was to go on a retreat, to ask His mother for the graces she will need. The point is, we all need a mother, even if we're seeing Jesus in visions. It's human to want to have that maternal dimension. By nature, we need a mother.
And you dedicated this book to your mother.
Yes! She's just been awesome. She loved it.
I think your book may inspire people to re-read the Diary with a Marian perspective.
I hope so. They'll clearly discover how her relationship with Mary was very important to her. Definitely. There are so many ways St. Faustina shows her love for Mary. For instance, for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in 1937, she wrote in her Diary: "I prepared not only by means of the novena said in common by the whole community, but I also made a personal effort to salute (Mary) a thousand times each day, saying a thousand 'Hail Marys' for nine days in her praise" (1413). Saint Faustina made this extraordinary novena at least three times in her life. "Nothing is too much when it comes to honoring the Immaculate Virgin," she would say (Diary, 1413). Two of those times, she was sick, we know. She was in bed very ill. Try saying 9,000 Hail Marys — while sick!
As a Marian priest, with the special charism to spread devotion to Mary Immaculate and the message of The Divine Mercy, is this topic of Mary and St. Faustina particularly important to you?
Oh yeah, definitely. The Divine Mercy and Mary Immaculate go hand in hand. The Immaculate Conception is really the masterpiece of Divine Mercy. Mary is the perfect fruit of Christ's redemption and love. So when you bring Mary and Divine Mercy together, they really compliment each other and they point to each other. It's kind of like the sun and the moon. Jesus is the sun; Mary's the moon. She reflects the sun. John Paul II wrote in his encyclical, Dives Misericordia, that the one who had the greatest knowledge and understanding of Divine Mercy was Mary, because she received it, then she gives it — Divine Mercy, Jesus Incarnate — to the world. So she is Mother of Mercy, Mediatrix of Mercy. She's the one who gives us Jesus, and also the one who gives us the graces that Jesus won for us.
Of the many insights St. Faustina received from Mary, which would you say is most crucial — the one from which we can all learn?
Mary really conveyed to St. Faustina that she was her mother. On one occasion, Mary tells St. Faustina that her role as spiritual mother is part of the will of God. Quoting Mary's words to her, Faustina writes, "My daughter, at God's command I am to be, in a special and exclusive way, your Mother; but I desire that you, too, in a special way, be My child" (Diary, 1414). Mary wanted from St. Faustina a total filial, childlike relationship, one of trust and obedience, so that the will of God could be done. What Mary told Faustina was that there were three virtues Faustina should practice that are dearest to her (Mary). Mary said, "The first is humility, humility, humility, and once again humility; the second virtue, purity; the third virtue, love of God. As my daughter, you must especially radiate with these virtues." (Diary, 1415). Mary was teaching her all these things, focusing on doing the will of God. And she does this in her role as "Mother." You don't find a lot of titles for Mary in St. Faustina's Diary other than Mother. In Polish culture, you find that a popular way of referring to Mary is as "Queen of Poland." That doesn't appear at all. Her primary way of talking about Mary was as "Mother."
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