Christ Said 'Paint an Image'
Eighty years ago on Feb. 22, Jesus appeared to St. Faustina in her convent cubicle and directed her to "paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You" (Diary of St. Faustina, 47-48). He attached many promises to those who venerate this image.
We've come to know this image as the Image of The Divine Mercy. But what's its significance? On this, the 80th anniversary of St. Faustina's revelation, let's hear from the experts, including St. Faustina's confessor and spiritual director, Blessed Michael Sopocko; Pope John Paul II; Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC; Dr. Bryan Thatcher; and Dr. Robert Stackpole.
Blessed Michael Sopocko
In a confessional — that's where Blessed Michael Sopocko first met Sr. Maria Faustina, a humble nun with a tremendous weight upon her. The Lord had begun revealing to her His message of Divine Mercy — an urgent message that He wanted her to share with the whole world. But who would believe her? At first, no one. Not her superiors in the convent and not her previous confessors.
Sister Faustina had prayed for a spiritual director, someone to help guide her, someone who understood that what she was experiencing was real. Father Sopocko was the answer to her prayers, and eventually he became the main promoter of her revelations, the very linchpin in the Lord's call to spread Divine Mercy throughout the world.
It was Fr. Sopocko who first instructed Sr. Faustina to keep her Diary. When Sr. Faustina told Fr. Sopocko of her visions of Jesus and His request for a new image to be painted and spread throughout the world, it was he who found the artist, E. Kazimirowski, who would paint The Divine Mercy image.
He didn't stop there. In actions that mark the beginning of the spread of The Divine Mercy devotion, Fr. Sopocko made sure The Divine Mercy image was displayed on the Sunday after Easter, 1935, over the famous Ostra Brama gate to the city of Vilnius, Lithuania.
In a letter written by Blessed Sopocko in 1958, he gives a thorough description of the efforts to fulfill Christ's request for the image. His long letter is translated from the Polish and quoted almost in its entirety in Pillars of Fire in My Soul: the Spirituality of St. Faustina (Marian Press, 2003), edited by Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD. Blessed Sopocko writes:
Upon my request Mr. Eugene Kazimirowski began the painting of the image on January 2, 1934. Sister Faustina of blessed memory with the permission of the Superior, Mother Irene, came once or twice a week to the painter's studio (in the company of another sister) and imparted instructions, how this image is to look. For several months the painter was unable to satisfy the author [Faustina], who became sad on that account, and it was at this time that she wrote in her Diary: "Once when I was at that painter's, who's painting this image, and saw that it is not as beautiful as Jesus is, I became very sad, but I hid that deep in my heart. When we left the painter, Mother Superior remained in the city to settle various matters, but I returned home by myself, immediately I made my way to the chapel and I had a good cry. I said to the Lord: 'Who will paint You as beautiful as You are?' Of a sudden I heard the words: 'not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush is the greatness of this image, but in my grace.'" ...
The image represents Christ in a walking posture against a dark background in a white garment, girdled by a band [belt, cincture]. With the right hand, raised to the height of the shoulder, He is blessing, and with the left one (with two fingers) He is opening the garment somewhat in the area of the Heart (not visible), from which are coming out rays (on the viewer's right a pale [colorless] one, and on the left a red one) in various directions, but principally toward the viewer. Sister Faustina called attention to this, that the right hand not be raised above the shoulder, not to bend forward, and only place the left foot forward to indicate movement, that the garment be long and somewhat fallen into folds at the bottom, that the Lord Jesus' gaze be directed a bit toward the bottom, as it happens when, standing, one looks at a point on the ground a few steps away, that the expression of the face of Jesus be gracious and merciful, that the fingers of the right hand be upright [erect] and freely lie close together, and on the left [hand] — [that] the thumb and index fingers hold open the garment; that the rays not be like ribbons [bands] hanging down toward the ground, but that with intermittent [broken] strips [streaks] they be directed toward the viewer and lightly to the sides, coloring to a certain degree the hands and surrounding objects: that these rays be transparent in such a way that through them the band [belt, cincture] and garment be visible; that the saturation of the rays with redness and whiteness be greatest at the source (in the area of the Heart) and then slowly diminish and vanish [dissolve, fade away].
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Dr. Bryan Thatcher, director of the Marians' Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy
The image reminds me perhaps, of what Mary Magdalene saw on Easter morning. She saw the Risen Lord with the marks of the Crucifixion. One hand is gesturing as if to say, "Come to My Heart, which was pierced by a lance for love of you!" and the other, raised in a gesture of blessing, anointing us with the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life.
The image serves to remind us that we are to be the mirror image of Jesus; we are to be the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus to a hurting world. It reminds us of the need to do deeds of mercy, to "stir up one another to love and good works" (Heb 10:24).
The image is signed with the words, "Jesus, I Trust in You." Trust is faith in action! When we face the adversities of life, as we traverse this valley of tears, let us be confident, let us run the good race, always keeping our eyes on the finish line. And remember the words of Jesus to St. Faustina, "I do not reward for good results but for the patience and hardship undergone for My sake" (Diary, 86).
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Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD, director of the Marians' John Paul II Institute of The Divine Mercy:
The Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Eucharist, these are holy mysteries indeed, but so, too, is the Image of The Divine Mercy, revealed to St. Faustina in the darkness of her convent cell in the city of Plock in Poland, back in 1931. She describes Christ's promises to her regarding the image:
I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over [its] enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I myself will defend it as my own glory. (Diary of St. Faustina,47-48)
... When St. Faustina asked our Lord about the meaning of the rays, He answered her by telling her that they signified the blood and water that gushed forth from His side on Calvary (see Jn 19:34-35):
When on one occasion my confessor told me to ask the Lord Jesus the meaning of the two rays in the image, I answered, "Very well, I will ask the Lord."
During prayer I heard these words within me: The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the water that makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls ...
These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when my agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross. (Diary, 299).
The historical reference that Jesus made here is significant ("when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross") because they correspond to what New Testament scholars tell us about this event. The fact is that Jesus was crucified by Roman soldiers, and Roman soldiers were trained to know exactly where to stick their enemies with a lance so that the lance would pass between the ribs and pierce the heart, thereby guaranteeing instant death. In the Gospel story, the Roman soldiers were trying to make sure that Jesus was dead before they took Him down from the cross (Roman soldiers were subject to the death penalty themselves if they failed to successfully execute a criminal condemned under Roman law) so their lance passed into His side between the ribs, but went right up into His Heart (remember that they were thrusting the lance upward, from beneath the Cross). In fact, the phrase that Jesus taught St. Faustina to use in her prayer ("O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus") is also precisely accurate. It corresponds to the word that St. John used in his gospel for the flow of blood and water: it "gushed out." The Roman spear evidently pierced the pericardial sack around the heart where relatively clear plasma would have collected after Jesus' death, and also probably pierced the Heart itself, where blood had settled. The result would have been similar to the piercing of a water balloon: the blood and water "gushed forth" from His Heart. In short, the side of Christ was pierced, according to the Bible, but everything about this incident suggests that the wound in His side entered right into His Heart. ...
The rays from the image are meant to transform our hearts, to "mercify" us, as Fr. George Kosicki, CSB, likes to say, so that we can give our hearts back to Him in love.
Think of the rays in the image as akin to a typical scene from the Star Trek science fiction movies. When Captain Kirk and his crew want to get back to the Starship Enterprise where they belong, he calls on his communicator to his chief engineering officer and says "Scottie, beam us up." Soon, transporter rays are sent down from the ship and surround the captain and his crew, and Kirk and his crew dematerialize and are taken back into the ship. This, by analogy, is what our Savior longs to do with us: to so fill and surround us with the transforming grace that streams from His Heart that we will eventually consent to Him "beaming us up" right back into loving union with His Heart, right where we belong! ...
Here is the way I put it in my book Jesus, Mercy Incarnate (Marian Press, 2000, p. 118):
The focus is on the merciful love that flows to us from His Heart, for in that image what stands out most distinctly are the red and pale rays that shine out from His breast. These rays represent the healing and sanctifying graces, especially of Baptism and the Eucharist, that flow from the Sacred Heart of Jesus toward us. This makes the Mercy image especially suitable for the desperate needs of so many Catholic families in our time, families all too often broken and wounded by evil: apostasy, adultery, divorce and division, contraception, fornication, greed, shallow consumerist materialism, and the killing of the unborn. These assaults of evil, often promoted by modern culture, are simply overwhelming many Catholic families. The rays of the Mercy image show us the healing, sanctifying graces that our Savior is longing to pour into every human heart, if only we will receive them with trust.
When we do open our hearts to Him with trust, then those rays and graces beam us back into deep union with the Heart of Jesus, as they did for St. Faustina herself. She writes:
He brought me into such intimacy with Himself that my heart was espoused to His Heart in a loving union, and I could feel the faintest stir of His Heart, and He of mine. The fire of my created love was joined to the ardor of His uncreated love. ...
O my Master, I surrender myself completely to You, who are the rudder of my soul; steer it Yourself according to your divine wishes. I enclose myself in Your most compassionate Heart which is a sea of unfathomable mercy. (Diary, 1242 and 1450)
Pope John Paul II
Today the Lord also shows us His glorious wounds, and His Heart, an inexhaustible source of truth, of love, and forgiveness. ... Saint Faustina saw, coming from this Heart that was overflowing with generous love, two rays of light that illuminated the world. "The two rays," according to what Jesus Himself told her, "represent the blood and the water" (Diary, 299). The blood recalls the sacrifice of Golgotha, and the mystery of the Eucharist. The water, according to the rich symbolism of the Evangelist St. John, makes us think of Baptism and the Gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 3:5; 4:14).
Through the mystery of this wounded Heart, the restorative tide of God's merciful love continues to spread over the men and women of our time. Here alone can those who long for true and lasting happiness find its secret.
— homily on Divine Mercy Sunday, 2001
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Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, vice-postulator in North America for St. Faustina's canonization cause
It is important to realize that, although [St. Faustina] could not easily dismiss these inspirations, knowing deep within her that they were really from God, she submitted them, nonetheless, to spiritual authorities for discernment. Also, whereas we might think it is a wonderful thing to have visions and have God ask us to do something special for Him, Sr. Faustina lets us see that these experiences created many problems for her.
She relates one of them immediately after [a] passage about a confirming sign that her superior asked for: "When I wanted to remove myself from these interior inspirations, God said to me that on the day of judgment He is going to require a great number of souls from me" (Diary, 52).
The official notes in the manuscript explain these words as meaning that, if Sr. Faustina were to fail to carry out the Lord's request, she would be held responsible for the many souls who would thus be unable to learn of the unfathomable Mercy of God. Sister Faustina gradually learned to understand God's ways with souls, and she wrote about this very clearly further on in her Diary. She provides us with the valuable lesson that what matters is that we be faithful to the mission that God assigns to us as our part in the fulfillment of His loving plan for the salvation of the world.
The image Jesus asked for, therefore, is to be a powerful means by which souls might learn of this — the deepest of all mysteries hidden in His person; and thus they will be encouraged to take advantage of that Mercy which no one will ever be able to fathom, and which the Lord Himself declared through Sr. Faustina to be God's greatest attribute. ...
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EDITOR'S NOTE: Following the creation of the Image of The Divine Mercy painted by Eugene Kazimirowski, many other artists have created their own versions. For a full accounting of the most popular images, read Dr. Robert Stackpole's article Why So Many Images? Which One is 'Best'?
Divine Mercy images are available through the Association of Marian Helpers Online Catalog.