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Her Pain is Our Gain
By Dan Valenti (Dec 27, 2012)
The life of St. Faustina continues to intrigue those who get deeper into the message of Divine Mercy. It's easy to see the attraction that this person has. Consider the facts:
• The Diary of St. Faustina ranks with the greatest mystical encounters with Jesus in Church history.
• It was written by a young, inexperienced woman, with a third-grade education.
• She lived a quiet, obscure life in a remote convent in the backwaters of Europe.
• She had to find snippets of time to write.
• Writing was not one of her official duties at convent, where she worked in a series of lowly positions, including porter and kitchen aide.
• Her writing instruments were poor.
• She suffered from debilitating physical pain and illness.
• She endured the harrowing experience referred to in mystic annals as the Dark Night of the Soul, a crippling condition that feels like hopelessness.
• Despite all this, she persisted in her task of serving as Jesus' "secretary" in recording the message of Divine Mercy.
• She filled six large notebooks with her writing.
A Divine Attraction
When these circumstances and actions are compared to the final result — establishment of a Feast of Divine Mercy for the Universal Church, the message of and devotion to Divine Mercy, plus sainthood — one cannot help being attracted to Faustina. In her battle against staggering odds, one finds inspiration and, in that, the hope to persist in one's own struggles.
Here at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., we have spoken to countless pilgrims who have a devotion to St. Faustina, and that's what most of them say: They talk of how she serves as a beacon of hope in their own lives for the way she used her modest skill set in an open way that allowed God to shine through her.
People who learn of Sr. Faustina's difficulties identify with them, particularly her doubts about her ability to carry out what she discerned God was asking her to do.
"At first, St. Faustina tried to escape this role as God's secretary for Divine Mercy," says Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, one of the world's foremost authorities on the life of Faustina and the message of Divine Mercy. "First of all, she felt completely overwhelmed. Next, she felt completely ill equipped to do what Jesus was asking her to do. She didn't think she could write, and then, at another time, she wondered in all seriousness, 'What if I write too much?' She was afraid of exhausting the topic and also of being repetitive. Jesus gave her the answer when He replied, 'You can never write too much about My mercy.'"
Each of Us, Responding to the Call
Nonetheless, Fr. Seraphim says, "She became frightful and tried to avoid internal prayer, in which she was pursued by the visitations of Christ. Saint Faustina went through a lot of suffering, more than we can know, to let the message come through to her. This took the type of courage that can only come from resolute faith."
Father Seraphim doesn't use a word such as "resolute" lightly, especially when talking of another's spirituality. This suggests the admiration he has for the manner in which St. Faustina went about attempting to fulfill what Jesus has asked of her. Not many would be willing to sacrifice themselves in that way, which is probably why God selects such unassuming people as Helena Kowalska (St. Faustina) for important missions.
Father Seraphim notes how St. Faustina responded to what God was asking her to do. He says God calls each of us in unique ways to live a spiritual life. We are all called to be saints, but few rise to the challenge.
Discernment: A Job for All
"What we need to do is try to discern what God is asking of us," Fr. Seraphim advises. He is speaking of discernment, which in spirituality is the process of a careful, focused period of asking the question of God and listening for the answer, which can come in any form — an inner voice you hear, something someone else says to you, a piece of key information that comes your way at the precise moment, and serendipitous events of a similar nature.
"Saint Faustina's whole life was a growth in the true mystical experience," Fr. Seraphim says, "and nobody has made that process as clear as she did in her Diary. Many believe, in that sense alone, that she should be declared a Doctor of the Church."
Certainly, that is beyond most of us, but in trying to discern what God asks of us, the message of mercy provides an important clue. Father Seraphim says that God will likely ask us to live in some fashion according to the message of God's mercy, that is, first to accept God's forgiveness for our sins and then to share the message of the merciful Lord with people in our lives.
As he points out, there are a multitude ways of "living mercy," from a friendly greeting for a stranger to visiting the sick to trying to improve your community. There are as many ways of putting mercy into action as there are people. Each of us is stationed in particular parts of the world, with specific people in our lives, and we each deal with unique problems and challenges. With creativity and imagination, mixed with a sense of joy and hope, we can figure out ways to begin living the message.
Mercy is crucial, Fr. Seraphim says: "If the world doesn't need mercy now, then I don't know what it needs."
Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal.