Photo: Felix Carroll
After the Beatification of Blessed Stanislaus Papczynski, artist Laurel A. Tewes adds a halo to his painting at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy.
Marian Founder: A Great Apostle of Mercy
Blessed Stanislaus Highlight of Special Issue
A great apostle of mercy is now front and center in the life of the Church and on the world stage. His name is Blessed Stanislaus Papczynski (1631-1701), and he is the Founder of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception.
Blessed Stanislaus's legacy of mercy became powerfully clear after he was beatified on Sept. 16 at the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Lichen in Poland. The officiating Cardinals, as well as the Marians and Marian Helpers who were in attendance, confirmed his witness of mercy in their remarks.
You can read all about it in the Winter 2007-8 issue of Marian Helper magazine, which is devoted to coverage of Blessed Stanislaus's beatification. (You can request a free copy of this special edition.)
Let me share some excerpts from the issue to give you a sense of this apostle of mercy and how his legacy is now being appreciated.
Marian Helpers Are 'Surprised and Delighted' by Founder's Mission of Mercy
First, consider this passage from a news story by our writer Felix Carroll on the Marian Helpers who witnessed the beatification:
Aware of how the Marians spread The Divine Mercy message, many of the Marian Helpers in attendance were both surprised and delighted to learn that mercy was at the center of Blessed Stanislaus's mission. Indeed, he lived a life in service to those most in need of mercy — soldiers on the battlefield, the sick, the elderly, and the suffering souls in purgatory.
Now, let me share another excerpt from Carroll's story on the Marian Helpers, which was part of his original draft:
In one of his many books, The Mystical Temple of God, Blessed Stanislaus presented a way for laity to pursue holiness. First and foremost, he encouraged spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
"The Mystical Temple," he wrote, referring to the human being, is "repaired by pious deeds."
"He was speaking of Divine Mercy all the way back then," said Purisima Narvaez of California, who attended the beatification with her husband, Dario.
We see from this story that Fr. Stanislaus not only lived mercifully with a heart of concern for the living and the deceased, but he also encouraged the laity to perform works of mercy.
It all sounds strikingly similar to the current relationship between the Marians and their Marian Helpers, with the Marians today encouraging the Helpers in various ways to live the message of Divine Mercy. It might come through reading articles on this website, thedivinemercy.org, or through one of the Marians' lay apostolates, such as Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy (EADM) and the formation program it offers the laity.
Showing Mercy on the Battlefield, in the Parish
But, more specifically, how did Blessed Stanislaus live mercifully in his day? Here are some good examples from Carroll's cover story for the issue.
First, there was his ministry as a military chaplain that inspired his prayer for the faithful departed:
Living in a war-torn time, he witnessed thousands of casualties on battlefields and also from dreaded plagues. He himself accompanied Polish troops as a chaplain in battles against Turkey in the Ukraine in 1674. Deeply saddened to observe how many people died with no time to spiritually prepare, he was moved to engage in — and advocate for — prayer and penance on behalf of the dead.
Then, there is the example of his care for the poor in his day, especially in meeting the pastoral needs of the peasants:
Having suffered from debilitating illnesses himself and having experienced
poverty and even homelessness, Blessed Stanislaus was especially sensitive to
the needs of the poor.
"The peasants farming the land and living in the villages were usually neglected," said Br. Andrew [Maczynski, MIC, Vice Postulator for the Marian Causes of Canonization in the Marians' Stockbridge, Mass.-based Province]. "The pastors in the parishes desperately needed help caring for the spiritual needs of the peasants. Father Stanislaus would assist by preaching, teaching catechism, and hearing confessions in parishes near his monasteries."
Cardinals Highlight Founder's Legacy of Mercy
Now that we know something about Fr. Stanislaus, let's turn to the remarks of the main Cardinals who celebrated the Mass of beatification on Sept. 16 and then the Mass of thanksgiving at the Founder's tomb in Gora Kalwaria, Poland, on Sept. 17. (They are reported in various stories in the special beatification issue.)
At the Mass of thanksgiving, it's interesting that Cardinal Franc Rode, CM, addressed not only the Marians, but their lay associates (the Marian Helpers) as well as devotees of Blessed Stanislaus. (Cardinal Rode is the Prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.).
Reflect on these words of encouragement and thanks from Cardinal Rode to the Marian Helpers:
The Church has need, too, of you, beloved lay associates, who, in a variety of ways, participate in the spirituality and mission of the Congregation of Marians. From the charism that shone forth in Blessed Stanislaus, draw forth the strength and inspiration for proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to contemporary man. It is also thanks to you that the works conducted by the Congregation today in many countries are reaping magnificent fruit. You have received from God a special vocation. Be faithful to it.
As I read these words, I am reminded, among other things, of our lay associates who have supported the Marians' urgent appeals in Marian Helper magazine for help in spreading the message of Divine Mercy here in the U.S. and overseas in countries like Rwanda and Cameroon in Africa. Through their prayers and generous offerings, these Marian Helpers have partnered with the Marians as apostles of Divine Mercy.
Further, what Cardinal Rode said to the thousands of devotees of Blessed Stanislaus underscores in a remarkable way the new blessed's call to those who venerate him to be apostles of mercy themselves:
The Church and the world have need also of you, who venerate Blessed Stanislaus. Captivated by his path of faith and having experienced his efficacious intercession before God, strive to be in the midst of the world witnesses of God's love, imitators of His mother, zealous intercessors for the departed, and, above all, apostles of mercy.
Notice that the Cardinal touches on how all the aspects of the Marian Founder's mission or charism should inspire the devotees in living their faith — being witnesses of God's love, imitators of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and intercessors for the suffering souls in purgatory. Then he tops it off with mercy as the capstone of Blessed Stanislaus's legacy when he encourages the devotees "above all, [to be] apostles of mercy." The call is clearly to follow Blessed Stanislaus's example as a great apostle of mercy.
Consider, too, this excerpt from our news story on the homily of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State. at the Mass of beatification, His comments on mercy and love in the Founder's life are directed to the Marians themselves:
Cardinal Bertone closed his homily by sharing his thoughts on how the call to show love and mercy to all shaped the spirituality and life of the new blessed.
"The secret of life is love," the Cardinal said, "the ineffable love of God, which surpasses human frailty and moves our hearts to love life, our neighbor, and even our enemies." As the Marian Founder lived this call, so the prelate encouraged the Marians, "Today this spiritual heritage of your Founder is entrusted to you: welcome it and, like him, be tireless heralds everywhere of God's merciful love, keeping your gaze fixed upon Mary Immaculate."
Yes, following the great apostle of mercy, their Founder, the Marians are called to be "tireless heralds everywhere of God's merciful love," as they serve Christ and the Church in 17 countries around the world.
Marian Seminarians: It's All about Mercy
In light of that call, let's turn now to the Marians themselves. In our special issue of the magazine, we asked the Marian seminarians in the U.S. to share after the beatification how the Marian Founder had inspired their vocation.
Brother Michael Gaitley, MIC, shared his surprise that the readings from Scripture for the beatification Mass focused on Divine Mercy:
[The readings] were so explicitly about Divine Mercy! For example, the Gospel was Luke 15, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. While reflecting on this fact, I said to myself, "Well, now, that was pretty bold. I wondered who picked the readings that so obviously emphasize Divine Mercy."
At the end of the Mass, to my great surprise, I discovered that the readings just happened to be the readings for the day. What? Well, now I knew who picked them: God! It seemed that He wanted to make sure that we not miss the connection between Blessed Stanislaus and Divine Mercy.
This little reminder had a big impact on me. It was as if the Lord were saying to me, "Michael, the message of My mercy is so very important — give yourself to it completely!"
For Br. Jim McCormack, MIC, the beatification reinforced how the Founder's charism or mission is all about Divine Mercy:
At the beatification Mass, as I watched the giant image of Blessed Stanislaus slowly being unveiled high above the outdoor altar, I reflected on the life of this man who founded our Marian Congregation more than 300 years ago.
I also reflected on two points of our charism given to us by Blessed Stanislaus, represented visually by large banners on either side of the altar: spreading devotion to Our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception and praying for the souls in purgatory and the dying. I realized that both are expressions of Divine Mercy: Mary received the Lord's mercy in being preserved from sin, and our prayers for the souls in purgatory and the dying are beautiful works of mercy. Seeing this has fueled my desire to help spread this message [of Divine Mercy].
What Can I Do to Share God's Mercy?
The comments of these young Marians inspire me to consider how I, too, might follow in the footsteps of Blessed Stanislaus by being an apostle of mercy. I invite you to join me in considering some of the following ways respond.
First, you could decide that during the rest of November, you will make it a priority to offer prayers and sacrifices for the souls in purgatory. After all, November is the month in which the Church invites us to remember the suffering souls in a special way. As you do, make it a point — as did Blessed Stanislaus — to remember not only your own family members and friends, but the forgotten victims of war, genocide, and disease.
Second, discern how the Lord might be inviting you as an apostle of mercy to support the Marians' apostolic works in spreading The Divine Mercy message. In the Winter issue of Marian Helper, for instance, we share that construction is under way for the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine here on Eden Hill, which will provide adequate protection for the liturgies the Marians celebrate for the many pilgrims who come to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy throughout the year. The Marians hope to have a usable structure in place by Divine Mercy Sunday 2008.
Also, in the Winter issue, read the latest news on the first World Apostolic Congress on Mercy slated for April 2-6, 2008 in Rome. The Marians are helping to organize it with the hope of Divine Mercy spreading as never before throughout the world. Perhaps you are interested in attending the World Congress. Or you might consider supporting it through your prayers and by sharing news about it in your parish and among your circle of family and friends.
As you think about your own response, reflect on these moving words of Cardinal Rode at the Mass of thanksgiving at the Marian Founder's tomb. May they inspire not only the Marians, but you and me to consider afresh the legacy of this great apostle of mercy, Blessed Stanislaus, the Founder of the Marians:
We have waited a long time for the joy of today's thanksgiving. For you, beloved Marians, these were three centuries of prayers and efforts so that the glow of your Founder's sanctity, which you were so much convinced of, could shine to the whole world.
If now we rejoice with the beatification of Fr. Papczynski, we can most forcefully claim that today is the day when the testimony of his life is needed most for the Church and the world.
David Came is executive editor of Marian Helper magazine, the flagship publication of the Association of Marian Helpers, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass.