Faustina: The Mystic and Her Message

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My Friend and Guide

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by Joanne Bennardo

During the winter months leading into Lent, 2011, I'd read slowly the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Her quiet voice drew me in, like an invitation to spend time with a new friend. Reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets, this young contemporary Polish nun had been chosen to hear the Word of God — personally. Is this not amazing?

Within a few days of finishing the Diary, I discovered firsthand St. Faustina's lesson "that love and sorrow go hand in hand" (881).

Except for a nagging cough, Ash Wednesday began like any other. I had plans to go to Mass, the grocery store, and the library, and then prepare a simple dinner, a tuna fish casserole. None of that happened. Instead, the cough worsened. By late afternoon, my husband, Ed, and I drove from my doctor's office to the regional hospital for additional testing. By nightfall, I was admitted. I needed emergency open-heart surgery. On Thursday, I was transferred by ambulance to the large metropolitan hospital that's better equipped for major heart surgery. I embraced our Lord's words to St. Faustina, "The graces of My mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is—trust" (1578).

I remember very little of the weeks that followed. Day drifted into night, night into day. I knew others were near, but I couldn't see or hear them clearly. An invisible veil separated me from the active world. I could not respond to the gentleness of the ambulance driver or the concerned intensive care nurse, but I was aware of caring around me, and sensed Ed was close. I felt Jesus' infinite mercy—the same sacrificed on the cross—manifest. St. Faustina reminded me of His words, "Do not fear; I am with you" (129).

Together with my dulled senses, my cognitive abilities weren't functioning either. I resolved to reason out my new situation later — and pray. I felt the chaplain uncurl my hands to anoint the palms, and then I sensed the warmth of the oil on my forehead. Knowing the rosary lay close at hand seemed enough. Amid the vague inklings, the only clear assurance I had was St. Faustina's affirmations of God's love and mercy. As I clung to our Lord's words to her that "mercy emerges from My very depths of tenderness," I knew God had sent her to journey with me (Diary, 699).

Frequently, I heard the loud roar of a helicopter's propeller. I can only assume I was in the hospital wing close to its landing pad. In my fogginess, the sound became like church bells calling me to an inner peace and calm. The summons held my concentration long enough to offer "my confusion to Our Savior's cross for the salvation of dying souls." Prompted by St. Faustina's plea that "dying souls are in such great need of prayer," I prayed for those victims on the helicopter and the personnel providing aid (Diary, 1015).

Three weeks into a hazy Lent, I had yet to receive the ashes of the season with its exhortation, "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel." I had not fasted or abstained. The Stations of the Cross were prayed without me. I was not to be found in line anticipating the sacraments of Reconciliation or Holy Eucharist. I had attended no Mass or retreat. I hadn't meditated on a homily or reading or even prayed a single Rosary. But upon my arrival home, I was reassured that God had gifted me with His holy saint, who shared in His Passion and stigmata. It was within this, our Lord's final sacrifice, that St. Faustina "saw a whole sea of mercy" (Diary, 948).

During the remaining weeks of Lent, her example comforted me as confusion mixed with fear and dread. She taught me how to surrender — first cautiously and then freely, all the while reminding, "Patience always leads to victory" (1514).

From the confusion of my vulnerability, God's graces led me to understand that no matter the outcome, within His mercy, all is well. Gradually, the pain lessened and my breathing quieted. It was with renewed enthusiasm that I reentered the outside world on Easter morning. The air was crisper, the church bells tolled sharper, the prayers of the Liturgy resonated more sweetly, and love for my dear God grew immensely. It would be months after my open-heart surgery until I'd learn that the surgeon had been delayed until 3 in the afternoon. Aware of the boundless graces that flow forth in that hour, I was deeply grateful. With heartfelt praise, I reveled in God's words, "As often as you hear the clock strike the third hour, immerse yourself completely in My mercy" (Diary, 1572).

Amen.

Joanne Bennardo writes from Ohio, where she extends God's blessings to all those, especially Ed, who prayed and cared for her. She and Ed count, among their own many blessings, their sons, daughters-in-law, and granddaughters.

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