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Photo: Felix Carroll
Pilgrims 'Come Home' to Mercy
By Dan Valenti (Oct 5, 2012)
On a gloriously sunny Oct. 5, Yvonne Szkiel of Saugus, Mass., found her way back "home," to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, Eden Hill, Stockbridge. The occasion? The feast day of St. Faustina Kowalska, to whom Jesus revealed His message of Divine Mercy. She joined 200 other pilgrims in paying honors to the Great Mercy Saint.
Saint Faustina was a simple woman, poorly educated in the formal sense but
"touched by God with a special grace," as the Very Rev. Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, Marian Fathers' provincial superior, put it. That element of simplicity, seen in her humbleness and in her unqualified "yes" to what God was asking of her, attracts many people.
Yvonne told a story about the first time she visited Eden Hill and the National Shrine. That visit took place 30 years ago, a full generation, and the simple gesture of a Marian priest ended up changing her life. Yvonne said she and her family were there to attend an outdoor Mass, and one of the priests selected her son to serve as an altar boy.
"I never forgot that," she said. "I knew then that I needed to find my way back to this place."
The re-visitation didn't take place for another 23 years, but Yvonne often remembered the priest's kind gesture to her son. Finally, seven years ago, Yvonne returned, and she has been visiting ever since. When her parish in Saugus announced a bus trip to Eden Hill to celebrate St. Faustina Day, Yvonne secured a spot for herself. In fact, more than 100 people, two busses full, signed up for the trip.
Why did she make the trip? "When I come here, I feel like I have come home."
Done in by a Dance
In an hour-long talk presented at the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine in the late morning, Fr. Kaz used this notion of "home" — the all-encompassing feeling of welcome extended to us, His children, by the infinite mercy of God.
Father Kaz presented a brief but interesting biographical sketch of St. Faustina, bringing listeners from her early childhood in Poland to her decision to respond to God's call to a religious vocation. That came after Faustina had decided against the religious life because her family was too poor and needed her to work, usually as a nanny and babysitter, to add to the family income.
Then a dance she attended in 1924 changed everything.
Father Kaz relayed the story. Faustina, then Helen Kowalska, went with her sister Josephine to a dance behind the Cathedral of St. Stanislaus in Lodz, a typical young girl looking to have fun. In the middle of the dance, however, she saw Jesus, near her side. He was in pain, stripped of his clothing, covered with wounds. He spoke to her: "How long shall I put up with you, and how long will you keep putting Me off? (Diary of St. Faustina, 9).
"That changed everything for her," Fr. Kaz said, "and she immediately knew what the Lord meant by 'putting Me off.' She understood that to mean her vocation to the religious life."
Without delay, she ran into the cathedral, threw herself down on the floor, and asked God what He wanted her to do. She heard an interior voice tell her: "Go at once to Warsaw; you will enter a convent there."
"She could no longer rationalize [her vocation] away," Fr. Kaz said. In obedience to God's will, she packed her limited belongings and obeyed, venturing forth, alone, this simple country girl, into a city of two million people, where she knew no one.
Helen sought entrance in several religious communities, but none would have her. She finally gained acceptance in the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, prepared to open her heart fully to God.
'She Said 'Yes' to Everything' God Asked of Her
"She said 'yes' to everything," Fr. Kaz said. "She said 'yes' to her religious vows. She said 'yes' to everything the Lord asked of her," even if it meant, as it often did, acceptance of the most menial and insignificant duties such as kitchen work, gardening, or serving as convent porter.
All of that changed on Feb. 22, 1931. On that day, she received a revelation from God.
"That's when the trouble really began for her," Fr. Kaz said. People often think it must be great to be chosen by God for a special mission on behalf of all of humanity, but that thought quickly gets disabused when one examines the hardships that such chosen people are called upon to endure. Saint Faustina was no exception. She battled the dreaded Dark Night of the Soul, the misunderstanding and even derision of some of the sisters in her community, periods of blackness and doubt, visits from Satan, and the helpless feeling one gets when entrusted with a task that seems overwhelming.
Fortunately, however, as Fr. Kaz said, St. Faustina had great faith, and "God is generous to people who proclaim his mercy through love." God then sent along the right man at the right time to help St. Faustina make sense of her vexing experiences, "an extraordinary character, a Renaissance man." His name was Fr. Michael Sopocko, now Blessed Michael, who became St. Faustina's spiritual director and confessor. His presence in St. Faustina's life made all the difference, Fr. Kaz said.
The Four 'Cornerstones' of Divine Mercy
Through Fr. Sopocko's direction, St. Faustina recorded her spiritual experiences in a Diary, a book that has gone on to become a modern-day spiritual classic, with more than one million copies in print.
Father Kaz then mentioned and discussed the four cornerstones of St. Faustina's work in helping fulfill Jesus' command to spread the message of Divine Mercy throughout the world:
• The Image of Divine Mercy — A major part of the image, Fr. Kaz said, is
"the overabundant graces connected with it." This comes through Jesus' promise that those who venerate the image would receive His grace "from the depths of [His] tenderness."
• The Feast of Divine Mercy — This was the second major request Jesus made of St. Faustina, to proclaim that the Sunday following Easter be called "the Feast of Mercy" (see Diary, 49). On this feast day, God offers us complete remission of all punishment due to sin.
• The 3 O'Clock Hour — This, Jesus revealed to St. Faustina, would be a time for people to immerse themselves in Christ's Passion. Fr. Kaz said that even if a person could only do that for a couple seconds, he or she would still receive great graces.
• The Chaplet of The Divine Mercy — A prayer Jesus taught to St. Faustina, it is, Fr. Kaz said, "directed to the Father. We ask the Father to have mercy on us and the world."
Father Kaz noted the worldwide aspect of St. Faustina's mission, one in which we all have a part.
Through our participation in the message and devotion of Divine Mercy, Fr. Kaz said, "We become a priestly people. We become powerful intercessors for everyone — terrorists, atheists, everyone. No one is left out. This is what God gives us: the ability to intercede on behalf of everyone." As he reminded people, "Every prayer is heard by God."
Yvonne Szkiel knows the meaning of that: "When I return here [to Eden Hill], I feel an indescribable peace, a warm sense, a sense of belonging." Why? "Because of prayer. I find myself praying. It's not a task but a joy."