The Book That Sparked the Divine Mercy Movement... Read more
Toward a New Doctor of the Church: Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska
The following was prepared by renowned experts in the writings and spirituality of St. Faustina: Robert Stackpole, STD, director, John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy; Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, provincial superior of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception; and Rev. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, vice-postulator of the Cause for the Canonization of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska.
In times of great spiritual struggle, historical periods marked by moral and spiritual confusion and mounting persecution of the Church, the Lord in his mercy raises up faithful servants to proclaim afresh, by word and deed, the "good news" of Jesus Christ. By the extraordinary witness of their life and writings, these special saints are given to us as beacons of hope to light the way for us, and guide us through the darkness.
For example, when the heresy of Pelagianism threatened the purity of the Gospel, and the barbarian hoards were hammering on the gates of the cities of the Roman Empire, God raised up his faithful servant, St. Augustine of Hippo, as a champion of the true faith, and a light of hope for the "City of God." Similarly, on the eve of one of the worst centuries in human history — when a divided papacy, a hundred-years of war, and the Black Death would bring all of Europe to its knees — God manifested his love in a unique way through His servant St. Catherine of Siena. By her powerful proclamation of the Gospel in word and deed, she enabled God's People to find a safe passage through the storm.
We believe that St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938) is a similar gift from God to our time. By the extraordinary witness of her life and writings, she has brought the Church to a deeper awareness God's merciful love, opened multitudes to a regenerating and transformative experience of Divine Mercy, and pointed the way forward to the New Evangelization. For this reason, in his homily on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2001, Pope St. John Paul II did not hesitate to say of her:
The elevation to the honors of the altar of this humble religious, a daughter of my land, is not only a gift for Poland, but for all of humanity. Indeed, the message she brought is the appropriate and incisive answer that God wanted to offer to the questions and expectations of our age, marked by terrible tragedies .... Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity at the dawn of the third millennium.(1)
For these reasons, we also believe that St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, "the great apostle of Divine Mercy in our time,"(2) truly merits the title of "Doctor of the Church." Moreover, we are convinced that for Pope Francis to bestow this honor upon her now, during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, would be especially opportune. It would light a beacon of hope for a world wandering in the dark: the darkness of the relentless advance of secularism, which seeks to remove all traces of God and all reminders of His love from culture and society, and the darkness of anxiety and hopelessness, as humanity seeks to find its own way without God's help. Our Lord, through St. Faustina, has offered humanity an altogether different path: "My daughter, know that My Heart is mercy itself. From this sea of mercy graces flow out upon the whole world. ... I have opened My Heart as a living fountain of mercy. Let all souls draw life from it" (Diary, entries 1777 and 1520).
Over the centuries, the Church has developed several criteria for discerning who among her sons and daughters should be granted this special title. A true "Doctor of the Church" must be someone of extraordinary holiness who gave to the Church a body of writings that made a significant contribution to the authentic Catholic Tradition. These writings must exhibit both depth of doctrinal understanding, and fresh insight into the mysteries of the faith.(3) In 1970, in the process of declaring St. Theresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena Doctors of the Church, Pope Paul VI discussed three additional criteria, implicit in the old: the saint's message should have both current and permanent value, he or she must have borne witness to the faith in life, and the person's testimony must have a spiritual and mystical character that inspires others.
We believe that St. Faustina admirably fulfills all of these criteria. Let us reflect upon each one, and see how Sr. Faustina fulfills them all in an exceptional way.
I. Holiness of Life: St. Faustina's Lived Witness to God's Merciful Love
Although blessed to receive many private and prophetic revelations from God in the form of apparitions, visions and locutions, it was not primarily these special charisms in which her holiness consisted. Rather, as St. Faustina herself wrote in her Diary, entry 1107:
Neither graces, nor revelations, nor raptures, nor gifts granted to a soul make it perfect, but rather the intimate union of the soul with God. These gifts are merely ornaments of the soul, but constitute neither its essence nor its perfection. My sanctity and perfection consist in the close union of my will with the will of God.(4)
a) Her intimacy with God and compassion for the poor
This intimate union with God was manifested in the life of Helena Kowalska from an early age. While praying in her parish church at the age of seven, Helena felt herself called to a more perfect way of life. Even as a child, she was graced with an extraordinary piety, and a special compassion for the poor and suffering. At age 12, for example, she dressed herself in poor clothing and went begging from door to door to obtain alms for the destitute. One time she made little dolls out of paper and sold them in a raffle to help the poor.(5) As a teenager working as a "mother's help," the family she served recalled how she reached out in compassion to a lonely, sick and homeless man who lived in a small space below the stairs of the apartment building in which they lived:
Helen would take him something to eat, wash him, cheer him up, talk to him about the Lord God; and in the end, she brought a priest with her to hear his confession and give him Communion .... When the priest came ... [the] man was in a very poor state, and Helen was happy that he had managed to be united with God, because he died the very next day. She always wanted to bring people to God.(6)
This charitable intention to bring relief to those both spiritually and materially poor only grew more intense after she entered religious life. For example, in her Diary (entry 163) she penned a long and passionate prayer for the grace to be merciful to others, and our Lord called her to reflect His compassionate Heart in all that she did:
[Jesus said] My daughter, look into My Merciful Heart and reflect its compassion in your own heart, and in your deeds, so that you who proclaim My mercy to the world may yourself be aflame with it (Diary, 1688, cf. 365).
Sister Faustina was known in her religious order for her cheerfulness, her sincerity, and her hard-working nature: "She is a happy child of God" one of her superiors said. In fact, she was so well respected by her peers that she earned from them the nickname "the dump," because the other sisters frequently came to her to discuss their problems.
b) Her redemptive suffering
On the other hand, Sr. Faustina also suffered from the misunderstanding and malicious gossip of her fellow sisters, especially when news of her special revelations from the Lord began to "leak out" within her religious community. Nevertheless, through it all she remained determined to follow the Lord's will (confirmed for her by her spiritual director, Bl. Fr. Michael Sopocko) to have the Image of the Divine Mercy painted according to Christ's instructions, and the Feast of The Divine Mercy established for the universal Church.
Faustina also suffered terribly from a long, and ultimately fatal struggle with tuberculosis (both of the lungs and the intestines). Yet she offered up all her emotional and physical sufferings from this struggle, in union with Christ's own sacrifice on the Cross, for the salvation of others. She wrote:
I want to be transformed into Jesus in order to be able to give myself to souls .... I absorb God into myself in order to give Him to souls .... Transform me into Yourself, O Jesus, that I may be a living sacrifice, and pleasing to You. I desire to atone at each moment for poor sinners (Diary, 193 and 908).
At one point in her life, St. Faustina offered to the Lord all the consolations she received from her intimate union with God, and asked in return for all the fears and terrors that poor sinners experience in order to obtain for them the grace of conversion (Diary, 309). Finally, at the end of her life, she renewed the offering of herself as a redemptive sacrifice, in union with Christ, in view of the terrible sufferings she had to endure from her terminal illness:
O my Jesus, may the last days of my exile be spent totally according to your most holy will. I unite my sufferings, my bitterness, and my last agony itself to Your Sacred Passion; and I offer myself for the whole world to implore an abundance of God's mercy for souls (Diary, 1574).
In short, throughout her life, St. Faustina's central concern was always to manifest the merciful love of God in all that she said and did:
O my Jesus, each of your saints reflects one of Your virtues; I desire to reflect Your compassionate Heart, full of mercy; I want to glorify it. Let Your Mercy, O Jesus, be impressed upon my heart and soul like a seal, and this will be my badge in this and the future life (Diary, 1242).
II. Eminence of Doctrine: St. Faustina's Depth of Theological and Mystical Insight
In his homily at the Mass for the declaration of St. Therese of Lisieux as a "Doctor of the Church," St. John Paul II summarized what the Church means by the "eminence of doctrine" expected in a person who merits this title:
When the magisterium proclaims someone a doctor of the church, it intends to point out to all the faithful, particularly to those who perform in the church the fundamental service of preaching or who undertake the delicate task of theological teaching and research, that the doctrine professed and proclaimed by a certain person can be a reference point, not only because it conforms to revealed truth, but also because it sheds new light on the mysteries of the faith, a deeper understanding of Christ's mystery.(7)
It will become evident as we proceed that St. Faustina's writings fulfill all of these criteria at once: Catholic orthodoxy, depth of understanding, and fresh insights into divinely revealed truth. Indeed, her profound message has been evident to all for many decades, ever since Fr. Ignacy Rozycki of the International Theological Commission presented to the Holy See his massive tome of 500 pages in French analyzing almost every major theme in her Diary — a theological examination which St. Faustina's writings passed with "flying colors"!
a) Mercy the greatest attribute of God
Jesus said to Sr. Faustina (as recorded in her Diary, entries 300-301):
My Heart rejoices in this title of Mercy. Proclaim that mercy is the greatest attribute of God. All the works of My hands are crowned with mercy.
According to Fr. Rozycki, this pre-eminence of Divine Mercy among the attributes of God can be understood as the revealed truth that mercy is the motive behind all divine action in the world. Moreover, the results of the activity of God's merciful love are of supreme benefit to his creatures.(8)
This truth is deeply embedded in Holy Scripture: e.g. "All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth" (Ps 25:10) and "His tender mercies are over all his works" (Ps 145:9). The Lord refers to himself in the scriptures as the Lord of mercy and compassion: "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" (Ex 34:6; cf. Ps 103:8 and Joel 2:13).
Unfortunately, this revealed truth has often receded into the background of the Church's life and teaching. That this was the case in St. Faustina's own day was attested by her spiritual director Bl. Fr. Michael Sopocko in his reminiscences:
I began to search in the writings of the Fathers of the Church for a confirmation that this is the greatest attribute of God, as Sister Faustina had stated, for I found nothing on this subject in the works of more modern theologians. I was very pleased to find similar statements in St. Fulgentius and St. Idelphonse, and more still in St. Thomas [Aquinas] and St. Augustine, who, in commenting on the Psalms had much to say on Divine Mercy, calling it indeed the greatest of God's attributes.(9)
Many years later, Bl. Sopocko's research was confirmed by the magisterium in St. John Paul II's great encyclical on Divine Mercy, Dives in Misericordia (section 13) when he wrote: "The Bible, Tradition, and the whole faith life of the People of God provide unique proof ... that mercy is the greatest of the attributes and perfections of God."
It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of the recovery of the centrality of God's merciful love to the life and mission of the Church — a recovery to which St. Faustina made such a major contribution. As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out, this involves a renewal of the very heart of the Gospel message itself:
Indeed, mercy is the central nucleus of the Gospel message; it is the very name of God, the Face with which he revealed himself in the Old Covenant and fully in Jesus Christ, the incarnation of creative and redemptive Love.(10)
Blessed Fr. Michael Sopocko, inspired by Sr. Faustina, would go on to write a four volume systematic theology entitled The Mercy of God in His Works. Later (in 1980), St. John Paul II wrote the first papal encyclical devoted exclusively to unfolding the mystery of Divine Mercy in Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the mission of the Church. He pointed especially to the Church's ongoing task of "proclaiming," "practicing" and "pleading for" the outpouring of God's merciful love upon the world (Dives in Misericordia, sections 13-15). Thus, at the Mass for the canonization of St. Faustina in Rome on April 30, 2000, the Pope remarked that "[T]he light of Divine Mercy, which the Lord in a way wished to return to the world through St. Faustina's charism, will illumine the way for men and women of the third millennium."(11)
No one better summed up the importance of the doctrine of God's merciful love to the whole faith and life of the Catholic Church than Pope Francis in his Bull "Misericordiae Vultus" establishing the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy:
We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness (section 2).
b) Trustful surrender to God: the heart of the Christian life
For God's mercy effectively to sanctify and save the world, He needs our free consent, and our cooperation with his grace — and the foundation in the soul of that cooperation is the virtue of "trust." First, we must truly begin to believe that God offers us his merciful love as a free gift, and on that basis, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are then moved to open the door of our hearts to him with trust, so that he can do all he wants to do in our lives to heal and sanctify us. Our Lord emphasized the truth about His merciful love numerous times in his revelations to St. Faustina:
I am love and mercy itself. ... Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. ... My mercy is greater than your sins, and those of the entire world. ... I let My Sacred Heart be pierced with a lance, thus opening wide the source of mercy for you. Come then with trust to draw graces from this fountain. ... The graces of My mercy are drawn by the means of one vessel only, and that is trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive (Diary, 1074, 699, 1485, 1578).
Saint Faustina's understanding of the virtue of trust was both clear and realistic.(12) She did not confuse it with a mere pious sentiment of trust, nor did she believe that this virtue could be attained without the help of God's transforming grace:
Jesus, do not leave me alone in suffering. You know, Lord, how weak I am. I am an abyss of wretchedness. I am nothingness itself; so what will be so strange if You leave me alone and I fall? I am an infant, Lord, so I cannot get along by myself. However, beyond all abandonment I trust, and in spite of my own feeling I trust, and I am being completely transformed into trust, often in spite of what I feel (Diary, 1489)
Once again, it would be difficult to overestimate the importance of the recovery of the centrality of "trust" in the life of the Church, for it is foundational to every authentic response to God's merciful love. Along with St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Faustina was a pivotal figure in this recovery process. (13)
The call to trust in the Lord is rooted in Holy Scripture (e.g. Ps 125; Rom 4:5; I Pet 2:23). Indeed, the whole of salvation history, beginning in Genesis and continuing to this present day, can be seen as a divine pedagogy, designed above all to teach humanity to trust in the Lord.
To begin with, in the Garden of Eden, the fall of Adam and Eve was the result of the seeds of mistrust planted in their hearts by the serpent: "Did God say...?" (Gen 3:11). Catechism 397, therefore, defines the mystery of sin as rooted in a lack of trust in God's love and mercy:
Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God's command. This is what man's first sin consisted of. All subsequent sins would be disobedience toward God and a lack of trust in his goodness.
Throughout salvation history, therefore, God has been striving to heal fallen humanity's distorted image of himself that leads to such chronic distrust. As Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, put it:
God is our infinitely merciful Father who burns with love for us, longs to make us happy, and deserves all our trust. ... The "trust issue" gets to the heart of salvation history. I suggest that the whole Bible can be summarized as one long "school of trust."(14)
The same principle also lay at the heart of the teachings of St. John Paul II. In his homily at St. Faustina's canonization, for example, he emphasized the crucial importance of the connection between her message of God's merciful love, and the trust that we need to draw near to the Lord to receive his saving grace:
This consoling message is addressed above all to those who, afflicted by a particularly harsh trial or crushed by the weight of sins they have committed, have lost all confidence in life and are tempted to give in to despair. To them the gentle face of Christ is offered; those rays from his heart [depicted in the Image of The Divine Mercy] touch them, shine upon them, warm them, show them the way and fill them with hope. How many souls have been consoled by the prayer "Jesus, I trust in You," which Providence intimated through Sr. Faustina! This simple act of abandonment to Jesus dispels the thickest clouds and lets a ray of light penetrate every life. Jezu Ufam Tobie!(15)
c) Experiencing Divine Mercy: the sacraments, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the elements of the devotion
Saint Faustina's devotion to The Divine Mercy found its center and wellspring in the Holy Eucharist. It was from this "source and summit" of the Christian life (Catechism, 1324) that she drew all the graces that she needed for her apostolate and her growth in sanctity. As she tells us in her Diary:
All the good that is in me is due to Holy Communion. ... Herein lies the whole secret of my sanctity. ... One thing alone sustains me, and that is Holy Communion. From it I draw my strength; in it is all my comfort. ... Jesus concealed in the host is everything to me. ... I would not know how to give glory to God if I did not have the Eucharist in my heart. ...
O living Host, my one and only strength, fountain of love and mercy, embrace the whole world and fortify faint souls. Oh, blessed be the instant and the moment when Jesus left us his most merciful Heart! (1392, 1489, 1037, 223)
As a result, Sr. Faustina had a special love for the Holy Eucharist, manifest in her chosen religious name: "Sister Maria Faustina of the Most Blessed Sacrament." Her fellow sisters remembered how she would often interrupt her work for a brief moment to go to the Chapel and pray before the presence of Jesus in the tabernacle. It was at the moment of consecration during the Mass, or immediately after receiving Holy Communion, that she often would be plunged into a mystical state of infused contemplation, sometimes accompanied by interior locutions or visions.
Saint Faustina experienced the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a special source of spiritual healing, and a unique encounter with the merciful love of Christ.(16) The most remarkable teaching that our Lord gave to St. Faustina about this sacrament she recorded in her Diary, entry 1448. Jesus said to her:
Write, speak of My mercy. Tell souls where they are to look for solace, that is, in the Tribunal of Mercy [the Sacrament of Reconciliation]. There the greatest miracles take place [and] are incessantly repeated. To avail oneself of this miracle, it is not necessary to go on a great pilgrimage, or to carry out some external ceremony; it suffices to come with faith to the feet of My representative and to reveal to Him one's misery, and the miracle of Divine Mercy will be fully demonstrated. Were souls like a decaying corpse so that from a human standpoint there would be no [hope of] restoration and everything would already be lost, it is not so with God. The miracle of Divine Mercy restores that soul in full.
The Catechism teaches that a good confession brings about a true "spiritual resurrection" within us — an Easter morning for the soul (Catechism, 1446). That is precisely what Jesus taught St. Faustina as well: Even if our hearts are as dead from sin as a lifeless corpse, still, the miraculous power of Divine Mercy that flows through this sacrament can restore that soul completely, to new life, and fresh hope.
According to St. Faustina, the graces of healing that flow from this sacrament are truly amazing. In Diary entry 1602, Jesus revealed to her that confession is a personal, life-giving encounter with Jesus Himself:
Daughter, when you go to confession, to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart always flows down upon your soul and ennobles it. Every time you go to confession, immerse yourself entirely in My mercy, with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul. When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy. Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity. The torrents of grace inundate humble souls.
Sister Faustina regarded the Mother of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, as the most trustworthy guide to her Son. She therefore consecrated to the Mother of God all of her concerns. Indeed, for Faustina Mary was not only her tender spiritual Mother, but also the true model of trustful surrender to Divine Mercy:
O Mary, my mother and my Lady, I offer you my soul, my body, my life, my death, and all that will follow it. I place everything in your hands. O my Mother, cover my soul with your virginal mantle, and grant me the grace of purity of heart, soul, and body. Defend me with your power against all enemies (Diary, 79).
O sweet Mother of God,
I model my life on You.
You are for me the bright dawn;
In You I lose myself enraptured.
O Mother, Immaculate Virgin,
In you the divine ray is reflected,
Midst storms, 'tis You who teach me to love the Lord,
O my shield and defense from the foe (Diary, 1232, cf. 874).
Through the special revelations given by Our Lord to St. Faustina, the Church has received several additional ways in which the faithful can experience afresh the merciful love of God: The Image of The Divine Mercy, The Feast, and The Divine Mercy Chaplet. It is worth noting that each of these elements of her devotion to the merciful God is rooted in Holy Scripture, and in the liturgical and sacramental theology of the Church.
The Chaplet, for example, is essentially an intercessory prayer offered in union with the offering of Christ to the Father at every Mass "Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins, and those of the whole world. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world" (Diary, 476; cf. I Jn 2:2). It is entirely from the Eucharist, therefore, that the Chaplet receives its extraordinary intercessory power: "[Jesus said to her] I desire to grant unimaginable graces to those souls who trust in My mercy. ... Through the Chaplet you will obtain everything, if what you ask for is compatible with My will" (687 and 1731).
The Feast of The Divine Mercy was appointed by Our Lord for the same solemnity in the liturgical calendar — the Octave Day of Easter — already focused on the celebration of the Mercy of God (Diary, 341 and 699). This finds expression, for example, in the traditional scripture readings for the day (e.g., Ps 118; I Pet 1:3-9; Jn 20: 19-51), and the traditional Collect for the Second Sunday of Easter: "God of everlasting Mercy...." Indeed, Sacred Tradition always recognized this solemnity as an extraordinary day of grace for the Church, pointing forward to the final triumph of the mercy of God. St. Gregory of Nazianzen testified to this when he wrote:
That Sunday [that is, Easter Sunday] is that of salvation; this [one, that is, the Octave Day] is the anniversary of salvation; that [one, Easter Sunday] was the frontier between the burial and resurrection of Christ; this [one, the Octave Day] is purely [entirely that] of the second creation, so that, as the first creation began on a Sunday (this is perfectly clear: for the Sabbath falls seven days after it, being repose from works), so the second creation began on the same day [that is, a Sunday] , which is at once the first in relation to those that come after it, and the eighth in relation to those before it, more sublime than the sublime day, and more wonderful than the wonderful day: for it is related to the life above (On the Ogdoad, XLIV, 608, C; cf. The Apostolic Constitutions, V.20)
The Image of The Divine Mercy, which our Lord asked to be venerated especially on the Feast of the Divine Mercy itself (Diary, 47 and 88) reflects three moments of biblical salvation history: the Lord appearing to his apostles in the Upper Room on Easter Sunday night (Jn 20:19-31); the blood and water flowing from the wounded side of Christ on the Cross (Jn 19:31-37); and the blessing of the People of Israel by the High Priest of the Great Temple in Jerusalem, immediately after the offering of the sacrificial blood at "The Mercy Seat" in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:1-4 and Sir 50: 18-21). By uniting these three key moments of salvation history, the Image of The Divine Mercy fulfills the highest ideals of sacred art. Cardinal Josef Ratzinger (later, Pope Benedict XVI) explained these ideals in his famous work, The Spirit of the Liturgy, and the correspondence between his words and the Image of the Divine Mercy is truly remarkable:
Let us ... identify the fundamental principles of an art ordered to divine worship. ... (T)he icon of Christ is the center of sacred iconography. The center of the icon of Christ is the Paschal Mystery: Christ is presented as the Crucified, the risen Lord, the One who will come again and who here and now hiddenly reigns over all. Every image of Christ must contain these three essential aspects of the mystery of Christ and, in this sense, must be an image of Easter.(17)
In short, the elements of the devotion to The Divine Mercy given to us through St. Faustina echo the Paschal Mystery, direct us to the mystery of the Eucharist, and amplify the biblical witness to the Mercy of God.
d) The works of mercy
A renewed faith in God's mercy, and a transforming experience of God's merciful love ought to lead us to a deeper commitment to be merciful to others. The practice of the works of mercy, therefore, both spiritual and corporal, were the goal and fruit of St. Faustina's spiritual life, as well a gospel command: "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful" (Lk 6:36). Sister Faustina knew very well that it is only hearts that have been transformed by the mercy of Jesus Christ that are fully equipped to share it with others, and so she prayed constantly for the gift of a merciful, compassionate heart:
O Jesus, I understand that Your mercy is beyond all imagining, and therefore I ask You to make my heart so big that there will be room in it for the needs of all souls living on the face of the earth ... and the souls suffering in purgatory. ... Make my heart sensitive to all the sufferings of my neighbor, whether of body or of soul. O my Jesus, I know that You act toward us as we act toward our neighbor. ... Make my heart like unto Your merciful Heart (Diary, 692, cf. 163, 742, 1317 and 1688).
As a result, Sr. Faustina was noted in her community for her special care for the poor who came to the convent seeking food, for the sick and infirm, and for the dying. She was also especially beloved by the destitute girls whom the sisters trained and educated at their religious houses. One time she even experienced an apparition of the Lord Jesus himself under the guise of a hungry beggar seeking food, a young man who had come to the convent door when she was serving there as portress. Afterward, Jesus said to her:
My daughter, the blessings of the poor who bless Me as they leave this gate have reached My ears. And your compassion, within the bounds of obedience, has pleased Me, and this is why I came down from My throne — to taste the fruits of your mercy (Diary, 1312, cf. Mt 25:31-46).
Saint Faustina wisely divided the duty to be merciful to others into three forms — by prayer, by word, and by deed. At our Savior's command, she correctly prioritized them as a basis for a plan of action:
You Yourself command me to exercise the three degrees of mercy. The first, the act of mercy, of whatever kind. The second: the word of mercy — if I cannot carry out a work of mercy, I will assist by my words. The third: prayer — if I cannot show mercy by deeds or words, I can always do so by prayer. My prayer reaches out even there where I cannot reach out physically.
O my Jesus, transform me into Yourself, for You can do all things (Diary, 163).
At the heart of her teaching on the works of mercy, therefore, remains the profound hope that it is Jesus living in us and through us who can enable us to follow the merciful Way:
I want to be completely transformed into Your mercy and to be Your living reflection, O Lord. May the greatest of all divine attributes, that of Your unfathomable mercy, pass through my heart and soul to my neighbor (Diary, 163).
e) The extraordinary mystical depth of her writings
In his book Memory and Identity (2005), St. John Paul II bore witness to the special intimacy of Faustina's relationship with God:
[Saint Faustina] was chosen by Christ to be a particularly enlightened interpreter of the truth of Divine Mercy. For Sister Faustina, this truth led to an extraordinarily rich mystical life. She was a simple, uneducated person, and yet those who read the Diary of her revelations are astounded by the depth of her mystical experience.(19)
Now translated into over twenty languages, St. Faustina's Diary has been read and cherished by millions of the Catholic faithful around the world, and it is recognized in the Roman Breviary as "among the outstanding works of mystical literature."(20)
One of the main reasons that her diary has had such a profound impact upon the People of God is that it is an experiential narrative that covers all of the stages of the spiritual journey: purgative, illuminative, and unitive. Moreover, it does so in simple language that is clear and comprehensible by all. In short, here is a personal testimony to a living experience with the God of merciful love, a transformative experience that is available to all who are willing to open their hearts to Him with trust.
Among the many features of her mystical life, perhaps three stand out above all the rest.
First, at a crucial moment of her life journey, on the occasion of the taking of her first religious vows, she had a vision of all the many sufferings she would have to endure, both physical and spiritual, in order to be a faithful apostle of Divine Mercy (Diary, 135). Faustina responded to this vision with a total, trustful surrender of herself to God's plan. This act of entrustment echoed the even greater surrender of our Lady at the moment of the Annunciation: "Do with me as You please. I subject myself to Your will. ... I beg You, O Lord, be with me at every moment of my life" (Diary, 136; cf. Lk 1:38). By this act of consent St. Faustina manifests the biblical truth that at the foundation of the spiritual life is the complete surrender in faith to God's gracious will. And this trustful surrender issued in a profound deepening of her mystical union with God:
I felt that His Majesty was enveloping me. I was extraordinarily infused with God. I saw that God was well pleased with me and reciprocally, my spirit drowned itself in Him. Aware of this union with God, I felt I was especially loved and, in turn, I loved with all my soul. A great mystery took place during adoration, a mystery between the Lord and myself. ... And the Lord said to me, You are the delight of My Heart. ... At that moment I felt transconsecrated.(21) My earthly body was the same but my soul was different; God was now living in it with the totality of His delight. This is not a feeling, but a conscious reality that nothing can obscure (Diary, 137).
Second, St. Faustina renews the teachings of Holy Scripture (Jn 6:44-45), and Sacred Tradition (at the ecumenical Council of Trent, and emphasized especially in the writings of St. Augustine and St. Bernard of Clairvaux), that in our relationship with God, the initiative lies always with his grace. In other words, no one can turn to God for saving help or do anything at all toward salvation, unless prompted, strengthened, and assisted to do so every step of the way by God's prevenient grace.(22) This was powerfully expressed in Our Lord's words to Sister Faustina recorded in Diary, entry 1485: "Be not afraid of your Savior, O sinful soul. I make the first move to come to you, for I know that by yourself you are unable to lift yourself to me."
The third notable feature in her mystical life is that it marks the capstone of a remarkably "synthetic" spirituality. In other words, St. Faustina draws upon almost every major stream of the Catholic heritage of spiritual wisdom, uniting them all in a total response of love to the merciful love of God.
For example, the Franciscan tradition of creation spirituality is evident in her special relationship to nature: we find a story (preserved in her family) of the day she led the cows out to pasture all by herself as a young girl early one Sunday morning, and brought them safely back on a path through the fields without damage to the crops; and we have accounts of truly miraculous yields of fruits and vegetables from the understaffed convent garden that she supervised. Sister Faustina captured in poetic verse her love for the divine beauty and mercy shining through all of creation in the great canticle she wrote to the merciful Creator, recorded in her Diary, entry 1750.
The Dominican tradition of theology and spirituality finds expression in St. Faustina's understanding of Divine Mercy as the greatest attribute of God, manifest in all his works (e.g. Diary, 301).(24) It is also evident in her understanding of God's work of creation as an overflow of the selfless generosity of God (e.g. 1741; cf. Catechism 293), and in her prayers for an enlightened intellect to help her grow in the knowledge and love of God (376, 605, 1030, 1474).
The Jesuit tradition of spirituality is also present in the writings of St. Faustina. This is hardly surprising, given that her religious order actually based its constitutions on those of the Society of Jesus, and that several of her spiritual directors were Jesuits. Jesus himself led her on a Jesuit-style mediational retreat (Diary, 1752-1779), and she also fully embraced the Jesuit emphasis on a "holy indifference" to everything save the will and glory of God (374, 462, 678, 952, 1265).
The Carmelite spirit finds a major echo in St. Faustina's writings too. Fr. Jan Machniak has shown that her accounts of her dark nights of the soul, and her experiences of mystical union with God, closely parallel the teachings of St. John of the Cross on these phenomena of the spiritual life.(25) In addition, the way she expresses herself to God with total honesty breathes the very spirit of St. Theresa of Avila, for example, when Sr. Faustina asked God to give his special graces to someone else so that they would not be wasted (Diary, 53; cf. her brutally honest "conversations" between God and a sinful soul, a despairing soul, and a soul striving for perfection, recorded in Diary, 1485-1489).
Most of all, we find in St. Faustina a remarkable union of two streams of Catholic spirituality that have been especially helpful to multitudes of the faithful over the past few centuries: the "Little Way" of St. Therese of Lisieux, and devotion to the Heart of Jesus.
The Little Way is the way of spiritual childhood, the way of complete childlike trust in God. As we have already seen, this was a central feature of the life of St. Faustina (Diary, 72, 148, and 1529). Jesus said to her:
Although My greatness is beyond understanding, I commune only with those who are little. I demand of you a childlike spirit. ... The greatest sinners would achieve great sanctity, if only they would trust in My mercy (Diary, 332, 1784).
As we have already seen, Sr. Faustina was noted in her community for doing her little duties each day (whether baking bread, working in the kitchen or the garden, or serving as portress at the convent door) with great love and devotion. But her following of the Little Way went far beyond this. For she actually attained a deep contemplative union with God even in the midst of a very busy, active life. In this way she serves as an example to so many today who face a similar challenge: the challenge of finding God, and opening their hearts to Him, in the midst of the hectic pace of the modern world.
As for devotion to the Sacred Heart, Sister Faustina mentions the Heart of Jesus over 200 times in her Diary — including some of the most important passages in her writings. Clearly, the merciful Heart of Jesus was the main object of her trust and devotion:
Hail, most merciful Heart of Jesus
Living Fountain of all graces,
Our sole shelter, our only refuge;
In You I have the light of hope (Diary, 1321).
Her devotion to the Sacred Heart is especially evident in the "Novena to the Divine Mercy" dictated to her by Christ, and recorded in entries 1209-1229. In this Novena, our Lord specifically asks her on each day to "bring to My Heart a different group of souls, and ... immerse them in the ocean of My mercy" (1209). Moreover, a prayer that St. Faustina composed that focuses on the Heart of Jesus has become one of the most popular prayers from her Diary among the Catholic faithful, and is now customarily recited at 3 p.m. each day, the "Hour of Great Mercy": "O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus, as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You" (84). Saint John Paul II drew special attention to this aspect of St. Faustina's spirituality in his homily on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2001:
The Heart of Christ! His "Sacred Heart" has given men everything: redemption, salvation, sanctification. St. Faustina Kowalska saw coming from this heart that was overflowing with generous love, two rays of light which illuminated the world. "The two rays" according to what Jesus Himself told her, "represent the blood and the water" (Diary, 132).
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 happiness find its secret.(27)
In short, St. Faustina recapitulates in her Diary most of the main streams of Catholic spiritual tradition. In this way her writings help to renew all of them at once in the life of the People of God.
f) Fresh insights into the mysteries of the faith
In addition to her major contribution to the renewal of the doctrine of God's merciful love, and her remarkable synthesis of the various schools of Catholic spirituality, Sr. Faustina also made several distinctive contributions to the theological patrimony of the Church.
For example, in his exhaustive study of her Diary for the Holy See, Fr. Rozycki pointed to St. Faustina's reflections on the virtue of mercy in the Heart of Jesus as a unique insight:
It is evident to every believing Catholic that the infinite Mercy of God is inexhaustible. The greatest sins, not only of an individual person but those of the entire world, will neither exhaust it, nor ever equal it. Likewise, the Divine-human mercy of the heart of Jesus is inexhaustible. Jesus speaks of it in revelation 56: "It [Divine Mercy] increases through giving itself" (Diary, 1273). At first glance this is an extraordinary argument, but in reality it is profoundly theological. It refers to the universally accepted contention of moral theology that all virtues grow through performance of those acts to which they incline. Consequently, we find no basis for the exhaustion of the Divine-human Mercy of the Heart of Jesus. In the whole history of Catholic theology, no one has given a deeper reason for the inexhaustibility of the Divine-human Mercy of the Heart of Jesus.(28)
In addition, St. Faustina wrote that Jesus had insisted: God is not only merciful to sinners; in a sense, he is even more merciful to sinners than he is to the just. In fact, he has a special compassion for sinners, precisely because they are most in need of his mercy. Jesus said to her:
Let the greatest sinners place their trust in My mercy. They have the right before others to trust in the abyss of My mercy. ... Souls that make an appeal to My mercy delight Me. To such souls I grant even more graces than they ask (Diary, 1146; cf. 598, 1182, and 1275).
In his submission to the Holy See, Fr. Rozycki compared this teaching in St. Faustina's Diary to an often neglected aspect of the Gospel when he wrote:
Mercy, for its part, hastens with assistance especially to all those who need it more, particularly those whose misery is the greatest. For when giving assistance, inviolable moral law requires that priority be given to those who need it more. The Lord Jesus applied this principle to God the Father when he said' "I tell you that there will be more joy in heaven from the conversion of one sinner than from ninety-nine of the righteous who need no repentance" (Lk 15:7).(29)
Third, Sr. Faustina believed that it had been revealed to her that in some way the fullness of Christ's self-offering to the Father was already made present at the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday in the Cenacle. The implication is that the Lord's Supper was not just an episode or a part of his saving work, but the real and essential summary of it all — just as each Mass that we celebrate today is not a mere episode or aspect of Christ's saving work, but a re-making present of the whole Paschal Mystery for our salvation Catechism, 1391 and 1416). Moreover, the Lord's Supper, like the Eucharist today, manifests the true meaning of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross: the voluntary and loving self-offering of the Son of God for our salvation, and its communal benefits, as the source and summit of the life of the New Covenant community(30). Faustina wrote:
At the moment of Consecration, love rested satiated — the sacrifice fully consummated. Now only the external ceremony of death will be carried out — external destruction; the essence [of it] is in the Cenacle (Diary, 684).
g) Response to Objections
Some aspects of the devotion to the Divine Mercy given to the Church through St. Faustina have at times engendered controversy. While we do not have the space to respond in depth to all of them here, suffice it to say that the Holy See would not have canonized St. Faustina if any portion of her writings or revelations had been deemed heretical.
The two objections raised most often to her writings are (1) that the promise Jesus allegedly made of an extraordinary grace offered to communicants on Divine Mercy Sunday, "the complete remission of sins and punishment" (Diary, 699) cannot be harmonized with the Catholic understanding of the sacraments in general, or of the conditions for obtaining divine forgiveness in particular, and (2) that we cannot offer the "divinity" of Jesus Christ to the Father in the Chaplet.
Let us look briefly at these in turn.
1) Theoretically, one can receive the complete remission of sins and punishment any time from the sacrament of Confession followed by Holy Communion, if all are undertaken with the pure love of God. But how many of the faithful ordinarily receive these sacraments with such a pure disposition? Usually, the intentions of the penitent-communicant are more mixed, including fear of God as well as love, and, to some extent, with continuing attachment to their sins. As a result, while their sins are forgiven, there remains a measure of temporal punishment due to sin (see Catechism 1472-1473). Of course, this temporal punishment can be completely taken away through a plenary indulgence, granted by the Church, for the devout performance of certain designated good works (such as the recitation of prayers, giving of alms, visiting of a shrine, etc.) — but, again, if these works are undertaken by a soul with any attachment to sin whatsoever, then the indulgence is only partial, not plenary. The complete remission of sins and punishment, ex opere operato, is ordinary only available to the soul at baptism. What Jesus Christ evidently has promised to the world, through St. Faustina, is that a complete renewal of that baptismal grace — the complete remission of sins and punishment — is also available to the faithful through the reception of Holy Communion in a state of grace, with trust in God's mercy, on Divine Mercy Sunday.
Of course, this immediately raises the question of whether it is proper to the nature of the Eucharist to be the source of such an extraordinary measure of grace. The answer is clear from the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and of the magisterium itself. St. Thomas declares very clearly:
Moreover, not only are all the other sacraments ordered toward the Eucharist, but they produce their proper grace only in virtue of their relationship to the Eucharist. The Eucharist alone has of itself the power to confer grace, while the other sacraments confer grace only in virtue of the desire (votum) which their recipients have of receiving the Eucharist also. (ST, III, 79, I).
Following St. Thomas on this matter, the Church teaches that all the other sacraments are directed towards the Eucharist and draw their power from it. In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council, for example, we read "Especially from the Eucharist, grace is poured forth upon us as from a fountain." And, in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, pastors are urged to "compare the Eucharist to a fountain and the other sacraments to rivulets. For the Holy Eucharist is truly and necessarily to be called the fountain of all graces, containing, as it does, after an admirable manner, the fountain itself of celestial gifts and graces, and the Author of all the sacraments, Christ our Lord, from whom, as from its source, is derived whatever of goodness and perfection the other sacraments possess."(31)
The question also arises whether it is ever proper and just for a soul to receive the complete remission of sins and punishment without perfect contrition for sin. The answer is evident: this extraordinary outpouring of grace occurs at almost every adult baptism. As St. Thomas Aquinas tells us in his Scriptum super Sententias (d.2, q.1, quaes. 2), since in Baptism we are baptized into the death of Christ, as Romans 6 teaches, the baptized person receives the full effects of Christ's Passion and Death. In other words, our Savior's merits completely remit our sins and all the punishment due to them.
2) Theologians who object to the wording of the Chaplet ("I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son") have the same difficulty with a similar prayer offered by the angel at Fatima. How can we offer the divine nature back to God? — how can we offer to God the Father anything but the sacred humanity of His Son?
Two replies are possible here. The first is that at the resurrection of our Lord, Christ's human nature was transformed and fully glorified or "divinized" by the Holy Spirit, so that when we say that we offer His "divinity" to the Father, this is shorthand for the offering of His "divinized humanity."(32) Another possible response would be that when we offer the "divinity" of the Son to the Father, this is shorthand for the offering of the person of the divine Son in his sacred humanity (that is, in his human "Body, Blood and Soul").
In any case, liturgical language of the offering of the person of the divine Son in His sacrifice on the Cross to the Father is entirely in accord with the Catholic tradition of prayer and worship. For example, Eucharistic Prayer #1 in the Roman Missal states "We offer to You, God of glory and majesty, this holy and perfect sacrifice: the bread of life and the cup of salvation" (in other words, we offer what has just been consecrated, and is no longer bread and wine, but now the "bread of life" and the "cup of salvation," that is, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ).
In Eucharistic Prayer #4: "We offer You His Body and Blood, the acceptable sacrifice which brings salvation to the whole world. Lord, look upon this sacrifice which You have given to Your Church; and gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the one Body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise." "Body and Blood" here are clearly just liturgical shorthand for the fullness of the mystery of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist ("body and blood, together with the soul and divinity," according to Catechism 1374).
In short, while these are profound mysteries indeed, it is not at all clear that St. Faustina's recorded revelations from our Lord lead the faithful astray regarding either the Feast of The Divine Mercy, or the Chaplet.
h) Summary of her doctrine
It is nearly impossible to sum up the tremendous treasury of theological and mystical insights in the writings of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska. Perhaps no one has done it better than St. John Paul II, in the homily that he delivered at her tomb in Lagiewniki, Poland on June 7, 1997:
There is nothing that man needs more than Divine Mercy — that love which is benevolent, which is compassionate, which raises man above his weakness to the infinite heights of the holiness of God. In this place we become particularly aware of this. From here, in fact, went out the message of Divine Mercy that Christ Himself chose to pass on to our generation through [St.] Faustina. And it is a message that is clear and understandable for everyone. Anyone can come here, look at this image of the merciful Jesus, His Heart radiating grace, and hear in the depths of his own soul what [St.] Faustina heard: "Fear nothing. I am with you always." And if this person responds with a sincere heart, "Jesus, I trust in You," he will find comfort in all his anxieties and fears. In this "dialogue of abandonment," there is established between a soul and Christ a special bond that sets love free. ...
The Church re-reads the message of mercy in order to bring with greater effectiveness to this generation at the end of the millennium, and to future generations, the light of hope.(33)
III. The Vital Importance of Her Message to the Mission of the Church
The providential impact of St. Faustina's message can be divided into three "moments" in the life of the Church: its impact on the past (i.e., its relevance to the struggles of her own time), on the present (i.e., its relevance to the contemporary era and the New Evangelization), and its relevance to the future (especially in preparing God's People for the promised Second Coming of the Lord). As we shall see, it was St. John Paul II above all who drew attention to all three of these ways in which St. Faustina's witness has a profound impact on the mission of the Body of Christ.
a) The past
There is no question that the life and witness of St. Faustina was given to the Church and the world at precisely the time it was most needed, in the midst of one of the darkest periods of human history. Overwhelmed by the sufferings of two World Wars, the brutality of Fascist and Communist totalitarianism, the ever present threat of nuclear annihilation, and the global spread of abortion, contraception, and divorce, the message of Divine Mercy given to St. Faustina, and the special elements of the devotion given to the Church through her (such as the Image, the Feast, the Chaplet, and the Diary) served as beacons of hope to a broken and bleeding world, and a persecuted and martyred Church.
On several occasions, St. John Paul II referred to Sr. Faustina's life and witness as a special remedy for the ills of the 20th century. For example, in his homily for her beatification in Rome on April 18, 1993, he said:
Her mission continues, and is yielding astonishing fruit. It is truly marvelous how her devotion to the Merciful Jesus is spreading in the contemporary world, and gaining so many human hearts! This is doubtless a sign of the times, a sign of our 20th century. The balance of this century that is now ending ... presents a deep restlessness and fear of the future. Where, if not in the Divine Mercy, can the world find refuge and the light of hope? Believers understand that perfectly.(34)
With even greater emphasis, the Holy Father returned to this theme later in his pontificate in his book Memory and Identity, where he pointed to St. Faustina's message as the direct and only answer to the great evils of the time:
I mention Sr. Faustina because her revelations, focused on the mystery of Divine Mercy, occurred during the period preceding the Second World War. This was precisely the time when those ideologies of evil, Nazism and Communism were taking shape. Sister Faustina became the herald of the one message capable of offsetting the evil of those ideologies, the fact that God is Mercy — the truth of the merciful Christ. And for this reason, when I was called to the See of Peter, I felt impelled to pass on those experiences of a fellow Pole that deserve a place in the treasury of the universal Church.(35)
The patrimony of her spirituality was of great importance as we know from experience, for the resistance against the evil and inhuman systems of the time. The lesson to be drawn from all this is important not only for the Poles, but also in every part of the world where the Church is present. This became clear during the beatification and canonization of Sr. Faustina. It was as if Christ had wanted to say through her: "Evil does not have the last word!" The Paschal Mystery confirms that good is ultimately victorious, that life conquers death, and that love triumphs over hate.(36)
However, St. Faustina was not only a Doctor of the Church for her own time, providing divine medicine for the sufferings of a century besieged by evil. She is also a physician given to us by divine providence for the ills of the Church and the world today.
b) The present
The New Evangelization called for by a succession of popes since the Second Vatican Council must be centered on the Gospel message of God's merciful love. Pope Francis called the whole Church to take this to heart in his bull Misericordiae Vultus when he wrote:
The Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the gospel. The spouse of Christ must pattern her behavior after the Son of God who went out to everyone without exception. In the present day, as the Church is charged with the task of the new evangelization, the theme of mercy needs to be proposed again and again with new enthusiasm and renewed pastoral action. It is absolutely essential for the Church and the credibility of her message that she live and testify to mercy. Her language and her gestures must transmit mercy, so as to touch the hearts of all people and inspire them once more to find the road that leads to the Father (section 12).
If St. Faustina really is (as St. John Paul II once said) "the great apostle of Divine Mercy in our time,"(37) then it only stands to reason that her life and writings are meant to play a major role in this New Evangelization in the third millennium. Having abandoned the rational optimism of the Enlightenment, we live in a world now caught in a downward spiral of skepticism, cynicism, narcissism and despair. Without any anchor in God, nothing seems to correspond anymore to the deepest desires of the human heart for truth, beauty, and sanctity. Rational apologetics and doctrinal catechesis, though always necessary, will not be enough to cure this deep sickness of the heart. We need to be healed and transformed, not just instructed and illuminated. And through St. Faustina, our Lord offers us a remedy, and a sure source of renewal for a world full of cold hearts and broken hearts. Pope St. John Paul II alluded to this in his Regina Caeli addresses on two successive Divine Mercy Sundays:
As people of this restless time of ours, wavering between the emptiness of self-exaltation and the humiliation of despair, we have a greater need than ever for a regenerating experience of God's mercy. ... Dear brothers and sisters, we must personally experience this [tender-hearted mercy of the Father] if, in turn, we want to be capable of mercy.(38)
For this same reason, at the close of the second World Apostolic Congress on Mercy in Krakow-Lagiewniki in 2012, the assembled cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, and lay faithful petitioned the Holy See, and the upcoming 2012 synod of bishops, to utilize the Divine Mercy message and devotion as "a key element of the new evangelization efforts." They summed up the case as follows:
Often, this process of accepting the truth that God is loving and infinitely merciful is not easy, especially because of the wound of original sin, which leaves man with a distorted image of God and a lack of trust in his benevolence. Reading theological books and listening to lectures about God is not enough to heal this distorted image. In fact, man needs the language of the heart, which speaks of God's mercy through art (e.g. the Image of Divine Mercy), devotional prayer (e.g. the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Hour of Great Mercy, Novena to Divine Mercy), liturgical prayer (e.g. the Feast of Divine Mercy), and personal testimony (e.g. Diary of St. Faustina). This multi-faceted language of the heart transcends cultural divisions, overcomes man's brokenness, and inspires in him a loving attitude of trust in the God who is rich in mercy (Eph 2:4)
Because the Divine Mercy message and devotion touches the human heart on so many levels, it is a most effective tool for the work of the new evangelization.(39)
The relevance and power of St. Faustina's message for the New Evangelization was emphasized also by St. John Paul II, especially in his homily for the canonization of Sr. Faustina in the year 2000:
Sister Faustina's canonization has a particular eloquence. By this act I intend today to pass this message on to all people, so that they will learn to know even better the true face of God and the true face of their brethren. ...
And you, Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole Church, obtain for us an awareness of the depth of Divine Mercy. Help us to have a living experience of it and to bear witness to it among our brothers and sisters. May your message of light and hope spread throughout the world, spurring sinners to conversion, calming rivalries and hatred and opening individuals and nations to the practice of brotherhood. Today, fixing our gaze with you on the face of the Risen Christ, let us make our own your prayer of trusting abandonment, and say with firm hope: Christ Jesus, I trust in You! Jezu ufam tobie!(40)
c) The future
Pope St. John Paul II struck a note of urgency in his consecration of the whole world to The Divine Mercy in 2002. On that occasion, at the dedication of the new Basilica of Divine Mercy in Krakow-Lagiewniki in Poland, he said that the witness of St. Faustina is to play a vital role in God's ultimate plan for humanity:
Today, therefore, in this Shrine, I wish solemnly to entrust the world to Divine Mercy. I do so with the burning desire that the message of God's merciful love, proclaimed here through St. Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth and fill their hearts with hope. May this message radiate from this place to our beloved homeland and throughout the world. May the binding promise of the Lord Jesus be fulfilled: "From here there must go forth "the spark which will prepare the world for His final coming" (Diary, 1732). This spark needs to be lighted by the grace of God. This fire of mercy needs to be passed on to the world.(41)
Pope St. John Paul II's remarks here point to the last (but not least) important aspect of St. Faustina's witness: the fact that Jesus repeatedly told her that the spread of devotion to The Divine Mercy would prepare the world for his return. Jesus said to her:
Speak to the world about My mercy; let all mankind recognize My unfathomable mercy. It is a sign for the end times; after it will come the day of justice. ... You will prepare the world for My final coming (Diary, 848 and 429).
It is important to note that Jesus did not tell her that she alone would prepare the world for his return, nor did he tell her when his Second Coming would take place. Moreover, he spoke of these matters not in order to frighten her, or those who would read her Diary, but to convince them of the great urgency of the evangelistic works of mercy that need to be accomplished. Jesus had promised in the gospels that the good news of Gods merciful love would first be preached throughout the whole world before the end would come (e.g. Mk 13:9). The spread of The Divine Mercy message seems to play an important part in the fulfilment of that prophecy:
Today I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching mankind but to heal it, pressing it to My merciful Heart. I use punishment when they themselves force me to do so; My hand is reluctant to take hold of the sword of justice. Before the Day of Justice, I am sending the Day of Mercy (Diary, 1588).
IV. In Conclusion
Clearly, the life and witness of St. Faustina, and the message of Divine Mercy that God gave to the Church and the world through her, was vital to God's outreach to His People amid the terrible sufferings of the 20th century. It is vitally important as well in our own era, especially to the New Evangelization, and will remain so in the future as part of the preparation of the Church and the world for the final coming of the Lord. If so, then we strongly believe that all this completes the case for declaring St. Faustina a true Doctor of the Church, according to the criteria established by the magisterium. Moreover, we believe that elevating her in the eyes of the Body of Christ with this title during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy would light a beacon of hope for the world. It would powerfully proclaim the message of Divine Mercy to the struggling People of God, and to lost and broken humanity, drawing the attention of all to the only true remedy: trust in God's infinite and merciful love.
Sincerely in Christ,
Robert Stackpole, STD, director, John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy
Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, provincial superior of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception
Rev. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, former vice-postulator of the Cause for the Canonization of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska
+ + +
1 Cited in Fr. George W. Kosicki, CSB, John Paul II: The Great Mercy Pope (Stockbridge: Marian Press, second edition, 2006), p. 191; emphasis added.
2 St. John Paul II, Regina Caeli address, April 10, 1994, cited in Kosicki, John Paul II, p. 160.
3 See Cardinal Prospero Lambertini (later, Pope Benedict XIV), De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et Beatorum Canonizatione (1734-1738), and Congregation of Rites, March 11, 1871, Acta Sancta Sedis 6, 1870.
4 All quotations from St. Faustina's Diary taken from Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul (Stockbridge: Marian Press, third edition, 2011).
5 Rev. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, "The Road to Canonization" in Robert Stackpole, editor, Pillars of Fire in my Soul: The Spirituality of Saint Faustina (Stockbridge: Marian Press, 2004), p. 145.
6 Testimony of Natalia Wieczorek, cited in Ewa K. Czazkowska, Faustina; The Mystic and Her Message (Stockbridge: Marian Press, 2014), p. 68.
7 St. John Paul II, "St. Therese of Lisieux proclaimed a Doctor of the Church: homily" cited in Steven Payne, OCD, St. Therese of Lisieux: Doctor of the Universal Church (New York: St. Paul's, 2002), p.3.
8 Rev. Ignacy Rozycki, "Essential Features of the Devotion to The Divine Mercy," in Stackpole, ed. Pillars of Fire in My Soul, pp. 96-97.
9 Cited in Maria Tarnowska, Saint Sister Faustina: Her Life and Mission (London: Veritas, fourth edition, 2000), p. 201; emphasis added.
10 Pope Benedict XVI, Regina Caeli address, Divine Mercy Sunday, March 30, 2008.
11 Cited in Kosicki, John Paul II. P.182; emphasis added.
12 Fr. Rozycki defines the virtue of trust as more than the virtue of confidence or hope, for it combines faith, hope, humility and contrition all at once. See the discussion of this in Sr. Elzbieta Siepak, She Made an Ordinary Life Extraordinary (Dublin: Divine Mercy Publications, 1996), pp. 21-24.
13 Michael E. Gaitley, MIC, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told: Now is the Time of Mercy (Stockbridge: Marian Press, 2015), pp. 34-36 and 55-70.
14 Ibid, p.18.
15 Cited in Kosicki, John Paul II, p. 184-185.
16 Robert Stackpole, Divine Mercy Essentials: an in-depth course on the theology and spirituality of the devotion to The Divine Mercy (Stockbridge: Marian Press, DVD set, 2013), class lecture 18.
17 Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), pp. 131-132.
18 Parts of this section are taken from Robert Stackpole, Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Stockbridge, Marian Press, revised edition, 2009), pp. 219-240.
19 Pope John Paul II, Memory and Identity (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2005), p. 5.
20 Office of Readings for St. Faustina Kowalska, October 5, in The Liturgy of the Hours.
21 This is St. Faustina's own word; refers to the fact that she felt spiritually transformed by means of her total consecration to God and his will.
22 St. Augustine's commentary on Psalm 58; St. Bernard of Clairvaux, On Loving God, 1; On Grace and Free Will, 46ff.
23 Stackpole, Divine Mercy Essentials, class lecture 12.
24 St. Thomas Aquinas, ST II-II.30.1-4; cf. St. Catherine of Siena, Dialogue, section 30.
25 Fr. Jan Machniak, "The Mysticism of Sister Faustina Kowalska against the Background of the Western Christian Tradition" in Peregrinus Cracoviensis, zeszyt 11, 2001, Issn 1425-1922; see especially pp. 89ff.
26 See especially Diary, entries 84, 72, 177, 305, 367, 1183, 1209-1229, 1321, 1485, 1520, 1553, and 1688.
27 Cited in Kosicki, John Paul II, p. 192.
28 Rozycki, "Essential Features" in Stackpole, ed., Pillars of Fire in my Soul, pp. 100-101.
29 Ibid., p. 100.
30 Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini and Cardinal Albert Vanhoye, Bibbia e Vocazione (Brescia: Morcelliana, 1983), pp. 267-269.
31 Catechism of the Council of Trent, Chapter 4, question 45.
32 Cardinal Albert Vanhoye provided the scriptural basis for this in Per Progredire Nell'amore (Roma: Edizioni ADP, 1989), especially in chapter 26, "The Sacrificial Offering of Jesus in the Holy Spirit," pp. 177-189.
33 Cited in Kosicki, John Paul II, pp. 169-170.
34 Ibid., p. 153.
35 Pope John Paul II, Memory and Identity, pp. 5-6.
36 Ibid., pp. 55-56.
37 Cited in Kosicki, John Paul II, p. 160.
38 Pope John Paul II, Regina Caeli addresses, April 10, 1994 and April 23, 1995. Emphasis added.
39 From the letter of WACOM II to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops regarding the Instrumentum Laboris for the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization.
40 Cited in Kosicki, John Paul II, pp. 183 and 185.
41 Ibid., pp. 211-212.