Faustina: The Mystic and Her Message

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How Is She Qualified?

The Case for a New Doctor of the Church: Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska

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The following series of articles was prepared by several renowned experts in the writings and spirituality of St. Faustina, namely: Robert Stackpole, STD, director, John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy; Very 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 of God's merciful love, opened multitudes to a regenerating and transformative experience of Divine Mercy, and pointed the way forward in 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.

For these reasons, we also believe that St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, whom St. John Paul II once called "the great apostle of Divine Mercy in our time," truly merits the title of "Doctor of the Church." We are convinced that for the Holy See to bestow this honor upon her 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. According to Cardinal Prospero Lambertini (later Pope Benedict XIV) and the Vatican's Congregation of Rites (AAS 6, 1871), 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. 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. In this series of articles, we will reflect upon each one and show how Sr. Faustina fulfills them all in an exceptional way.

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.

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 7, 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. 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. (Testimony of Natalia Wieczorek, cited in Ewa K. Czazkowska, Faustina: The Mystic and Her Message [Stockbridge: Marian Press, 2014], p. 68)

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, St. 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. 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 of 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)

Please see our petition to have St. Faustina declared a Doctor of the Church.

Next Time: Saint Faustina the Theologian

See this entire series.

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