Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska

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Saint Faustina the Theologian

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 this second article in our series, we continue to explore St. Faustina's "qualifications" for receiving the ecclesiastical title "Doctor of the Church."

Her 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.

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.

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. (Cited in Maria Tarnowska, Saint Sister Faustina: Her Life and Mission (London: Veritas, fourth edition, 2000), p. 201)

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. (Regina Caeli address, Divine Mercy Sunday, March 30, 2008)

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."

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. 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.

The call to trust in the Lord is rooted in Holy Scripture (e.g. Ps 125; Rom 4:5; 1 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." (The Second Greatest Story Ever Told: Now is the Time of Mercy, Stockbridge: Marian Press, 2015, p. 18)

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!

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

Next Time: Saint Faustina Shows us Where to Find — and How to Serve — our Merciful Lord

See this entire series.

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Jenn - Oct 12, 2017

I pray you and I both will Alex. May God have mercy on us.

Alex M - Oct 12, 2017

Who are you, how did you find me ? I know some of those words... scarlet..weight..despair... I might learn new ones..mercy.. grace..trust.. hopefully