Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska

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The Many Streams of the Spirituality of St. Faustina

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

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The following is part of a series of articles prepared by 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.

As we continue our survey of the witness and message of St. Faustina, we now come to one of her most important contributions to the life of the Church in our time ...

a) 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 (Pope John Paul II, Memory and Identity, New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2005, p. 5-6).

Now translated into over 20 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" (Office of Readings for St. Faustina Kowalska, October 5, in The Liturgy of the Hours).

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. 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. 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, 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). 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. Father 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. 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.

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.

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

Next Time: The New and the Controversial in the Witness of St. Faustina

See this entire series.

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Elizabeth - Oct 27, 2017

I can't wait to see St. Faustina joining the list of Drs. Of The Church!