Friday, April 13, 2012

The Story of St. Faustina and Divine Mercy

This Sunday, April 15, 2012, is the Feast of Divine Mercy. It offers believers the extraordinary opportunity to have not only their sins forgiven, but the temporal punishment due them excused as well. All of this, and much, much more, has been promised to us by Our Lord out of the goodness and love of His merciful heart.

Of course Jesus’s love and mercy toward us has always existed, but it was in the early 20th century that He saw fit to bring the message of His mercy to the world by means of a humble, holy young woman named Helen Kowalska. We know her now as St. Faustina. The following, first published in Columbia Magazine in April 2003, is her story and the story of Jesus’ unstoppable quest for souls.


Divine Mercy: The Spark That is Setting the World Aflame

By Melaine Ryther

Amidst rumors that he would be announcing his retirement due to failing health, Pope John Paul II traveled to Poland last summer and proclaimed a message far different to the expectant world. During a dedication Mass for the Shrine of Divine Mercy in the city of Krakow-Lagiewniki on August 17, 2002, the Pope announced: “Today, therefore, in this Shrine, I wish solemnly to entrust the world to Divine Mercy.”

The Divine Mercy devotion, though humble in its origin, offers nothing less than salvation and peace to all mankind. Efforts being conducted on many different fronts are furthering the hope that Catholics everywhere will soon know of the extraordinary graces promised by Our Lord to those who would follow His simple call to mercy and trust.

St. Faustina: The Messenger

Helena Kowalska was born in the village of Glogowiec, Poland, on August 25, 1905. The third of ten children born to poor but devout parents, she exhibited an early love of prayer, work, obedience, and sensitivity to the poor. At age seven, she felt the first stirrings of a vocation in her heart, and before turning twenty entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, where she received her new name, Sister Maria Faustina.

To the outside observer, Faustina’s religious life was unexceptional, as she spent her days attending to kitchen and garden tasks, or acting as the doorkeeper in various convents. But interiorly, Faustina experienced an extraordinary communion with God, the extent of which was known only to her superiors. Her supernatural gifts included revelations, visions, hidden stigmata, bilocation, prophecy, and the reading of souls.

In 1934, at the urging of her spiritual director and, later, of Our Lord Himself, Faustina began keeping a diary of her divine revelations and mystical experiences. The result is the 600-page spiritual classic, Divine Mercy in My Soul, which continues to astound scholars to this day with its depth of spiritual and theological insights. She recorded this diary over the span of four years, ending it shortly before her death from tuberculosis in 1938.

Divine Mercy: The Message

“Encourage souls to place great trust in My fathomless mercy. Let the weak, sinful soul have no fear to approach Me, for even if it had more sins than there are grains of sand in the world, all will be drowned in the immeasurable depths of My mercy” (Diary, 1059).

Jesus’ message of mercy to St. Faustina was not a new revelation, but a reminder of those timeless truths of our faith about God’s merciful love for all mankind and His desire for us to turn to Him with trust. What was new were the forms of devotion to that mercy that Jesus requested, and the powerful promises attached to them.

There are generally considered to be four basic elements of the Divine Mercy devotion: the Image, the Feast, the Chaplet, and the Hour of Mercy.

The Image

“. . . I became aware of the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One hand was raised in blessing, the other was touching the garment at the breast. From the opening in the garment at the breast there came forth two large rays, one red, and the other pale. . . After a while Jesus said to me: paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the inscription: Jesus, I trust in You” (Diary, 47).

This image of the Risen Christ reminds us of all Jesus did for us through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. The two rays represent the blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ heart when it was pierced by a lance. The hand raised in blessing recalls the scene of Easter Sunday night and the institution of the Sacrament of Penance.

St. Faustina further noted two promises given by Our Lord: “I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over [its] enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I Myself will defend it as My own glory” (Diary, 48).

The Feast

Jesus specifically requested that the Sunday after Easter be designated as the Feast of Mercy. In all, He made fourteen requests for the Feast in his revelations to St. Faustina and attached such a special promise of mercy to its devout observance that it ranks highest among all the elements of the Divine Mercy devotion.

“Whoever approaches the Fount of Life on this day will be granted complete remission of sins and punishment . . . On that day all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though it sins be as scarlet” (Diary, 300 and 699).

To observe the Feast of Mercy properly, and to receive the great gift of complete forgiveness—a new beginning the likes of which our souls experienced only at Baptism—we should sincerely repent of all our sins; place our trust in Jesus; go to Confession (within a reasonable time before the Feast); receive Holy Communion; venerate the Image of Divine Mercy; and practice acts of mercy towards others.

The Chaplet

Dictated to St. Faustina by Our Lord Himself, the Chaplet is to be prayed on ordinary rosary beads. Jesus instructed Faustina to pray it “unceasingly,” and promised to souls who recited it devoutly great graces throughout life and particularly at the hour of death.

To pray the Chaplet, begin by saying the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Apostle’s Creed. Then on the large beads, pray:
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.
On the small beads, pray:
For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.
In conclusion, pray three times:
Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

The Hour of Mercy

In a revelation to St. Faustina in October 1937, Jesus requested daily prayer at three o’clock to honor the hour of His death and to implore mercy for sinners.
“If only for a brief moment, immerse yourself in My Passion, particularly in My abandonment at the moment of agony. This is the hour of great mercy for the whole world. . . In this hour, I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of Me in virtue of My Passion” (Diary, 1320).

Jesus further instructed that if the duties of life permitted, saying the Stations of the Cross at this hour were most beneficial; if that couldn’t be done, a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, adoring the merciful heart of Jesus, was the next best practice.

Mercy for Our Times

Preparing the world for Our Lord’s return by spreading the message of Divine Mercy is a mission being accomplished on many levels. Apostolates like the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, run by the Marions of the Immaculate Conception, and Catholic media networks like EWTN provide seminars, publications, on-air and online information and support to interested individuals and parishes.

Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, Director Emeritus of the JPII Institute of Divine Mercy, is optimistic about the growing awareness of the devotion: “It is consistently on the rise. It’s individual lay people who are doing the most. All of this is by word of mouth, people telling others about the graces they’ve received and then inviting them to the services, like to a chaplet that is said before Mass.”

Plowing the way for these seeds of evangelization to take root and grow is the world’s foremost champion of Divine Mercy, Pope John Paul II. Dedicated to spreading the message of mercy since his days as a young priest, the Holy Father has played what can only be described as a providential role in this mission.

In 1965, as Cardinal of Krakow, he initiated the process by which, thirty-five years later as Pope, he would declare Sr. Faustina the first saint of the Jubilee Year 2000. At the canonization ceremony, on April 30, 2000, John Paul II also announced that the Second Sunday of Easter would be henceforth known as Divine Mercy Sunday.

He marked his pontificate early with the theme of mercy by issuing in 1980 the encyclical letter Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), and most recently, on August 4, 2002, gave us the strongest sign yet of the importance of Divine Mercy Sunday by authorizing a plenary indulgence to Catholics who observe that feast day’s precepts.
Given John Paul II’s historical actions, the life and mission of St. Faustina, and the vitality and faith of the Polish people who have spread the message of mercy beyond their homeland, one can’t help but wonder at Our Lord’s prophetic words: “I bear a special love for Poland . . . From her will come forth the spark that will prepare the world for My final coming” (Diary, 1732).

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