I cannot say exactly when I first came across the Divine Mercy message and devotion. My love for Divine Mercy was by no means love at first sight, but it has developed gradually over many years. But without a doubt, Divine Mercy has forever changed my life. It has given me a framework for how I try to live and is a foundation for my work in ministry.
My first brush with St. Faustian and the Divine Mercy came from my connection to Pope St. John Paul II. He was elected to the Chair of Peter when I was in high school. For me and for many my age, he radically changed how I viewed the Church and our Catholic faith, and how I should be living and witnessing to the Gospel. We had a Holy Father that was relatively young, engaging and relatable, who was not just sitting in the Vatican. John Paul II was out in the world evangelizing and calling us to do the same. His famous admonition to “be not afraid” was, I believe, the precursor to the Divine Mercy message that he would help bring to prominence. Then in the year 2000, when he canonized St. Faustina, she was thrust into the spotlight, so to speak, and the “Secretary of Divine Mercy,” as Jesus named her, began to get her message out to a world desperately in need of mercy.
I first really discovered the Divine Mercy message somewhere between the year 2001 and 2002. As the Director of Youth Ministry at Seven Sorrows in Middletown, I was looking for anything that would help the youth of my parish cope in the post-9/11 world. I had heard about St. Fausina’s diary and how wonderful it was, but had also heard how large and difficult it was to read. Then I came across her biography, The Life of Faustina Kowalska, by Sister Sophia Michalenko. Faustina’s life and experiences that were shared in this book changed my life and set me on a lifelong path of learning, living and sharing the Divine Mercy message.
Helen Kowalska was born on August 25, 1905, in Glogowiec, Poland; the third of
ten children. Always a devout child, at the age of seven she heard a voice calling her to religious life. Although her parents were devout, they would not allow her to do this. With only a few years of primary education, she spent her days with the menial tasks of life and working as housekeeper. With her desire to enter religious life being held up by her parents, she followed her older sister’s lead and took to socializing and having fun as a way to distract herself from these promptings. At a dance in 1925 in Lodz, she had a vison of the Crucified Jesus. She noted that everything faded away as she danced and Jesus appeared at her side and asked, “How long will you keep putting Me off?”
She left home, and after many setbacks and difficulties she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. For the next 13 years, she suffered many illnesses and served at in a variety of convents in Poland. During that time, Jesus appeared frequently to her and instructed her to write down the messages he had for the world as well as her life experiences. In 1931, she was instructed by Jesus in a vision to have an image painted of Him with the red and pale blue rays coming from his Merciful Heart, with the words “Jesus I trust in you” printed on the bottom. In 1938, at the age of 33, she succumbed to tuberculosis. For decades, the Divine Mercy fell in and out of favor with the Church and, for a time, due to a poor translation of her diary, was even suppressed.
For me, Divine Mercy very simply and clearly encompasses the whole of the Gospel message. Between her biography, which I have read numerous times, and her Diary, which I read last year and refer to almost daily, a few key things stand out about the message of Divine Mercy and St. Faustina’s life. One of the most amazing revelations for me has been learning of Faustina’s most intimate and personal relationship with our Lord. I understand that each of us has the opportunity to have our own unique relationship with our Savior, and I have no expectations that I could somehow copy her experiences. But the fact that our Savior desires this level of friendship with each of us fills me with such hope.
One of St. Faustina’s primary struggles was acting on the requests of Jesus. He would ask her to take an action and, when she would attempt to do it, she would oftentimes hit roadblocks and trials. She would beg Jesus to explain why he asked her to do things that would then get held up by one of the sisters, a priest or a bishop. This is the first consolation I have taken from Faustina’s life. I have often struggled with discerning God’s will for my life. Should I do ‘A’ or should I do ‘B,’ go here or there? It can be frustrating. Then I read that Faustina, even after having personal conversations with Christ, struggled with the same thing. It has been very consoling. Jesus would respond that we should just be obedient and not worry about outcomes.
In her Diary she writes,“O my Jesus, you do not give reward for the successful performance of a work, but for the good will and the labor undertaken. Therefore, I am completely at peace, even if all my undertakings and efforts should be thwarted or should come to naught” (952). Her words validate the work of submitting our wills to Him and putting our trust in Him alone, not in our successes or failures as the world sees them.
The message that our Savior asked St. Faustina to bring to the world is not new. Mercy has always been a part of the Gospel and woven into our Catholic faith at a deep level, but she tells us that as this current age draws to a close, the world needs to focus more on mercy. The message is as simple as this: ask for His Mercy, be merciful to others, and completely trust in Jesus. Jesus gave us a symbol of his promise in the image of Divine Mercy. When asked by St. Faustina, Jesus explained the image:
“The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous; the red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the depths of My most tender Mercy at that time when My agonizing Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross. Happy is the one who will dwell in their shelter, for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him” (299).
The explanation that resonated with me most clearly is that trust in Jesus is the essence of the message of mercy. Our Lord explained this with a beautiful analogy of a fountain. When we go to a public fountain, we require a vessel or container of some kind to be able to draw the water. If our vessel is small, we can only bring back a little water; if it’s large, we can bring back more water. Anyone with a vessel can draw water from the fountain. The water is there for us, and no one is excluded. All we need is a vessel. So it is with God’s mercy, Jesus noted, in repeated revelations to St. Faustina, that the fountain is His Heart, the water is His mercy, and the vessel is trust. In her diary, Faustina recounts Jesus’ words:
“I have opened My Heart as a living fountain of mercy. Let all souls draw life from it. Let them approach this sea of mercy with great trust” (1520).
Over the last few years, I have come to see a direct correlation between trust and fear. The more I place my trust in Jesus and His Divine Mercy, the less fear I live with. Our incarnate Savior, like us in all things but sin, knows our condition. He knows we struggle with fear and seeks to give us the graces we need to overcome all of our struggles and to help us carry the crosses we must bear. He spoke about this to St. Faustina:
“My child, life on earth is a struggle indeed; a great struggle for my kingdom. But fear not, because you are not alone. I am always supporting you, so lean on Me as you struggle, fearing nothing.” (1488)
This clearly supports the truth that Jesus desires a personal relationship with us. He longs for us to seek Him and trust in Him in all things. Finally, and most importantly for me, its a daily message that Divine Mercy is Jesus’ way of reminding me that my eternal destination is what matters the most to Him. It also conveys that Divine Mercy is a gift I must accept or reject and that my choice matters to Jesus. This is why He is offering the Chaplet and Divine Mercy to us to help us in our struggles. He tells Faustina,
“The loss of each soul plunges Me into mortal sadness.” (1397)
He asks us to accept his mercy and trust in Him regardless of the state of our souls. He revealed to St. Faustina:
“Oh how much I am hurt by a soul’s distrust! Such a soul professes that I am Holy and Just, but does not believe that I am Mercy and does not trust in My Goodness. Even the devils believe in My Justice, but do not glorify My Goodness. My Heart rejoices in this title of Mercy.” (No. 300)
As a lifelong Catholic, I work and yet often fail to live the commands given to us by Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others.” To trust in the Heavenly Father to “Give us this day our daily bread.” The message of Divine Mercy not only gives me hope that I can live as Christ calls me to live, but that our Divine Savior has given me a very simple means by which I can obtain the grace needed to act on this call. The simple yet profound message of Divine Mercy is that we ask for mercy, be merciful to others, and trust in Jesus in all things. This has given me a very effective way to practice my faith daily. The beautiful image of Jesus with the rays coming from his Most Merciful Heart and the simple Chaplet are powerful tools to give me strength daily.
Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself. (950)
O incomprehensible and limitless Mercy Divine, to extol and adore You worthily, who can? Supreme attribute of Almighty God, You are the sweet hope for sinful man. Into one hymn yourselves unite, stars, earth and sea, and in one accord, thankfully and fervently sing of the incomprehensible Divine Mercy (951).
References and Sources
Divine Mercy in My Soul, the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska.
The Life of Faustina Kowalska, The Authorized Biography by Sister Sophia Michalenko, C.M.G.T.
(Art Bamert, Jr., is the Director of Campus Ministry at Lancaster Catholic High School.)
By Art Bamert, Jr., Special to The Witness