The Mercy Devotion Spreads — is Banned — and Spreads Again!
DM 101: Week 45
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Jul 14, 2006)
With all reasonable doubt removed Fr. Sopocko began putting the Lord's requests to Faustina into action. First, he commissioned an image of The Divine Mercy to be painted. Then for the Sunday after Easter, 1935, he had this image displayed over the famous Ostra Brama gate to the city of Vilnius, and in the nearby church he preached the message of mercy to the Catholic populace. Sr. Faustina was given permission to be there too, and towards the end of the service, when the priest took the Blessed Sacrament to bless the people, she saw the Lord Jesus Himself, as He is represented in the Image of Mercy, and Christ Himself gave His blessing, and the rays from His Heart extended over the whole world.
This event marked the beginning of the spread of the great devotion to The Divine Mercy, a devotion that is now having a profound impact upon the Church in our time. However, at first it did not spread rapidly. Rather, it spread slowly and steadily all over Poland, assisted by the grace of God in the hearts of the people...
Fr. Sopocko saw very little of Sr. Faustina after that great exposition of the Image at the Ostra Brama gate. She remained in Vilnius for another year, but then she was transferred to Cracow. Nevertheless, she remained in contact with Fr. Sopocko, and continued to write her diary: Not so much for him, but as Jesus said, she was to be the "apostle" and "secretary" of His mercy for the whole world.
Sr. Faustina lived for only two more years. Her body was gradually ravaged by tuberculosis, and she was not spared any of the terrible sufferings caused by that disease in its final stages. The last chapter in her life became one of extreme suffering, and she offered up all her sufferings, in union with Christ's Passion, for mercy upon all lost sinners, and especially those near to death. She prayed (entry 908):
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.
And Jesus responded to her prayers (entry 1184):
Know, my daughter, that your silent, day-to-day martyrdom in complete submission to My will ushers many souls into heaven. And when it seems to you that your suffering exceeds your strength contemplate my wounds.
Fr. Sopocko visited her in late September 1938, just ten days before she died. He always brought her news of the printing and dissemination of the Image, and the spread of the devotion. But this time she had very little to say. As he later recalled, she was just too busy "communing with her heavenly Father."
Sr. Faustina died on October 5, 1938, but her mission was far from over. In fact, it was just beginning. "My mission will not come to an end upon my death," she had said in her diary, "[for] I will draw aside for you the veils of heaven to convince you of God's goodness" (entry 281).
Throughout World War II, the people of Poland turned more and more to the Image of Mercy, and to the prayers called the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, to give them comfort and hope in the midst of the horrors of the Nazi occupation.
One Polish priest, Fr. Joseph Jarzbowski, in danger of being murdered, made a dramatic escape across Stalin's Russia, and Fascist Japan, promising the Lord that if he made it to safety in the USA, he would spend the rest of his life spreading the mercy message. In fact, Fr. Jarzbowski did make it to safety (without proper traveling visas), and, true to his word, in 1941 he and his associates in the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception established "The Mercy of God Apostolate" on Eden Hill in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, now the U.S. National Shrine of The Divine Mercy.
Meanwhile, Fr. Sopocko was busy himself spreading the devotion, and in the process suffering much ridicule and loss of reputation. The hardest blow, however, came in 1959, when the Vatican, having received erroneous and confusing translations of the Diary, forbade the spreading of the Mercy devotion in the forms proposed by Sr. Faustina. That ban would last a full twenty years. Fr. Sopocko, however, consoled himself with the knowledge that all this was in fulfilment of a prophecy made by Sr. Faustina. She had written (entry 378):
There will come a time when this work [of Mercy], which God is demanding so very much, will be as though utterly undone. And then God will act with great power, which will give evidence of its authenticity. It will be a new splendor for the Church, although it has been dormant in it from long ago.
In 1965 the Archbishop of Cracow, Karol Wojtyla, knowing full well that the Vatican had received faulty translations of the Diary, began the official process of investigation into Sr. Faustina's life and virtues. He asked one of Poland's leading theologians, Fr. Ignacy Rożycki, to prepare a critical analysis of the Diary as part of that process. Fr. Rożycki, however, did not really want to waste his time analyzing what rumor told him were the hallucinations of an uneducated nun. Yet just before sending his letter of refusal to the Archbishop, he picked up the Diary and casually began to read a few pages "just to pass the time." His prejudice against it was immediately shaken. Then he read the whole thing through, and afterwards he decided to devote the rest of his life to the study and propagation of her message.
In 1979, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, having received the results of Fr. Rożycki's research, as well as more accurate translations of the Diary, informed the Marian order that the ban on Sr. Faustina's devotion had finally been lifted. In a letter explaining this decision, the Congregation wrote: "there no longer exists, on the part of this Sacred Congregation, any impediment to the spreading of the devotion to The Divine Mercy in the authentic forms proposed by the Religious Sister [Faustina]." Finally, there it was: the "Nihil Obstat" from the Vatican itself! A few months later, that same Cardinal Archbishop of Cracow who had initiated this process, Karol Wojtyla, became Pope John Paul II.
Still, the lifting of a ban is not yet the Church's full, positive approval and encouragement, a process that usually happens more gradually. Meanwhile, with the ban rescinded, the Image, the Diary, the Chaplet, the marking of the Feast day, and the Three O'clock Hour of Mercy prayers spread quickly throughout the world.
(This series continues next week on the Divine Mercy spirituality of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska).