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Photo: Felix Carroll

'Mission of Mercy' to the World

By Dan Valenti (Oct 5, 2012)
October 5, 2013, will mark the 75th anniversary of the death of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), the handpicked "secretary" Jesus directed to record and spread His message of Divine Mercy. It was a call she undertook in obedience to God's will despite great personal hardship and suffering. As we prepare to celebrate this diamond jubilee of her entrance into eternal life, it brings to mind the question of her legacy: What has St. Faustina left us by fulfilling her call to share this message of mercy with the world?

She bequeathed a spiritual legacy that has, in these past 74 years, affected for the better not only the Catholic Church but also our modern world in great need of God's mercy. Therein lies the significance of Divine Mercy: It is an urgent message of hope and peace for the world in our time. As Jesus told the saint, "Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy" (Diary of St. Faustina, 300).

Saint Faustina knew only too well what Jesus was ask- ing of her. He was asking her — an obscure Polish nun in the 1930s with little formal education — not only to record His revelations of mercy in a diary but also to share them with the world. How could she possibly fulfill this task?

She grew to understand that her mission could only be accomplished through her complete trust in Jesus and His mercy. She even recorded in her Diary on one occasion, "I nestled close to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus with so much trust that even if I had the sins of all the damned weighing on my conscience, I would not have doubted God's mercy" (1318).

A Legacy for 'All of Us'
This fall on the saint's feast day and date of her death, Oct. 5, the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception begin a one-year celebration leading up to the 75th anniversary on that date in 2013. The year commemorates what Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, calls a series of "joyous occasions" by honoring the life of St. Faustina. Father Seraphim, one of the world's leading authorities on the life of St. Faustina and The Divine Mercy message, says he can think of "no better way to honor this great saint than by encour- aging all of us to redouble our efforts to be apostles of Jesus, The Divine Mercy, in our own time."

When Fr. Seraphim speaks of "all of us," he refers not just to his brother Marians, not just to the many Marian Helpers, but to people the world over. Naturally, though, Fr. Seraphim says

"Those who know of Divine Mercy have the obligation to share with those who do not." In observing this commemorative year for St. Faustina whom Pope John Paul II hailed as "the great Apostle of Divine Mercy in our time," Fr. Seraphim says, we are "fulfilling the oft-repeated call of Blessed John Paul II to everyone: 'Be apostles of Divine Mercy.'"

Through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, each of us is called by God to make His mercy known, "so that all may, in turn, receive mercy," says Fr. Seraphim.

A Life of 'Lived Mercy'
Father Michael Gaitley, MIC, director of the Association of Marian Helpers, speaks of St. Faustina's legacy as a "spiritual influence" that can lead us to a personal encounter with Divine Mercy. This is especially evident in the mystical experiences the saint recorded in her Diary — a book that has sold more than one million copies and become a classic of spiritual literature.

"She's been beatified, canonized, and Divine Mercy Sunday has been declared a feast for the universal Church," says Fr. Michael. "The Divine Mercy message and devotion has spread throughout the world, bringing people to a deeper love for and trust in Jesus Christ, our merciful Savior."

In addition, Fr. Michael says, St. Faustina's "testimony has inspired people of all walks of life to study Sacred Scripture through the lens of Divine Mercy, which gets to the heart of the Gospel, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches (see n. 1846). Finally, the renewal of devotion to God's mercy in our day is not just something for the chapel. In fact, it seems that more and more people are embracing a life of 'lived mercy,' of showing mercy to their neighbors in deed, word, and prayer."

Father George Kosicki, CSB, another notable Divine Mercy authority, picks up on Fr. Seraphim's point with respect to the relationship between St. Faustina and Blessed John Paul II. In Faustina, Saint for Our Times: A Personal Look at Her Life, Spirituality, and Legacy (Marian Press), Fr. George writes of that relationship as one of the saint's greatest legacies.

In his long papacy, the Blessed Holy Father promulgated Divine Mercy in many ways, Fr. George points out. John Paul II instituted Divine Mercy Sunday as a feast day and canonized St. Faustina. He preached on God's greatest attribute on numerous occasions. He wrote his second encyclical, Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), on the topic. He entrusted the world to Divine Mercy. In fact, God's mercy became a major theme of John Paul II's pontificate: "Where," the Pope asked, "if not in The Divine Mercy, can the world find refuge and the light of hope?"

Is There a Doctor in the House?
Another aspect of St. Faustina's legacy is the influence of her writing and teaching on the universal Church, according to Fr. Joe Roesch, MIC, vicar general of the Marian Fathers. He says that this influence can be seen in the discussions taking place after a number of cardinals and bishops requested last year that Pope Benedict XVI make St. Faustina a Doctor of the Church. There are 33 Doctors of the Church.

The request came at the second World Apostolic Congress on Mercy held in Lagiewniki, Poland, where St. Faustina died and was buried.

"The Church affords this highest honor to saints who have written in such a way as to benefit the entire Church," Fr. Joe says. Saint Faustina's legacy of mercy, he says, has become a vital aspect of Catholicism's spirituality.

"There's a lot of talk about St. Faustina being made a Doctor of the Church," says Fr. Michael, "and that is something we're praying for. But there is still so much more to do to make known the message of God's mercy. In my travels to parishes throughout the country, I'm surprised by how many people in the pews still have not heard about Divine Mercy. I'm also surprised by how the lives of so many Catholics seem dominated by a servile fear of God rather than a personal relationship of love for and trust in Him."

A 'Mission of Mercy'
Another measure of St. Faustina's legacy is her growing popularity. From Dec. 10-12, 1999, the online newspaper The Daily Catholic published a countdown of the "Top 100 Catholics of the 20th Century." Readers sent in 23,455 votes nominating 728 candidates. Saint Faustina finished in fifth place, behind Padre Pio, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

"Her high selection by voters came from all over the world," the San Diego-based paper wrote, "as a testament to how far the devotion to Divine Mercy has spread, thanks to the obedience of this frail nun and those who would perpetuate and spread what was imparted to her from above."

"Those who would perpetuate" her legacy include the Marian Fathers and Marian Helpers. The Marian Fathers administer the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass. Through their Association of Marian Helpers and Marian Press, they distribute Divine Mercy materials throughout the world. Their website thedivinemercy.org, presence on Facebook, and Divine Mercy App spread the message 24/7. The Marians oversee four lay Divine Mercy apostolates and conduct Divine Mercy parish missions across the United States. On Divine Mercy Sunday this year, they launched Hearts Afire: Parish-based Programs for the New EvangelizationSM (HAPP).

While we should support such efforts, St. Faustina's legacy ultimately cannot be measured by any human yardstick. The scales that weigh the enormous impact of this saint on the lives of countless millions of people are not of this world. Similarly, only God knows the true barometer by which we can calculate Divine Mercy's victory over evil.

We can be inspired, however, by these words of St. Faustina to do our part to continue her mission of mercy: "I feel certain that my mission will not come to an end upon my death, but will begin" (Diary, 281).