Blessed Fr. Sopocko
Divine Mercy Refreshes Us in the Sacraments
Take any long hike through the hills and valleys of the countryside, and you will need refreshment along the way or you will not make it to the end of your journey. Along the road to heaven, our Merciful Savior has provided us with fountains of refreshment, grace, and peace in the sacraments of His Church. Blessed Michael Sopocko, the spiritual director and confessor for St. Faustina, writes:
Just as Christ embodies the infinite Mercy of God in His Person, so the Church, His Spouse, makes this Mercy effective for all time. ... What does a confessional, a baptismal font, a pulpit, a communion rail suggest to us? All of them speak to us about the infinite Mercy of God. At the baptismal font, Divine Mercy makes us God's children; from the pulpit it teaches us; in the confessional it absolves us of our sins ... it is God's mercy which makes them instruments of grace. ...
The holy Sacraments are the laws established by God to endure and to be instruments through which Divine Mercy pours streams of grace upon the Church, the whole of the world, and all men of all ages. ... Indeed, the Sacraments renew the face of the earth. (God is Mercy, pp. 56-58)
These special, sacramental graces first flow into our hearts at our baptism where we are adopted into God's family, and we begin to swim for the first time in the ocean of His infinite mercy. If you have never thought of yourself as a "fish for the Lord" before, then read this passage from Fr. Sopocko's writings (p. 60):
What great graces of Divine Mercy flow into the soul during holy Baptism by which we become members of the Mystical Body of Christ and the living Temple of the Holy Ghost! The most common symbol of the early Christians was the fish which can survive only in water. Water is also the lifegiving element and the matter of Baptism. "We are fishes of Christ; we are born in water and only in it we remain alive" (Tertullian, De Baptis, 6,1)
A soul who refuses to cooperate with baptismal grace, however, is like a fish who tries to make it on his own on the land — a "fish out of water," so to speak. It will not be long before he or she is wriggling in the sand and gasping for breath. To rescue us from this disaster, our Lord has provided us with a sacramental remedy:
The sickness of the soul is ... more painful and more serious than the sickness of the body, and the reproaches of conscience often greatly exceed physical sufferings. They undermine the health of the body, weaken the strength, firmness and fortitude of the soul, destroy its peace and hamper its flight to God. Furthermore, they make the soul morose and enclosed within itself, irritable and ill-disposed to others. They deprive it of eagerness to pray, desire to work, readiness to carry on the spiritual struggle and sometimes even incite the soul to new transgressions.
Our Lord gave us, for this kind of disease of the soul, a wonderful remedy in the Sacrament of Penance. "Go in peace and sin no more," are the words spoken to the penitent by Christ's representative. Our hearts melt at the very memory of this, tears come to our eyes and a blissful feeling penetrates our souls. Truly this sacrament is the fount of cures for the sick and suffering. Even physicians witness the improvement of health in the sick who have made a good confession. ...
How many broken down and hopeless hearts has our Lord raised up and soothed by this Sacrament!... Truly there is in it the superabundance of Divine Mercy. (pp. 77-78)
Notice that all this is precisely what Jesus taught Fr. Sopocko's special "directee," St. Faustina, about this same sacrament:
Daughter, when you go to confession, the fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart, always flows down upon your soul, and ennobles it. Every time you go to confession, immerse yourself entirely in My mercy, with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul. When you approach the confessional know this, that I myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy. Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity. The torrents of grace inundate humble souls. (Diary of St. Faustina, 1602)
Another critical moment on the life-journey of the soul is the moment of death itself. Here everything in the spiritual life either comes to completion or crashes in flames. Once again, however, our Merciful Savior has provided a sacramental remedy for us, as Blessed Sopocko explains:
Death is the most important moment in the life of man because His eternity depends on it. For this reason the enemy of our salvation usually assaults the souls of the dying with the greatest violence and incites them to despair. Thus the sick person is visited with thoughts full of distrust and fear that God does not have good intentions towards him, that He will let some evil fall upon him, that He will not forgive those grave and numerous sins which he has committed throughout his life and which now crowd his thoughts. He regards himself only as a subject of the Creator, a hireling and a debtor, and forgets in fact that he is a child of his Merciful Father. Because of these thoughts the sick man usually cannot pray, and sometime he even speaks about Divine things without respect. Impatience in enduring sufferings takes hold of him and he becomes irritable with those who surround him and feels resentment, dislike and bitterness towards them. ...
The Merciful Christ has prepared a special help for this most important and dreadful moment of man's whole life, that is, the Sacrament of Extreme Unction [i.e., Anointing of the Sick]. It imparts special graces to the dying man, takes away his sins, evil inclinations and the like. This sacrament uplifts the spirit and confirms it in good, and it even has the power to restore bodily health. ...
Above all else, Extreme Unction uplifts the spirit of the dying man ... awakening great trust in the Mercy of God so that the sick [person suffers with patience all the inconveniences and pains which troubles him, and resists the temptations of Satan with greater fortitude....
So we may assert that Extreme Unction is one of the greatest works of the Mercy of God. (pp. 87-88)
In this way, by sacramental means of grace, the Merciful Jesus refreshes us at the beginning and at the end of our life journey (that is, by Baptism and Anointing of the Sick) and comes to our rescue whenever we fall into sin. But a life journey has more than a beginning and an end, and moments of spiritual crisis along the way. Without daily bread to strengthen us, we could never climb the hills and find our way through the valleys along our path. It is for this reason that our Savior gave us the most important sacrament of all: the Sacrament of the Bread of Life. Next week in this series, we will let Blessed Sopocko and St. Faustina unfold for us the mystery of this great sacrament as well.
For more information on Blessed Michael Sopocko, the confessor and spiritual director of St. Faustina, visit thedivinemercy.org/message/Sopocko.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is the director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, based in Stockbridge Mass.