In Faustina, Saint for Our Times, Fr. George Kosicki, CSB, gives us an insightful look into St. Maria Faustina Kowalska's life, spirituality, and mission.
Where there is love, there are angels. Where there are cake and prayer, there are Cake Angels. Above are sisters Sharon Presta and Susan Murphy, founders of The Cake Angels.
As in a cake itself, there are a couple layers to this story.
One layer: Three women in Pennsylvania wanted to do something nice for people in need. Baking birthday cakes for the ill and elderly came to mind.
The second layer: Yes, birthday cakes are nice, and they make people feel special, but it's not really all about cakes. It's about loving God and neighbor. So, behind each cake is a prayer — a Chaplet of The Divine Mercy — said for each cake recipient.
"That's the most important part," says Sharon Presta of Glen Mills, Pa. "What we agreed to do is to run this as a prayer ministry, a prayer ministry that also makes cakes."
Meet The Cake Angels.
It sounds straightforward, really. Each month a local hospice gives them the names of patients who will celebrate a birthday. The Cake Angels take the list, pray the Chaplet for each patient, then bake each a cake.
But, like cake itself, the rise of The Cake Angels required some essential ingredients.
Let's call the first ingredient eggs, because eggs are where it all starts. Sharon and her sister Susan Murphy, the founders of The Cake Angels, were raised Catholic. They recall when they were children they felt a special closeness to God, a closeness that gave each a strong sense of security. But just as with eggs, in time, priorities can get scrambled. As the sisters grew into their 20s, their faith was put on the back burner.
Let's call the second ingredient butter. A cake without butter is better known as a brick. Butter is the great tenderizer. In the two sisters' case, the great tenderizer was a baby boy — Sharon's son, born premature in 2004. He weighed only 1 pound, 13 ounces. He softened the sisters' hearts in a way that made them rejoice in God's love and continuous presence in their lives. They turned to prayer. That baby boy is now a healthy four-year-old (and he loves cake). The sisters have re-examined their priorities and put faith and the Church back on the front burner.
Let's call the third ingredient sugar. It's what makes cakes so tasty. But it's not just a sweetener; it's an essential structural component of life itself, and the very source of our energy. Kind of like The Divine Mercy. Sharon and Susan first learned about Divine Mercy almost a year ago as they were growing in their faith. That Christ is Love and Mercy itself — that He wants us to recognize His mercy is greater than our sins so that we will call upon Him with trust — that's not only the thing that makes life sweet, it's the structural component of life itself.
The final ingredient is milk — that in which all the other ingredients are immersed. In cake baking, this is when the work begins, the mixing to form a batter that is then poured into a form. For Divine Mercy devotees like the Cake Angels, the work at hand is to perform deeds of mercy, to pour themselves out for the sake of others — to take the form of Christ. Funny how milk seems to always be associated with all things good. "He who distributes the milk of human kindness cannot help but spill a little on himself,"someone once said. The Cake Angels can attest to that.
But enough with the cake metaphors. Let's hear from a Cake Angel.
"We started in 2006," says Sharon. "My two children were two and four at the time, and I had it in my mind that I wanted to do something to teach them about giving back." Through a woman she met at the local hospice, she learned of the need for birthday cakes, particularly for patients who may be about to celebrate their very last birthdays.
"At the time, I was so busy with my kids and everything, and I thought, 'No way could I possibly do this,' but I kept it in the back of my mind," Sharon says. "Then I was injured, a back injury, and so there was no way I could do any cakes, I could barely stand."
But she kept hearing God calling to her heart. "He kept saying, 'Hey, remember those cakes. Think about those cakes. Make cakes,' " she recalls with a laugh.
This was the Fall of 2006. Shortly before the following Easter, she had begun hearing a lot about Divine Mercy in her parish — St. Thomas the Apostle in Glen Mills — and on EWTN. She had known nothing about it.
"I was so excited when I heard about Divine Mercy. I just thought, 'What? You can do these forms of devotion and get these graces?'" she says. "I started to go to confession again. I started praying the Chaplet. I was having prayers answered. I was practicing the devotions and really feeling like I was drawing closer to God. I started talking about this with my sister, Susan. She was really interested — until she found out about the need to go to confession. She didn't want to do that — it seemed unimaginable."
Then on Easter Sunday morning, after Mass at her parish, Our Lady of Charity in Brookhaven, Susan was walking up the stairs when she saw in the middle of one of the steps a newspaper put out by the Marians about Divine Mercy. "She has no recollection at all of where the paper came from or how it got there," says Sharon. "No one in her family ever saw it before either. She could not ignore the divine face of Jesus on the front cover. She got on board, and she went to confession for the first time in many years."
Pretty soon after that, Sharon, Susan and their friend Suzanne St. John — all of whom are mothers with young children — formed The Cake Angels, bakers united under the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy.
"I had read St. Faustina's Diary," says Sharon, "and I knew that we should be praying the Chaplet for people who were close to death. Jesus made the promise that 'Whoever will recite it will receive great mercy at the hour of death (687). When they say this Chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the just Judge but as the Merciful Savior' (1541). That was good enough for me!
"What more wonderful gift can we give someone who we don't even know, but to pray for them," Sharon continues, "to help them so that they may have an everlasting gift. What simple power we have. We have people who are close to death, and we have this unique opportunity to pray for them at that special time when maybe no one else knows how to pray, or maybe no one else is there for them. By giving us this prayer, Jesus made it so simple for us to help others."
Having said all that, let's not completely discount the cakes. No, no. Though cakes may merely be the icing on top of this deed of mercy, they can be a great comfort.
"They can make a person feel they are special and that their lives are important," says Sharon. "The last birthday of a person's life should not only not be forgotten, but it should also be an expression of the same love that was shared on his or her very first birthday. This is the mission of our volunteer cake service, and prayer is a vital component of this expression of love."
"God said to make cakes," Sharon says. "I'm just doing what I'm told."
To contact The Cake Angels, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.