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.
Photo: Felix Carroll
The author Fr. George W. Kosicki, CSB, during a talk at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy.
Faustina: Saint for the Third Millennium
The following is an excerpt from the new book Faustina, Saint For Our Times: A Personal Look at Her Life, Spirituality, and Legacy (Marian Press), by the Rev. George W. Kosicki, CSB, and with David C. Came.
Two years after the death of Faustina, the devotion to The Divine Mercy began to spread in Vilnius, which is in present day Lithuania. Having used a booklet of prayers for this devotion assembled by Fr. Sopocko, the sisters of Faustina's own order — the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy — did not know that she was the author. Mother Michael Moraczwaka informed them in 1941 of Sr. Faustina's mission.
Soon the message and devotion had spread across Poland. It was carried to other countries by soldiers who became acquainted with it during World War II. A Marian priest, Fr. Joseph Jarzebowski, MIC, brought the message to the United States in 1941 after a miraculous escape from war torn Europe. Upon arriving, he persuaded his fellow Marians to spread it in the U.S. and around the world.
Then, on March 6, 1959, after studying some incomplete and inaccurate accounts of Faustina's visions and mission, the Holy See prohibited further spread of the message and devotion, pending clarification of its concerns.
Most locations where the devotion had been practiced responded to the "Notification" by discontinuing the prayers and veneration of The Divine Mercy image. However, the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Lagiewniki, with the permission of their archbishop, continued their devotions and their display of The Divine Mercy image. This is where St. Faustina was buried.
Tellingly, this ban on the message and devotion was prophesied by Sr. Faustina, who told her spiritual director, Fr. Michael Sopocko, that he would suffer much as a result of the prohibition:
Once as I was talking with my spiritual director, I had an interior vision — quicker than lightning — of his soul in great suffering, in such agony that God touches very few souls with such fire. The suffering arises from this work. There will come a time when this work, which God is demanding 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. That God is infinitely merciful, none can deny. He desires everyone to know this before He comes again as Judge. He wants souls to come to know Him first as King of Mercy. When this triumph comes, we shall already have entered the new life in which there is no suffering. But before this, your soul [of the spiritual director] will be surfeited with bitterness at the sight of the destruction of your efforts (Diary, 378).
The ban would continue for nearly 20 years, and Fr. Sopocko would, indeed, suffer much, dying in 1975, three years before the prohibition was lifted.
Saint Faustina and Pope John Paul II
The influence of St. Faustina on Pope John Paul II began in the early 1940s during World War II when he was in the clandestine seminary in Krakow, Poland. His classmate, who became Cardinal Andrew Deskur, told him about the mystic Sr. Faustina Kowalska and the message of Divine Mercy that she had received from the Lord. During that time, Karol Wojtyla worked as a forced laborer in the Solvay plant, which could be seen from the convent cemetery where Faustina was buried. He reportedly would visit the grave of Sister Faustina on his way home from work at the Solvay plant.
During his years in Krakow, first as a priest and then as a bishop, archbishop, and cardinal, he made use of the convent as a place of retreat and gave retreats there as well.
Then, as the faithful in Poland told Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of their desire to have Sr. Faustina raised to the honors of the altar, he decided to confer with Cardinal Alfred Ottaviani during the Second Vatican Council. Cardinal Ottaviani told him to gather the sworn testimonies of those who knew her, while they were still alive.
Archbishop Wojtyla delegated his auxiliary bishop, Julian Groblicki, to begin the Informative Process of the life and virtues of Sr. Faustina. In September 1967, the process was completed, and in January 1968, the Process of Beatification was inaugurated.
Because of the positive outcome of the Informative Process, inquiries from many places — especially from Poland, the Marians in the U.S., and in particular from Cardinal Wojtyla — were sent to the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. They asked whether the prohibitions of the 1959 "Notification" were still in effect. In response to these inquiries, the Vatican Congregation issued a new "Notification" dated April 15, 1978, which stated:
This Sacred Congregation, having now in [its] possession the many original documents, unknown in 1959; having taken into consideration the profoundly changed circumstances, and having taken into account the opinion of many Polish Ordinaries, declares no longer binding the prohibitions contained in the quoted "Notification" [of 1959].
Six months after the Vatican lifted the ban, Cardinal Wojtyla was elected Pope John Paul II. We shall soon see how his papacy seems to have fulfilled the part of St. Faustina's prophecy about what would happen in the Church after the ban was lifted: "And then God will act with great power, which will give evidence of [the message and devotion's] authenticity. It will be a new splendor for the Church" (Diary, 378).
Rich in Mercy, Dives in Misericordia
Divine Mercy was clearly on the mind of John Paul II early in his papacy. On the First Sunday of Advent, November 30, 1980, he published his second encyclical letter, Rich in Mercy (Dives in Misericordia), in which he describes the mercy of God as the presence of love that is greater than evil, greater than sin, and greater than death. In it, he summons the Church to plead for God's mercy on the whole world.
The publishing of his second encyclical was, in fact, a significant event in the life of the Holy Father and in his relationship to Faustina and The Divine Mercy message and devotion. As evidence of this, in Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, George Weigel shares from a personal interview in 1997 with John Paul II about the encyclical. It reveals Faustina's influence on him as he began to write it:
As Archbishop of Krakow, Wojtyla had defended Sr. Faustina when her orthodoxy was being posthumously questioned in Rome, due in large part to a faulty translation into Italian of her diary, and had promoted the cause of her beatification. John Paul II, who said that he felt spiritually "very near" Sr. Faustina, had been "thinking about her for a long time" when he began Dives in Misericordia. (Weigel, Witness to Hope. New York, N.Y.: HarperCollins, 1999, p. 387.)
Further, Pope John Paul II himself wrote in striking terms in his final book about his encyclical Rich in Mercy (Dives in Misericordia) and St. Faustina's strong influence on him:
[T]he reflections offered in Dives in Misericordia were the fruit of my pastoral experience in Poland, especially in Krakow. That is where Saint Faustina Kowalska is buried, she who was chosen by Christ to be a particularly enlightened interpreter of the truth of Divine Mercy. For Sister Faustina, this truth led to an extraordinarily rich mystical life. She was a simple, uneducated person, and yet those who read the Diary of her revelations are astounded by the depth of her mystical experience (John Paul II, Memory and Identity. New York, N.Y.: Rizzoli, 2005, pp. 5-6).
There are more examples of the influence of Divine Mercy and Faustina on Pope John Paul II's life, to which he personally testified. On November 22, 1981, Pope John Paul II made his first public visit outside of Rome — following a lengthy recuperation from medical complications he had suffered in the aftermath of the attempt on his life earlier that year on May 13. He traveled on the Feast of Christ the King to the Shrine of Merciful Love in Collevalenza, near Todi, Italy. There, within a few days, an international congress was held to reflect on the encyclical Rich Mercy (Dives in Misericordia).
After celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist, he made a strong public declaration about the importance of the message of mercy right from the beginning of his papacy:
A year ago I published the encyclical Dives in Misericordia. This circumstance made me come to the Sanctuary of Merciful Love today. By my presence I wish to reconfirm, in a way, the message of that encyclical. I wish to read it again and deliver it again.
Right from the beginning of my ministry in St. Peter's See in Rome, I considered this message my special task. Providence has assigned it to me in the present situation of man, the Church, and the world. It could be said that precisely this situation assigned that message to me as my task before God (John Paul II at The Shrine of Merciful Love in Collevalenga, Italy, November 22, 1981).
On Mercy Sunday, April 10, 1991, two years before his beatification of Sr. Faustina, John Paul II spoke about Sr. Faustina, relating her to his encyclical on mercy and emphasizing her role in bringing this message of mercy to the world:
The words of the encyclical on Divine Mercy (Dives in Misericordia) are particularly close to us. They recall the figure of the Servant of God, Sr. Faustina Kowalska. This simple woman religious particularly brought the Easter message of the merciful Christ closer to Poland and the whole world.
Then, on Mercy Sunday, April 19, 1993, Sr. Faustina was beatified by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square. He began his homily with a quotation from her Diary:
"I clearly feel that my mission does not end with death, but begins," Sr. Faustina wrote in her Diary. And it truly did! Her mission continues and is yielding astonishing fruit. It is truly marvelous how her devotion to the merciful Jesus is spreading in our contemporary world and gaining so many human hearts! This is doubtlessly a sign of the times — a sign of our twentieth century. The balance of this century, which is now ending, in addition to the advances which have often surpassed those of preceding eras, presents a deep restlessness and fear of the future. Where, if not in the Divine Mercy, can the world find refuge and the light of hope? Believers understand that perfectly.
Mercy: Hope For The World
"Where, if not in the Divine Mercy, can the world find refuge and the light of hope?" became an important theme of John Paul II's pontificate.
In his Regina Caeli talk of April 23, 1995, immediately after he had celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday at Holy Spirit Church in Sassia, Rome, John Paul II exhorted us to personally embrace this hope-filled message of mercy and forgiveness. He also emphasized the example of then Blessed Faustina, whom he had beatified two years earlier:
In a special way, today is the Sunday of thanksgiving for the goodness God has shown man in the whole Easter mystery. This is why it is also called the Sunday of Divine Mercy. Essentially, God's mercy, as the mystical experience of Blessed Faustina Kowalska, who was raised to the honors of the altar two years ago, helps us to understand, reveals precisely this truth; good triumphs over evil, life is stronger than death and God's love is more powerful than sin. All this is manifested in Christ's Paschal Mystery, in which God appears to us as He is: a tender-hearted Father, who does not give up in the face of His children's ingratitude and is always ready to forgive.
Dear brothers and sisters, we must personally experience this mercy if, in turn, we want to be capable of mercy. Let us learn to forgive! The spiral of hatred and violence which stains with blood, the path of so many individuals and nations, can only be broken by the miracle of forgiveness (emphasis in original).
Then, when Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki, Poland, on June 7, 1997, he prayed at the tomb of Faustina. He also addressed the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in a very personal way, reflecting on Divine Mercy and giving an amazing personal witness to the influence of then Blessed Faustina and her message:
I have come here to this shrine as a pilgrim to take part in the unending hymn in honor of Divine Mercy. The psalmist of the Lord had intoned it [in Psalm 89:2], expressing what every generation preserved and will continue to preserve as a most precious fruit of faith.
There is nothing that man needs more than Divine Mercy — that love which is benevolent, which is compassionate, which raises man above his weakness to the infinite heights of the holiness of God.
In this place we become particularly aware of this. From here, in fact, went out the message of Divine Mercy that Christ Himself chose to pass on to our generation through Blessed Faustina.
And it is a message that is clear and understandable for everyone. Anyone can come here, look at this image of the merciful Jesus, His Heart radiating grace, and hear in the depths of his own soul what Blessed Faustina heard: Fear nothing; I am with you always (Diary, 586).
And if this person responds with a sincere heart: "Jesus, I trust in You," he will find comfort in all his anxieties and fears. ... The message of Divine Mercy has always been near and dear to me. It is as if history had inscribed it in the tragic experience of the Second World War. In those difficult years it was a particular support and an inexhaustible source of hope, not only for the people of Krakow but for the entire nation.
This was also my personal experience, which I took with me to the See of Peter and which in a sense forms the image of this Pontificate. ...
Dear Sisters [the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy]! An extraordinary vocation is yours. Choosing from among you, Blessed Faustina, Christ has made your congregation the guardian of this place, and at the same time He has called you to a particular apostolate, that of His mercy. ... Do not neglect any of these dimensions of the apostolate. Fulfill it in union with the Archbishop of Krakow to whose heart is so dear the devotion to the Divine Mercy and in union with the whole ecclesial community over which he presides (emphasis in original).
The Twofold Canonization of St. Faustina
A crowning moment for Faustina and her message came in 2000, during the Great Jubilee Year of the Incarnation. On Divine Mercy Sunday, April 30, 2000, before some 250,000 pilgrims and the television cameras of the world, Pope John Paul II canonized Sr. Faustina Kowalska, "the great apostle of Divine Mercy." She was the first saint of the Great Jubilee Year, and as was the case with her beatification, Divine Mercy Sunday was chosen to mark the occasion and the location was St. Peter's Square in Rome.
In fact, at the canonization of St. Faustina, John Paul II also "canonized" The Divine Mercy message and devotion by declaring the Second Sunday of Easter as "Divine Mercy Sunday" for the universal Church. Of Divine Mercy Sunday, he said in his homily: "It is important that we accept the whole message that comes to us on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called 'Divine Mercy Sunday.'"
In one of the most extraordinary homilies of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II repeated three times that Sr. Faustina is "God's gift to our time." She made the message of Divine Mercy the "bridge to the third millennium." He then said:
Sister Faustina's canonization has a particular eloquence. By this act, I intend today to pass this message on to the new millennium. I pass it on to all people, so that they will learn to know ever better the true face of God and the true face of their brethren. In fact, love of God and love of one's brothers and sisters are inseparable.
Exhorting all of us to join our voices in "singing of the mercies of the Lord forever" (Ps 89:2) with "Mary most holy, Mother of Mercy," and St. Faustina, "this new saint who sings of mercy," John Paul II ended the homily with these stirring words:
And you, Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole Church, obtain for us an awareness of the depth of Divine Mercy. Help us to have a living experience of it and to bear witness to it among our brothers and sisters. May your message of light and hope spread throughout the world, spurring sinners to conversion, calming rivalries and hatred, and opening individuals and nations to the practice of brotherhood. Today, fixing our gaze with you on the face of the Risen Christ, let us make our own your prayer of trusting abandonment and say with firm hope: Christ Jesus, I trust in You! Jezu, ufam tobie!
It's interesting that we find an echo of Pope John Paul II calling "Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole Church" in his last book, which was published five years after the canonization. In fact, when he makes his point about Faustina's "patrimony" of Divine Mercy being of "great importance" for the whole Church and "not only for Poles," John Paul places it in the context of Faustina's beatification and canonization:
Here I should like to return to what I said about the experience of the Church in Poland during the period of resistance to communism. It seems to me to have a universal value. I think that the same applies to Sister Faustina and her witness to the mystery of Divine Mercy. The patrimony of her spirituality was of great importance, as we know from experience, for the resistance against the evil and inhuman systems of the time. The lesson from all this is important not only for Poles, but also in every part of the world where the Church is present. This became clear during the beatification and canonization of Sister Faustina. It was as if Christ had wanted to say through her: "Evil does not have the last word!" The Paschal Mystery confirms that good is ultimately victorious, that life conquers death and that love triumphs over hate (John Paul II, Memory and Identity, p. 55).
On a personal note, John Paul II was deeply moved at the canonization of his beloved Sister Faustina. "This is the happiest day of my life," the Pope reportedly told Dr. Valentin Fuster on the day of the canonization. Dr. Valentin was the cardiologist who investigated the healing of Fr. Ron Pytel, which was recognized as the miracle needed for the canonization of Faustina. The doctor was one of the principal guests at a buffet held at the Vatican after the canonization.
Finally, concerning Faustina's canonization, it's fascinating that one of her prophecies appears to have been fulfilled. The canonization was celebrated concurrently in Rome and at St. Faustina's convent chapel in Lagiewniki, Poland. At both locations, large screen televisions were set up for a simulcast — with live images shared simultaneously by those celebrating.
Many people believe that Sr. Faustina prophesied this simulcast celebration in a vision back in 1937:
I took part in [a] solemn celebration simultaneously here [in Lagiewniki] and in Rome, for the celebration was so closely connected with Rome that, even as I write, I cannot distinguish between the two, but I am writing it down as I saw it. ... The crowd was so enormous that the eye could not take it all in. ... The same celebration was held in Rome, in a beautiful church, and the Holy Father, with all the clergy, was celebrating this Feast [of Mercy] (Diary, 1044).
John Paul II's Entrustment of the World to Divine Mercy
Another mercy milestone for Faustina and her mission came on August 17, 2002, when Pope John Paul II solemnly entrusted the world to Divine Mercy at the newly constructed International Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki, Poland, where the great apostle of Divine Mercy lived her last years and was buried. The Pope also came to consecrate the new shrine as a basilica.
He chose to open his homily with a passage from St. Faustina's Diary and then immediately made reference to her and "the inconceivable and unfathomable mystery of God's mercy":
O incomprehensible and limitless Mercy Divine, To extol and adore You worthily, who can?Supreme attribute of Almighty God,You are the sweet hope of sinful man (Diary, 951).
Today, I repeat these simple and straightforward words of Saint Faustina, in order to join her and all of you in adoring the inconceivable and unfathomable mystery of God's mercy. Like Saint Faustina, we wish to proclaim that apart from the mercy of God there is no hope for mankind. We desire to repeat with faith: Jesus, I trust in You!
This proclamation, this confession of trust in the all-powerful love of God, is especially needed in our own time, when mankind is experiencing bewilderment in the face of many manifestations of evil. The invocation of God's mercy needs to rise up from the depth of hearts filled with suffering, apprehension, and uncertainty, and at the same time yearning for an infallible source of hope (emphasis in the original.)
Then, before he solemnly entrusted the world to Divine Mercy, Pope John Paul II again referred to St. Faustina and a key Diary passage. The prophetic passage mentions "the spark" from Poland that will prepare the world for Christ's final coming. Many think that the passage, at least in part, refers to St. Faustina and The Divine Mercy message, as well as John Paul II and his ministry as the Great Mercy Pope:
Today, therefore, in this Shrine, I will solemnly entrust the world to Divine Mercy. I do so with the burning desire that the message of God's merciful love, proclaimed here through Saint Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth and fill their hearts with hope. May this message radiate from this place to our beloved homeland and throughout the world. May the binding promise of the Lord Jesus be fulfilled: From here there must go forth "the spark which will prepare the world for His final coming" (Diary, 1732).
This spark needs to be lighted by the grace of God. This fire of mercy needs to be passed on to the world. In the mercy of God the world will find peace and mankind will find happiness! I entrust this task to you, dear Brothers and Sisters, to the Church in Krakow and Poland, and to all the [devotees] of Divine Mercy who will come here from Poland and from throughout the world. May you be witnesses to mercy! (emphasis in original).
We will see later how John Paul II's entrustment of the world to Divine Mercy and this prophetic passage from St. Faustina's Diary have inspired World Apostolic Congresses on Mercy in the life of the Church.
The Death of John Paul II, His Last Message of Mercy
It was altogether fitting that Pope John Paul II went home to God on Saturday, April 2, 2005, on the Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, after his trusted personal secretary, Archbishop
Stanislaus Dziwisz, celebrated the Vigil Mass for the feast in his presence.
Significantly, he received Viaticum — his final Holy Communion — at the Mass for his journey home. This great Pope who established Divine Mercy Sunday for the universal Church knew well of the unfathomable graces promised in the Diary of St. Faustina to those who receive Holy Communion worthily on the feast day. In fact, when he died at 9:37 p.m., it was already Divine Mercy Sunday in most of the Eastern part of the world.
Certainly, Mary, Our Mother of Mercy, and St. Faustina, the great Apostle of Divine Mercy, were both there to welcome him home to the Father's house.
In his final illness, Pope John Paul II had prepared a written message for Divine Mercy Sunday 2005. It became his last message for Divine Mercy Sunday, an annual practice that he had started in 1991. The message was shared posthumously with the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square on April 3, Divine Mercy Sunday. It was like a last will and testament of Divine Mercy, with the final lines invoking the essence of The Divine Mercy message and devotion entrusted to St. Faustina. It's almost as if Faustina was peeking over his shoulder and inspiring him as he wrote it:
As a gift to humanity, which sometimes seems bewildered and overwhelmed by the power of evil, selfishness, and fear, the Risen Lord offers His love that pardons, reconciles, and reopens hearts to love. It is a love that converts hearts and gives peace. How much the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy!
Lord, [You] who reveal the Father's love by Your death and Resurrection, we believe in You and confidently repeat to You today: Jesus, I trust in You, have mercy upon us and upon the whole world. Amen (John Paul II, Divine Mercy Sunday, April 3, 2005).
In this last will and testament of mercy for John Paul II, "How much the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy!" is like a cry of the heart. Then, the Great Mercy Pope sums up Faustina's message of mercy with a prayer of the heart: "Jesus, I trust in You, have mercy upon us and upon the whole world. Amen." "Jesus, I trust in You" is the motto of the message that appears on every image of The Divine Mercy, while the words "have mercy upon us and upon the whole world" refer to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
Father George W. Kosicki is a longtime collaborator with the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception in spreading the message of Divine Mercy. In 1987, he headed their Divine Mercy Department in Stockbridge, Mass., which was responsible for editing and proofing the English translation of the Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska.
David Came is executive editor of Marian Helper magazine, the flagship publication of the Association of Marian Helpers, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass. He is the author of Pope Benedict's Divine Mercy Mandate.