The Book That Sparked the Divine Mercy Movement The Diary chronicles God's message given through St. Faustina to the world to turn to His mercy. In it, we are reminded to t... Read more
Photo: Felix Carroll
During his homily, Shrine Rector Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, shares letters written by St. Faustina.
Feasting on a Saint
Hundreds of Pilgrims Visit Eden Hill to Honor St. Faustina
It was a honeymoon on Eden Hill for Stephen and Susan Portenlanger of Steubenville, Ohio.
The celebration of St. Faustina's Feast Day Friday, Oct. 5, at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., presented a study in contrasts.
* There was the calendar reading early fall and the temperatures and humidity at mid-August levels.
* There were 300 imperfect pilgrims journeying directly into the heart of perfection Himself: The Divine Mercy.
*There was the figure of the saint herself — first saint of the 21st century (and first woman born on Polish soil to become a saint), but probably the last person anyone would have picked to be the vehicle of the modern age's most important spiritual revelation.
* Finally, there was the ancient battle of good versus evil. Good? We can see that in every nook and cranny of Eden Hill. But evil, you ask, at a place like the National Shrine, dedicated as it is to the goodness of God and to spreading the word of His mercy? Yes, evil, as most certainly as the sun rose in the east on Oct. 5, for where there is great good, evil — stirred up and agitated — gets desperate.
When we live our lives blindly, wrapped in the straightjacket of sin and not even aware we need to do something about it, evil has its way without lifting a finger. We start and finish the job nicely ourselves.
Our indifference to God and His mercy represents the most insidious of the devil's attacks, enabled by the "lukewarm souls" mentioned in the Novena of The Divine Mercy. Look around at the chaos, noise, and madness prevalent in the world today, and you will see the fruits of "lukewarm souls" who are letting evil triumph simply by not doing good.
Fortunately, the word "triumph" can be locked into quotes as surely as a criminal is locked into handcuffs, for evil cannot win over good. When we wake up to the sacredness of our lives and realize the need to ask God's forgiveness and flee into the loving arms of His mercy, evil has no chance.
As long as we trust in The Divine Mercy, as Jesus directed us to do though St. Faustina, we can rest in the certainty of His love, forgiveness, and compassion. Armed with the sacred image of The Divine Mercy and through devotion to His message, we defeat evil before it can take root. Divine Mercy is the ultimate in preventive medicine for souls.
Testaments Old and New: 'The Roots of Sacred Scripture'
"If the world doesn't need mercy, then we don't know what it needs," said Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, director of the Association of Marian Helpers and the current "Fr. Joseph," who gave a 90-minute talk from the pulpit of the Shrine. "What a wonderful opportunity God gives us through His mercy, and today we celebrate the life of the great saint whose whole life was a growth in a true mystical experience that brought this opportunity to the world."
Noting that St. Faustina's given name in birth, Helena, means "the brilliant one," Fr. Seraphim told pilgrims that in encountering the message of Divine Mercy, "We are not dealing with some fantastic, private devotion of a Polish Pope [John Paul II] to a Polish nun. We are dealing with the roots of sacred scripture. We are dealing with the things God wants to bring to our attention in our lives."
"To bring to our attention" — Fr. Seraphim's penetrating phraseology echoes what Jesus counsels us so many times in the New Testament. Repeatedly, He urges us to be awake, to be aware, and to stay alert and on guard.
Linking the theme of "blood" ("O blood and water, which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus") to the red and pale rays in the image of The Divine Mercy, Fr. Seraphim stitched together Old and New Testaments to illustrate how breathtaking the revelation of mercy is to us: "The blood of Abel asks for revenge. The blood of Jesus asks for forgiveness."
Father Seraphim, weaving his sermon like an expert rug maker working his art, then mentioned the Talmudic saying: "If you kill one person, you kill the whole world. If you save one person, you save the whole world." The implication is apparent: when we extend mercy, we enhance life. Even one life is worth a world of effort, because over generations, one life can — literally, figuratively, and spiritually — make an epochal difference to countless people.
Father Seraphim said that when we look at the image of The Divine Mercy, the rays — white for baptism and red for the Eucharist — "represent the Holy Spirit and the life God wants to share with us."
'The Eucharist was Truly Her Life'
Later, at the feast day Mass begun at 2 p.m., Shrine Rector Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, rhetorically asked in his homily how he could possibly sum up in one brief talk the monumentality of St. Faustina and the gift she gave to the whole world. No one can, of course, and so he did what all good speakers do when faced with too much subject and too little time: he "narrowed down."
Father Anthony focused his homily on a book he purchased on his recent pilgrimage to Poland to attend the beatification of Marian Father Founder, Blessed Stanislaus Papczynski. The book contained the collected letters of St. Faustina.
Only in correspondence with her spiritual director did Faustina refer to her mystical experiences. In her communications with everyone else, she kept these experiences hidden. Even the nuns living with her had no idea what was taking place.
Saint Faustina's letters to her confessor and spiritual director, Fr. Michael Sopocko — the ordinary confessor of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy from Jan. 1, 1933 to Jan. 1, 1942 — pour out from the heart the rapturous joys and harrowing sufferings which she faced as one God selected to be the apostle of The Divine Mercy.
Father Anthony noted that despite her tremendous physical and spiritual suffering, St. Faustina never wavered in her determination to do what Jesus asked of her in promoting Divine Mercy, drawing her strength from Holy Communion. "The Eucharist was truly her life," he said.
Witnesses to Mercy
The hundreds of pilgrims who came to Eden Hill on St. Faustina Day did so for various reasons, but each came as a witness to the working of God in their lives. They came in petition. They came in thanks. The important thing is that ... they came.
"We love to come here," said Edward Burns, making the pilgrimage with his wife Josephine, who live in Stratford, Conn.
"My devotion is to Divine Mercy," Josephine added. "I believe in our Lord Jesus as The Divine Mercy. He has answered many of our prayers. We have in the world such a need to forgive. This devotion can help the world out of its chaos and bring us to the peace that can only be found through God."
Edward and Mary Hartnett of Basking Ridge, N.J., said they enjoy the tranquility found on Eden Hill.
"This is a place of quiet, serenity, and direction," said Edward, a retired executive who worked for the medical manufacturer Johnson and Johnson. We are both familiar with St. Faustina, and we are both in a Bible study group. To be here today is our way of partaking in [Divine] Mercy."
Wife Mary noted that she and Ed have often called the Divine Mercy Intercessory Prayer Line at the Marian Helpers Center. "I find it very comforting," she said. "We all have needs, and we all have problems. It's great to have a such way and a place to bring these needs to God through intercessory prayer."
For Stephen and Susan Portenlanger of Steubenville, Ohio, both retired from employment at Franciscan University there, St. Faustina Day was a time for new beginnings — they made the trip to Eden Hill on their honeymoon!
Stephen and Susan were married the previous Saturday, Sept. 29, at St. Peter's Church in Steubenville.
Though they both had a long-time devotion to Divine Mercy before their marriage, and despite the strong presence of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception in Steubenville, this was their first time visiting Eden Hill.
"We have new beginnings all the way around," said a smiling Stephen. "We celebrate the new beginning of our marriage; of our honeymoon, which is our first time together as man and wife; of Eden Hill, since it's our first visit to Stockbridge; and of our new beginning as a married couple immersed God's endless mercy."
Susan shared that they were also here to give thanks for her life. About 21 months ago, she broke her back in a near-fatal fall while taking a shower. "At that moment, I cried out, 'Jesus, Mercy.' I almost died. This trip is part of the thanks and joy we feel, for our new lives together, and for God's help in restoring my health."
A Son's Suicide, A Vision of The Divine Mercy, and Healing
After Fr. Seraphim's talk, this correspondent wandered around the Shrine grounds. When I'm on the prowl for a story, I'm like a lion looking for his next meal. When my assignment is on Eden Hill, God never disappoints me. He's the best "advance man" a writer could ever want. The best stories come at just such a time, when I have not planned anything and have no idea of what's coming next. This gives God a gap through which He can send precisely the person or people I need to meet.
For some reason, I was attracted to two couples sitting on and standing to the side of the bench that you see straight ahead, immediately upon exiting the front door of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. From now on, I'm going to call that The Lucky Bench.
I saw two men sitting on the bench and two women standing alongside. Something — an instinct, a sixth sense, a hunch, or maybe a locution — told me to wander over and say hey. Call it a long-time writer's preternatural gift for sniffing out a story.
I broke the ice by taking their picture, yelling out "smile!" After breaking the ice, I fell through the surface, swimming up with a story much bigger than what I can share here and now.
The story is about coming to terms with the most crushing blow parents can possibly receive — not just the death of a child, but the suicide of one.
'Dad, I'm OK! I'm OK'
Donald and Merrily Tatkovski of Dillsburg, Pa., on a St. Faustina Day pilgrimage with friends Richard and Regina Mowery of Mechanicsburg, Pa., had to deal with the suicide of their son in 2003 (Don's son and Merrily's stepson).
Last year, Don and Merrily had come to Eden Hill on St. Faustina Day to ask for intercessory prayer prior to Don's shoulder surgery. The surgery was successful. Later this month Don faces another operation, this one on a knee, and the couple came again to ask for St. Faustina's help. But it was their 38-year-old's son's death by his own hand that Merrily called "the real reason" for their pilgrimage.
"I lost a son to suicide," Don said, letting out a deep, guttural breath. "Believe me, it is one hard thing to deal with. But I had a vision of my son with The Divine Mercy."
He said the vision came within days of the suicide, and in it, Jesus looked as He does in the image of The Divine Mercy, except for one key detail.
"Jesus had his arms open, to embrace my son," Don said, noting that in The Divine Mercy image, Jesus is depicted with his left hand pulling his garment apart to reveal the red and pale rays, while his right hand is raised in blessing. "In the vision, my son said, 'Dad, I'm OK! I'm OK!"
Becoming Agents of His Mercy
Don and Merrily said they experienced a healing they didn't think was possible.
There is much more to this story, and I pledge to my readers to tell it fully. It deserves to be told, for the story of Don and Merrily Tatkovski takes us into the very core and inner depths of God's unfathomable and limitless mercy, the benign mystery which alone can engulf the pain and hurt of a loved one's suicide and turn it into a vehicle for the propagation of goodness.
Merrily said that since they have shared the story of the suicide, she and Don have met "all kinds of people" who have had to deal with the same suffering, a child who committed suicide. Through this tragic event, Merrily said, "Jesus has taught us mercy and forgiveness." And by discussing this with others, they have become agents of His mercy.
Dear readers, you have not read the last about Don and Merrily Tatkovski. This I promise.
All Hands on Board at Eden Hill
In addition to Fr. Seraphim's talk and Holy Mass, St. Faustina Day included confessions, the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy, Benediction, and Adoration.
All hands on board at Eden Hill, there to partake in the phenomenal graces offered on a holy mountain on a warm fall day, were engaging in the most important work anyone can do in and for the troubled world right now: they were engaging in a personal encounter with God's mercy. How important is that?
Leave it to Fr. Seraphim, the world's pre-eminent expert on Divine Mercy and the life of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, to put it into perspective: "Jesus told us through St. Faustina to invoke God's mercy for the world in preparation for His Second Coming."
No one knows the hour, the day, or the place — that is God's alone — but that day is approaching. Before then, God has granted the world a time of mercy.
'He Prolonged the Time of His Mercy'
On Sept. 1, 1937, exactly two years prior to the start of World War II, Saint Faustina wrote:
I saw the Lord Jesus, like a king in great majesty, looking down upon our earth with great severity; but because of His Mother's intercession, He prolonged the time of His mercy (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1261).
How much longer do we have? That is not the question. The question, rather, is what we do with whatever time is left. Time, in fact, is irrelevant. A millisecond is enough "time" for God.
On June 23, 1937, Jesus told St. Faustina, "You see, I can give you everything in one moment. I am not constrained by any law.
Whatever faces us, whatever problems we have and however deep our pain, The Divine Mercy, not constrained by anything, can handle it. Your "prayers, works, joys and sufferings" — give them to God. That is all we have to do.
Everyone on Eden Hill for St. Faustina Day, who partook earnestly in however major or insignificant a way, provided at least one more millisecond for the rest of us, enough "time" for God's mercy to come pouring in.
Who knows? Perhaps the day that dawns tomorrow was purchased by this great work.
Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception and is the author of "Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal" for this website.