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One of the more fascinating aspects of the Diary of St. Faustina is the amount of ordinary detail the saint goes into on some of her entries. We read entries about listening to the radio, gardening, and doing kitchen work. These "daily details" give the writing a "you are there" aspect. Saint Faustina populates many of her entries with the type of details that help "paint" a picture.
Of course, the Diary wrestles with important spiritual topics of universal import, and well it should. The book has sold more than a million copies and has gone on to become a classic of modern spiritual literature.
'Should I eat the oranges?'
However, the way it weaves the ordinary in and out of the extraordinary provides a human, compelling, and poignant feature. One of my favorite examples is the passage in the Diary where St. Faustina contends with a spiritual problem. The point of her contention isn't anything as dramatic as an appearance by Satan or a dip into the fearsome Dark Night of the Soul, as is the case in other passages, but items as ordinary as oranges.
In Diarypassage 1023, she writes, "Today, I received some oranges. When the sister had left, I thought to myself, 'Should I eat the oranges instead of doing penance and mortifying myself during Holy Lent? After all, I am feeling a bit better.' Then, I heard a voice in my soul: 'My daughter, you please Me more by eating the oranges out of obedience and love for Me than by fasting and mortifying yourself of your own will. A soul that loves Me very much must, ought to live by My will. I know your heart, and I know that it will not be satisfied by anything but My love alone.'"
This passage teaches us something about scruples. It is one thing to live righteously in obedience to God's will, but it's another — a counterproductive other — to go overboard. We must remember in all the ordinary and extraordinary instances of our life that when we grapple with spiritual, moral, or ethical problems, our first inclination — through trust — must be the love of God as we receive it and as we give it back. The oranges taught St. Faustina this lesson, and they teach us as well.
Acting Wisely and Well by Doing God's Will
As Jesus tells St. Faustina in the passage, we act wisely and well when we live by God's will for our lives. Actions that come from our own volition, however virtuous they may be, will always be less pleasing to the Lord. In this example, St. Faustina was better off doing what she first thought would be a selfish act of indulgence, eating the oranges. Instead, Jesus teachers the primacy of God's will above, beyond, and before every other consideration.
I have a special relationship with oranges, going back to a story my mother used to tell us. My mom, who is in her 91st year and enjoying good health, grew up in the Great Depression. Money was scare, discretionary income non-existent, and luxury, indulgences, or treats, were rare to non-existent. She tells the story of how for several Christmases running, her most treasured gift was to find a fresh orange in her Christmas stocking. In the winter back in the early 1930s, receiving a fresh orange for a family of modest means was a big deal.
A fruitful pick-me-up
When I was a kid growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Mom always had fresh oranges available. To this day, each time the sweet tartness of a fresh, juicy orange, I think of my mom. Since coming across Diary passage 1023, I also think of The Divine Mercy. I bite into the orange or enjoy its fresh-squeezed juice, and it's like being reminded of looking for God's will in the simplest, most ordinary aspects of our lives in addition to those occasions that involve great drama, especially times of suffering, loss, and problems.
When faced with difficulty, most people need to ground themselves before they can discern God's will in the particular situation. Some people I know will go on a solitary walk. Others listen to music, meditate, or perform some physical activity or household chore such as vacuuming or doing the dishes. One of the things I sometimes do is to enjoy an orange, if one is available.
An orange is a "sunny" fruit, warm in color, sweet in ripeness, and rich in Vitamin C. Seeing orange trees, one thinks of Christmas. The fruit hangs in a way resembling Christmas ornaments. Like whistling, skipping, or hearing a banjo playing, eating an orange never fails to ground me and lift my spirit. In that lightened frame of heart and mind, I can better determine the correct response in a situation, especially a challenging one.
I like my mercy fresh-squeezed, you see.