Photo: Marian Archives
Sister Faustina was a young, uneducated, nun in a convent of the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Cracow, Poland during the 1930s when she received extraordinary revelations from our Lord Jesus.
How Could He Appear to St. Faustina?
Dr. Robert Stackpole Answers Your Questions on Divine Mercy
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Sep 5, 2007)
If Jesus ascended into Heaven, how could He appear to Sr. Faustina on Earth?
Some people reading today's question will be tempted to respond: "The answer to that one is easy: Jesus is God, so He can do anything!"
However, the matter is much more complex than that. First of all, it is not completely accurate to say that "Jesus is God," unless by that you mean "Jesus is God incarnate," in other words, Jesus is the divine Son of God who lived among us as a human being, in a fully human nature, crucified for us, and is now risen and in heaven with a glorified human body.
So it is still a good question to ask whether in His risen, ascended and glorified human nature, the divine Son of God can or would appear on earth before His promised return at the end of time.
Our questioner, named Jerry, actually put it this way:
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that He ascended to heaven and left us the Holy Spirit. If Jesus is at the right hand of the Father and will return at the end of time, why would He appear to Faustina? Isn't that going against His own words?
In the New Testament, however, we find that Jesus "appeared" to St. Paul on the Damascus road even though Jesus was already ascended into heaven:
As I made my journey and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" And I answered, "Who are you, Lord?" And He said to me, "I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting." Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, "What shall I do, Lord?" And the Lord said to me, "Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do." And when I could not see because of the light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus (Acts 22:6-11).
An interesting thing to note here is that this kind of "appearance" of the risen and ascended Jesus (in 1 Cor 15:8, Paul does say that Jesus literally "appeared" to him) is evidently very different from Christ's other ways of coming to earth. When the Son of God first came to earth, He came in limitation and weakness, as a tiny baby in Bethlehem and a penniless preacher and healer in Galilee, later to be nailed to a Cross in Jerusalem.
For His "Second Coming," He promised to come in glory and power, with all the angels, to complete His triumph over the forces of evil, and to judge the living and the dead at the end of time (see Mt 24: 29-31; 25:31-46).
His "appearances" to Paul — and Faustina — are evidently very different than these two forms of His "coming" to earth. To be sure, there is a mystery here that our limited, earthly minds cannot entirely fathom, but it seems that in His glorified and ascended state, Jesus can somehow "appear" to people on earth without leaving heaven (notice that St. Paul reported that the ascended Jesus appeared to Him in the midst of a "light from heaven"). Moreover, Jesus "appeared" to St. Paul precisely to call him to a special vocation, in service of the gospel.
That was just what He did with Faustina too. Jesus said to her: "Paint an image according to the pattern you see with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You ... I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and [then] throughout the world" (Diary of St. Faustina, 47). Thus, Jesus did not exactly "come to earth" to appear to St. Paul and St. Faustina. Rather, a window or doorway into heaven, so to speak, was briefly opened for them, so that they could "see" Him and converse with Him in His heavenly state.
This same underlying issue came up at the time of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformer John Calvin objected to Catholic belief in the "Real Presence" of Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine at Holy Eucharist precisely on the grounds that the risen and ascended Jesus is now in heaven, at the right hand of the Father, and therefore He cannot be present on earth at the same time — and certainly not on the altars of Catholic churches all throughout the world at the same moment!
Calvin taught that we have been given the Holy Spirit instead for our earthly pilgrimage, and that is all we need! It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can have any kind of (indirect) union with the heavenly Christ.
The mistake that Calvin made is in thinking of heaven as a "place" in the space-time continuum in the same way that our earth is a "place," or that a church building is a "place." Heaven is not a distant place on a map of the galaxies to which one could (theoretically) travel: it is more like another "dimension" of existence that can intersect with ours at any point in space and time.
That is why the bread and wine can become the body and blood, soul and divinity of the risen and glorified Jesus Christ without Him having to "exit" heaven to accomplish this, and why His heavenly body can be truly present on many altars and tabernacles all over the world, all at the same time: because, out of His merciful over for us, He miraculously "intersects" His heavenly existence with ours at those places in space and time, changing the substance of the bread and wine into His heavenly body and blood. That is why Jesus could promise that He will return in power at the end of time to Judge the world, but He also promised that He would be with His disciples always, in another way, even to the end of time (Mt 28:20). Pope Paul VI put it this way in his Credo of the People of God (1968):
The unique and indivisible existence of the Lord glorious in heaven is not multiplied, but is rendered present by the sacrament in the many places on earth where Mass is celebrated. And this existence remains present, after the sacrifice, in the Blessed Sacrament, which is, in the tabernacle, the living heart of each of our churches. And it is our very sweet duty to honor and adore in the blessed Host, which our eyes see, the Incarnate Word whom they cannot see, and who, without leaving heaven, is made present before us [italics mine].
So, to return to our main question: Is Jesus going against His own words by appearing to Faustina, despite His promise to return to earth only at the end of time for the final Judgment? No more than He was going against His own words by appearing to St. Paul on the Damascus road after His ascension! In both cases, He was "appearing" to them in a special way, without leaving heaven, because heaven is a supernatural dimension that can intersect with our space and time dimension at any point, whenever the Lord wills to do so, out of His merciful love for humanity.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is the director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. Got a question? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.