By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Jul 26, 2013)
As I write this column, I am aware of a Divine Mercy apostolate that truly seems to be "under attack" lately. Its hard-working, heart-of-gold leader has been a target of what can only be called a campaign of defamation from those who want to take over the work of the group for their own purposes. These individuals have spread misinformation and half-truths about her and about the apostolate. They've e-mailed local bishops and their advisors and even the apostolate's donors and benefactors.
It's not that the leader of this particular apostolate is perfect. For sure, a few areas of the apostolate were being managed in a sloppy fashion. But detailed complaints against her were not brought to her attention first, or even to the board of the apostolate first. Instead, they were spread throughout the area to do maximum damage to the reputation of the apostolate in general, and to this Divine Mercy leader in particular. Now the good folks of the apostolate are doing their best to pick up the pieces and start again. It's so sad to see how people who call themselves "Catholics" can treat each other sometimes. Obviously, I cannot reveal their names, but I ask you please pray for them (Jesus knows who they are).
Along those lines, it continually amazes me how many times I receive letters from people who ask me why their parish priest is so seemingly irrationally hostile to the Divine Mercy message and devotion. Invariably, these letter writers will tell me how that makes it seemingly impossible for the work of mercy to spread in their area (see the old instalments of this column for discussion of how to deal with this particular difficulty).
One person named Dave recently wrote to me about such situations. He wrote: "It really makes me wonder what is going on here; I am not one given to talking in terms of spiritual warfare, but all this really makes me wonder sometimes if Satan is not out to get us ... I mean if he's got us especially targeted to stop this Divine Mercy mission from succeeding."
Aw c'mon, Dave, get real. OF COURSE he is out to get us — to get us discouraged, broken, and at each other's throats! It only stands to reason. Look at what St. Faustina says in her Diary about this:
I have now learned that Satan hates mercy more than anything else. It is his greatest torment. ... [Jesus said to her]"You are united to me; fear nothing. But know, my child, that Satan hates you; he hates every soul, but he burns with a particular hatred for you, because you have snatched so many souls from his dominion." ... The glory of the Divine Mercy is resounding, even now, in spite of the efforts of its enemies, and of Satan himself, who has a great hatred for God's mercy. This work will snatch a great number of souls from him, and that is why the spirit of darkness sometimes tempts good people violently, so that they may hinder the work. (Diary, 764, 412, and 1659)
So the Devil sees his evil empire over the souls of men and women crumbling wherever the true message of God's merciful love is being spread, wherever people are receiving Jesus Christ, Mercy Incarnate Himself, into their hearts (especially through the Holy Eucharist), and wherever they are letting His merciful love flow through their hearts to their neighbors who are in spiritual or material need. The Devil must be furious about this, and so he surely must be making special efforts to obstruct and stop it.
Did you ever wonder why Jesus met so many people possessed by evil spirits in Galilee and Judea? Some biblical scholars brush this aside by saying that people in ancient Israel attributed lots of illnesses to the work of demons that we know today have physical or psychological causes. But I think there is more to the story than that. Satan knew very well that Jesus was the Messiah, come to bring the dawning of God's Kingdom to the world (although he didn't understand quite how Jesus planned to do it — more on that in a moment). I think the Devil and his hordes of demons were openly active at the time. Indeed, the Devil was having a supernatural tantrum — frantically lashing out at God and His plan by "possessing" as many souls as he could, when usually he prefers to operate in more subtle and insidious ways.
And I think a little bit of that "supernatural tantrum" stuff is what we in the Divine Mercy movement are experiencing today.
The good news is that St. Faustina's Diary contains lots of sound advice about how to understand and approach this situation. Let me list these things for you. If you are in a Divine Mercy group or apostolate of some kind, I hope the following will give you some hope and comfort:
1) Satan is out to get your apostolate for sure. But look for the enemy first within your own heart. Jesus gives St. Faustina advice about spiritual warfare against the devil, but notice that He begins by asking her to look inside her own heart first! You see, it is so easy to blame every obstacle we face on the forces of evil acting through other human hearts and ignore the ways he may be successfully messing up our apostolate through our own sins and shortcomings. Jesus says:
"My daughter, I want to teach you about spiritual warfare. Never trust in yourself, but abandon yourself totally to my will. In desolation, darkness and various doubts, have recourse to Me and to your spiritual director. ... Do not bargain with any temptation; lock yourself immediately in My Heart. ... Put your self-love in the last place, so that it does not taint your deeds. ... Shun murmurers like the plague. Let all act as they like; you are to act as I want you to (Diary, 1760).
2) Patience is essential to defeating evil and overcoming obstacles. Many people who are full of religious zeal tend to forget the importance of patience. If the apostolate we are doing is really God's work — rather than merely the product of our own pride or daydreams, then He will make it bear fruit in His own time, not necessarily on our schedule! "For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven" (Eccles 3:1-11). Saint Faustina wrote:
My Jesus, despite Your graces, I see and feel all my misery. I begin my day with battle and end it with battle. As soon as I conquer one obstacle, ten more appear to take its place. But I am not worried, because I know that this is the time of struggle, not peace. When the burden of battle becomes too much for me, I throw myself like a child into the arms of the heavenly Father and trust I will not perish. O my Jesus, how prone I am to evil, and this forces me to be constantly vigilant. But I do not lose heart. I trust god's grace, which abounds in the worst misery. ... In the adversities I experience, I remind myself that the time for doing battle has not yet come to an end. I arm myself with patience, and in this way I defeat my assailant (Diary, 606 and 509).
3) If you are a Divine Mercy leader, you will need not only humility and patience, but a lot of courage, too. Don't expect a quiet life, or a smooth and gently contemplative lifestyle, if you are in this kind of mission work. You and your group will suffer major obstacles, setbacks, perhaps even betrayals. Be brave, and soldier on! Jesus said to St. Faustina:
I want you to become like a knight experienced in battle, who can give orders to others amid the exploding shells. In the same way, My child, you should know how to master yourself amid the greatest difficulties, and let nothing drive you away from Me, not even your falls. (Diary, 1823).
Remember also that it's actually a strange war you are in, because as a "knight" for Divine Mercy, you are actually fighting and battling not to destroy your human enemies, but to help save them! Use the weapon of prayer for them often.
4) You may not believe it, but the Devil and his allies are afraid of you! Have you ever wondered why people who are doing something evil usually do it "behind people's backs" or in secret or "back-stabbing" ways? It's because evil is actually afraid to look good in the face. It shuns the light. It operates behind the scenes, in the dark. People who are doing evil not only try to hide what they are doing from the eyes of the world, they also hide what they are doing from themselves in most cases, fabricating elaborate rationalizations as to why they have to betray someone else's trust or undermine someone else's work. They are afraid that someone will look them in the eye and "speak the truth in love" to them (Eph 4:15). They couldn't bear it: Their pride and conceit would make it a humiliation for them. Just remember that always, when the time is right, speak the truth in love and you will often send the enemies of your apostolate into retreat. Jesus said to St. Faustina:
The world is not as powerful as it seems to be; its strength is strictly limited. Know, My daughter, that if your soul is filled with the fire of My pure love, then all difficulties dissipate like fog before the sun's rays and dare not touch the soul. All adversaries are afraid to start a quarrel with such a soul, because they sense that it is stronger than the whole world. (Diary, 1643)
5) Take comfort in the fact that Satan is an idiot. No, I'm serious: He really is dumb at times, such that evil always, eventually self-destructs. Look what happened 2,000 years ago: Satan tempted Judas into betraying our Lord so that He would be turned over to the Jewish and Roman authorities and crucified. Satan, thereby, unwittingly played right into God's plan for saving the world from sin by the death of His Son on the cross! Or take two of the Devil's best friends in the 20th century: Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin. These two monstrous dictators divided Poland between them at the start of the war and signed a peace deal between each other that left Hitler free to take over all of western Europe. Hitler could have gone on to capture Britain, Scandinavia, Spain, and thereby seal up his "fortress Europe" and his "Thousand Year Reich." But Satan had made him an uncontrollably greedy megalomaniac, and so Hitler launched an attack on Stalin's Russia at the same time, which divided the German forces and weakened them on all fronts. That is one of the main reasons the Nazis lost the war. You can count on it: Eventually evil is always stupid and self-destructive.
As he plagues you and your apostolate, remember that the Devil is so stupid that he does not even realize that he is thereby giving you some marvellous opportunities. Jesus said to St. Faustina:
Know that by fighting bravely you give Me great glory and amass merits for yourself. Temptation gives you a chance to show Me your fidelity. ... [St. Faustina wrote] Each battle valiantly fought brings me joy, peace, light, experience and courage for the future; honor and glory to God; and in the end, for me, a reward (Diary, 1560 and 499).
6) All Jesus is asking of you is to do the best you can, and leave all the rest to Him. He is certainly not demanding that you be perfect all at once (you couldn't do that anyway!) or even successful. In fact, whether or not your apostolate succeeds in bearing all the fruit you hope it will is not really all that important, and is largely out of our hands anyway: He is more concerned about the kind of people we are becoming as His servants and messengers. Apostolates come and go, but the souls of His apostles go on to eternity; it's our souls that He is most concerned about, sanctifying them to dwell with Him in heaven. So, rejoice that He is fashioning in your soul the radiant virtues of faith, hope, and especially love, that abides forever (I Cor 13:12). Saint Faustina writes:
At that moment I saw Jesus, who said, "I am pleased with what you are doing. And you can continue to be at peace if you always do the best you can in respect to this work of mercy.... You gave me great glory today by fighting so faithfully. Let it be confirmed and engraved in your heart that I am always with you, even if you don't feel my presence at the time of battle." ... When I see that the burden is beyond my strength, I do not consider or analyze it or probe into it, but I run like a child to the Heart of Jesus and say only one word to Him: "You can do all things" (Diary, 1499, 1033).
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.