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Photo: Felix Carroll
By Father Angelo Casimiro, MIC (Sep 30, 2013)
"Yes, you will be a saint just as I am, but you must trust in the Lord Jesus" (Diary of St. Faustina, 150).
These are the prophetic words of St. Therese of Lisieux to St. Faustina in a dream the Apostle of Divine Mercy had of the Little Flower.
In her Diary, St. Faustina related how, as a novice, she was going through some difficulties that she did not know how to overcome. She started a novena to St. Therese of the Child Jesus since she had a great devotion to her. On the fifth day of the novena, St. Faustina dreamed of St. Therese. The Little Flower told her not to be worried about the matter but that she should trust more in God. At first, St. Therese hid the fact that she was a saint. She said that she suffered greatly, too, but St. Faustina did not quite believe her. The Little Flower assured her that she had suffered very much, indeed, and told St. Faustina that in three days the difficulty she was having would come to a happy conclusion. At that moment, St. Therese revealed to her that she was a saint. Saint Faustina then asked her if she was going to go to heaven and become a saint — one raised to the altar like her. The Little Flower assured St. Faustina that she would become a saint like her but that she must trust in the Lord Jesus.
In studying the lives of St. Therese of Lisieux, whose feast day is Oct. 1, and St. Faustina Kowalska, whose feast day is Oct. 5, I began to notice various similarities between them. Both came from very devout Catholic families. At an early age, each one sensed God's call to the religious life, wishing to consecrate herself to the Lord Jesus Christ. They both had a tender devotion to the Blessed Mother. When St. Therese was a child, it was the Blessed Virgin Mary's smile that cured her of a mysterious illness. Saint Faustina was often visited by Mary, as well as Jesus. The Little Flower and the Apostle of Divine Mercy were also devoted to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Saint Therese loved the Blessed Sacrament so much that she was disappointed in not being able to receive Holy Communion every day. Saint Faustina's love for the Blessed Sacrament (and also for Mary) is evidenced in her full religious name: Sr. Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament.
Saint Therese taught the sisters in her convent about doing small things with great love. Saint Faustina echoed this. "Only one thing is needed to please God: to do even the smallest things out of great love," St. Faustina wrote (Diary, 140). Likewise, both saints died from tuberculosis at a young age: St. Therese at 24 and St. Faustina at 33. Nevertheless, what united St. Therese and St. Faustina the most was their childlike trust in God. Both of them walked along the path of spiritual childhood; it is the foundation of St. Therese's Little Way and it is how Jesus taught St. Faustina to live out Divine Mercy. What is this spiritual childhood that the Little Flower and the Apostle of Divine Mercy spoke of? Why is it important in the universal call to holiness? How can we practice it in our daily lives?
Saint Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897), also known as St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, has become one of the most popular saints in the history of the Catholic Church. At a very young age, her mother died. She and her four older sisters all entered the religious life. Saint Therese entered the Carmelite Order in Lisieux, France, at the tender age of 15 and discovered her spirituality known as the Little Way. Under obedience to her superiors, she wrote down her life story in manuscript form, which later became her autobiography, Story of a Soul. After St. Therese's death, her autobiography was sent to various Carmelite convents and soon spread throughout the world. Saint Therese's Little Way is a spiritual path that promises to lead to heroic holiness, but not by the traditional "rough stairway of perfection." Instead it is done by a new invention, which is the "elevator of humble confidence." Thus, St. Therese gives little souls the sure hope of not only becoming saints, but great saints. Before she died, the Little Flower prophetically said, "My mission — to make God loved — will begin after my death. I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses." Consequently, a shower of roses has been falling ever since. Saint Therese, the Little Flower, was shortly beatified in 1923, canonized in 1925, and became the 33rd Doctor of the Church in 1997, 100 years after her death.
In recent years, St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938) has become as popular a saint as St. Therese of Lisieux, due to the spreading of the Divine Mercy message and devotion. Her baptismal name was Helena. She entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland where she took the religious name Sr. Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament. Saint Faustina worked as a cook, gardener, and porter. On the outside, she was quite ordinary, just as St. Therese was. But inside she was having mystical experiences of the Lord Jesus Christ appearing to her and telling her of His Divine Mercy towards mankind. He chose her as the Apostle and "Secretary" of His Mercy. Jesus said to St. Faustina:
In the Old Covenant I sent prophets wielding thunderbolts to My people. Today I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart (Diary, 1588).
Saint Faustina, under obedience to her spiritual director, recorded God's revelations about His mercy in a diary that would be called Divine Mercy in My Soul. Like St. Therese, St. Faustina prophesized what her mission would be after her death:
I feel certain that my mission will not come to an end upon my death, but will begin. O doubting souls, I will draw aside for you the veils of heaven to convince you of God's goodness, so that you will no longer continue to wound with your distrust the sweetest Heart of Jesus. God is Love and Mercy (Diary, 281).
After her death and with the outbreak of World War II, the devotion to the Divine Mercy grew throughout Poland and Lithuania and the United States and eventually through the rest of the world. But from 1958 to 1978, just as she had predicted, the Divine Mercy devotion was temporarily banned by the Catholic Church due to erroneous and confusing translations of St. Faustina's Diary. The ban was eventually lifted by Pope Paul VI, six months prior to Cardinal Karol Wojtyla becoming Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul II canonized St. Faustina as the first saint of the Jubilee Year on April 30, 2000, Divine Mercy Sunday.
The common thread between the Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux and the Divine Mercy message and devotion, as revealed by Jesus to St. Faustina, is to have a childlike trust in God's mercy — the path of spiritual childhood. "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like (little) children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 18:3). Notice the emphasis on the word "little." We must not only become a child but a "little" child, and here is why. A child has some independence and calls upon its parent only in times of need. But a "little" child has no life of its own since it is completely dependent on its parent. Thus, it lives with total peacefulness and trust within that parent's protection. Saint Therese emphasized the Fatherhood of God and how we as "little" children are totally dependent on Him for everything. Therefore, St. Therese's Little Way is the way of spiritual childhood — a way of trust and complete self-surrender.
The perfect illustration of this is how St. Therese eventually discovered the Little Way:
We are living in an age of inventions, and we no longer have to take the trouble of climbing stairs, for, in the houses of the rich, an elevator has replaced these very successfully. I wanted to find an elevator which would raise me to Jesus, for I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection. I searched, then, in the Scriptures for some sign of this elevator, the object of my desires, and I read these words coming from the mouth of Eternal Wisdom: "Whoever is a LITTLE ONE, let him come to me." And so I succeeded. I felt I had found what I was looking for. But wanting to know, O my God, what You would do to the very little one who answered your call, I continued my search and this is what I discovered: "As one whom a mother caresses, so I will comfort you, you shall be carried at the breasts, and upon the knees they shall caress you." Ah! Never did words more tender and more melodious come to give joy to my soul. The elevator which must raise me to heaven is Your arms, O Jesus! And for this I had no need to grow up, but rather I had to remain little and become this more and more.
The Little Way then is not about having to grow up but choosing to remain little. In order to become a saint, one doesn't need to be perfect and full of great deeds. One simply needs to be little and to accept being little. Story of a Soul is full of stories of being a little child. For example, there's the story of the little child at the bottom of the stairs and the father watching at the top. As long at the little child makes the effort of climbing the stairs, the father will come down to pick the child up and carry it up the stairs himself. That's the way God the Father is with each of His children. However, He does need our cooperation as well.
Continue to part two.
Father Angelo Casimiro, MIC, is the postulant director at the Marian House of Studies in Steubenville, Ohio.