An Introduction to Divine Mercy This is the handbook that has introduced millions of souls to the life-changing message that brings hope to a hurting world. Covering every a... Read more
St. Faustina, the Marians, and the Spread of the Devotion
By Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC (Jun 28, 2007)
The following is taken from The Divine Mercy Message and Devotion booklet. It was written by world-renowned Divine Mercy expert Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, with Vinny Flynn and Robert A. Stackpole. The booklet condenses the main elements of the Diary of St. Faustina into an easy-to-read format. It has become known throughout the world simply as the "Devotion Booklet."
CHAPTER ONE: THE STORY OF THE MESSAGE AND DEVOTION
The origin and spreading of the Divine Mercy message and devotion throughout the world makes for great reading — extraordinary visions and revelations, miraculous answers to prayer, a dramatic escape from war-torn Poland, a temporary ban by the Church, and strong support from Pope John Paul II, who has gone down in history as the "Mercy Pope."
The writings of St. Faustina, an uneducated Polish nun from the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland, provide the source of the message and devotion presented in this booklet.
In the 1930s, in obedience to her spiritual director, Sr. Faustina wrote a diary of some 600 pages recording the revelations she was receiving about God's mercy.
The Apostle of Mercy
Turning to the saint's early life, she was born Helen Kowalska on August 25, 1905, in Glogowiec, Poland, to a poor, religious family. Helen was the third of 10 children and was baptized in the parish church of Swince Warckie. From a very tender age, she was known for her love of prayer, diligence and obedience, and concern for the poor.
She was called to the religious life during a vision of the suffering Christ. Then, on August 1, 1925, she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy and took the name Sr. Maria Faustina of the Most Blessed Sacrament. She lived as a member of the Congregation for 13 years, residing in Cracow, Plock, and Vilnius, where she worked as a cook, gardener, and porter.
Externally nothing revealed her rich, mystical interior life. She zealously performed her tasks and faithfully observed the rule of religious life. She was recollected, yet very natural, serene, and full of kindness with disinterested love for her neighbor. Although her life was apparently insignificant and monotonous, she hid within herself an extraordinary union with God.
The mystery of God's mercy, which she contemplated in the word of God as well as in her everyday activities, forms the basis of her spirituality. By contemplating and getting to know the mystery of God's mercy, she developed the attitude of childlike trust in God and of mercy towards her neighbor.
Sister Faustina was also a faithful daughter of the Church. Conscious of her role in the Church, she cooperated with God's mercy in the task of saving poor sinners. At the specific request of the Lord Jesus and following His example, she made a sacrifice of her own life for the sake of sinners. Her spiritual life was distinguished as well by a deep love of the Holy Eucharist and a special devotion to Mary as the Mother of Mercy.
The years she spent in the convent were filled with extraordinary gifts, such as revelations, visions, hidden stigmata, participation in the Passion of the Lord, bilocation, the reading of human souls, prophecy, and the rare gift of mystical espousal and marriage. Her relationship with God, the Blessed Mother, the angels, the saints, the souls in purgatory — with the entire supernatural world — was as real for her as the world she perceived with the senses.
The Lord chose Sr. Faustina as the Apostle and Secretary of His mercy, so she would share the urgent message of Divine Mercy with our troubled modern world. Her mission consisted in three main tasks:
• Reminding the world and the Church of the truth of God's mercy for every human being, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures;
• Entreating Divine Mercy for the whole world, especially for poor sinners, through the practice of new forms of devotion to The Divine Mercy, which are explained in this booklet;
• Initiating the apostolic movement of Divine Mercy, the followers of which proclaim and entreat Divine Mercy for the world and strive to practice the works of mercy following the example of Sr. Faustina.
Sister Faustina recorded the various aspects of her mission in a diary, which she kept at the specific request of her confessor and spiritual director, Fr. Michael Sopocko, and later at the command of the Lord Jesus Himself. In it, she faithfully wrote down all of the Lord's wishes and described the encounters between her soul and Him.
Consumed by tuberculosis and innumerable sufferings, which she offered for poor sinners, Sr. Faustina died in Cracow at the age of 33 on October 5, 1938. Her mortal remains rest at the Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki near Cracow.
Yet, even before her death in 1938, the devotion to The Divine Mercy as revealed in her diary had begun to spread. During the tragic war years of 1939-1945, this devotion grew in strength as people throughout Poland and Lithuania turned to the merciful Savior for comfort and hope.
The Spread of the Message and Devotion
In 1941, the devotion was brought to the USA from Poland by Father Joseph Jarzebowski, a member of the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception. Father Jarzebowski had at first been skeptical about the great graces received by those who entrusted themselves to The Divine Mercy. But, in the spring of 1940, he vowed that if he were able to safely reach his fellow Marians in America, he would spend the rest of his life spreading the Divine Mercy message and devotion.
After an extraordinary journey from Poland into Lithuania, then across Russia and Siberia to Vladivostok, and from there to Japan, he arrived on American soil a year later. True to his vow, he immediately began distributing information about the message and devotion, with the help of the Felician Sisters in Michigan and Connecticut. His Marian confreres soon became intensely involved as well. After several years of this activity, Fr. Walter Pelczynski, MIC, established in 1944 the "Mercy of God Apostolate" on Eden Hill in Stockbridge, MA, now home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy and the Marian Helpers Center, a modern, religious publishing house that has become the international center for the Divine Mercy message and devotion. By 1953, some 25 million pieces of Divine Mercy literature had been distributed around the world.
Banned by the Church
Then, in 1958 and 1959, Sister Faustina's prophecy about the apparent destruction of the Divine Mercy work (Diary, 378) began to be fulfilled. The Holy See, having received erroneous and confusing translations of Diary entries, which it was unable to verify due to existing political conditions, forbade the spreading of the Divine Mercy message and devotion in the forms proposed by Sister Faustina's writings.
During the period of the ban, the Marians continued to spread devotion to God's mercy, but, in obedience to Rome, they based the message and devotion regarding Divine Mercy on Sacred Scripture, the Liturgy, the teachings of the Church, and Our Lady's revelations at Fatima.
The Lifting of the Ban
Twenty years later (in 1978), the ban was completely lifted, thanks to the intervention of the Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. Through his efforts, an Informative Process relating to the life and virtues of Sister Faustina was begun in 1965. Its successful outcome led to the inauguration of her Beatification Cause in 1968.
In a new "Notification" on April 15, 1978, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, having reviewed many original documents that were not made available to it in 1959, reversed its earlier decision and declared the 1959 prohibition "no longer binding."
Six months later, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II.
Prompted by the pastoral concern of His Excellency, Joseph F. Maguire, Bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts, with regard to the resuming of efforts to make the Divine Mercy message and devotion known, the Congregation of Marians asked for an authoritative explanation of the Notification of 1978. On July 12, 1979, they received a reply from the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation, stating that "there no longer exists, on the part of this Sacred Congregation, any impediment to the spreading of the devotion to The Divine Mercy in the authentic forms proposed by the Religious Sister mentioned above [Sister Faustina Kowalska]."
Thus, in 1979 — with the local bishop's permission — the Marians resumed their work of spreading the Divine Mercy message and devotion in the forms proposed by Sr. Faustina. The response from laity, priests, and bishops all over the world has been overwhelming, and the devotion has grown faster than anyone ever expected.
Pope John Paul II
One of the reasons for this was certainly the continued support of Pope John Paul II. In 1981, he published an encyclical letter entitled Rich in Mercy, in which he speaks of Christ as the "incarnation of mercy ... the inexhaustible source of mercy" (8). He goes on to emphasize that "Christ's messianic program, the program of mercy" must become "the program of His people, the program of the Church" (8).
Throughout the encyclical, John Paul stresses that the Church — especially in our modern times — has the "right and the duty" to "profess and proclaim God's mercy," to "introduce it and make it incarnate" in the lives of all people, and "to call upon the mercy of God," imploring it for the whole world. (See Rich in Mercy 12-15.)
A year after publishing Rich in Mercy, Pope John Paul II visited the Shrine of Merciful Love in Collevalenza, Italy, during his first pilgrimage outside Rome after the attempt on his life. There he emphasized that spreading the message of mercy was his "special task."
On April 18, 1993, Pope John Paul II beatified Sr. Faustina at St. Peter's Square in Rome. It was the first Sunday after Easter — the very day that is to be celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday, according to the Merciful Savior's revelations to Sr. Faustina. And it was precisely John Paul II who beatified her, the very one who had initiated the Informative Process for her cause in 1965 when he was Archbishop of Cracow, Poland.
In his homily, John Paul said: "I salute you, Sr. Faustina. Beginning today the Church calls you Blessed ... . O Faustina, how extraordinary your life is! Precisely you, the poor and simple daughter of Mazovia, of the Polish people, were chosen by Christ to remind people of this great mystery of Divine Mercy! You bore this mystery within yourself, leaving this world after a short life, filled with suffering. However, at the same time, this mystery has become a prophetic reminder to the world ... .
" 'I feel certain that my mission will not come to an end upon my death, but will begin ... ,' Sr. Faustina wrote in her diary (Diary, 281). And it truly did! Her mission continues and is yielding astonishing fruit. It is truly marvelous how her devotion to the merciful Jesus is spreading in our contemporary world and gaining so many human hearts! This is undoubtedly a sign of the times — a sign of our 20th century. The balance of this century which is now ending, in addition to the advances which have often surpassed those of preceding eras, presents a deep restlessness and fear of the future. Where, if not in The Divine Mercy, can the world find refuge and the light of hope? Believers understand that perfectly."
Then, on April 30, 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized Sr. Faustina as the first saint of the Great Jubilee Year. And again, it was on Divine Mercy Sunday. In fact, the Holy Father also announced during his homily that the Second Sunday of Easter would now be celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday throughout the universal Church.
In his homily, John Paul said: "Today my joy is truly great in presenting the life and witness of Sr. Faustina Kowalska to the whole Church as a gift of God for our time. By Divine Providence, the life of this humble daughter of Poland was completely linked with the history of the 20th century, the century we have just left behind. ...
"In fact, it was between the First and Second World Wars that Christ entrusted His message of mercy to her. Those who remember, who were
witnesses and participants in the events of those years and the horrible sufferings they caused for millions of people, know well how necessary was the message of mercy.
"Jesus told Sr. Faustina: Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy (Diary, 300). Through the work of the Polish religious, this message has become linked forever to the 20th century, the last of the second millennium and the bridge to the third. It is not a new message but can be considered a gift of special enlightenment that helps us to relive the Gospel of Easter more intensely, to offer it as a ray of light to the men and women of our time.
"What will the years ahead bring us? ... We are not given to know. ... But the light of Divine Mercy, which the Lord in a way wished to return to the world through Sr. Faustina's charism, will illumine the way for the men and women of the third millennium. ... Sr. Faustina's canonization has a particular eloquence: by this act I intend today to pass this message on to the new millennium. ..."
Now, inspired by the legacy of the Mercy Pope, it is our task to spread the message of Divine Mercy in the third millennium.