Who is Mary and why does she matter?
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By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Dec 22, 2016)
We usually associate St. Maria Faustina Kowalska with the risen and glorified Christ depicted in The Divine Mercy image. Yet few saints in the history of the Church were as devoted to the Child Jesus as St. Faustina. While she particularly remembered the Christ Child at Christmastime, He was a living presence that she grew to appreciate throughout the year — a constant source of inspiration and joy.
Joy and Wonder in His Presence
In fact, sometimes Jesus appeared to St. Faustina as a child with no other clear purpose than to express His tender love for her and rejoice her heart. It became a gift of the Divine Presence. On Christmas Eve in 1937, for example, St. Faustina writes of one such encounter with the Holy Child:
When I arrived at Midnight Mass, from the very beginning I steeped myself in deep recollection, during which time I saw the stable of Bethlehem filled with great radiance. The Blessed Virgin, all lost in the deepest of love, was wrapping Jesus in swaddling clothes, but Saint Joseph was still asleep. Only after the Mother of God put Jesus in the manger did the light of God awaken Joseph, who also prayed. But after a while, I was left alone with the Infant Jesus who stretched out His little hands to me, and I understood that I was to take Him in my arms. Jesus pressed His head against my heart and gave me to know, by His profound gaze, how good He found it to be next to my heart (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1442).
Tender moments in prayer such as this one filled St. Faustina with wonder at the mystery of the Incarnation: God loved us so much that He came among us and was born in a lowly manger to win our hearts for His own. In this way, St. Faustina reminds each of us of the value of slowing down and simply basking in the holy presence of the Christ Child. We adore Him as the Word made flesh for our salvation. As she writes, "... the inconceivable miracle of Your mercy takes place, O Lord. The Word becomes flesh; God dwells among us, the Word of God, Mercy Incarnate" (Diary, 1745).
His Smallness Inspires Trust
Saint Faustina also discovered that devotion to the Christ Child deepens our trust in God, because we know we have nothing to fear from a God who would stoop so low as to become a little child for us. What repentant sinner can possibly cringe in fear before the Almighty, All-seeing, Thrice Holy God, if He gives Himself to us in weakness and helplessness, with the smiles and tears of an infant? He disarms our fear of His justice with His littleness. As St. Josemaria Escriva wrote: "He has become so small —you see: a Child! — so that you can approach Him with confidence." After Holy Communion one day, St. Faustina experienced the disarming power of the little Christ Child in one of her most touching visions:
...I suddenly saw the Infant Jesus standing by my kneeler and holding on to it with His two little hands. Although He was but a little Child, my soul was filled with awe and fear, for I see in Him my Judge, my Lord, and my Creator, before whose holiness the Angels tremble. At the same time, my soul was flooded with such unspeakable love that I thought I would die under its influence (Diary, 566).
Saint Faustina came to appreciate that the same Jesus who came as her Judge, Lord, and Creator, also loved her with the tenderness of a small child. With great trust, she understood that Jesus was strengthening her soul and making it "capable of abiding with Him" (Diary, 566). We find a similar teaching in the meditations of St. Alphonsus Liguori, especially in one entitled "The Eternal Word Becomes Little":
If the Redeemer had come to be feared and respected by men, He would have come as a full-grown man and with royal dignity: but because He came to gain our love, He chose to come and to show Himself as an infant and the poorest of infants, born in a cold stable between two animals, laid in a manger on straw, without clothing or fire to warm His shivering limbs: "Thus would He be born, who willed to be loved and not feared."
Can we grow in greater trust in Jesus by beholding His smallness and recognizing in Him our Judge, Lord, and Creator? Saint Faustina will help us.
The Way of Spiritual Childhood
From the Christ Child, St. Faustina learned as well a most important lesson for her spiritual journey — the way of spiritual childhood. Several times the Infant Jesus appeared to her and taught her this lesson. For instance, she writes of what happened during Mass one day:
... I saw the Infant Jesus near my kneeler. He appeared to be about one year old, and He asked me to take Him in my arms. When I did take Him in my arms, He cuddled up close to my bosom and said, "It is good for Me to be close to your heart. ... Because I want to teach you spiritual childhood. I want you to be very little, because when you are little, I carry you close to My Heart, just as you are holding Me close to your heart right now" (Diary, 1481).
In another appearance to St. Faustina, the Christ Child told her, "... I keep company with you as a child to teach you humility and simplicity" (Diary, 184) — revealing to her the key virtues of the way of spiritual childhood. Jesus' revelations here are very close to the spirit of St. Therese, "The Little Flower." Therese wrote in her Autobiography: "Jesus has chosen to show me the only way that leads to the divine furnace of love; it is the way of childlike self-surrender, the way of a child who sleeps, afraid of nothing in its Father's arms."
The way of spiritual childhood, however, is not childish. It is not excessively sentimental or naive. Rather, it involves a total surrender to our heavenly Father's providential care — total abandonment of our own plans, opinions, and self-will, and radical trust in God. Saint Faustina knew very well how difficult such a childlike trust in God could be — especially in times of trouble and sorrow. She knew that the key was to rely on Jesus rather than herself every step of the way. One time, while adoring the Blessed Sacrament, she described a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus in her arms. Mary told her "to accept all that God asked of [you] like a little child, without questioning." Saint Faustina prayed to the Lord in response: "Do with me as You please; I am ready for everything, but You, O Lord, must not abandon me even for a moment" (Diary, 529).
Can we, too, ask God to give us the grace to accept — like a little child — all that He asks of us in this life? As we do, can we trust like St. Faustina that the Lord will not abandon us 'even for a moment'?
Strengthened Anew at Every Eucharist
Finally, St. Faustina learned that we do not walk the way of spiritual childhood by our own strength. Jesus Himself is living in us and through us, if we let Him. In fact, Jesus comes to make our hearts His dwelling place at every Holy Eucharist. In a sense, the Christ Child is born anew in our hearts at every Eucharist. Many times, the Child Jesus revealed to St. Faustina His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist.
She writes of a Mass celebrated by her spiritual director, Fr. Joseph Andrasz, SJ: "... I saw the Infant Jesus who, with hands outstretched toward us, was sitting in the chalice being used at Holy Mass. After gazing at me penetratingly, He spoke these words: 'As you see Me in this chalice, so I dwell in your heart'" (Diary, 1346). The little Jesus is instructing St. Faustina that, through His Eucharistic Presence, He dwells in her heart as the source of her strength. Even as the Infant Jesus strengthened her in the Eucharist, His abiding presence also filled her heart with great joy. Her desire grew for Him alone as the greatest treasure of all. She writes of February 2, 1936, "... when Mass began, a strange silence and joy filled my heart. Just then, I saw Our Lady with the Infant Jesus ... . The most holy Mother said to me, 'Take my Dearest Treasure,' and she handed me the Infant Jesus. When I took the Infant Jesus in my arms, the Mother of God and Saint Joseph disappeared. I was left alone with the Infant Jesus" (Diary, 608).
Thus, the little Jesus became everything to St. Faustina as she attended Mass and then received Him in Holy Communion.
May we, too, grow to appreciate the Christ Child as our dearest treasure at Holy Mass this Christmas and throughout the rest of the year, He is truly Emmanuel, God-with-us — the gift beyond all telling.
A very merry Twelve Days of Christmas to all our readers!
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. His latest book is Mary - Who She Is and Why She Matters (Marian Press).