Bridget Lappert of Decatur, Ala., stars as Helen Keller, left, in a performance last year of "The Miracle Worker" at Ivy Green, Keller's birthplace in Tuscumbia, Ala.
Trust, and a Tale of Two Helens
William Gibson's The Miracle Worker, a play based on the life of Helen Keller, shows poor Annie Sullivan grappling with the task of educating young Helen, who has grown up blind, deaf, fearful, and lost in her own dark world. Helen only knows how to fend for herself, which she does in a groping, savage way.
She has no idea how to allow herself to be cared for, and she certainly never considers caring for anyone else. While confusion and loneliness rule her life, she can't open herself enough to learn about love. Annie's first attempts to teach Helen so enrage the child, who is accustomed to doing what she wants and not to being guided toward what is good for her, that Helen won't let Annie anywhere near her. Eventually, Annie devises a plan to build trust by teaching Helen to depend on her teacher for everything. It works.
A passage I read recently in the Diary of St. Faustina got me thinking about that struggle for faith between Helen and Annie. On a retreat where Jesus had promised that St. Faustina would receive "many graces," she was tormented by "Satan's temptations during meditation" before she was to go to confession (Diary, 167, 173). Saint Faustina, who was baptised Helen Kowalska, describes the temptations as "a strange fear that the priest would not understand me, or that he would have no time to hear everything that I would have to say ... Satan tried to persuade me into believing that if my superiors have told me that my inner life is an illusion, why should I ask again and trouble the confessor?" (Diary, 173).
Satan also tried to convince Faustina that "the Lord Jesus does not commune with souls as miserable as yours ... You would do better to dismiss all this as illusions. Look how many humiliations you have suffered because of them, and how many more are still awaiting you, and all the sisters know that you are a hysteric" (Diary, 173).
Saint Faustina's response was to call Jesus' name "with all the strength in [her] soul" and flee to the confessional right away (Diary, 173). "The confessor immediately understood [her] situation and said, 'Sister, you distrust the Lord Jesus because He treats you so kindly. Well, Sister, be completely at peace. Jesus is your Master ... I repeat once again, be at peace'" (Diary, 174).
I found it surprising, and also poignant, to hear a priest call St. Faustina distrustful. After all, she was the Apostle and Secretary of the Divine Mercy; I had assumed that she lived the Divine Mercy message just about as perfectly as a human being could, and therefore that her attitude toward Jesus would always be a reflection of those words on the Image: Jesus, I trust in You.
A few pages after this account, St. Faustina records a conversation with Jesus in which He laments, "The flames of mercy are burning Me - clamoring to be spent; I want to keep pouring them out on souls; souls just don't want to believe in my goodness" (Diary, 177). I underlined that last sentence, just as I had underlined the first sentence the confessor spoke to St. Faustina at the retreat. There was a common thread, one that Jesus was deeply concerned about: human beings have trouble trusting in goodness, and inevitably, in God.
No wonder Jesus so explicitly told St. Faustina that trust in Him should become a central part of the Divine Mercy message, even commanding that those words of trust in Him be emblazoned on the Image where everyone could see it. Annie Sullivan never could have led Helen Keller out of her dark isolation if Helen had never let her come closer, and we can't be healed by God if we refuse to let Him touch us. Like Helen, we have learned to distrust the world around us because we are in darkness. We hurt ourselves and each other, and so we live in fear. We assume God is like us: that He will hurt us the way the world does. When He approaches us with kindness, we recoil in suspicion. But "perfect love casts out fear," and perfect love is, of course, God Himself (1 Jn 4:18).
Catholic apologist Christopher West points out that the first sin was lack of trust in God. The serpent convinced Adam and Eve that God had forbidden them to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge because He was jealous and self-seeking; He wanted to keep them from possessing power like His own.
It's hard to trust God when we can barely trust each other or even ourselves (because eating that fruit—the quest to become more like God—made us jealous and self-seeking), but we can learn from the example of St. Faustina, who knew that turning to God was the only possible choice. When fear hisses in our ears, we can cry out to Jesus with all our strength and let Him lead us by the light of the rays that flow from His heart and illuminate our directions to heaven: Jesus, I trust in You.
Let us pray for you. Send your prayer petitions to our Divine Mercy Intercessory Prayer Ministry. They will be placed before the Blessed Sacrament in Our Lady of Mercy Oratory.