What's the Problem With This Passage?
Robert Stackpole Answers Your Divine Mercy Questions
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Nov 23, 2015)
One of the passages from the Diary of St. Faustina that sometimes strikes readers as a bit odd is this one from entry 964-965:
This morning during Holy Mass, I saw the suffering Jesus. His Passion was imprinted on my body in an invisible manner, but no less painfully.
Jesus looked at me and said, Souls perish in spite of My bitter Passion. I am giving them the last hope of salvation, that is, the Feast of My Mercy. If they will not adore My mercy, they will perish for all eternity. Secretary of My mercy, write, tell all souls about this great mercy of mine, because the awful day, the day of My justice is near.
Many readers have been confused by this, first of all because it is not at all clear how the last hope for humanity can be the celebration of a Catholic liturgical feast (after all, the vast majority of humanity does not participate in that feast). Also, this alleged "revelation" from Jesus seems to contradict what He says to St. Faustina elsewhere. Specifically, a recurrent theme in His revelations to her is that trust in Divine Mercy, and not the celebration of a particular feast day, is truly the last hope for humanity (a teaching that is also in accord with the New Testament: "For by grace you are saved by faith, and not by works, lest any man should boast" — Eph 2:5-8).
For example, St. Faustina records the following revelations:
Today I took part in a one-day retreat. When I was at the last conference, the priest was speaking of how much the world needs God's mercy, and that this seems to be a special time when people have great need of prayer and God's mercy. Then I heard a voice in my soul: These words are for you. Do all you possibly can for this work of My mercy. I desire that My mercy be worshipped, and I am giving mankind the last hope of salvation, that is recourse to My mercy. My heart rejoices in this feast. (998)
Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy (300, cf. 699).
In the past, in order to explain this difficulty I have simply followed the explanation given by Fr. Ignacy Rozycki, the theologian who examined St. Faustina's Diary for the Vatican as part of the process of investigation into her life and virtues on the road to her canonization. Father Rozycki simply believed that Faustina must have misinterpreted or misheard what the Lord had said to her on this occasion (the one recorded in entry 965). In other words, this time, she just got it wrong! There is no shame in saying so. Special revelations given even to saints and blesseds of the Church are not the same as inspired and inerrant Holy Scripture. Even saints sometimes, on rare occasions, misunderstand or poorly express what God has said to them in the midst of their mystical experiences. Simply because they are human beings, the revelations given to the saints by Jesus Christ must pass through their own cultural, theological, and psychological mental filters, so to speak, before they can be put into words. That is why we are not duty bound as Catholics to accept as articles of faith any private or prophetic revelations of the saints. Only the public revelation given by Christ to the Apostles is entirely free from all error or distortion, because only to them did Jesus promise the special guidance of the Holy Spirit for that very purpose (see Jn 16:13).
A good book on this subject was written by Fr. Benedict Groeschel called A Still Small Voice: A Practical Guide on Reported Revelations (Ignatius Press, 1993). In that book Fr. Benedict relates the words of Pope Benedict XIV, commenting on certain "approved" private revelations given to the several saints that were later shown to contain some factual and theological errors (p. 28):
What is to be said of those private revelations which the Apostolic See has approved of, those of Blessed Hildegaard (which were approved in part by Eugene III), of St. Bridget [by Boniface IX] and of St. Catherine of Siena [by Gregory XI]? We have already said that those revelations, although approved of, ought not, and cannot, receive from us any assent of Catholic, but only of human faith, according to the rules of prudence, according to which the aforesaid revelations are probable, and piously to be believed.
So, one way to explain the strange passage about the Feast of Mercy is simply to say that on this particular occasion, St. Faustina misunderstood what Jesus was saying to her. It may be the only place in the Diary where that occurs, but there is no shame in saying that it happened. The Diary, after all, is not the fifth gospel of the New Testament!
However, in recent weeks I began to look at this subject a bit more closely. My reflections were prompted by one of our readers, a man named Jerome, who sent me the following, alternative explanation for Diary entry 965:
As a man who has tried to live and reconcile in my own life for the past six years the Consecration to Mary and the Divine Mercy devotion, I had some thoughts about the topic of "last means given to the world" and "last hope of salvation" covered in the article. I have some thoughts on how these claims could be reconciled, and I just thought I would share them with you, to see what you thought.
Maybe the best way to present my thoughts is with a short what-if scenario.
What if, in God's Providence and His infinite understanding of man's free will, the establishing of the Feast of Mercy is indeed necessary for establishing the needed devotion to the Divine Mercy, that God understands that without this Feast, the devotion to the Divine Mercy will not sprout and grow to the extent that He has planned? And what if this devotion to the Divine Mercy is also necessary for a true devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary that God wants to establish in the world, according to Our Lady of Fatima? What if, let's say, God foresaw that man would stumble in his devotion to the Immaculate Heart and not carry out the request of Fatima, and so He willed this devotion to the Divine Mercy to come to fruition when we needed it the most to obtain that true devotion to the Immaculate Heart and bring that grace to fruition?
I guess I'm essentially proposing that the Divine Mercy devotion is a means to a means (the true devotion to the Immaculate Heart), and the Feast of Mercy is then a means to a means to a means! To me, this reflects the very nature of the Divine Mercy, of His patience, that God is giving us means to means to means, etc. (I also see the reconciliation of these two devotions in Pope John Paul II.)
Then, all the statements from the visionaries could be true and authentic.
Well, Jerome, I think you must be right: All these things that our Lord has been doing over the last century to call people back to His Merciful Heart (through our Lady of Fatima and her Immaculate Heart, and through Pope John Paul II, as well as through St. Faustina and the devotion to The Divine Mercy) must all be linked together somehow, and your speculations in this regard are well worth considering.
On the other hand, all this doesn't entirely solve our problem with Diary entry 965, because in that entry Jesus did not tell Faustina that the Feast of Mercy was merely one among several things He had given to humanity as the last hope of salvation, or merely a means to some other end for the salvation of the world, but was itself the last hope for salvation. The phrase in Polish that Faustina records is "last plank" of salvation, which literally refers to a plank from a ship that one can hang onto when one is drowning in the sea after a shipwreck.
In fact, it is precisely because St. Faustina records such a vivid, metaphorical phrase, "last plank," that I am now beginning to think that maybe Faustina did not misunderstand or mistakenly record Jesus' words on this occasion after all (it was, certainly not a metaphor she would likely have invented for herself, as she was not in any way from a seafaring family, and it was a metaphor she would likely remember if Jesus actually used it).
Here is another possible interpretation. Notice what Jesus said to her at the beginning of the parallel passage in entry 998 (quoted in full above): "When I was at the last conference [of the retreat], the priest was speaking about how much the world needs God's mercy, and that this seems to be a special time when people have great need of prayer and God's mercy. Then I heard a voice in my soul ... My heart rejoices in this feast.
Perhaps the Feast of The Divine Mercy, Divine Mercy Sunday, is the "last hope" of mankind, not in the sense that everyone must somehow, someday take part in it and receive the special graces of Holy Communion on that day (which is certainly not going to happen), but because of the prayers that are offered up for an outpouring of Divine Mercy on the whole world that day from devout communicants everywhere that the Feast is celebrated. Perhaps, of all days of the liturgical year, this is the day when the most hearts are most likely to be filled with trust in Divine Mercy and to be pleading for mercy upon the whole world during the great prayer of the whole Church, the Holy Eucharist.
The prayer of faith, Jesus said in the gospels, can move mountains. Maybe, as part of God's great plan, it is the prayers of faith on Divine Mercy Sunday, above all other times and seasons, that will open the floodgates of God's love and finally bring about the great triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Merciful Heart of her Son.
So, maybe St. Faustina was not mistaken in entry 965 after all!
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. 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.