By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (May 14, 2013)
Almost two months ago, a woman named Donna sent me the following, fascinating question, which I have been looking forward to having a try at answering. So, first of all, Donna, please pardon my delay in getting to your question, and thank you for your patience! Here is her question:
Understanding that the good Lord uses donkeys and fools to confound the intellectuals and heretics, why is it that He only seems to come to people like St. Faustina and Sr. Josefa Menendez ... who are humble, religious, and uneducated types? ...
Why would He not think that it might make an even bigger, better impression on the world as a whole to use someone who is of high social stature and intellect, and who is not a religious, or even a non-believer! Don't you think that would rock the world if the president of Israel came out and said, "Jesus is the Son of God; He visits me regularly and has told me things to repeat to the world"?
OK, I know that the president of Israel is wildly far-fetched. ... However, even someone who is a world renowned scientist/non-believer or a major athlete/non-believer. Or let's say Bill Gates — even though he is a philanthropist doesn't mean he is religious — or even Jerry Springer, the wild talk show host! I'm sure you get my meaning.
I wonder what kind of impact that would have? Don't you think it would have a much bigger impact than those who are already full believers and have given their lives to His Church, telling the world? Far be it from me to tell the good Lord how to go about His perfect business, and St. Faustina is my patron saint. I love that He uses the humble and meek to confound the intellectuals, but I just think it would absolutely amaze the planet if He used someone that does not know him "personally" and is world renowned for doing something big career-wise, etc., don't you?
Well, Donna, I can certainly see your point. Sometimes down through history, God has indeed chosen someone of high-station to receive his special revelations. Think of St. Paul, for example, who received an appearance and message from the risen Christ on the Damascus road. He was certainly a prominent Pharisee of his day, and the most famous persecutor of the early Church. Or how about the Roman Emperor Constantine, who saw a symbol of Christ in the clouds and heard the message "in this sign, conquer"? He was the emperor who finally lifted the terrible persecution of Christians throughout the Roman Empire once and for all. Of course, Constantine remained something of an unregenerate rogue, and to some extent his rudimentary embrace of the Faith was a mixed blessing for the Church — but that's another story!
I can think of a big problem that God must face whenever He considers "using" a well-known and influential person, especially an influential non-believer, as a vehicle of his special revelations to the world: Most of them, I would guess, prefer not to be "used"! A heart that is normally closed to any kind of personal relationship with Jesus Christ is not likely to be suddenly moved or persuaded just because he (or she) seems to experience some kind of dream, vision, apparition or locution from the Lord, or from His Blessed Mother. Think of what Ebeneezer Scrooge said when he first saw the ghost of Jacob Marley in Dicken's A Christmas Carol: "you might be just a bit of undigested beef ... there is more of gravy than the grave about you!" In other words, Scrooge "wrote off" the apparition as just a side effect of indigestion! I can imagine that our Lord has made special attempts to reach out and call to His service many wealthy and influential people, and most of them just dismiss the whole thing as an hallucination, and take the whole sad story to their therapists to be explained away as the result of the psychological traumas they suffered in their childhood!
Another problem with choosing the influential non-believer to be a message-bearer of the Lord is that even if such people accepted the supernatural reality of the messages they were receiving, the messages all too likely would be seriously distorted in the process of reception and transmission. Remember that the Lord seeks to work in the world through human cooperation. He doesn't want to force His help upon the world — He respects our freedom. But that faulty free will of ours (especially the free will of the unregenerate unbeliever) can be the source of all kinds of errors in communicating God's truth.
In his book A Still Small Voice: A Practical Guide to Reports of Private Revelations, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, lists many potential sources of error in private revelations, including a faulty interpretation of the revelation received; subjective, psychological needs; errors of remembering and recording; and errors of reporting. That is one reason why even special revelations and messages received by the saints are not accepted by the Church as the equivalent of infallible doctrinal definitions, or inerrant Holy Scripture. There may be a small admixture of error or distortion even in what God communicates to us through the saints: how much more so through the worldly and the influential, especially if they are unbelievers, weak, or altogether lacking in sanctifying grace!
In short, if God wants to shine a light into our darkened world, it stands to reason that in most cases He will need to use the clearest window for that light to shine through: those who are humble, and totally dedicated to Him already, such as a St. Faustina and a Sr. Josefa, are usually the best windows He can find.
Finally, as you already intimated in your question, Donna, there is another reason that our Lord chooses the weak and those who are of no account: to confound those of high-station, whether they are arrogant intellectuals, or the prideful wealthy and powerful of this world. As St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:7: "We have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us." If God sent His revelations and messages to the world through the highly skilled, highly educated, wealthy and well-placed of this world, many people might think (indeed, even the recipient of the messages themselves might think) that there was something about them that made them "worthy" of being the messengers of the Lord. It could lead to their spiritual demise — and therefore, also, to public scandal. It was hard enough for recipients of special revelations to remain on the road to sanctity afterward (recall how St. Faustina became thereby the special object of Satanic attack and of misunderstanding and persecution by her fellow sisters in religion). Add to that the temptation to pride, and you have the recipe for spiritual disaster!
That's why our Lord most often chooses those who are humble, who know their weaknesses and limitations, and who know well that anything good in them comes from the grace of God. Our Lady (who received the most important special revelation of all, through the angel Gabriel) is the best example of this of all: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden. ... For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name" (Lk 1: 46-49).
Donna, since you mentioned Sr. Josefa Menedez and the special revelations she received about the Heart of Jesus — and since the record of those revelations was given a "nihil obstat" by the Church, and since the book that contains them is one of my favorites in the whole history of Catholic Spirituality! — I will close this column with a revelation she received from Jesus about this very topic, and then with a prayer recorded by St. Faustina too:
Leave yourself in My hands, Josefa. I will use you as seems best to Me. What of your littleness and weakness ... no matter ... All I ask of you is to love and console Me. I want you to know how dearly My Heart loves you, how great are the riches it contains, and you must be like soft wax that I may mold to My liking. ... You must not be troubled ... I want you to be nothing that I may be All. The smaller a thing is, the more easily it can be handled. It is just because you are so paltry a thing that I can use you as I like. You know well that I need nothing ... and all I ask you is to be plastic in My Hands. ... But look and you will see what I can fashion out of your nothingness! (TAN paperback edition, pp. 33, and 338-339).
Jesus, Eternal Light, enlighten my mind, strengthen my will, inflame my heart and be with me as You have promised, for without You I am nothing. You know, Jesus, how weak I am. I do not need to tell You this, for You yourself know perfectly well how wretched I am. It is in You that all my strength lies (Diary of St. Faustina, 495).
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. 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.