Endorsed by EWTN hosts Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ, and Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, this do-it-yourself retreat combines the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius with the teachings of Sain... Read more
Yes, Let's Compare
By Harvey D. Egan, S.J. (Nov 4, 2010)
The following is an excerpt from a collection of essays by various authors that focuses on St. Faustina and other saints. The full collection will be posted online at thedivinemercy.org by the end of the year.
Reading St. Faustina's Diary for points of convergence between her and St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, I was drawn to several facets of Faustina's spirituality and mysticism. One could, of course, take these same aspects and find similarities between Faustina and other saints and mystics in the Christian tradition. On the other hand, I do not find the following comparisons between Faustina and Ignatius arbitrary or without merit.
Faustina taught that "virtue without prudence is not virtue at all. . . . Prudence consists in discretion, rational reflection and courageous resolution. The final decision is always up to us" (Diary, 1106). One hallmark of Ignatian spirituality is "discreet love." In Ignatius's rules for the discernment of spirits, he states, "it is characteristic of the evil spirit to harass with anxiety, to afflict with sadness, to raise obstacles backed by fallacious reasonings that disturb the soul." Ignatius taught that the gift of the discernment of spirits "is helped by man's activity, especially his prudence and learning." Even God-given revelations must be examined. "Every prudent man," Ignatius wrote, "ought to be given arguments that would satisfy an understanding that is based on reason ..." He counseled in many of his letters to examine matters "in the light of reason." A paean to discretion can be found in his profound letter to the Jesuits studying at Coimbra, Portugal.
Moreover, Ignatius says, "in all that concerns the spiritual life ... progress will be in proportion to his surrender of self-love and of his own will and interests." Ignatius would have also undoubtedly praised Faustina for the heroic self-denial, abnegation, and mortification manifested abundantly throughout her Diary (377, 462).
Faustina prayed to the Lord: "Since my youth I have always sought your will and, recognizing it, have always tried to carry it out" (Diary, 1504, my emphasis). She considered obedience the only virtue the devil could not feign (Diary, 981). One also finds in her Diary one of the most powerful descriptions in the Christian tradition of the crucifying effects of genuine obedience. "For two years now," she wrote, "I have been on the cross between heaven and earth. ... I am bound by the vow of obedience and must obey the superior as God himself. And, on the other hand, God makes His will known to me directly, and so my inner torture is so great that no one will either understand or imagine these spiritual sufferings. It seems to me that it would be easier to give up my life than to go again and again through one hour of such pain. ... [O]ne cannot describe what it is like to know God's will directly and at the same time to be perfectly obedient to the divine will as expressed indirectly through superiors. Thanks be to God that He has given me a director" (Diary, 981). Part of Faustina's dark nights revolved around her sacrificial obedience.
Ignatius sought mystical experiences not for themselves but in order to learn, to have confirmed, and to accomplish God's will. His Spiritual Exercises embrace "every way of preparing and disposing the soul to rid itself of all inordinate attachments, and, after their removal, of seeking and finding the will of God in the disposition of our life for the salvation of our soul." The prayer, "May Christ our Lord help us all with his bountiful grace, so that we may know his holy will and perfectly fulfill it," ended most of his nearly 7,000 letters.
Although graced with a profound mystical life, Ignatius exhorted his men in another direction, that is, to find God in all things. He preferred the "mortified man" to the "man of prayer." For him, the mortified man finds God more easily in 15 minutes of prayer than the unmortified in two hours. To be sure, Ignatius considered obedience the hallmark of the mortified man.
When Faustina was only 24 years old, she had an important vision of Christ. She wrote: "Jesus appeared suddenly at my side clad in a white garment with a golden girdle around His waist, and He said to me, 'I give you eternal love that your purity may be untarnished and as a sign that you will never be subject to temptations against purity.' Jesus took off His golden cincture and tied it around my waist. Since then I have never experienced any attacks against this virtue, either in my heart or in my mind. I later understood that this was one of the greatest graces which the Most Holy Virgin Mary had obtained for me, as for many years I had been asking this grace of her. Since that time I have experienced an increasing devotion to the Mother of God" (Diary, 40).
For Ignatius, dueling, brawling, gambling, and womanizing became a part of his life. Years later, while recovering from a serious battle injury, Ignatius had a transforming vision of the Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus. He felt remorse for all his past sins, especially for those of the flesh. He never again gave in to the weakness of the flesh.
Thus, both Faustina and Ignatius received the gift of infused chastity. This grace confirmed the virginal life Faustina had led. On the other hand, Ignatius received healing and transformation after years of womanizing. And whereas Faustina "never experienced any attacks" against purity thereafter, Ignatius "never again consented . . . to the motions of the flesh." Faustina seems to have received a deeper gift of infused chastity.
Ignatius described one of the most important events in his life this way: "One time he [Ignatius] went, following his devotion, to a church a little more than a mile from Manresa, which I believe was called St. Paul's. The road ran next to the [Cardoner] river. As he went along, occupied with his devotions, he sat down for a while with his face toward the river, which there ran deep. As he sat, the eyes of his understanding began to open; not that he saw a vision, but (he came) to understand and know many things, matters spiritual and those pertaining to faith and learning. This took place with such great clarity that everything appeared to him to be something new. And it happened to enlighten his understanding in such a manner that he thought of himself as if he were another man and that he had an intellect different from the one he had before. He cannot expound in detail what he then understood, for they were many things, but he can state that he received such a lucidity in understanding that during the course of his entire life — now having passed his 62nd year — if he were to gather all the help he received from God and everything he knew and add them together, he does not think they would add up to all that he received on that one occasion."
This architectonic experience transformed Ignatius into "another man" with a different intellect. Although not a vision, this incident of holistic enlightenment bestowed upon him the particular mystical horizon against which he would then understand all reality. His intellectual conversion became not only the "eyeglasses" through which he now participated in God's wisdom but also the means through which he came to understand new things "pertaining to faith and learning." He was not the first in the Christian mystical tradition to be graced with infused knowledge.
God also imparted to Faustina intellectual clarity and infused knowledge. Claiming that she rarely had apparitions, she also said: "But I more often commune with the Lord in a more profound manner. My senses sleep and, although not in a visible way, all things become more real and clearer to me than if I saw them with my eyes. My intellect learns more in one moment than during long years of thinking and meditation, both as regards the essence of God and as regards revealed truths, and also as regards the knowledge of my own misery" (Diary, 882). Thus, Ignatius's Cardoner experience was not only more holistic and architectonic than Faustina's, but also involved matters pertaining to "learning."
One scholar of mysticism has called Ignatius's diary "one of the purest examples of direct reporting of mystical experiences in Christian history." Extraordinary trinitarian, Christocentric, eucharistic, and Marian mystical insights, experiences, and prayer permeate the diary. It is the explicitly trinitarian dimension of Ignatius's spirituality and mysticism that I wish to underscore here.
Although less markedly trinitarian than Ignatius's, Faustina's Diary contains several significant trinitarian entries. For example, she spoke of being touched by God, communing with the heavenly Father, and "drawn into the glowing center of love." Here, she "saw the joy of the Incarnate Word." Then she was immersed in the Divine Trinity.
"Such tremendous love for the heavenly Father enveloped me that I call this day an uninterrupted ecstasy of love" (Diary, 1121). Her desire to drown in God's three-fold essence led to union with the Three Persons, to deeper knowledge of the Trinity, to being drawn into the "bosom of the Most Holy Trinity" and to being "immersed in the love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" (Diary, 1129, 1304, 1439, 1670). God would sometimes enlighten her with respect to the Divine Essence. "He allowed me to understand His interior life" (Diary, 911), she wrote. She also saw spiritually "the Three Divine Persons, but Their Essence was One. ... When I was united to One, I was equally united to the Second and to the Third ..." (Diary, 911). God espoused her through a purely interior act that drew her into "the very burning center of God's love. I have come to understand His Trinitarian Quality and the absolute Oneness of His Being" (Diary, 1020). In one remarkable passage, Faustina testified that Christ's "Trinitarian Being" enveloped her entirely with such intimacy that her heart was married to His and she could "feel the faintest stir of His Heart and He, of mine" (Diary, 1056).
One of Ignatius's companions, Diego Laynez, said that Ignatius confided to him that "after having read the lives of many saints, unless indeed there had been in their lives more than had been written, he would not readily consent to exchange with them what he himself had known and tasted of God. ... He was accustomed to say that he was coming to believe that no other man could be found in whom God had joined these two things together as in himself: on his part to have sinned so much, and on God's part to have granted so many graces." Despite Ignatius's modesty and terse speech, he claimed, in effect, to be one of the most graced saints in Christian history.
One finds something similar in Faustina's Diary. After a mystical ecstasy, she said: "When I came to myself, a profound peace was flooding my soul, and an extraordinary understanding of many things was communicated to my intellect, an understanding that had not been granted me previously. ... I would not want to change places even with a seraph, as regards the interior knowledge of God that He himself has given me. The intimate knowledge I have of the Lord is such as no creature can comprehend, particularly, the depth of his mercy that envelops me" (Diary, 1048-49). Yet another example of Faustina's claim to a unique relationship with God is given in this Diary entry: "There is one mystery which unites me with the Lord, of which no one — not even angels — may know. And even if I wanted to tell of it, I would not know how to express it. And yet, I live by it and will by it for ever. This mystery distinguishes me from every other soul here on earth or in eternity" (Diary, 824).
Harvey D. Egan, S.J., is professor emeritus in Boston College's Theology Department. He's a well-known author and speaker. Much of his work focuses on Christian mysticism.