Photo: Felix Carroll
Salvation: As Easy as Your ABCs?
An Interview with Fr. George Kosicki, Master of the Mnemonic
He's an author, speaker, and teacher. And if that's not enough, he's also a hermit and a biochemist. But Fr. George Kosicki, CSB, is probably best known for his work with the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, spreading the message of Divine Mercy. The author of such books as John Paul II: The Great Mercy Pope, Mercy Minutes, and O Blessed Host: The Holy Eucharist in the Diary of St. Faustina, sat down for an interview recently at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, in Stockbridge, Mass., after a recent talk he gave on his favorite topic: Divine Mercy.
Father George, why Divine Mercy?
In the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy are the words "Have mercy on us and on the whole world." The Divine Mercy message is a call for a global consciousness. It's a prayer for the whole world. And if you don't realize the world is in bad shape, you are really in bad shape. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), explains it all well. He writes of how uneasiness — or lack of peace — in the hearts of people is the real problem in the world. The world, more than anything, needs mercy — mercy from one another and mercy from God. God redeeming us? That's mercy. Sanctifying us? That's mercy. Why did God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son to the world? Total mercy. Total gift. Total love. This message goes to the heart of the Gospel. I'm convinced of the reality that this is the message for our times, as John Paul said. The message of Divine Mercy is to prepare the world for the coming of the Lord.
What did you think when you first read Saint Faustina's Diary?
To me, it was like an instruction manual for salvation. There's no trick to it. You don't need a degree in theology.
Along those lines, you're notorious for your ability to break things down in a way that people can understand and remember. I'm referring to your "ABC's of mercy."
I'm a big fan of mnemonics — a form of words or letters that assists the memory. The ABC's of mercy are to:
Ask for His mercy;
Be merciful to others; and to
Completely trust in Jesus.
You ask for the Father's mercy in order to be merciful as He is, and to completely trust in Jesus. That's it.
What other mnemonics have you devised?
"Trust" is a mnemonic for:
The saving truth, of course, is Jesus Christ. And "mercy" is:
But understanding the message of mercy is one thing. You stress in your talks and books the importance of living the message every day. Explain.
Pope John Paul II made it clear that we are to be apostles of Divine Mercy. We are to give witness to the Lord's mercy by our lives and by our proclamation of the mercy of the Lord. In a time of prayer before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, I was inspired to summarize the challenge before us to be apostles of Divine Mercy.
Do I sense a mnemonic coming?
Yes! To carry out this challenge of being apostles of Divine Mercy, we must "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful" (Lk 6:36). This means that you and I must be merciful with the very mercy of our heavenly Father! To be merciful in that way we needs "darts."
Desire His mercy;
Ask for His mercy;
Recognize and receive His mercy;
Thank Him for it; and
Share it with others.
You're a teacher at heart.
I have dozens of them, including one for Mary:
It not only helps you remember, but it teaches. Also, I have three ways of expressing "presence." That's what spiritual communion is about — presence. So first, we want to be present before the One who is present — that is to say, present to the presence of God in our hearts. The second is to be present to the present — not the past, not the future, but right now, the continual now. The third is to be present to the present, which is the gift of mercy.
You have a doctorate in biochemistry. Do you have any equations to share?
Suffering + Love = Joy. Everyone is suffering. Everyone wants joy. But what we are missing is love. Love is the continual spiritual communion with God.
How did you first learn about Divine Mercy?
Through my mother, in the early 1940s. Probably '42, '43. The same time Fr. Seraphim [Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, one of the world's most renowned experts on Divine Mercy] learned about it. The same time the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, learned about it. The Marians, who had already begun to spread the message in 1941, moved one of their houses to Detroit, where I was born and my mother lived. My mother did the Divine Mercy devotions. She prayed the Chaplet. I didn't fully understand it all at the time. But in 1972 or '73, I met Fr. Seraphim in Detroit. I was leading a prayer meeting that spawned from the charismatic renewal movement. We asked him to join our team of priests. He was with us for two years. When the ban on Divine Mercy was lifted in 1978, Fr. Seraphim gave a grand lecture on Divine Mercy. It was really inspiring. From then on, I moved more and more toward making the spread of Divine Mercy my life's work. The big leap came for me when I was living outside of Steubenville, Ohio, at a hermitage. There was a Polish hermit there, Fr. Charles Kubsz. He's the first priest I met who could really tell you what you needed and where you were at in your life without even asking you. He said: "Get into Divine Mercy full time." He kept insisting to me: "God is calling you to be an apostle of Divine Mercy."
You then came to Eden Hill, in Stockbridge, Mass., where the Marians administer the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. You were the right man at the right time.
Well, I like to get things done yesterday. And we had plenty to do. This was in the 1980s. It was an exciting time. I helped to oversee the production of the film, "Divine Mercy — No Escape" and the publication of the English edition of St. Faustina's Diary and The Life of Faustina Kowalska, by Sr. Sophia Michalenko, CMGT. I was just one of the workhorses helping to organize everything.
When the film "Divine Mercy, No Escape," came out, you went to the Vatican to meet Pope John Paul II. Tell me about that.
There was a point when the Holy Father was kneeling and praying, and I could just about reach out and touch him. I tried to pray, too. But I was so distracted. I wanted to know: "What's he praying for?" Then, 10 years later, I heard him say in Lagiewniki, Poland, "I pray unceasingly, 'Have mercy on us and on the whole world.' " When I heard that, I said, "Way to go, Pope. You're right on!"
One of your early books was Tell My Priests, in which you encourage the laity to share the message of Divine Mercy with their pastors. Do we still have a problem with priests who want nothing to do with Divine Mercy?
Well, I've traveled to four continents and given more than 100 retreats to priests. And, yes, it's a problem. The reason is because they haven't read the Holy Father, John Paul II. Even before that, they do not have the experience of the presence and the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in their hearts. The seminarian training is all up here in the stupid cranium rather than here in the heart.
When priests come to my hermitage for retreats I explain Divine Mercy to them. But I start on my front porch. I tell them: "First, we're going to take 60 seconds for silence." Ninety feet down below is the valley and the small river. "Just listen," I say. Then I say: "Praise be the Lord Jesus Christ. That's why I'm here. I need to hear the Lord." And the Lord speaks very loudly and very clearly, but in a very strange language called silence. So many of priests are either in business meetings or watching the stupid television or answering the cell phone or at the computer, and they don't know they have to shut their heads off and move down to the heart and listen. God pours His love out and speaks to us of love and mercy, but we don't even hear Him. So how can we accept His Divine Mercy if we don't hear Him?
What we especially need is a healing of spiritual deafness. And that's the big problem with priests. They don't understand God's way of dealing with us — that this mercy is God's love being poured out.
A big problem is that some priests discount private revelation. Why is private revelation, such as St. Faustina experienced, so vital to the Church?
Twice in Ephesians it says, "We have apostles, prophets, pastors." So who are the prophets of our time? The ones who receive His voice. Saint Faustina received His voice. Margaret Mary. Others, too. They were able to hear the Word of God. This is God speaking to our time. And all it does is illustrate the Scriptures. All St. Faustina was recording in her Diary is the application of the Word of God. It doesn't replace it. It fulfills it.
And devotion? Why are devotions important?
The root word of "devotion" is devotio in Latin. It means "pay your vows to â€¦ submit to â€¦ consecrate yourself to." People who have a problem with devotions typically are the people who don't pray, themselves. They don't take an hour before the Eucharist daily. We have to be there before the Lord. The Eucharist radiates. It's "radiation therapy."
What do you recommend to people who are just learning about the message of Divine Mercy?
Before they read the Diary, I recommend the leaflet Devotion to The Divine Mercy. I give these out by the thousands. It provides all the basic information about the devotion. Then I say, "Just look at the image of The Divine Mercy." The two hands of Jesus Christ tell the story. The left hand says: "Come to Me. Come to My mercy. Come to My forgiveness. I love you. Come." The right hand is a blessing of peace. Start with that. Then, read a biography on St. Faustina. Then, you'll want to read the Diary.
How does living as a hermit, way out in the woods of upper Michigan, help you stay focused on God?
The solitude enables silence, which enables the Word of the Lord to be heard in my heart. I live each day offering, entrusting, trusting, rejoicing, smiling at the Lord, singing of His mercies, giving thanks. And in my hermitage, I've posted 3x5 cards all over the place with a very simple, but powerful, reminder to myself: "Trust in Jesus even more."