In Faustina, Saint for Our Times, Fr. George Kosicki, CSB, gives us an insightful look into St. Maria Faustina Kowalska's life, spirituality, and mission.
Photo: Marian archives
His 'Personal Task Before God'
By Fr. George Kosicki, CSB (Jan 18, 2011)
Pope John Paul II, who will be beatified on May 1, first heard of Sr. Faustina from a classmate in the clandestine seminary in Krakow, Poland. The classmate is now known as Cardinal Andrew Deskur. He told Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope John Paul II) about Sr. Faustina, the Polish mystic who received messages from the Lord about His mercy. Cardinal Deskur, who lives in the Vatican, has continued to be a major source of information and motivation for promoting the cause of Sr. Faustina. He wrote in the introduction to the first edition of the Diary of St. Faustina in Polish:
A comprehensive study in order to indicate the affinity of ideas found in the Diary of St. Faustina and this encyclical [Dives in Misericordia, John Paul II, November, 1980] (not to mention their probable interdependence) would be most welcome. These salient points certainly are numerous, for they draw their inspiration from the same source; namely, from the revelation of God and the teaching of Christ. Furthermore, they come from the same spiritual environment, from Krakow, the city which, as far as I know, possesses the oldest church dedicated to the honor of The Divine Mercy. It is likewise necessary to stress that it was Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the Archbishop of Krakow at that time, who made efforts to begin The Process of Beatification of Sister Faustina Kowalska and did inaugurate that process.
As priest and bishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla often visited the convent where Sr. Faustina died and was buried (related by mother Pauline Slomka, Superior General of the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, the congregation to which Sr. Faustina belonged).
Process of Beatification
During the Second Vatican Council, Archbishop Karol Wojtyla conferred with Cardinal Ottaviani about the desire of the faithful in Poland to have Sr. Faustina raised to the honor of the altar. Cardinal Ottaviani told him to gather the sworn testimonies of those who knew her while they were still alive.
On Aug. 21, 1965, Fr. Michael Sopocko (the spiritual director of Sr. Faustina) stayed a few hours at the house of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Krakow, and then had an audience with Archbishop Wojtyla. He asked the archbishop about the possible beatification of Sr. Faustina. His Excellency replied: "This matter is foremost on my mind, maybe we will still be able to begin it this year" (Kalendarium, p. 253).
Archbishop Karol Wojtyla delegated his auxiliary bishop, Julian Groblicki, to begin the Informative Process of the life and virtues of Sr. Faustina. In September, 1967, the Informative Process in Krakow was solemnly closed by Cardinal Wojtyla.
Dives in Misericordia
On the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 30, 1980, Pope John Paul II published his second encyclical letter Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), in which he stresses that Jesus Christ has revealed God, who is rich in mercy, as Father. He speaks of mercy as "the most stupendous attribute of the Creator and Redeemer" (13). Describing the mercy of God as the presence of love which is greater than evil, greater than sin, and greater than death, he summons the Church to plead for God's mercy on the whole world (15).
The publishing of Rich in Mercy was a significant event in the life of the Holy Father in his relationship to Sr. Faustina and the Divine Mercy message and devotion. George Weigel in Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (Harper Collins, 1999) records his personal interview with John Paul II about the encyclical on Divine Mercy and the influence of Sr. Faustina:
As Archbishop of Krakow, Wojtyla had defended Sr. Faustina when her orthodoxy was being posthumously questioned in Rome, due in large part to a faulty translation into Italian of her Diary, and had promoted the cause of her beatification. John Paul II, who said that he felt spiritually "very near" to Sr. Faustina, had been "thinking about her for a long time" when he began Dives in Misericordia. (Author's personal conversation with Pope John Paul II, Jan. 16, 1997, p. 387).
Pope John Paul II felt spiritually "very near" to Sr. Faustina! And he was "thinking about her for a long time" when he began the encyclical, Rich in Mercy! This is the Pope's personal witness to the influence of Sr. Faustina and the Divine Mercy message and devotion on his life. I was ecstatic when I read this in George Weigel's book, and I wrote a letter of thanks to him.
But there is more influence in his life that he personally testifies to.
Shrine of Merciful Love
On Nov. 22, 1981, the Feast of Christ the King, Pope John Paul II traveled to the Shrine of Merciful Love, near Todi, Italy, where he made a strong public declaration about the importance of the message of mercy:
A year ago I published the encyclical Dives in Misericordia. This circumstance made me come to the Sanctuary of Merciful Love today. By my presence I wish to reconfirm, in a way, the message of that encyclical. I wish to read it again and deliver it again.
Right from the beginning of my ministry in St. Peter's See in Rome, I considered this message my special task. Providence has assigned it to me in the present situation of man, the Church and the world. It could be said that precisely this situation assigned that message to me as my task before God.
Providence has assigned the message of Divine Mercy to John Paul II "as my personal task before God!"
Mercy Sunday 1991
On Mercy Sunday, April 10, 1991, two years prior to the beatification of Sr. Faustina, John Paul II spoke about Sr. Faustina. He showed his great respect for her, relating her to his encyclical, Rich in Mercy, and emphasizing her role in bringing the message of mercy to the world:
The words of the encyclical on Divine Mercy (Dives in Misericordia) are particularly close to us. They recall the figure of the Servant of God, Sister Faustina Kowalska. This simple woman religious particularly brought the Easter message of the merciful Christ closer to Poland and the whole world.
And today? ... Is it perhaps not necessary to translate into the language of today's generations the words of the Gospel, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy"? (Mt 5:7)
On Divine Mercy Sunday, April 18, 1993, Sr. Faustina was beatified by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square. He began his homily with a quotation from her Diary:
"I clearly feel that my mission does not end with death, but begins," Sister Faustina wrote in her Diary. And it truly did! Her mission continues and is yielding astonishing fruit. It is truly marvelous how her devotion to the merciful Jesus is spreading in our contemporary world and gaining so many human hearts! This is doubtlessly a sign of the times — a sign of our 20th century. The balance of this century which is now ending, in addition to the advances which have often surpassed those of preceding eras, presents a deep restlessness and fear of the future. Where, if not in The Divine Mercy, can the world find refuge and the light of hope? Believers understand that perfectly.
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is merciful.
"Where, if not in the Divine Mercy, can the world find refuge and the light of hope?" is an expression of the theme of John Paul II's pontificate.
Divine Mercy Sunday 1994
I'm amazed at the prophetic description of our time by John Paul II on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 10, 1994. He asked, "Who can say he is free from sin and does not need God's mercy?" Then he went on to show how we need to experience mercy in our time:
As people of this restless time of ours, wavering between the emptiness of self-exaltation and the humiliation of despair, we have a greater need than ever for a regenerating experience of mercy. We should learn to say repeatedly to God with the faith and simplicity of children: "Great is our sin, but even greater is your love!" (Vespers hymn during the season of Lent).
Opening ourselves to mercy, we must not be content with mediocrity and sin, but on the contrary, we must be revived by resolutions to lead a new life.
O Mary, Mother of mercy! You know the heart of your divine Son better than anyone. Instill in us the filial trust in Jesus practiced by the saints, the trust that animated Blessed Faustina Kowalska, the great apostle of Divine Mercy in our time.
Look lovingly upon our misery: O Mother, draw us away from the contrary temptations of self-sufficiency and despair, and obtain for us an abundance of saving mercy.
— John Paul II, Regina Caeli, April 10, 1994
On Divine Mercy Sunday, April 30, 2000, before some 250,000 pilgrims and the television cameras of the world, Pope John Paul II canonized Sr. Faustina Kowalska, "the great apostle of Divine Mercy."
But he also "canonized" the Divine Mercy message and devotion by declaring the Second Sunday of Easter as "Divine Mercy Sunday" for the universal Church:
It is important that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called "Divine Mercy Sunday." (Divine Mercy Sunday, April 30, 2000)
Divine Mercy Sunday capsulizes the Divine Mercy message and devotion, and in this way by the declaration of Divine Mercy Sunday, he "canonized" the Divine Mercy message and devotion.
In one of the most extraordinary homilies of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II repeated three times that Sr. Faustina is "God's gift to our time." She made the message of Divine Mercy the "bridge to the third millennium." He then said:
By this act of canonization of Sr. Faustina I intend today to pass this message on to the third millennium. I pass it on to all people, so that they will learn to know ever better the true face of God and the true face of their neighbor. In fact, love of God and love of one's neighbor are inseparable.
He exhorted all of us to join our voices to Mary, Mother of Mercy, and St. Faustina "who made her life a hymn to mercy" and "sing the mercies of the Lord for ever" (Ps 89:2).
He further exhorted us to make our own her prayer of trusting abandonment and say with firm hope:
Jesus I trust in You!
+ + + The Marians invite you to a pilgrimage to Rome for the beatification of John Paul II. Learn more. + + +
Father George W. Kosicki is a longtime collaborator with the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception in spreading the message of Divine Mercy. In 1987, he headed their Divine Mercy Department in Stockbridge, Mass., which was responsible for editing and proofing the English translation of the Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska.