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.
How Are We to Respond to God's Mercy?
The following is an excerpt from the new book Faustina, Saint For Our Times: A Personal Look at Her Life, Spirituality, and Legacy (Marian Press), by the Rev. George W. Kosicki, CSB, and with David C. Came.
How can we best respond to God's unfathomable mercy? In this Chapter, I will describe various dimensions of our response to The Divine Mercy message and devotion given to St. Faustina. I will consider the teaching of the Church, the condition of the world desperately in need of mercy, the demands of our Lord to us through St. Faustina, and the call to be witnesses of mercy in our day, as given by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. I will also suggest ways to grow in our response by trust, prayer, and study, as well as ways to proclaim Divine Mercy.
It's All About Trust
When fears of unknown or known origin, anxieties and confusion, and resentments all converge at once, we can easily ask ourselves this question. "What is it all about?" Then, add to it worries over family and finances. Mix in strained relations with those at work and frustration with our jobs. Finally. top it off with sickness. It is then that we scream, "Lord, what is it all about? Help! Mercy!"
It is precisely, then, that we need to try to listen to the silent voice of God deep within our hearts, pleading with us, crying out like a voice in the desert, "Trust Me!" God speaks very loudly, but His language is usually silence (see Diary, 888). Once our hearts are stilled, His most common words to us are: "Do not be afraid. I am with you. Trust Me." This message is often found in the Sacred Scriptures, because it is so fundamental to our human predicament. Consider this verse from the Psalms: "Trust God at all times, my people! Pour out your hearts to God our refuge!" (Ps 62:9).
Trust in the Lord is what it is all about. Trust is the humble and free exercise of our free will, submitting our will to the will of God. It is our faith, hope, and love put into action in responding to God's great mercy. Trust is a concrete and practical way to practice humility.
It calls us to rely on God as the giver of all good gifts and the provider of all our needs. Trust is a way to proclaim the truth that God is my Creator and Redeemer who cares for me.
The powerful prayer of the heart "Jesus, I trust in You!" is our basic response to the question: "What's it all about?" It's all about trusting in Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. In proclaiming "Jesus, I trust in You," I proclaim Jesus as the source of all grace and light in the midst of my darkness. This proclamation helps clear the cloud of fears and anxieties within and around me. It is a battle cry that pierces the gloom, drawing our attention to the victory already won in heaven by Jesus, so that the victory may be ours on earth.
The cry of "Jesus, I trust in You" is an effective plea for the coming of the kingdom where Jesus reigns, to the glory of the Father. It is a cry of victory over the works of the Evil One. Our profession "Jesus, I trust in You" proclaims to our God that "the kingdom, the power, and the glory are Yours now and forever. Amen."
Turning to the imagery of St. Faustina, trust in the Lord opens the floodgates of God's mercy upon us. God just can't resist the humble, trusting soul, and He floods it with His love and mercy. We learn this time and again in the Diary.
Repeatedly, in His conversations with Sister Faustina, the Lord spoke of His merciful response to souls that trust in Him: I desire to grant unimaginable graces, He told her, to those souls who trust in My mercy. ... Sooner would heaven and earth turn into nothingness than would My mercy not embrace a trusting soul (Diary 687, 1777).
Over and over again, He stressed that He could never reject a repentant heart, never refuse an appeal to His mercy:
I am Mercy itself for the contrite soul. ... Souls that make an appeal to My mercy delight me. To such souls, I grant even more graces than they ask. I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to My compassion (Diary 1739, 1146).
The Gift of God's Peace
In His conversations with Sister Faustina, The Lord emphasized the connection between turning to His mercy and finding peace:
The flames of mercy are burning Me. I desire to pour them out upon human souls. Oh, what pain they cause Me when they do not want to accept them!
My daughter, do whatever is within your power to spread devotion to My mercy. I will make up for what you lack. Tell aching mankind to snuggle close to My merciful Heart, and I will fill it with peace (Diary, 1074).
This is the peace of the Lord that we so desperately need in our lives when we are troubled or agitated. But this peace that comes from trusting in God's mercy isn't just for us individually. No, it is also for nations and the whole world. The path to peace is not found in summit meetings, stockpiling arms, or in acquiring more material goods. The path to peace is found only in trusting in God's mercy for our lives. Our Lord makes this quite clear through His powerful words to Sister Faustina: Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy (Diary, 300).
So, what's it all about?
Some Tips for Growing in Trust
To grow in trust, especially when you are in difficulty, try repeating over and over again, from the heart: "Jesus, I trust in You!" Make it a cry of the heart to the Lord in your immediate need. Be mindful that Jesus is Divine Mercy Incarnate — the One who stands at the door of our hearts, waiting for us to open them even a little bit (see Rev 3:20 and Diary, 1486, 1507). Then, He, in his great mercy, will do the rest.
We can also be mindful that we are called to sign the image of The Divine Mercy with the words "Jesus, I trust in You!" This image of Jesus is a vessel with which we are to keep coming to Him for graces in our need (see Diary, 327). So, in quiet moments throughout your day, gaze upon the image of the Merciful Savior. Carry the image with you on a prayer card, which you can keep in your wallet or purse. Frame a print of the image and place it in your home and office. Look for a decal or magnet, so you can display it on the fridge or the dashboard of your car. Further, look for an image of The Divine Mercy that you can use as a screensaver on your computer.
Here's another tip: In the midst of the battle, shout the victory cheer: T.R.U.S.T.
Trust in Jesus and Desire for Sainthood
As we grow in trusting the Lord, the greatest desire of our heart should be the call to sainthood. Our desire is to live forever with Jesus in heaven and to do His will during our life here on earth. This is the universal call to holiness for all baptized Christians. It is the strong and clear mandate given in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, one of the main documents of the Second Vatican Council.
We have seen in Faustina's great desire to be a saint the fulfillment of this mandate. By canonizing her, the Church has established her as a model of sanctity for all of us. The central message of St. Faustina's life is her complete trust in Jesus. Her great trust enabled her to attain her goal of sainthood. In her Diary, she teaches us that the desire for holiness, when combined with complete trust in God's mercy, makes sainthood accessible to all of us. All God needs is "a bit of good will" from us. Then, He will do the rest:
O my Jesus, how very easy it is to become holy; all that is needed is a bit of good will. If Jesus sees this little bit of good will in the soul, He hurries to give Himself to the soul, and nothing can stop Him, neither shortcomings nor falls — absolutely nothing. Jesus is anxious to help that soul, and if it is faithful to this grace from God, it can very soon attain the highest holiness possible for a creature here on earth. God is very generous and does not deny His grace to anyone. Indeed He gives more than what we ask of Him (Diary, 291).
In another passage, Jesus tells us that even "the greatest sinners" could achieve great holiness if only they would trust in His mercy:
My dearest secretary, write that I want to pour out My divine life into human souls and to sanctify them, if only they were willing to accept My grace. The greatest sinners would achieve great sanctity, if only they would trust in My mercy (Diary, 1784).
We are called to persevere in our trust in the Lord, especially when we suffer or face setbacks in life. Whether the anguish was physical or spiritual, Faustina continued to trust and embrace suffering in the spirit of Jesus. The Lord told her: Both the sinner and the righteous person have need of My mercy. Conversion, as well as perseverance, is a grace of My mercy (Diary, 1577).
Our perseverance is based on our trust in the Lord and His provision for us. After all, everything that the merciful God has arranged for us to experience at every moment is the best and holiest thing possible. Therefore, we should rejoice and give thanks, with an active abandonment to God's will, not just a passive submission. In that spirit, we then do the best we can in each and every vicissitude. As we do this, we can entrust all our concerns to the merciful Heart of Jesus and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of Mercy.
A Life of Prayer
We nurture our relationship of trust in the Lord and our desire for holiness through a life of prayer. Faustina's entire life was given to prayer. She constantly prayed for a deeper trust in the Lord Jesus. She prayed with words and in silent contemplation, keeping herself always mindful of God's indwelling presence. Such a constant attitude of prayer is possible to attain, even in the busy world.
Of course, we all are encouraged to recite the prayers of devotion to The Divine Mercy, especially praying every day at 3 p.m., the Hour of Great Mercy, and praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Our Lord particularly urged Faustina to pray the chaplet at the bedside of the dying.
Saint Faustina also encourages all of us to ask for the Holy Spirit to fill us and set our hearts on fire with the love of God. She instructs the faithful to ask in prayer for God's mercy in order to forgive and to remove any obstacles to unity. Such forgiveness leads to reconciliation, which makes possible the unity that Jesus so desires. We should ask for the Holy Spirit's help in this regard with healing any grudges or resentments with family members and friends.
Further, our prayer takes the form of praise and thanksgiving. By giving thanks always and everywhere, we acknowledge that God is God, that He knows and loves us, and cares for us in every circumstance of our lives. It's so easy in the busyness of life to take God's blessings for granted. This is why it's important to always take time to praise and thank God whenever we pray. As we do, let's remember that all of God's blessings are a sign of His mercy toward us, since they are all gifts from Him.
First and foremost, St. Faustina's prayer life was grounded in reverent and frequent reception of the Sacraments, especially attendance at daily Mass, going to confession regularly, and spending time adoring Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament. As much as our circumstances and responsibilities permit, we should seek to do likewise as the foundation of our prayer life. The Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation are the great Sacraments of Mercy, bringing us the Lord's healing presence, superabundant graces, and forgiveness.
How Do We Show Mercy?
We have been focusing on how we can receive God's mercy through trusting in Jesus and cultivating a life of prayer. Now, we shift gears to focus on how we are called to show mercy to others.
First, it's important to stress that this call to show mercy is at heart of the Gospel. We hear the beatitude of mercy in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Mt 5:7). Then, in St. Luke's Gospel, the Lord tells us, "Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful" (Lk 6:36 RSV). As Christians, we are called to be merciful to others in the same way God the Father is merciful to us. In a word, we are to love our neighbor in need as God has loved us.
Our Lord explained to Sister Faustina that faith alone would not suffice. But there must also be acts of mercy, He told her. Even the strongest faith is of no avail without works (Diary, 742).
Jesus gave her three ways to practice mercy toward our neighbor:
I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first — by deed, the second — by word, the third — by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for Me. By this means a soul glorifies and pays reverence to My mercy (Diary, 742).
These, then, must become our fundamental way of expressing trust in the mercy of God, By deeds of mercy, we show others how to be merciful; by our words of encouragement and advice, in preaching, teaching, and writing, we let others know of God's mercy; by prayer, we implore mercy for sinners and glorify the mercy of the Lord.
The Church has taught the works of mercy in two groups: the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. The Corporal Works of Mercy are: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, comforting the prisoners, visiting the sick, and burying the dead. The Spiritual Works of Mercy include: teaching the ignorant, praying for the living and the dead, correcting sinners, counseling those in doubt, consoling the sorrowful, bearing wrongs patiently, and forgiving wrongs willingly.
For those who feel that these works are too dramatic, too removed from the situations we "ordinary" people encounter in our daily lives, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta offers an explanation that suggests the countless opportunities we all have to be channels of His mercy. She is summing up the words of Jesus Himself in the Gospel account of the Last Judgment (see Mt 25:31-46):
Jesus says, "Whatever you do to the least of your brothers is done in my name. When you receive a little child you receive me. If in my name you give a glass of water, you give it to me." And to make sure that we understand what he is talking about, he says that at the hour of death we are going to be judged only that way. "I was hungry, you gave me to eat. I was naked, you clothed me. I was homeless, you took me in." Hunger is not only for bread; hunger is for love. Nakedness is not only for a piece of clothing; nakedness is lack of human dignity, and also that beautiful virtue of purity, and lack of respect for each other. Homelessness is not only being without a home made of bricks; homelessness is also being rejected, unwanted, unloved (Jesus, the Word to be Spoken, Servant Books, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant Books/St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1998, p. 154).
Jesus emphasized to Sister Faustina that all our works of mercy are to an unquestionable proof of our love for [Him], and they are to become a consistent pattern in our lives. You are to show mercy to your neighbor always and everywhere, He explained. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it (Diary, 742).
This would be an impossible command were it not for our spiritual foundation of trusting in Jesus, The Divine Mercy, which we covered earlier. The Lord says. When a soul approaches Me with trust, I fill it with such an abundance of graces that it cannot contain them within itself, but radiates them to other souls (Diary, 1074).
Living the Lord's Prayer
Once, when Jesus was praying in a certain place (see Lk 11:1), the sight of what He was doing fascinated His disciples, "Lord, teach us to pray," one of the them blurted out. And so, Jesus taught them, but He did more than give them words to say; He gave them a way to live, the way He Himself lived — as Mercy Incarnate.
Jesus lived for His Father, pleasing Him, doing His will to reveal Him as the Father, who is "rich in mercy" (Eph 2:4). In revealing God as the Father, He was proclaiming and establishing the kingdom of God, and in this way, He hallowed the name of the Father and did His will. He trusted in the Father to provide all His needs each day, and He forgave all who hurt Him. By His redemption on the Cross, He forgave us our sins (see Col 1:14), and by His daily living of trust and mercy, He destroyed the power of the Evil One. In a word, he lived and revealed Mercy.
And so for us, too, The Lord's Prayer is a way to live. We can look at this prayer and see two pivotal points: the Father and the kingdom. Our whole life is to be for the Father, who is "rich in mercy." His kingdom is established as we follow Him and do His will. Prayer teaches us how to do His will — by totally trusting in Him for our daily bread, which includes all our daily needs, and then by being merciful as He is merciful, forgiving others' sins as we are forgiven ours. This way, we are not put to the test, but are delivered from the prince of this world, the Evil One.
We are merciful by being continuously forgiving — 70 times seven times a day! This means forgiving in all the great and "little" things of our daily lives, forgiving ourselves, friends, family, co-workers, and even God for situations that displease us. Every time we feel ourselves getting impatient, angry, or frustrated, we have an opportunity to forgive — an opportunity to cry, "I repent, I forgive." I repent for my part in this situation, and I forgive them for their part —"Jesus, mercy!"
A beautiful example of being merciful by forgiving comes out in an incident between two women at a bookshop. The owner came into the bookshop one day, and started directing the work of the manager, and this with her usual gusto. The manager started to fume inside while trying to keep her cool on the outside. Afterwards, she went to her parish priest and vented her feelings about the interference in her work. After she had vented her anger for a while, Father interrupted with the question, "Was the owner right or wrong?"
"She was wrong!" retorted the woman with no uncertainty in her voice.
"Wonderful," Father responded, "now you are in the perfect situation to be a Christian and forgive her!"
To be merciful is to forgive without considering the rightness or the wrongness of the situation. This is the way Christ has forgiven us, and the way we are to forgive one another.
Our Response to the Challenges of St. Faustina, John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI
We called to be Apostles of Divine Mercy and witnesses of mercy, following the example of St. Faustina, the Venerable Servant of God John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI. Remember in particular Pope Benedict's Divine Mercy "mandate," which calls us to "go forth and be witnesses of God's mercy, a source of hope for every person and for the whole world."
How can we do this? We can start by living the ABC's of Mercy:
A: Ask for His Mercy
B: Be Merciful
C: Completely Trust in Jesus.
It is a simple summary of The Divine Mercy message and devotion. Try it! It works well as a reminder.
But there is more that is needed: study, prayer, the witness of our very lives, a relationship with Mary, and offering our sufferings and miseries for others:
STUDY: I suggest you start with helpful books of explanation: The Divine Mercy Message and Devotion (M17) and Now is the Time For Mercy (NTM). Then, learn even more about Faustina's life by reading the longer biography, The Life of Faustina Kowalska, by Sr. Sophia Michalenko, MGT (DML6). Only then would I recommend reading the Diary of St. Faustina and daily devotionals based on the Diary, such as Mercy Minutes: Daily Gems of St. Faustina to Transform Your Prayer Life (MMIN2) and Mercy Minutes with Jesus: Praying Daily on Jesus' Words from the Diary of St. Faustina (MMWJ). Then, to study in more depth themes in the Diary, use the Thematic Concordance to the Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (SGD2). Also, to study Divine Mercy in the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, read John Paul II: The Great Mercy Pope (GMP2) and Pope Benedict's Divine Mercy Mandate (PBBK).
PRAYER: Frequent the Sacraments as much as possible. Take a daily prayer time and include Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament if possible. Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy daily and offer frequently Divine Mercy prayers that are short — especially the prayer "Jesus, I trust in You!" (For more, see the earlier section on prayer and the selection of prayers provided in Chapter 7.)
WITNESS OF OUR VERY LIVES: Tell your personal witness of mercy when asked. My advice on how to reach your parish priest with the message is to offer your help in whatever way he may suggest. Let your humble service of mercy be a living witness to him. Also, consider Faustina's advice. She instructs us to evangelize by living lives of mercy toward others. Her vision of a new congregation included a wider circle of members that could include everyone in the world. No vows would be required of this group. Acts of mercy by words, prayers, and deeds would be their duties:
A member of this group ought to perform at least one act of mercy a day; at least one, but there can be many more, for such deeds can easily be carried out by anyone, even the very poorest. For there are three ways of performing an act of mercy; the merciful word, by forgiving and by comforting; secondly, if you can offer no word, then pray — that too is mercy; and thirdly, deeds of mercy. And when the Last Day comes, we shall be judged from this, and on this basis we shall receive the eternal verdict (Diary, 1158).
MARY, MOTHER OF MERCY: Ask your spiritual mother to teach and guide you as she did St. Faustina. A daily renewal of your consecration to Mary is the foundation of your relationship and prayer to her. Make Faustina's consecration to Mary your own:
To The Mother of God
O Mary, my mother and my Lady, I offer you my soul, my body, my life and my death, and all that will follow it. I place everything in your hands. O my Mother, cover my soul with your virginal mantle and grant me the grace of purity of heart, soul and body. Defend me with your power against all enemies, and especially against those who hide their malice behind the mask of virtue. ... Fortify my soul that pain may not break it. Mother of grace, teach me to live by [the power of] God (Diary, 79, 315).
O Mary ... a terrible sword has pierced your holy soul. Except for God, no one knows of your suffering. Your soul does not break; it is brave, because it is with Jesus. Sweet Mother, unite my soul to Jesus, because it is only then that I will be able to endure all trials and tribulations, and only in union with Jesus will my sacrifices be pleasing to God. Sweetest Mother, continue to teach me about the interior life. May the sword of suffering never break me. O pure Virgin, pour courage into my heart and guard it (Diary, 915).
Let me offer a personal aside on devotion to Mary that shows how special we are to her as her dearly beloved children. On one of my pilgrimages to Ostra Brahma in Vilnius, Lithuania, the words Mary spoke to St. Faustina came alive to me. As Our Lady called Faustina her "special" daughter, so I heard in my heart, Mary telling me, "You are my special son":
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Before Holy Communion I saw the Blessed Mother inconceivably beautiful. Smiling at me she said to me, My daughter, at God's command I am to be, in a special and exclusive way your Mother; but I desire that you, too, in a special way, be my child (Diary, 1414).
Offering Our Sufferings and Miseries
Finally, in response to God's mercy in our lives, we can offer our sufferings and miseries to the Lord for the salvation of souls. This is a beautiful and powerful act of mercy, and we all have some form of sufferings and miseries to offer the Lord.
The teaching of Sacred Scripture, the Church, and the saints tell us the purpose and value of suffering:
SAINT PAUL in the Epistle to the Romans writes: "The Spirit Itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him" (Rom 8:16-17) (emphasis added).
SAINT FAUSTINA repeatedly in her Diary tells us of the great value of suffering with Christ: "Oh, if only the suffering soul knew how it is loved by God, it would die of joy and of excess happiness! Some day, we will know the value of suffering, but then we will no longer be able to suffer. The present moment is ours (Diary, 963). And in another passage, she wrote: "During Holy Mass, I saw the Lord Jesus nailed upon the cross amidst great torments. A soft moan issued from His Heart. After some time, He said, I thirst, I thirst for the salvation of souls. Help Me, My daughter, to save souls. Join your sufferings to My Passion and offer them to the heavenly Father for sinners (Diary, 1032).
POPE JOHN PAUL II in Salvifici Doloris, his apostolic letter on the meaning of suffering, tells us, in summary, that we can offer our sufferings with the little love we do have to Jesus and His love. In doing so, we join Jesus in saving souls. Our sufferings joined to those of Jesus can bring salvation to souls! What a precious gift of mercy.
So do not waste your sufferings! What a great way to be apostles of Divine Mercy: Save souls by giving your sufferings to Jesus!
In conclusion, trust in Jesus more every day. Desire to be a saint. Frequent the Sacraments. Develop a strong prayer life. Perform works of mercy. Seek to live mercifully. Study. Pray even more. Witness to mercy. Consecrate your life to Mary. And keep offering your sufferings and miseries to the Lord.
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.
David Came is executive editor of Marian Helper magazine, the flagship publication of the Association of Marian Helpers, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass. He is the author of Pope Benedict's Divine Mercy Mandate.