The New and the Controversial in the Witness of St. Faustina

The following is part of a series of articles prepared by renowned experts in the writings and spirituality of St. Faustina, namely: Robert Stackpole, STD, director, John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy; Very Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, provincial superior of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception; and Rev. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, vice-postulator of the Cause for the Canonization of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska. Up to this point in this series of articles, we have not said anything that would spark any kind of controversy. After all, how could anyone be opposed to naming St. Faustina a "Doctor of the Church" if all she did was to remind us all that God is merciful, that we should trust in Him, and that we should live mercifully? That is just the heart of the Catholic Faith. And who could object to her sacramental devotion, or to her devotion to Mary - or to the fact that she draws together so many streams of traditional Catholic Spirituality? But Sr. Faustina's life and writings do not merely restate and recapitulate all that went before her: she does, in fact, offer us ... a) Fresh insights into the mysteries of the faith In addition to her major contribution to the renewal of the doctrine of God's merciful love, and her remarkable synthesis of the various schools of Catholic spirituality, St. Faustina also made several distinctive contributions to the theological patrimony of the Church. For example, in his exhaustive study of her Diary for the Holy See, Fr. Rozycki pointed to St. Faustina's reflections on the virtue of mercy in the Heart of Jesus as a unique insight:

It is evident to every believing Catholic that the infinite Mercy of God is inexhaustible. The greatest sins, not only of an individual person but those of the entire world, will neither exhaust it, nor ever equal it. Likewise, the Divine-human mercy of the heart of Jesus is inexhaustible. Jesus speaks of it in revelation 56: "It [Divine Mercy] increases through giving itself" (Diary, 1273). At first glance this is an extraordinary argument, but in reality it is profoundly theological. It refers to the universally accepted contention of moral theology that all virtues grow through performance of those acts to which they incline. Consequently, we find no basis for the exhaustion of the Divine-human Mercy of the Heart of Jesus. In the whole history of Catholic theology, no one has given a deeper reason for the inexhaustibility of the Divine-human Mercy of the Heart of Jesus. (Rozycki, "Essential Features of the Devotion to the Divine Mercy," quoted in Robert Stackpole, ed., Pillars of Fire in my Soul, Marian Press, 2003, p. 100-101)

Second, St. Faustina wrote that Jesus had insisted: God is not only merciful to sinners; in a sense, He is even more merciful to sinners than He is to the just. In fact, He has a special compassion for sinners, precisely because they are most in need of His mercy. Jesus said to her:

Let the greatest sinners place their trust in My mercy. They have the right before others to trust in the abyss of My mercy .... Souls that make an appeal to My mercy delight Me. To such souls I grant even more graces than they ask. (Diary, 1146; cf. 598, 1182, and 1275)

In his submission to the Holy See, Fr. Rozycki compared this teaching in St. Faustina's Diary to an often neglected aspect of the Gospel when he wrote:

Mercy, for its part, hastens with assistance especially to all those who need it more, particularly those whose misery is the greatest. For when giving assistance, inviolable moral law requires that priority be given to those who need it more. The Lord Jesus applied this principle to God the Father when he said, "I tell you that there will be more joy in heaven from the conversion of one sinner than from ninety-nine of the righteous who need no repentance" [Lk 15:7]. (Rozycki, "Essentials Features," p. 100)

Third, Sr. Faustina believed that it had been revealed to her that in some way the fullness of Christ's self-offering to the Father was already made present at the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday in the Cenacle. The implication is that the Lord's Supper was not just an episode or a part of his saving work, but the real and essential summary of it all - just as each Mass that we celebrate today is not a mere episode or aspect of Christ's saving work, but a re-making present of the whole Paschal Mystery for our salvation Catechism, 1391 and 1416). Moreover, the Lord's Supper, like the Eucharist today, manifested the true meaning of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross: the voluntary and loving self-offering of the Son of God for our salvation, and its communal benefits, as the source and summit of the life of the community of the New Covenant, the Church. Faustina wrote:

At the moment of Consecration, love rested satiated - the sacrifice fully consummated. Now only the external ceremony of death will be carried out - external destruction; the essence [of it] is in the Cenacle. (Diary, 684)

b) Response to Objections Some aspects of the devotion to the Divine Mercy given to the Church through St. Faustina have at times engendered controversy. While we do not have the space to respond in depth to all of them here, suffice it to say that the Holy See would not have canonized St. Faustina if any portion of her writings or revelations had been deemed heretical. The two objections raised most often to her writings are (1) that the promise Jesus allegedly made of an extraordinary grace offered to communicants in a state of grace on Divine Mercy Sunday, "the complete remission of sins and punishment" (Diary, 699) cannot be harmonized with the Catholic understanding of the sacraments in general, or of the conditions for obtaining divine forgiveness in particular, and (2) that we cannot offer the "divinity" of Jesus Christ to the Father in the Chaplet. Let us look briefly at these in turn. 1) Theoretically, one can receive "the complete remission of sins and punishment" any time from the sacrament of Confession followed by Holy Communion, if all are undertaken with the pure love of God. But how many of the faithful ordinarily receive these sacraments with such a pure disposition? Usually, the intentions of the penitent-communicant are more mixed, including fear of God as well as love, and, to some extent, with continuing attachment to their sins. As a result, while their sins are forgiven, there remains a measure of temporal punishment due to sin (see Catechism 1472-1473). Of course, this temporal punishment can be completely taken away through a plenary indulgence, granted by the Church, for the devout performance of certain designated good works (such as the recitation of prayers, giving of alms, visiting of a shrine, etc.) - but, again, if these works are undertaken by a soul with any attachment to sin whatsoever, then the indulgence is only partial, not plenary. The complete remission of sins and punishment, ex opere operato, is ordinarily only available to the soul at baptism. What Jesus Christ evidently has promised to the world, through St. Faustina, is that a complete renewal of that baptismal grace - the complete remission of sins and punishment - is also available to the faithful through the reception of Holy Communion in a state of grace, with trust in God's mercy, on Divine Mercy Sunday. Of course, this immediately raises the question of whether it is proper to the nature of the Eucharist to be the source of such an extraordinary measure of grace. The answer is clear from the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and of the magisterium itself. St. Thomas declares very clearly:

Moreover, not only are all the other sacraments ordered toward the Eucharist, but they produce their proper grace only in virtue of their relationship to the Eucharist. The Eucharist alone has of itself the power to confer grace, while the other sacraments confer grace only in virtue of the desire (votum) which their recipients have of receiving the Eucharist also. (ST, III, 79, I)

Following St. Thomas on this matter, the Church teaches that all the other sacraments are directed toward the Eucharist and draw their power from it. In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council, for example, we read "Especially from the Eucharist, grace is poured forth upon us as from a fountain." And, in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, pastors are urged to "compare the Eucharist to a fountain and the other sacraments to rivulets. For the Holy Eucharist is truly and necessarily to be called the fountain of all graces, containing, as it does, after an admirable manner, the fountain itself of celestial gifts and graces, and the Author of all the sacraments, Christ our Lord, from whom, as from its source, is derived whatever of goodness and perfection the other sacraments possess" (Catechism of the Council of Trent, Chapter 4, question 45). The question also arises whether it is ever proper and just for a soul to receive the complete remission of sins and punishment without perfect contrition for sin. The answer is evident: this extraordinary outpouring of grace occurs at almost every adult baptism. As St. Thomas Aquinas tells us in his Scriptum super Sententias (d.2, q.1, quaes. 2), since in Baptism we are baptized into the death of Christ, as Romans 6 teaches, the baptized person receives the full effects of Christ's Passion and Death. In other words, our Savior's merits completely remit our sins and all the punishment due to them. 2) Theologians who object to the wording of the Chaplet ("I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son") have the same difficulty with a similar prayer offered by the angel at Fatima. How can we offer the divine nature back to God? - how can we offer to God the Father anything but the sacred humanity of His Son? Two replies are possible here. The first is that at the resurrection of our Lord, Christ's human nature was transformed and fully glorified or "divinized" by the Holy Spirit, so that when we say that we offer his "divinity" to the Father, this is shorthand for the offering of His "divinized humanity." Another possible response would be that when we offer the "divinity" of the Son to the Father, this is shorthand for the offering of the person of the divine Son in his sacred humanity (that is, in his human "Body, Blood and Soul"). In any case, liturgical language of the offering of the person of the divine Son in His sacrifice on the Cross to the Father is entirely in accord with the Catholic tradition of prayer and worship. For example, Eucharistic Prayer #1 in the Roman Missal states "We offer to You, God of glory and majesty, this holy and perfect sacrifice: the bread of life and the cup of salvation" (in other words, we offer what has just been consecrated, and is no longer bread and wine, but now the "bread of life" and the "cup of salvation," that is, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ). In Eucharistic Prayer #4: "We offer You His Body and Blood, the acceptable sacrifice which brings salvation to the whole world. Lord, look upon this sacrifice which You have given to Your Church; and gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the one Body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise." "Body and Blood" here are clearly just liturgical shorthand for the fullness of the mystery of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist ("body and blood, together with the soul and divinity," according to Catechism 1374). Finally, we should note that the wording of the Chaplet in this respect is in full accord with the first line of a prayer offered by the angel at Fatima, which has always been accepted by the Church as fully in accord with the Catholic Faith: "Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifferences by which He is offended." In short, while these are profound mysteries indeed, it is not at all the case that St. Faustina's recorded revelations from our Lord lead the faithful astray regarding either the Feast of the Divine Mercy, or the Chaplet. c) Summary of her doctrine It is nearly impossible to sum up the tremendous treasury of theological and mystical insights in the writings of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (see articles 2-5 in this web series). Perhaps no one has done it better than St. John Paul II, in the homily that he delivered at her tomb in Lagiewniki, Poland on June 7, 1997:

There is nothing that man needs more than Divine Mercy - that love which is benevolent, which is compassionate, which raises man above his weakness to the infinite heights of the holiness of God. In this place we become particularly aware of this. From here, in fact, went out the message of Divine Mercy that Christ Himself chose to pass on to our generation through [St.] Faustina. And it is a message that is clear and understandable for everyone. Anyone can come here, look at this image of the merciful Jesus, His Heart radiating grace, and hear in the depths of his own soul what [St.] Faustina heard: "Fear nothing. I am with you always." And if this person responds with a sincere heart, "Jesus, I trust in You," he will find comfort in all his anxieties and fears. In this "dialogue of abandonment," there is established between a soul and Christ a special bond that sets love free. ... The Church re-reads the message of mercy in order to bring with greater effectiveness to this generation at the end of the millennium, and to future generations, the light of hope. Please see our petition to have St. Faustina declared a Doctor of the Church. Next Time: St. Faustina and the Mission of the Church - Past, Present and Future See this entire series.

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Jesus said, "Today bring to Me THE SOULS WHO ARE DETAINED IN PURGATORY, and immerse them in the abyss of My mercy. Let the torrents of My Blood cool down their scorching flames. All these souls are greatly loved by Me..."

Jesis said, "Today bring to Me THE SOULS WHO ESPECIALLY VENERATE AND GLORIFY MY MERCY, and immerse them in My mercy. These souls sorrowed most over my Passion and entered most deeply into My spirit. They are living images of My Compassionate Heart. These souls will shine with a special brightness in the next life. Not one of them will go into the fire of hell. I shall particularly defend each one of them at the hour of death."