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Sister Faustina as Secretary and Apostle of Divine Mercy

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Here's the transcript of the talk on Oct. 3 by Archbishop Wladyslaw Ziólek of Lodz, Poland.


1. Figure of Sister Faustina
The history of human salvation is the history of God's mercy towards a sinner. The figure of Abraham has been present at the beginnings of this history. Called by God, he entrusted himself to His promise, left the homeland and went to the unknown lands (Gn 12: 1-3). His obedience gave a spark to the historical execution of God's plan of salvation. Abraham was the first historical figure from the Bible to exemplify the significant law of God's activity in the history of salvation, namely God's need to have co-workers cooperating on the materialization of economics and history of revelation and redemption. Therefore, the history of Israel had such figures as Moses and Joshua, judges, prophets or some kings. Jesus Christ, God's Incarnate, is the highest and supreme of God's intercessors.

In the 20th century, God is giving the Church and the world the special grace of discovering anew the truth of His unimaginable love to sinners. Helena Kowalska, called Faustina as a nun, was the "tool" God used to announce it. Just like any other intercessors of private apparitions, she was chosen by the key known only to God. Having no noble surname or property but only the primary education with four classes completed, she belonged to the group of the poor that were close to God's heart and who became the messengers of God's mission for their contemporaries. The rule that God does not choose the wise or the great people to fulfil his intentions but this what has little importance for the world is confirmed once again.

The road to her vocation went through Lódz, which was emphasized by
John Paul II in his homily delivered in Krakow ... on 18th, August 2002: In spirit I retrace the luminous journey by which Saint Faustina Kowalska was being prepared to receive the message of mercy — from Lodz and Warsaw, on to Plock, Vilnius, and finally Krakow. Lódz has been close to Sister Faustina not only as the place where she worked for three years (1922–1924), but mostly as a city where she experienced the apparition of Jesus that was a life-changing experience (Diary 9-10). This vision was caused by some indolence of young Helena Kowalska in making the decision about life in a convent due to the definite disagreement of her parents. The time of delay was the period when she turned herself over to the vain things of life, that is the life indifferent to the inspiration with grace. But in her Diary she presented the anguish she went through: The incessant call of grace caused me much anguish; I tried, however, to stifle it with amusements. Interiorly, I shunned God, turning with all my heart to creatures (Diary 8). It was only the vision of tormented Jesus in June 1924 during the dance party in the Wenecja park in Lódz and His instruction heard while praying at the Lódz cathedral — Go at once to Warsaw; you will enter a convent there — that brought a breakthrough and led her to take specific steps to enter the convent, even against the objections of the parents (Warsaw, 1st August 1925).

By joining the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, sister Faustina engaged herself in its charism that involved bringing mercy to fallen girls and women through the moral rebirth. The life in a convent predisposed her and gave her the necessary assistance to enter the way to a greater gift, namely the mission of spreading the message of the Divine Mercy to the world. Paradoxically, when closed in the convent, sister Faustina became the Apostle of Jesus's mercy (Diary 1142) to the world. The Saviour Himself made her a witness (Diary 417. 689), a dispenser (Diary 570) and a personal Secretary of Mercy. By generously bestowing various graces and blessings on her, Jesus expected her to offer a sacrifice on the altar of mercy, to which she wholeheartedly agreed: Before heaven and earth, before all the choirs of Angels, before the Most Holy Virgin Mary, before all the Powers of heaven, I declare to the One Triune God that today, in union with Jesus Christ, Redeemer of souls, I make a voluntary offering of myself for the conversion of sinners, especially for those souls who have lost hope in God's mercy.

When characterising the basic features of sister Faustina's ... spiritual profile, her spiritual childhood must be emphasised first (Diary, 1481). Under the convent formation, she took over the elementary recommendations of child's trust, simplicity and humility (Diary 55). Her mystical meetings with God were marked with the perception and experience of His fatherhood (Diary 27, 103, 451, 629, 709, 1818) but also motherhood (Diary 116, 249, 1479, 1490), which is reflected in the customary use of the words my daughter and child when Jesus spoke to her. The Saviour expected her to take a childhood attitude and He told her about it when explaining the reasons for appearing as a little child (Diary 335, 1481; cf. Diary, 1109). Childhood prepared her for an intimate unity with the Holy Trinity: Once after Holy Communion, I heard these words: "You are Our dwelling place. At that moment, I felt in my soul the presence of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I felt that I was the temple of God. I felt I was a child of the Father" (Diary 451). The experience of a dark night brought her onto the road of humility and trust thanks to which the knowledge of her own misery opened her up to more brave plunging into the abyss of God's mercy. Spiritual destitution felt by her more deeply that the mere fulfilment of the convent vow was the fruit of spiritual catharsis that deprived her of all earthly goods. Apart from humility, she was also ready to accept the greatest mystical experience, such as spirit's flight (Diary 142, 234, 450), light to know soul (Diary 180, 232, 727, 757) or the sense of being wounded with love (Diary 1304). For her, the desire to be united or even identify with Jesus was greatly ardent.

2. Mission
As a member of the convent, she lived by its charism, taking care of girls in the Houses of Mercy, praying and offering sacrifice for them, concerned about her pupils with whom she worked in the kitchen or in the garden. But she was given a special gift: the gift of not only her personal consecration but also the gift of her mission which is continued long after her death. The core of sister Faustina's mission was announcing anew the truth of the merciful love of God to a sinner, the truth already known in the history of the revelation and salvation. John Paul II read this message as a new light in the experience of the Gospel: It is not a new message but can be considered a gift of special enlightenment that helps us to relive the Gospel of Easter more intensely, to offer it as a ray of light to the men and women of our time. Some notes in the Diary allow us to define this mercy more precisely as the mercy of Jesus, as the synonym of love, kindness and pity. It is described as unfathomable but also infinite, incomprehensible, inexhaustible, untested, unspoken and immeasurable. In the majority of the notes, it is the mercy of Jesus or His Heart and only sometimes the mercy of God Father or God Triune. There have been great disputes concerning the proper theological specification of the devotion but they have been closed with the Encyclical Dives in misericordia that introduces the original term from the Diary — the Devotion of Divine Mercy instead of the preferred, theologically more correct formula: the Devotion of Merciful (or Most Merciful) Saviour.

Sister Faustina's message is characterized by the combination of the devotion of Divine Mercy with the devotion of Merciful Jesus, taking into account Christ's human mercy. This combination reveals the truth of Christ who is not only the addressee of the Church's worship but also its subject (cf. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 7) who — as the Head — worships the Father together with the members of the Mystical Body. Many statements by Lord Jesus written down in the Diary give an insight into the internal experiences, desires and will of the Saviour, touching the reader's heart and soul. In this way, the truth of Divine Mercy becomes theologically richer and in consequence is pastorally more fruitful.

The first and elementary element of sister Faustina's message is the need to accept God's mercy by a sinner expressed in the attitude of trust and putting his faith in God. As the first beneficiary of this message, sister Faustina is summoned: Penetrate My mysteries, and you will know the abyss of My mercy towards creatures and My unfathomable goodness — and this you shall make known to the world (Diary, 438). On the other hand, as the first addressee, she responds to it wholeheartedly and generously, pleading for sinners: O Jesus, be mindful of Your own bitter Passion and do not permit the loss of souls redeemed at so dear a price of Your most precious Blood (Diary 72). This persistent call for mercy on the sinners or even pleading for mercy on them (cf. Diary 23, 72, 365) is the fulfilment of the Saviour's request (Diary 186. 1572) — the more persistent request that even takes the form of a complaint or regret (Diary 580). Apart from the insistent call to accept the Divine Mercy and take advantage of it, the message of sister Faustina also summons us to spread and glorify it. This is an integral element of the mission of mercy and its importance is confirmed by the associated promises: from strange effectiveness of the prophecy to the grace of a happy death (Diary 378. 379. 1074. 1448. 1540. 1521). Despite the restrictions of the convent walls, sister Faustina is urged to tell the world about Saviour's mercy (Diary 580, 848, 1074, 1142, 1190). She has fulfilled this by writing in her Diary the truths and own experiences of mercy revealed to her by Jesus (Diary, 1273), by pleading for mercy (Diary 570, 1160); also by inspiring future numerous apostolic movements directed towards spreading and propagating mercy to the world as well as marking the spiritual formation of followers. The third feature of the devotion is the practice of mercy towards neighbours (Diary 742) which is a natural consequence of drawing benefits from the Divine Mercy personally but also the condition for the fruitful celebration of the Feast of the Divine Mercy as well as the devotion through the image. It must be emphasised that they correlate with the evangelical blessing of the merciful (Mt: 5, 7).

3. Worship and forms of devotion
The ancient adagium of saint Prosper of Aquitaine (about 465) Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi (The law of prayer is the law of belief; com- monly: lex orandi — lex credendi) accurately expresses the essential relation of the subject of Christian faith with the mode of prayer. This also refers to the Devotion to the Divine Mercy whose approved forms originate from sister Faustina's message of the Divine Mercy and express this truth. They include: the Divine Mercy image, the Feast of Mercy, the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy, the spread of the devotion of the Divine Mercy and the Hour of Mercy.

3.1. Image of Divine Mercy
The image comes from the vision of Jesus that Faustina had in Plock on
22nd February 1931; it also contains special advice from Jesus (Diary 47). She saw Jesus dressed in a white garment, with the right hand raised for the blessing and the left hand unfolding the garment on the breasts, from where pale and a red rays come out. As Jesus explained: The two rays denote Blood and Wa ter. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls ... These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross (Diary 299). The supplementary tip related to the gaze of Jesus as a gaze from the cross (Diary 326) was interpreted by Rev. M. Sopoko as a look from above, i.e. from the height of the cross (e.g. in paintings by A. Styka and L. Sledziski), while father J. Andrasz, SJ, read it as a merciful glance of the Saviour on the sinner (picture by A. Hyla). Finally, an integral element of the image is the notice Jesus, I trust in you, which is the synthesis of the image's message, i.e. bringing the theological truth and reality of the Divine Mercy closer and awakening the consolation, comfort and hope in the tormented souls. Jesus attached the following promises to the devotion of the image: the image is the vessel from which the graces can be poured as from the source of mercy; he also promised eternal salvation, greater Christian perfection and the grace of good death to its worshippers.

Jesus' wish to have this image consecrated and publically worshipped on the first Sunday after Easter surprisingly corresponds with the liturgical peri- copes from the Gospel of John intended for this day since the times of the Council of Trent. On this Sunday, the Church reads the story of the apparition of the Risen Lord to the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room during which they are given the might to absolve sins with the Holy Spirit's power (Jn 20:19-23). The lack of sufficient correspondence of the image of painted Jesus and Jesus in sister Faustina's vision can considerably help grasp the theology of this image (Diary 313). This imperfection of the image, which makes it definitely different from icons, demonstrates its specific role that involves presenting rather than making present, i.e. the prayer before the image rather than to the image as in case of icon paintings. This is echoed in directing the attention of the viewer towards the side of Jesus, to His pierced heart from which the rays flow; in case of an icon, the gaze of the person looking is directed towards the eyes of the painted figure. Also another, non-traditional interpretation of the symbol of blood as the sign of life given to souls rather than the expression of the sacrifice that erases sins is worth emphasizing. The paschal mystery symbolized by the pierced side or rather the Heart of Jesus full of love to a sinner is the source of given life. The light illuminating from the figure of Jesus is not only the reflection of adored humanity of Jesus but also the shine of the glory of His deity. It is also worth mentioning that the image has a broader interpretation that goes beyond its paschal context, seeing it — as Father J. Andrasz, SJ, wants — as the sign of merciful love of the Creator and Redeemer to the sinner or — as priest I. Roycki does — showing the figure of Jesus in the image as the fullest manifestation of the Mercy of the Holy Trinity.

The presentation of two salvific and revelatory events in the image — the death on the cross and the demonstration of the mission of unity by the Risen Lord — expresses the purpose of the image as a vessel used to take grace from the fountain of mercy and a tool of giving grace. Therefore, it is understandable that the image inspires trust and — out of the will of Jesus — reminds us of the acts of mercy. We can also speak about the image as a sort of a hermeneutical key to the mystery and devotion of the Divine Mercy. As the message of God's merciful love is combined in the image with the words replied by the sinner: Jesus, I trust in You, the image is also a visual synthesis of the message of the Divine Mercy and its devotion. The desired and expected trust of the worshipper is the religious life attitude that exceeds the natural hope or certainty that something will happen or the conviction that we can rely on someone as it mostly involves theological virtues of faith, hope and love as well as — due to the sinner's sinfulness — moral virtues of humility and penitence. Trust is applied in practice as entrusting to God and fulfilling His will contained in the commandments, obligations and internal inspirations35.

3.2. Feast of Mercy
Another wish of Jesus was to institute the feast of Mercy. Its introduction into the liturgical calendar met with considerable objections of liturgists. The need of such a celebration was justified by priest M. Sopoko with the hitherto insufficient presence of this truth in the teachings of the Church and the Christian life. The choice of the second Easter Sunday as the date for the celebration makes it perceived as a recapitulation of the Easter work of redemption. The realisation of this salvific mystery in the sacrament of baptism and reconciliation is expressed in prayers and Biblical readings, especially in the Gospel that reports their institution. Jesus also wanted Faustina to make the feast preceded by the novena in the form of the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy (Diary 1209–1229, 796). The systematic practice of this celebration is a way to exercise the attitude of trust as a way to mercy and to find shelter in it. Jesus has also promised to grant every possible grace to souls on this feast (Diary 796), without restricting them to the mere chaplet prayer but giving them complete remission of sins and punishment, which urges sinners to plead for all graces more boldly. The celebration contains two own elements: public worship (adoration) of the image and preaching by priests the truth of great and unfathomable Mercy (Diary, 570). The aim of this teaching is to stimulate and enliven the attitude of trust in the listeners, so that it manifests its specific character: Feast of Mercy [should — translator's note] be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners (Diary 699). The only adequate response of the soul to such unrestricted generosity of the Saviour is total trust which gets even stronger as the promised grace of the complete remission of sins and punishment is equal to the effects of baptism. The requirement to celebrate the confession and the Holy Communion associated with this feast introduces the service to the sacramental life of the Church and its apostolate, so that it is legitimised.

One of the notes in the Diary contains the words of Jesus that qualify the feast of Mercy as the last hope of salvation (Diary 965). As the feast is one of the elements of worship and the formula of the last hope of salvation also refers to the chaplet (Diary 687) as well as to mercy as such (Diary 998), it seems that the statement must be interpreted taking into account the circumstances in which it was noted down, that is sister Faustina's stay in hospital in Prdnik and her problems with memory. As the essence of the devotion of the Divine Mercy lies in trust put in it and trust as a life attitude, then it actually is the last hope of salvation (cf. Diary 1059), so trust directed towards Jesus being Love and Mercy Himself (Diary 1074). The Saviour's will was rather to make this feast the most perfect form of escape for sinners. It would be most perfect, first of all, due to its wide accessibility, also to sinners who are converted on the day of the feast and, secondly, due to the associated promise to give all kinds of graces in spiritual and earthly life. The necessary constant and inalienable condition for the fruitfulness of this celebration is the courage of opening to the burning summons of the Saviour and turning to Him with all needs in the spirit of unwavering and unlimited trust.

3.3. Chaplet of Divine Mercy
Fifteen apparitions reflected in the chaplet are an evidence of the fact that it is not less important than the celebration itself. This prayer, which can also be said individually, has a communitarian character as the call for mercy for us and the whole world relates not only to the praying person but is also the call in the intention of all people, not excluding the dead. The practice of the chap- let prayer on which Jesus strongly insisted (Diary 687, 811, 848, 929 1541) also leads to liberating oneself from egoism and undertaking the acts of merciful love towards the neighbours, including neighbours in the broadest sense. The multiple repetition of the prayer formula suggests an educational aspect of the prayerful persistence combined with trust. Its effectiveness is confirmed by the experience of sister Faustina who repeated the prayer again and again many times (Diary 1035, 1128). Jesus's promise that all goodness will be given to those who ask by praying the chaplet (Diary 1541) should not be understood uncritically as an expression of the prayer's own effectiveness. Good can only be given if such is the will of the Saviour (Diary 1731) concerning the subject of the request and the praying person is perseverant and full of trust. It must be mentioned that even though the basic subject of the promise connected with the chaplet is the spiritual grace, especially graces for the dying (Diary 687, 811, 848, 1541), the request for the welfare of the earthly order cannot be excluded (Diary 754, 1541).

The reservations to this practice and difficulties connected with it have made it possible to formulate precisely the theology of the prayer. In response to the inability to offer the deity of Son to Father – due to His identity as nature
— the stance of the Council in Trent, which coincides with the Christological teachings of the bishops of the Council of Chalcedon, can be recalled here. When defining the Eucharistic presence of Jesus, they spoke about His deity but not in the sense of the divine nature but in the sense of a person — which means that the divine nature is expressed through a person. Similarly, when questioning the possibility of offering Jesus as a sacrifice, it must be pointed out that in the chaplet prayer the whole person of Jesus — united humanity and deity (I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son) is the subject of offering. The praying person is, therefore, united with Jesus's sacrifice on the cross that He has given to sinners and appeals to Father's love to His suffering Son (rather than His suffering itself) and, in consequence, to God's love to sinful mankind, i.e. mercy. In this spirit, the last difficulty in the form of reconciling the propitiatory function of offering deity with the deity's own function of freeing a man of sin must also be explained.

3.4. Spreading the worship of the Divine Mercy
The spreading of the worship of the Divine Mercy is an integral part of the devotion. The importance of this apostolate is evidenced by the associated promise of Jesus's maternal care throughout the life and the revelation of ex- traordinary mercy of Jesus in the hour of death. The service presented by the Saviour in all of its forms, directing to the mercy of Jesus and to the mercy of God Triune, is the direct subject of propagation. The need or even necessity to propagate this service springs from the upcoming Day of Judgment (Diary 965) and Jesus's desire for the mankind's cognition of His mercy and pouring it onto the mankind (Diary 848. 1074). Due to the lack of specific tips, it can be assumed that teaching about God's mercy and inspiring trust in this mercy as well as the testimony of life in this spirit, which involves the practice of the devotion and the acts of mercy, definitely belong to the propagation of the devotion. The priests teaching about mercy and pity are given bizarre effectiveness and fruitfulness by Jesus (Diary 1521). It seems that these promises should also refer to the sacrament of penance and to awakening the proper attitude to experiencing it successfully.

The Church's contemporary experiences force us to accept the need and effectiveness of the systematic and organised forms of spreading the devotion of mercy. The Apostolic Movement of Divine Mercy originating from the mystical experience of sister Faustina is also a significant form. Its members aim at enlivening the religious life, they learn and contemplate the mysteries of the Divine Mercy, plead them for themselves and the world. The Movement unites many thousands of followers from all around the world. Cloistered orders, active congregations, old and new communities, groups, brotherhoods, associations and individuals participate in the Movement. One of these communities is Faustinum Association of Apostles of the Divine Mercy established in 1996 and seated in Kraków-Lagiewniki, which aims at the formation and propagation of the message of Mercy. Faustinum does not only bring together priests or consecrated persons but also lay men from many countries. Its media tool for spreading the message of mercy is the quarterly magazine Ordzie Miosierdzia. It should be also mentioned that characteristic works, such as the magazine Iskra propagating the devotion of Divine Mercy or Koronka do Miosierdzia Boego na ulicach miast wiata (since 2010 undertaken outside Poland) have been created also in Lódz.

3.5. Hour of Mercy
The latest form, appreciated as late as after priest I. Róycki's Iudicum alterius Theologi Censoris (Rome 1980), is the devotion of the hour of Jesus's death as the Hour of Mercy (Diary 1570)52. It is not a new practice to Christian dramatic suffering of the slaves of the 20th and 21st century or the starvation and poverty of the poor South fighting for solidarity against the prosperous North, or the growing occurrence of depression and suicidal acts. Auschwitz and the Gulag (Kolyma), World Trade Centre's towers in New York, genocide in Rwanda, hunger in Darfur or the slums of South America have become the symbols of suffering in the consciousness of a modern man. Simultaneously, culture is developing in Europe and its creators and supporters not only live as if God did not exist but also demand social affirmation for the conviction that you can live without God and you can even live better. The cure for the above dramas is shown either in improving the activity of local and government institutions, administration or international organisations or in giving space to charity organisations.

The system confrontation with this option is taken by the religion and most of all by Christianity that contrasts the message of the Gospel not only to theo- retical ignorance but also practical ignorance. Sister Faustina's message of mercy must take the privileged position among the many means and tools of this confrontation. It is as a source which contains the Christian motifs of in- volvement in multiple spiritual and existential dramas and troubles of mankind. It is also the source of spiritual and practical works of mercy thanks to a large group of followers accepting the message of sister Faustina and joining her mission. In this context, the statement of John Paul II reminding us that no religious community has produced as many works of love as the Church and his call to the new "imagination of mercy" are symptomatic. The Christian revelation which, thanks to private visions of sister Faustina, has uncovered anew the need of mercy in human life, turns out to be an effective tool of shap- ing religious and human maturity, forming morality and responsibility, building a more humane and more Divine world. The pressing words of Jesus: Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy (Diary 300) remind us of the creative genesis of the mankind and its final, eschatological goal and fulfilment. But they also show the foundations of the human society which — apart from God's law as a principle of justice — also involve His merciful love that He has for a weak and sinful man and which is a basis for hope — for the small and the big, so also the final one. Thus, sister Faustina's words: I feel certain that my mission will not come to an end upon my death, but will begin (Diary 281) turn out to be really prophetic.

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