When contemplating St. Maria Faustina Kowalska’s classic “Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul,” the reader is struck by the overwhelming emphasis on the virtue of trust. Simply put, to experience God’s divine mercy we each need a trusting relationship with our Creator. This was made known to St. Faustina during a series of visions with Our Lord from 1930-38. He once told her: “The graces of my mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it receives” (Diary, No. 1578).
Trust is one of those words that can be used as both a noun and a verb. In fact, it is an action verb: “Jesus, I trust in You,” which, of course, is the inscription at the bottom of that beautiful Divine Mercy image that adorns many Catholic parishes. Trust encompasses confidence, faith, hope, love — words often used interchangeably.
In its document “Understanding Divine Mercy Sunday” (2003), the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy writes that trust “is merely a precondition for the formation, by divine grace, of perfect love in the soul: the pure selfless love of God for His own sake. Trust is the opening of the soul by faith, hope, humility and repentance, to receive all the most eminent graces — from the heart of the Savior.”
St. Faustina exemplified trust in God not only through the pious reflections she chronicled but in the way she lived. God picked her to promote his divine mercy to the world largely because she trusted in him. This trust, bond and complete abandonment to her Savior are identified throughout her diary — for example:
“O my Lord! I always remain in holy amazement when I sense that you are approaching me. You, the Lord of the awesome throne; that you descend to this miserable exile and visit this poor beggar who has nothing but misery! I do not know how to entertain you, my Royal Prince, but you know that I love you with every beat of my heart. I see how you lower yourself, but nevertheless your majesty does not diminish in my eyes. I know that you love me with the love of a bridegroom, and that is enough for me. Although we are separated by a great chasm, for you are the Creator and I am your creature, love alone explains our union” (No. 885).
These thoughts are evidence of a humble person united with their God.
Confidence in God
St. Faustina was born Helen Kowalska on Aug. 25, 1905, in the village of Glogowiec, Poland, 170 miles from Warsaw. From age 7, Helen recognized the Holy Spirit, the nearness of Jesus in her life, which was cut short by tuberculosis at age 33. This awareness of Jesus grew into a special trust with the Divine Master. It was her goal to become a saint and to serve God in a religious order. Beginning when she was 16, she worked as a housekeeper for different families, sometimes away from her home in Glogowiec. In 1924 she heard a voice telling her to go to Warsaw where, according to the voice, she would enter a convent. She went on her own, knowing no one there and little about the city. She would continue as a housekeeper near Warsaw for the next year until she was accepted into the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. It seems providential that the precursor of the feast of Divine Mercy would enter a congregation named the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy.
Faustina was 20 years old when she was accepted into the convent. She spent much of her life with strangers and away from home. In what would have been uncertain times for most, she believed and trusted in God. Her acceptance of his will and her attitude toward his trust are not unlike God-fearing, holy people found throughout the sacred Scriptures.
Faustina lived every day in the manner Jesus taught during the Sermon on the Mount; that we ought to have confidence in God and not worry about what to eat or what to drink or what to wear. St. Faustina believed she was perfectly loved by God and therefore did not worry herself with the future or earthly things; for her, worry would be the antithesis of trust.
Not Trusting in Self
The decade of the 1930s was a confusing and chaotic period in much of the world. World War I was only 15 years in the past, and the devastation of that war was still being felt. Combined with economic calamities — the stock market crashed in 1929 — there were many homeless, starving people, no jobs and little hope of near-term improvement. This was an ideal time for the rising of evil, a time for tyrants like Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin. Pope St. John Paul II wrote about this era in “Memory and Identity” (2005), saying: “This was precisely the time when those ideologies of evil, Nazism and communism [and fascism] were taking shape. Sister Faustina became the herald of the one message capable of offsetting the evil of those ideologies, the fact that God is mercy — the truth of the merciful Christ. And for this reason, when I was called to the See of Peter, I felt impelled to pass on those experiences of a fellow Pole that deserve a place in the treasury of the universal Church.”
People in the 1930s began to turn away from God and toward those who promised to feed them, give them a job, give them an artificial kind of hope. Ignoring God, their world digressed into a moral disaster.
God saw how people placed their trust in others, or in themselves, rather than in him. He saw how little they knew about or sought his divine mercy. He called on St. Faustina to be his apostle of divine mercy, and in a visitation he told her that his children’s love “is lukewarm, and my heart cannot bear it; these souls force me to reject them. Others distrust my goodness and have no desire to experience that sweet intimacy in their own hearts, but go in search of me, off in the distance, and do not find me. This distrust of my goodness hurts me very much. If my death has not convinced you of my love, what will?” (Diary, No. 580).
Jesus asked St. Faustina to promote his divine mercy to the world, to renew in people the love of God and to recognize the need for his mercy. She, like the Blessed Mother, said “yes.” This was a challenging task, but, as detailed in her diary, God saw his child through every step, and today we celebrate the feast of Divine Mercy on the Sunday after Easter. What sustained St. Faustina in this holy mission and throughout her life was her uncompromising trust in Jesus.
Pious Catholic Practices
This young nun found the Mass, holy Communion, the sacraments, and Catholic devotions as the cornerstones that prompted her to live in the presence of Jesus and perpetuate a special trust leading to his divine mercy. St. Faustina wrote: “One thing alone sustains me, and that is holy Communion. From it I draw my strength; in it is all my comfort. ... Here I seek consolation in time of anguish, I would not know how to give glory to God if I did not have the Eucharist in my heart” (Diary, No. 1037).
St. Faustina spent a considerable amount of time in prayer; each week she spent a Holy Hour pondering the depths of God’s unfathomable goodness. These times were used to dialogue with Jesus and to express the thoughts of her heart, her goals and her happiness, and it was a time for listening. On one occasion, “Jesus gave me to understand how a soul should be faithful to prayer despite torments, dryness and temptations; because oft times the realization of God’s great plans depends mainly on such prayer. If we do not persevere in such prayer, we frustrate what the Lord wanted to do through us or within us” (Diary, No. 872). Her prayer life reflects a complete abandonment to Jesus.
Her experience in the Sacrament of Reconciliation also had profound effect on St. Faustina and further entrusted her to God. This divine process of examining her conscience, of professing her sins, receiving absolution and carrying out her penance were all based on confidence in a loving, merciful God. “When I left the confessional, ineffable joy filled my soul, so that I withdrew to a secluded spot in the garden to hide myself from the sisters to allow my heart to pour itself out to God. God’s presence penetrated me and, in an instant, all my nothingness was drowned in God” (Diary, No. 175). How many of us can relate to Faustina’s experience but can’t put our experience into words?
St. Faustina exemplifies a life anchored in Church devotions, the sacraments, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as well as a profound abiding love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Here Faustina drew closer to Christ; here she grew in trust; and here she was granted God’s divine mercy. This saintly life is offered to us all; indeed, divine mercy is ours when we turn our lives completely over to Jesus. We become like St. Faustina; we become the person Jeremiah speaks about: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord; the Lord will be their trust” (Jer 17:7).
Not being as articulate as the prophet, we simply say, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
D.D. EMMONS writes from Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, and is a longtime contributor to OSV publications.
|Priests and Divine Mercy Sunday
In May 2000, Pope St. John Paul II raised Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska to the altar of sainthood, and that same month the Holy See directed that the Sunday after Easter, the Octave of Easter, would be known as Divine Mercy Sunday. In June 2002, the Vatican issued a decree attaching a plenary indulgence to devotions in honor of Divine Mercy. The final paragraph of this decree is titled: “Duty of priests: inform parishioners, hear confessions, lead prayers.” The text reads: “Priests who exercise pastoral ministry, especially parish priests, should inform the faithful in the most suitable way of the Church’s salutary provision. They should promptly and generously be willing to hear their confessions. On Divine Mercy Sunday, after celebrating Mass or vespers, or during devotions in honor of Divine Mercy, with dignity that is in accord with the rite, they should lead the recitation of the prayers that have been given above. Finally, since ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’ (Mt 5:7), when they instruct their people, priests should gently encourage the faithful to practice works of charity or mercy as often as they can, following the example of and in obeying the commandment of Jesus Christ, as is listed for the second general concession of indulgence in the ‘Enchiridion Indulgentiarum’” (Apostolic Penitentiary, June 29, 2002).