By KRISTINE SCHROEDER
On April 30, 2000, Saint Pope John Paul II canonized Blessed Maria Faustina Kowalska as the first saint of the new millennium. On that same day in his homily, he declared the Sunday following Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. Later that evening, he was quoted by his papal secretary as saying, “This is the happiest day of my life.” Saint Pope John Paul II believed on that day he had fulfilled the mission that God had entrusted to him in his Papacy. He further declared 2000 the Year of Mercy. It was fitting to note that the saint canonized that April day shared his Polish heritage.
St. Faustina, like many other great saints, came from humble beginnings. As the introduction to her diary states, “She was the third of ten children born into a poor and pious peasant family in Glogowiec, a village in the heart of Poland.” Her baptismal name was Helena, interestingly the same name of the sainted mother of the second century Roman Emperor Constantine. Helena both converted her son to Christianity and later convinced him to build the original church which stands over the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem.
By the age of seven, St. Faustina experienced a call to religious life. She was not, however, originally permitted to join when she later expressed this desire to her parents. She entered the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy at the age of 20 and spent the next 13 years as a sister, dying at the age of 33 on October 5, 1938. During her years in the Congregation, she was both admired and admonished. Many thought her mystical revelations and self-imposed austere lifestyle were the result of a mental imbalance or a need for attention. Fortunately, others both recognized and encouraged her devout lifestyle and acknowledged the extraordinary graces that God had bestowed on her.
She was a mystic, a person who has direct union and communication with God. Shortly after the first year of her novitiate, she frequently heard the voice of Jesus. She once was visited in a dream by Therese of Lisieux and also Blessed Mother in interior conversations. As stated in her diary, which she was encouraged to write by her confessor, Father Sopocko, for years she often questioned whether these visions and communications were actually from Heavenly sources.
When she originally gained the courage to share the directions or communications with some of her superiors or early confessors, they dismissed them as perhaps the musings of an overzealous novice. In one instance, an older sister said, “Get it out of your head, Sister, that the Lord Jesus might be communing in such an intimate way with such a miserable bunch of imperfections as you!” As with other great saints, God tested her with periods of darkness, doubts and despair. However, she was also the recipient of abundant graces and assurances.
In his book, “The Second Greatest Story Ever Told” (which is also a 10-part video series on formed.org), Father Michael E. Gaitley, MIC, relates a fascinating account of how Divine Mercy came to be and its relationship to other historical events throughout Church history: the Siege of Sienna in 1683, the Protestant Reformation, the Jansenist period in France and the apparitions of Mary in Fatima.
Through this history, Father Gaitley illustrates God’s hand in the happenings of our world. Father Gaitley also explains the key role the Polish people played in promoting Jesus’ message of Divine Mercy and Marian Consecration. Particularly in this time of great evil, Jesus’ message to St. Faustina is that He wishes to shower our world with His Divine Mercy and Love.
What is asked of us? In the words of the Divine Mercy Chaplet, “Oh blood and water, which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a font of mercy for us, I trust in You.” That is what Jesus asks in return – total trust in Him. As St. Faustina wrote in her diary, “Jesus likes to intervene in the smallest details of our life.”