March 9, 2011

Sacrifice and Mercy - the Spiritual Mission of St. Faustina

Sr. Maria Faustina Kowalska died at the age of 33 in 1938 misunderstood by most of the religious sisters with whom she had lived her life.  They appreciated her kindness, hard work, and faithfulness to their rule of life, but many of her fellow religious also thought that she was delusional and tormented.  Indeed, she claimed to have received several revelations from the Lord, sometimes involving direct commands, all of which concerned his divine mercy.  She believed that she was entrusted with the mission of making the Lord's mercy known.   Through living a life of sacrificial love for the Lord, the absurdity of Sr. Faustina's claim has become an occasion of hope for the world.

To accomplish this mission, she was humbly faithful to the promptings of the Lord even in the midst of great suffering.  With great humility, developing confidence in the Lord and growing determination, she would act on what she believed the Lord asked of her only after she submitted to her confessor first, even if he misunderstood her - which was often at first.  She also worked under the authority of her religious superior.  She seemed to trust that the Lord would speak through those in rightful authority even more clearly than when He addressed her directly.  Not only was her message rejected initially, she would also suffer incredible spiritual trials where she felt like the Lord was angry with her, and in total darkness and tears doubted her own experience.  This would make her question whether she was in fact as crazy as everyone else thought her to be.

Jesus slowly helped her see these kinds of experiences, as intensely discouraging as they could be, as opportunities to love and trust Him even more.  She would offer to the Lord by a simple act of loving faith all - her doubts, the pain of not feeling the Lord's presence or love, even the fear that God had rejected her and was angry with her.  Even though she felt this way - she chose not to believe it, not to live out of these feelings, but to live by faith in the Lord alone.  She believed the Lord knew what she needed, that He would not allow her to deal with more than she could handle.  Her job was to trust in Him.  To experience these things but to continue to trust, love and be faithful in her daily duties, to patiently love even those who thought she was crazy - this was her sacrifice, a sacrifice of love that she could offer Jesus for all He had suffered for her.  It was a way for her to be in solidarity with all those who had lost or were losing their hope.  She understood them, felt one with them and was able to really pray for them.

This is what it means to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2).  This kind of faithful love is what we mean when we say "offer it up."    This humble attitude gave Jesus the space He needed to accomplish great things.  It is through our union with the Cross of Christ that mercy comes not only into our lives - but into the whole world. The Lord uses our trials to extend his his mercy.  Because of her faithfulness, the whole Church is blessed with a greater awareness of the inexhaustible mercy of God.

Mercy - love that suffers the misery of another to affirm his or her dignity - is one of the most beautiful ways a person can be like God.  This is the way of the Cross.  Divine Mercy is God suffering the plight of humanity, enduring with each person the incredible pain and sorrow that marks human existence.  Christian spirituality is an invitation to enter into this mystery of love by our small sacrifices.  We fast, we give alms, we pray that mercy might enter into our lives.  It is especially in small and hidden sacrifices like renouncing contention and hostility in our marriages and family life, or even lovingly bearing with each other and not taking offense in a confrontation.  Such sacrifices have real spiritual value.  They have the power to crack open the world, to lay vulnerable the heart, so that men and women, friends and family, even strangers and enemies might remember their dignity - that they are loved by God.

Because of the generous and humble sacrifices of St. Faustina in those chaotic years before World War II, one week after the great Easter Triduum, Catholics around the world now celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday.  In fact, this Divine Mercy Sunday, the Pope who canonized her will himself be declared blessed.  Their missions converge on this feast of mercy.  But what is Divine Mercy Sunday?  It is a day of prayer where we ask the Lord to renew our trust in his merciful love so that we might live it more fully in our lives.  It is a day we pray for those most in need of Divine Mercy - the despairing, the dying, the lonely, the suffering.  Our generosity with Christ, our readiness to make sacrifices out of love for Him this Lent, this humble effort to love Him in return for all He has suffered for us - this will make space in the world for His Mercy to be unleashed.