INTRODUCTION TO THE DIARY
1. Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, known today the world over as the “Apostle of the Divine Mercy,” is numbered by theologians among the outstanding mystics of the Church.
She was the third of ten children born into a poor and pious peasant family in Glogowiec, a village in the heart of Poland. At her baptism in the nearby Parish Church of Swinice Warckie she was given the name “Helena.” From childhood she distinguished herself by her piety, love of prayer, industriousness and obedience as well as by her great sensitivity to human misery. She had hardly three years of schooling, and at the age of fourteen she left the family hearth to help her parents and to earn her own livelihood serving as a domestic in the nearby cities of Aleksandrow and Lodz.
When she was only seven (two years before her First Holy Communion), Helen already sensed in her soul the call to embrace the religious life.
When later she made her desire known to her parents, they categorically did not acquiesce in her entering a convent. Because of this situation Helen strove to stifle this divine call within her. Pressed on, however, by a vision of the suffering Christ and by the words of His reproach: “How long shall I put up with you and how long will you keep putting Me off?” (Diary, 9), she bagan to search for a convent to join.
She knocked on many a convent door, but nowhere was she accepted. Finally on August 1, 1925, Helen crossed the threshold of the cloister in the convent of the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy on Zytnia Street in Warsaw. In her Diary she declared: “It seemed to me that I had stepped into the life of Paradise. A single prayer was bursting forth from my heart, one of thanksgiving” (Diary, 17).
After a few weeks she experienced nonetheless a strong temptation to transfer to a different congregation in which there would be more time for prayer. It was then the Lord Jesus, manifesting to her His wounded and tortured face, said: “It is you who will cause Me this pain if you leave this convent. It is to this place that I called you and nowhere else, and [it is here] I have prepared many graces for you” (Diary, 19).
Upon her entrance to the Congregation Helen received the name Sr. Maria Faustina. Her novitiate she spent in Cracow, and there, in the presence of Bishop Stanislaus Rospond, she pronounced her first religious vows, and five years later, she made her perpetual profession of the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. She was assigned to work in a number of the Congregation’s houses, but for a longer period in those of Cracow, Plock and Vilnius, fulfilling the duties of cook, gardener and doorkeeper.
To all external appearances nothing betrayed her extraordinarily rich mystical life. She zealously went about her duties, she faithfully observed all the religious rules, she was recollected and kept silent, all the while being natural, cheerful, full of kindness and of unselfish love of neighbor.
Her entire life was concentrated on constant striving for an even fuller union with God and on self-sacrificing cooperation with Jesus in the work of saving souls. “My Jesus” – she avowed in her Diary – “You know that from my earliest years I have wanted to become a great saint; that is to say, I have wanted to love You with a love so great that there would be no soul who has hitherto loved You so” (Diary, 1372,).
It is her Diary that reveals to us the depths of her spiritual life. An attentive reading of these records offers a picture of the high degree of her soul’s union with God – the great extent of God’s company keeping with her soul, as well as her efforts and struggles on the way to Christian perfection. The Lord endowed her with great graces – with the gift of contemplation, with a deep knowledge of the mystery of the mercy of God, wish visions, revelations, the hidden stigmata, with the gift of prophecy and of reading into human souls, and also with the rare gift of mystical espousals. As lavishly gifted as she was, this is what she wrote: “Neither graces, nor revelations, nor raptures, nor gifts granted to a soul make it perfect, but rather the intimate union of the soul with God My sanctity and perfection is based upon the close union of my will with the will of God” (Diary, 1107,).
The austere lifestyle and exhausting fasts that she imposed upon herself even before joining the Congregation, weakened her organism to such an extent that already during her postulantship it became necessary to send her to Skolimow near Warsaw to restore her to health. Towards the end of her first year of novitiate, she was visited by unusually painful mystical experiences of the so-called dark night, and later by the spiritual and moral sufferings related to the accomplishment of the mission she was receiving from Christ the Lord. [St.] Faustina laid down her life in sacrifice for sinners and on this account she also sustained diverse sufferings, in order by means of them to come to the aid of their souls. During the last years of her life, inner sufferings of the so-called “passive night” of the soul and bodily diseases grew in intensity. The spreading tuberculosis attached her lungs and alimentary canal. For this reason, twice she underwent several months’ treatment in the hospital on Pradnik Street in Cracow.
Physically ravaged, but fully mature spiritually, she died in the opinion of sanctity, mystically united with God, on October 5, 1938, hardly 33 years old, having been a religious for 13 years. Her mortal remains were laid to rest in the common tomb in the convent’s cemetery in Cracow-Lagiewniki. In 1966, during the informative process towards Sister Faustina’s beatification, they were transferred to the convent chapel.
To this simple, uneducated, but courageous woman religious, who trusted Him without limit, Our Lord Jesus consigned the great mission to proclaim His message of mercy directed to the whole world: “Today,” He told her, “I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My merciful Heart” (Diary, 1588). You are the secretary of My mercy; I have chosen you for that office in this and the next life” (Diary, 1605) … “to make known to souls the great mercy that I have for them, and to exhort them to trust in the bottomless depth of My mercy” (Diary, 1567)
2. St. Faustina’s Mission. In short, her mission consists in reminding us of the immemorial, but seemingly forgotten, truths of our faith about God’s merciful love for men, and in conveying to us new forms of devotion to The Divine Mercy, the practice of which is to lead to the revival of the spiritual life in the spirit of Christian trust and mercy.
St. Faustina’s Diary, which Jesus Christ ordered her to keep during the last four years of her life, is a kind of journal in which the author recorded current or retrospective events related primarily to the “encounters” of her soul with God. A rigorous, scholarly analysis of her notebooks was necessary to extract from them everything which is considered essential to her mission.
This work was accomplished by an eminent and highly esteemed theologian, the Rev. Professor, Ignacy Rozycki. A brief summary of his scholarly and theological work is published under the title The Divine Mercy: Basic Characteristics of the Divine Mercy Devotion.
Compared to this important theological work, all previous publications on the Divine Mercy devotion, related to us by St. Faustina, seem to be concerned only with some of its elements or with more secondary matters. For example, in some instances, emphasis is placed on the Litany or the Novena to The Divine Mercy, leaving aside the Hour of Mercy.
Fr. Rozycki draws our attention to this fact by saying: “Before we acquaint ourselves with the specific elements of the Divine Mercy devotion, we need to notice that among them we won’t find any of the well-known or beloved novenas or litanies.”
The basis for selecting these, and not other prayers or religious practices, as the new forms of the Divine Mercy devotion, are the specified promises attached to them, which the Lord Jesus promised to fulfill on the condition of one’s trust in God’s goodness and of mercy towards one’s neighbors. Rev. Rozycki points out that there are five elements of the devotion to The Divine Mercy.
a. The Image of the Merciful Jesus. Its pattern was revealed in the vision St. Faustina had on February 22, 1931, in her convent cell at Plock. “In the evening, when I was in my cell,” she recorded in the Diary, “I saw the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One hand [was] raised in the gesture of blessing, the other was touching the garment at the breast. From beneath the garment, slightly drawn aside from at breast, there were emanating two large rays, one red, the other pale After a while, Jesus said to me, ‘Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You’” (Diary, 47) “I want this image to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter; that Sunday is to be the Feast of Mercy” (Diary, 49)
For this reason, the content of this image is closely related to the liturgy of that Sunday. On this day, the Church reads the Gospel according to St. John about the risen Christ appearing in the Upper Room and about the institution of the Sacrament of Penance (Jn 20:19-29). Consequently, this image represents the Savior risen from the dead who brings peace to people by means of the forgiveness of sins at the price of His passion and death on the cross.
The rays of blood and water that flow from the Heart that was pierced by a spear (not visible on the image) and the scars caused by the wounds of crucifixion call to mind the events of Good Friday (Jn 19:17-18; 33-37). The Image of the Merciful Savior, therefore, combines the two Gospel events that best bespeak the fullness of God’s love for mankind.
The two rays are a distinctive feature of this image of Christ. The Lord Jesus, when asked about their meaning, explained: “The two rays mean Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. … Happy is the one who will dwell in their shelter” (Diary, 299). The Sacraments of Baptism and Penance purify the soul, and the Eucharist most abundantly nourishes it. Thus, the two rays signify the Holy Sacraments and all the graces of the Holy Spirit, whose biblical symbol is water, as well as the New Covenant of God with men in the Blood of Christ.
The image of the Merciful Jesus is often called the “Image of The Divine Mercy,” which is appropriate, since it is precisely in Christ’s Paschal Mystery that God’s love for humankind was most explicitly revealed.
The image not only represents The Divine Mercy, but also serves as a sign that is to recall the Christian obligation of trust in God and of active love toward neighbor. By Christ’s will the image bears a signature comprised of these words: “Jesus, I trust in You.”
“This image,” Jesus also declared, “is to be a reminder of the demands of My mercy, because even the strongest faith is of no avail without works” (Diary, 742).
To the veneration of the image understood in this way, as relying upon the Christian attitude of trust and mercy, Our Lord attached special promises, namely, of eternal salvation, of great progress in the way of Christian perfection, of the grace of a happy death, and of all other possible graces which people will ask of Him with trust: “By means of this image I shall be granting many graces to souls; so let every soul have access to it” (Diary, 570).
b. The Feast of The Divine Mercy. It ranks highest among all the elements of The Divine Mercy devotion revealed to [St.] Faustina. Its institution was requested by the Lord Jesus for the first time in Plock, in 1931 , while He was communicating His will regarding the painting of the Image: “I desire that there be a Feast of Mercy. I want this image, which you will paint with a brush, to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter; that Sunday is to be the Feast of Mercy” (Diary, 49)
The choice of the first Sunday after Easter for the Feast of Mercy has a very deep theological significance, which points to the close relationship between the Paschal Mystery of the redemption and the mystery of The Divine Mercy. The integral relationship is further emphasized by the Novena of Chaplets to The Divine Mercy which begins on Good Friday as a preparation for the Feast.
This feast is not only a day in particular for worshipping God in His mystery of mercy, but also a time of grace for all people. The Lord Jesus said: “I desire that the Feast of Mercy (note139) be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners” (Diary, 699). “Souls perish in spite of My bitter Passion. I am giving them the last hope of salvation, that is, recourse to My Mercy. If they will not adore My mercy, they will perish for all eternity” (cf. Diary, 965, 998).
The greatness of this feast is measured by the measure of extraordinary promises that the Lord attached to this feast: Jesus said … Whoever approached the Fount of Life on this day will be granted complete remission of sins and punishment” (Diary, 300), and also, “On this day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My Mercy. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet” (Diary, 699).
To profit from those great gifts we must fulfill the conditions of the Divine Mercy devotion (trust in God’s goodness and active love toward neighbor), be in the state of sanctifying grace – having gone to Holy Confession, and worthily receive Holy Communion. Jesus explained: “No soul will be justified until it turns with confidence to My mercy; and this is why the first Sunday after Easter is to be the Feast of Mercy, and on that day, priests are to tell everyone about My great and unfathomable mercy” (Diary, 570).
c. The Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. This Chaplet was dictated to St. Faustina by the Lord Jesus Himself in Vilnius on September 13-14, 1935, as a prayer of atonement and for the appeasement of God’s wrath (see Diary, 474-476).
Those who recite this Chaplet offer to god the Father “the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity,” of Jesus Christ in atonement for their sins, the sins of their loved ones, and those of the entire world. By uniting themselves with the sacrifice of Jesus, they appeal to the great love that our Heavenly Father has for His Son and, in Him, for all humanity.
By means of this prayer, the petitioners request “mercy on us and on the whole world,” and by so doing, they perform a work of mercy. If the faithful add to this the foundation of trust and fulfill the conditions regarding every good prayer (humility, perseverance, matters in conformity with God’s will), they can expect the fulfillment of Christ’s promises which are particularly related to the hour of death: the grace of conversion and a peaceful death.
Not only will the people who say the Chaplet receive these graces, but also the dying at whose side others will recite this prayer. The Lord said: “When this chaplet is said by the bedside of a dying person, God’s anger is placated, unfathomable mercy envelops the soul … ” (Diary, 811). The general promise says: “It pleases Me to grant everything they ask of Me by saying the chaplet” (Diary 1541) “… if what you ask for is compatible with My will” (Diary, 1731). For, anything that is not compatible with God’s will is not good for people, especially for their eternal happiness.
On a different occasion, Jesus said: “ by saying the Chaplet, you are bringing humankind closer to Me” (Diary, 929), and again: “The souls that say this chaplet will be embraced by My mercy during their lifetime and especially at the hour of their death” (Diary, 754).
d. The Hour of Mercy. In October, 1937, in Cracow, under circumstances that are not fully described by [St.] Faustina, the Lord Jesus recommended that she honor the hour of His death: “….as often as you hear the clock strike the third hour, immerse yourself completely in My mercy, adoring and glorifying it; invoke its omnipotence for the whole world, and particularly for poor sinners; for at that moment mercy was opened wide for every soul” (Diary, 1572).
The Lord Jesus also determined the prayers that are appropriate for this form of the Divine Mercy devotion: “….try your best to make the Stations of the Cross in this hour, provided that your duties permit it; and if you are not able to make the Stations of the Cross, then at least step into the chapel for a moment and adore, in the Blessed Sacrament, My Heart, which is full of mercy; and should you be unable to step into the chapel, immerse yourself in prayer there where you happen to be, if only for a very brief instant” (Diary, 1572).
Prof. Rozycki enumerates three conditions for prayers offered in this hour to be granted:
1. They are to be addressed to Jesus.
2 . They are to be said at three o’clock in the afternoon.
3 . They are to appeal to the value and merits of Christ’s Passion.
The Lord Jesus promised: “In this hour you can obtain everything for yourself and for others for the asking; it was the hour of grace for the whole world – mercy triumphed over justice” (Diary, 1572)
e. Spreading the honor of The Divine Mercy. In discussing the essential elements of the Divine Mercy devotion, Rev. Rozycki also mentions the spreading of the honor of The Divine Mercy as one of them since certain promises of Christ are related to this as well: “Souls who spread the honor of My mercy I shield through their entire life as a tender mother her infant, and at the hour of death I will not be a Judge for them, but the Merciful Savior” (Diary, 1075).
The essence of The Divine Mercy devotion is found in the Christian attitude of trust in God and of an active love toward neighbor. The Lord Jesus said: “I desire trust from My creatures” (Diary, 1059), and He expects them to exercise mercy through deeds, words, and prayers. And further: “You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it” (Diary, 742). Christ wants those who worship Him to perform at least one act of love of neighbor in the course of each day.
The spreading of the honor of The Divine Mercy does not require many words, but always the Christian attitude of faith, of trust in god, and of becoming ever more merciful. In her lifetime St. Faustina gave the example of just such apostolic work.
f. The Divine Mercy devotion aims at the renewal of religious life in the Church in the spirit of Christian trust and mercy. It is in this context that the idea of the “new congregation” of which we read in the Diary’s pages should be considered. This desire of Christ matured gradually in Sr. Faustina’s own thinking, and underwent a certain evolution – from a strictly contemplative order all the way to a movement which is made up also of active congregations (male and female) and of lay people.
This great, supranational community of people is one family, which is being united, first of all, by god in the mystery of His mercy, and secondly, by people’s longing, both, to reflect that mercy in their own hearts and works, and for God’s glory to be reflected in all souls. It is a community of people who in different ways, depending upon their state in life and vocation (priestly, religious, lay), live by the Gospel ideal of trust and mercy, proclaim the incomprehensible mystery of God’s mercy by their life and words, and obtain Divine Mercy for the world with the entreaties.
St. Faustina’s mission finds deep justification in Holy Scripture and documents of the Church; it superbly corresponds especially with the encyclical Dives in misericordia (Rich in mercy) of the Holy Father, John Paul II.