We celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy on April 24 this year. As a cradle Catholic, this was one of those things I always heard about, but gave very little thought to in my younger faith years. It's only been in the last few years that this gift has taken on new meaning for me.
The Feast of Divine Mercy is one of our newer traditions in the Church, relatively speaking. Here's how it came about.
In 1905, a little girl named Helena was born to a poor family in Glogowiec, Poland. She's the third of ten kids. She loves God, and she loves going to church. In fact, there are stories that as soon as her chores were done, she'd run off to spend time praying in church. As young as age seven, she told her parents that angels were waking her up to pray.
By the age of 16, she was sure she had a religious vocation, but her parents didn't want her to enter the convent. She ended up leaving home and finding work as a housekeeper, ignoring her calling...until she had a remarkable vision.
Helena was just 19 years old when she and her sister attended a dance. It's at this dance that Jesus appeared to her.
From her diary:
While everybody was having a good time, my soul was experiencing deep torments. As I began to dance, I suddenly saw Jesus at my side, Jesus racked with pain, stripped of His clothing, all covered with wounds, who spoke these words to me: How long shall I put up with you and how long will you keep putting Me off? At that moment the charming music stopped, [and] the company I was with vanished from my sight; there remained Jesus and I. I took a seat by my dear sister pretending to have a headache in order to cover up what took place in my soul. After a while I slipped out unnoticed, leaving my sister and all my companions behind and made my way to the Cathedral of Saint Stanislaus Kostka.
It was almost twilight; there were only a few people in the cathedral. Paying no attention to what was happening around me, I fell prostrate before the Blessed Sacrament and begged the Lord to be good enough to give me to understand what I should do next.
Then I heard these words: Go at once to Warsaw; you will enter a convent there. I rose from prayer, came home, and took care of things that needed to be settled. As best I could, I confided to my sister what took place within my soul. I told her to say good-bye to our parents, and thus, in my one dress, with no other belongings, I arrived in Warsaw." (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 9-10).
Warsaw was not very welcoming, but the mother superior of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy would allow Helena to enter, as long as she could pay for her own habit. So Helena went back to work as a housekeeper, saving money and making deposits with the convent. Then, finally in 1926, she received her habit, and took the religious name of Sister Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament. In 1928, she takes her first vows.
Sister Faustina's Visions
The vision Faustina had at the dance is definitely not her last. Her diary describes encounters with Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Satan, along with demons and angels. She even is given a horrifying vision of hell. But most significant is the vision she has in 1931, when she’s 26 years old.
In the evening, when I was in my cell, 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 at the breast, there were emanating two large rays, one red, the other pale. In silence I kept my gaze fixed on the Lord; my soul was struck with awe, but also with great joy. (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 47-48)
Jesus asks her to paint this image and have it blessed on the first Sunday after Easter, which will be called the Feast of Mercy. The painting should also have the words “Jesus, I trust in you” upon it.
Her fellow nuns blamed her visions on hysteria and Faustina began to see a psychiatrist who deemed her of sound mind after multiple tests. That same psychiatrist also introduced her to an artist named Kazimirowski who would paint the image Jesus had requested. Faustina was disappointed that it didn’t capture the true beauty of her vision of Christ. But it is the image we still venerate today.
The Divine Mercy
Sister Faustina's visions of Christ all focused on His Mercy - the Divine Mercy. In 1935 she wrote about the Chaplet of Divine Mercy…using it to obtain mercy, trust in Christ’s mercy, and to show mercy to others. According to her diary, Jesus told her:
My beloved daughter, write down these words.... Tell the whole world about My mercy and My love.
The Flames of mercy are burning Me. I desire to pour them out upon human souls. Oh, what pain they cause Me when they do not want to accept them!
My daughter, do whatever is in your power to spread devotion to My mercy. I will make up for what you lack. Tell aching mankind to snuggle close to My merciful Heart, and I will fill it with peace. (Diary of St. Faustina, 1074).
Sister Faustina eventually fell ill. Her visions continued to intensify up until her death from tuberculosis at just 33 years old. We celebrate her feast day on October 5.
In 1965, a young archbishop in Poland started an investigation of Faustina’s life to start the process of beatification. Of course, that same archbishop would become Pope John Paul II, who canonized Saint Faustina in 2000.
And we still celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy. This year it’s on April 24. The feast focuses on the gift of mercy and love given through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. In her diary, Faustina writes that Christ says:
“On that 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. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day are open all the divine floodgates through which graces flow.” (699)