catholic, Spirituality Blog

Divine Mercy and St Faustina Kowalska

For those of us who may identify with Catholicism, the Divine Mercy movement looks the same as everything else in the religion, mystery, apparitions, suffering, God is angry with the world and the world needs mercy. There isn´t any new information there for the average Catholic except maybe a little bit more guilt than before.

Yet, we need to take a closer look at this in order to translate it into something useful, metaphysical or spiritual. Let us begin with the history:

A young girl in Poland at age seven begins hearing voices, calling her to a more perfect way of life in 1912 in much the same way Samuel in the Bible hears voices. One evening ten years later she receives what can be described as an inner calling to leave a dance or Party and go to a different city, where, after a period of time she becomes a nun. From this comes certain commands while she receives visions of Jesus and Mary.

  1. To get an image painted of Jesus which will be part of a wider devotion
  2. To get a feast day in the Catholic Church established
  3. Certain Prayers known as the Divine Mercy Chaplet are to be made known.
  4. Establishing a prayer time of 3pm
  5. Establishing the Divine Mercy Movement and a new religious order.
  6. A diary to be kept recording these visions.

She is eventually beatified by the Catholic Church and is made a Saint.

The actual visions (which I will not go into here) are fairly easy to interpret and there is nothing supernatural about that if we look at them spiritually. By practicing contemplative prayer, she is very in touch with the world of spirituality and for her the understanding of God comes as a man Jesus. These visions are presented to us as the man Jesus and the woman Mary who decided to come and visit Faustina with messages. Yet theologically, it is much deeper than that and something much deeper is taking place but to human perception that is exactly how it is understood: Jesus and Mary come to visit.

The prayers and image and indeed all of the six points above are designed to take you into a meditative state if you use them, where you can here the gentle voice of Love talking with you. It is incredibly simple and if the message were to be summarised it would be simply:

To Come to God (Spirit or Love as we will call them) through what is called prayer and realise that you exist in him. Sadly though the word “God” brings up issues of harshness, rules, regulations etc and the word prayer equally brings up issues of the times we have pleaded with God for something (and didn´t get it) which has made us a bit twitchy. So now we kind of cringe a bit when religious language is used. If we define “mercy” as “God with us” and prayer as “meditation” or “contemplation” (rather than pleading for something) we can open ourselves a bit easier to what is being given here.

Unfortunately, the message which was given to the whole world has been rather quickly kidnapped, copyrighted and nailed to the floor as a Catholic devotion. Yet there was no mention of Protestants and Catholics in the messages themselves, just like most apparitions of Jesus and Mary at different times in the world. I am sure that the Priests and Nuns who run the Divine Mercy movement will be quick to point out that the image and diary are available to everyone and I am sure that is the case. Yet the language of the thing makes it a bit uncomfortable. Hell, sin, punishment, suffering and the Catholic sacraments which are clearly the culture of Faustina´s background and the vehicle though which the message is given.

I don´t intend to offer a new theology here but it is clear that the Divine Mercy movement was made for ALL PEOPLE and it is simply to bring them from the outside world into a deeper relationship with Love (God – call it what you want) by meditation (prayer). Quietening your mind enough to hear the still small Voice.

As the diary is copyrighted, of course I cannot quote from it, however I offer here some ways in which the definitions of religious terms could be used to make the diary a little bit more attractive to the 21st century:

Hell may be defined as a life without God – meaning a life living in the outer world.

Sacrament of Love or Communion may be defined as the point where you can hear that voice inside

Sinner can be described as a person who habitually deliberately avoids the inner mind.

The Image is a tool for meditation as well as the chaplet which would work in much the same way as the Rosary does, taking us deeper.

The loss of each soul does not mean that if you don`t pray you will go to a place to burn forever and be chased by a devil – but it does mean that to find peace here and in the hereafter you do need to be finding out what is real and what isn´t. Contemplation is the way to do that.

Yet sadly, we find ourselves being presented with a devotion to use to stop us being punished. The driving force for most people is “I am a bad person and I need to help myself out of this”. The typical God shown to us by well meaning Priests and Nuns is one about how Jesus suffered because of us and our sinfulness. That theology is ok for people who have not yet risen to understanding such things as mental prayer and that Love can interact with us personally but we need to get away from this kind of Victorian language that some are saved and some are damned. Who are we to judge? I thought we finished that when Vatican II came.

The call to Divine Mercy is a call to gratitude and loving our neighbours, the prayer groups which are being set up around the world called cenacles are powerful enough to bring about Love into our communities but only if their works are genuinely done out of Love rather than guilt. If done properly I believe the Divine Mercy movement could help us find peace in serving honestly and truthfully as well as bringing contemplative prayer to those who do not know it. But for that to happen we first need to redefine Church as a structure of Love, not a place to keep the Divine Mercy portrait hanging on a wall. It needs people who are really ready to go out there with zeal and truly help our neighbours.

The way in which this devotion is presented to us needs a radical rethink to avoid it ending up on the shelf along with a lot of other impractical theologies. Clearly the People who currently “own” it know there is something much deeper here than Jesus and Mary making us feel guilty and it would be really nice if they trusted us with having minds to follow it correctly instead of giving us Catholic sermons about hell punishment and guilt or worse still, shows of relics of St.Faustina as if somehow that was going to help.

The call is great, but it is a call to have a pure mind to contemplate, not another thing to punish us with.

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