Trust: A Journey into the Diary of St. Faustina
Talk 1: June 17, 2015
Ascension Catholic Church, Donaldsonville, LA
O Jesus, eternal God, I thank You for Your countless graces and blessings. Let every beat of my heart be a new hymn of thanksgiving to You, O God. Let every drop of my blood circulate for You, Lord. My soul is one hymn in adoration of Your mercy. I love You, God, for Yourself alone. (Diary 1794)
Let us also invite Blessed Mother to assist us: Hail Mary...
Welcome / Why are you here?
Welcome. First, I want to get a sense of where everyone is from. Please share your first name and the town you’re from?
Second, what drew you to this class. Can, any of you share your reason why you decided to come to the class?
Thank you everyone for answering the invitation from St. Faustina and Jesus to be here today. The Holy Spirit inspired you to invest time to deepen your trust in God and open yourselves to His Mercy.
During this class, I want you to pay attention to your desires. St. Catherine of Siena, another saint who has written down her own experiences with God in a diary (The Dialogue), said:
"The human heart is always drawn by love." (Dialogue 26)
- Perhaps the real reason why you are here is because you are drawn by love, the love Jesus has for you.
"Love follows knowledge." (Dialogue 1) "One who knows more, loves more." (Dialogue 66)
- Love does not occur in a vacuum. Love is between two persons. The more we know the person, our love for them grows deeper. God has brought us into being out of love. It’s difficult for us to picture that love. Ask any mom or dad how much they are in love with their newborn infant, and likely they can’t put into words their immense love. The newborn infant senses that she is loved in someway, but yet does not know the full scope of that love. We are like that infant in relation to God. We sense in some way we are loved, but yet do not know the full scope of that love. St. Faustina in her Diary frequently uses the image of an ocean to describe God’s mercy and His love. Many of you will be going to the beach this summer. Just picture yourself sitting on the shore. As you gaze out into the ocean, you cannot see the end beyond the horizon. Just imagine that that’s God’s love for you.
"We trust and believe in what we love." (Dialogue 8)
- The more we begin to be aware of God’s love, we begin to trust and believe more in Him. All of us would love to spend more than a month on vacation on the beach. But we can’t; we have to go back. We often say after getting back from the vacation, “We’re back to the real world.”
- What is that “real world” like? If we look back over our lives, there were times when we felt as though we were alone, unloved, or even abandoned. Sometimes those experiences seem to convince us that that’s the “real world.” Those were the times when we may have felt that there was no one to trust and nothing to believe in.
- God is inviting all of humanity, present and future, to put their trust and belief in Him who is surrounding their lives with love, like the ocean surrounding all of our continents.
- We look to the lives of the saints and to persons in our lives to grow in our knowledge and love of Jesus. Helena Kowalska, a very simple, humble woman, was chosen by Jesus, in a special way, to help the world understand what it is like to grow in love with Him, to grow in trust in Him. Not everyone receives these special revelations directly from Jesus. In her journey of trust in Jesus, we will see our own journey. Jesus is hoping that you will also trust Him as He guides you through your own life.
- How many of you know something about the message of Divine Mercy and the connection to St. Faustina’s Diary?
- How many of you have read at least some portion of the Diary of St. Faustina?
- How many of you actually read her diary cover to cover? Did some of you have difficulty reading through the diary?
- How many of you keep a daily journal? (I asked this this past weekend during homily)
Our own journals
I have before me a box full of notebooks. These notebooks are journals that I kept during six years of seminary. Ask any man if they keep a daily journal, their answer would be ‘no.’ After I die, if someone was to pick up one of these books, what would they learn about me? Would they find it interesting? Should I burn it, since it contains very private and personal thoughts? There are passages in there where I questioned my calling to priesthood. How many of you would burn your journals before you die than to take the chance of someone reading your journal?
Diary of Sr. Faustina
Sr. Faustina felt the same way when she was asked to keep a journal. In 1934 (Sr. Faustina was 29 yrs. old and 4 years prior to her death), her spiritual director, Fr. Michal Sopocko, told her to keep notes of her experiences. Sr. Faustina was trying to explain to Fr. Sopocko during communal confession time all that she was experiencing during her prayer times. Other sisters were getting annoyed at her excessively long confession. So he told her to only accuse herself of herself of her sins in confession and to write down all her spiritual experiences in a notebook, which she was to give to him to read. (Side note: I remember the experience of going to confession at a Marian shrine several months prior to deciding to enter seminary. I was pouring out my heart to the priest about the promptings and doubts that I was feeling inside about entering seminary. He patiently explained to me about how God calls weak, sinful men to be fishers of men. When I got out of the confessional, I saw the angry glance of the people waiting in the line. I was in the confessional for 45 minutes!)
Initially, Sr. Faustina thought that the task of writing down her experiences was beyond her. She only had 3 semesters of primary schooling, so writing was difficult for her. She was also aware that no words could express her experiences. During the course of 4 years (1934-1938), she filled six handwritten notebooks (over 700 pages!). Her first notebook, she actually burned.
Not long after she began writing her Diary, St. Faustina's confessor, Fr. Michael Sopocko, went away for a month-long pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
During that time, a brilliant angel visited St. Faustina. The angel told her, “You are writing nonsense and only exposing yourself and others to great tribulations. What have you got from this mercy? Why are you wasting time on writing about illusions? Burn it all, and you will be calmer and happier!” At the time of Fr. Sopocko’s absence there was no one to advise Sr. Faustina, so when the vision of the angel recurred she did what the supposed angel had told her to do. When Fr. Sopocko came back and said it was time he looked at the Diary so he could judge the progress she was making, St. Faustina said she had burned it. Father asked her why, and she told him an angel told him to do it. At that moment, she realized it wasn't an angel; it was the devil in bright clothing.
Determined to overcome this setback, Fr. Sopocko told St. Faustina to start writing all over again. He told her to write whatever she could remember. She did that, and Fr. Sopocko in his witness says that she left out of the second version very much of what was in the first version, especially about her childhood. That's why in the first part of the Diary you have such a mixture of material and you cannot follow it chronologically.
In her diary Sr. Faustina wrote of the stirrings of her soul, and also of her relationship with the supernatural world: meetings with Jesus, Mary, saints, angels, or souls in purgatory. Though she began to take notes, with her spiritual director’s instruction in mind, in time the purpose of the notes began to change. Jesus Himself explained this to her when she once saw Him leaning over her when she was writing. Christ asked: “My daughter, what are you writing?” (Diary, 1693). Sr. Faustina replied that she was writing about Him, of His presence in the Blessed Sacrament, of His inconceivable love and mercy toward people. Then Christ said to her: “Secretary of My most profound mystery, know that yours is an exclusive intimacy with Me. Your task is to write down everything that I make known to you about My mercy, for the benefit of those who, by reading these things will be comforted in their souls and will have the courage to approach Me. I therefore want you to devote all your free moments to writing” (Diary, 1693)
So before us, in this thick Diary of Sr. Faustina, is an account of intimate relationship between Sr. Faustina and Jesus. This account is not written down for her sake, but for all of us. Many have commented, however, that it seems too daunting to read through the Diary. What we need is a map to help guide us through the Diary. In this and the next series of classes, we will outline this map. We will cover the history of Poland, biography of her life, the structure of the Diary, themes and messages of her Diary.
Do you remember the first time you attempted to read the whole Bible? How many of you tried to read starting with the Book of Genesis but gave up? The best advice someone ever gave me about reading the Bible was to read the Gospel of Mark and to try to focus on encountering Jesus. The best advice I can give you on reading the Diary is to get a good biography of St. Faustina. I can recommend four: The Life of Faustina Kowalska: The Authorized Biography (by Sister Sophia Michalenko, Servant Books), Faustina, Saint for Our Times: A Personal Look at Her Life, Spirituality, and Legacy (by Rev. George W. Kosicki, Marian Press), Trust: In Saint Faustina’s Footsteps (by Grzegorz Gorny & Janusz Rosikon, Ignatius Press), Faustina: Apostle of Divine Mercy (by Catherine M. Odell, Our Sunday Visitor).
Biography of St. Faustina
First, a personal note. Recently, I was invited by a parishioner of St. Catherine of Siena Church to attend her mother’s surprise 85th birthday party. At the entrance, I was handed a commemorative cup with a brief fun facts about 1930, the year in which the parishioner’s mother was born. It said:
1930 was the first year of the Great Depression.
Average cost of the new house, $7,145
Average wages per year, $1,970
Cost of a gallon of gas, 10 cents
Average cost for house rent, $15/month
The US suffered the worst ever drought, causing hardship in farming communities which led to the Dust Bowl.
How many of you here were born around that time? Do you remember some of the hardships of that time?
It helps to understand what it was like around the time when St. Faustina lived. So let’s set some chronology of St. Faustina’s life and the world around her.
Chronology of St. Faustina
- She was born on August, 25, 1905 to Stanislaus and Marianna Kowalski. Small village of Glogowiec, Poland near Lodz. She was baptized two days later as "Helena" in the parish church of St. Casimir. Helena was the third of 10 children of a poor farmer and carpenter. She was born in the house her father had built. His father was then a 37 yr. old and her mother was 30 yrs. old. They had 14-acres of land and two cows. At that time, a death of a cow raised the spectre of famine for the whole family.
- Helena knew what it was to live simply in a small cottage, doing chores around the house and working on the farm. She and her sisters took turns attending Mass on Sundays, sharing one good dress they owned.
- Helena was born in a country that did not exist. At that time, Poland was partitioned by Prussia, Austria, and Russia. She was born in a village that did not figure on any detailed map of the Russian Empire, a village to which there was no paved road and whose inhabitants for the most part were illiterate.
- Religion was central to the Kowalski family. Stanislaus sang out his daily prayers early in the morning before work. While his daughter was young, he taught her short prayers and how to read the lives of saints and missionaries. Helen was a gifted storyteller. She fascinated other children by repeating the stories to them. Her mother’s tender compassion and dedication to her husband and family also influenced the young girl.
- Three occupying countries--Prussia, Austria, and Russia--knew that the Catholic Church was the mainstay of Polish identity. In order to weaken them, they suppressed religious orders in Poland. Historians of Europe have shown that wherever convents and monasteries were suppressed, social ties began to break down, religiousness crumbled, and cultural life deteriorated. But repression by the authorities did not destroy religious life, which began to develop secretly. A phenomenon of Polish Catholicism was religious orders without habits, which carried out underground evangelization.- Pope John Paul II said that it was to precisely this poor girl, a girl from nowhere, that God had entrusted the mission of announcing to the whole world the most important message of the twentieth century. God’s way is not our way. If we wanted to spread the message all throughout the world, we would have chosen a major cities like Paris, London, New York or another of the world’s important cities instead. And we would have chosen a child from an aristocratic or at least educated family. St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, wrote: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no flesh might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor: 27-29)
-Fr. Paul Yi