Trust: A Journey into the Diary of St. Faustina
Talk 3: July 8, 2015
Prayer: (Please turn to Diary #343)
Jesus, I thank you for the little daily crosses, for opposition to my endeavors, for the hardships of communal life, for the misinterpretation of my intentions, for humiliations at the hands of others, for the harsh way in which we are treated, for the false suspicions, for poor health and loss of strength, for self-denial, for dying to myself, for lack of recognition in everything, for the upsetting of all my plans.
Thank you, Jesus, for interior sufferings, for dryness of spirit, for terror, fears and incertitudes, for the darkness and the deep interior night, for temptations and various ordeals, for torments too difficult to describe, especially for those which no one will understand, for the hour of death with its fierce struggle and all its bitterness.
I thank You, Jesus, You who first drank the cup of bitterness before You gave it to me, in a much milder form. I put my lips to this cup of Your holy will. Let all be done according to Your good pleasure; let that which Your wisdom ordained before the ages be done to me. I want to drink the cup to its last drop, and not seek to know the reason why.
In bitterness is my joy, in hopelessness is my trust. In You, O Lord, all is good, all is a gift of Your paternal Heart. I do not prefer consolations over bitterness, or bitterness over consolations, but thank You, O Jesus, for everything! It is my delight to fix my gaze upon You, O incomprehensible God! (Diary, 343)
During this class, we will explore St Faustina’s life in the convent. After overcoming challenging obstacles, she finally entered the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy on the eve of the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels, August, 1, 1925. Several years later in her diary, she expressed her feelings about entering the convent: “I felt immensely happy; 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)
Upon entering the convent, Helena was shown to her sleeping quarters and given the clothing she was to wear as a postulant. Postulancy was the first stage of commitment in the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. The word postulant means “someone who requests.” In a short postulancy period (3 months for Helena), as the candidates learn what their new life will mean, they can ask to be admitted to religious life. The second stage is called the novitiate, which usually lasts from one to two years. Novices are truly members of their orders, but they are accepted in a limited and temporary way. They still have to complete the novitiate program, which forms and educates them in deeper ways. At the conclusion of the novitiate, the novices profess temporary vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Later, after several years of discernment, the religious man or woman has the chance to make a full commitment to the community by making permanent vows. Until the permanent vows, the sisters are free to leave the religious life.
Life in the Convent
How many of you were given a job description when you got hired on your first job?
How many of you were given a job description when you got married?
Helena knew that Jesus desired for her to enter the convent and she herself desired to enter the convent. But, she knew very little about the actual work of the order she joined.
The exuberance Helena felt on the evening of her entrance to the convent fizzled within three weeks. Actually, only after the first week of convent life, she was a bit depressed and distressed. She had not known what to expect of the convent and thus the change to her every day life was drastic. Now, she was told to walk slowly, to speak only when spoken to, and to pray in the chapel only at appointed times. For a girl with a lively spirit and who had been independent, the new way of life in the convent was enormous regimentation. Also, she believed that too much of her day was filled with housework. The routine of doing the laundry, washing dishes, and cooking, bothered Helena, for she had joined the convent to have more time to pray. It was apparent in just three weeks time that her days in religious life were not so different from her days as a household maid.
During seminary, I knew a seminarian who was studying to be a religious friar. He did not want all the responsibilities of being a priest; he wanted a lowly, simple life of a religious brother. He envisioned a life of contemplation and prayer. It was a complete shock to him when, only a year after completing his seminary education, he was named the superior of the friary. His responsibility was to coordinate the day-to-day maintenance of an aging facility as well as worrying about the large debt incurred from previous building project. He was very busy running the house. Did you experience something similar in your married life? After the wedding day and after the honeymoon phase ended, did you experience a shattering of an ideal vision of a married life?
The convent that Helena entered was a large facility with plenty of work. There were hundreds of mouths to feed, for it was a facility that helped rehabilitate young women who were trying to escape a life of prostitution. The wonderful and idealized vision Helena may have had of a nun’s life was quickly destroyed. Helena soon concluded that she made a mistake in her choice of a convent. She was determined to meet with the Superior and tell her that she was going to transfer to another convent which would afford her more time for prayer. Then one night in her room, Helena saw the wounded face of Jesus upon the curtain that hung near her bed. There were cuts and gashes on His face. Tears flowed slowly down his face and dropped upon the bedspread of her bed.
“Jesus, who has hurt You so?” Helena whispered to the suffering Christ. Lord told her, “It is you who will cause Me this pain if you leave this convent,” the Lord told her. “It is to this place that I called you and nowhere else; and I have prepared many graces for you.” Helena begged pardon for her error. She thanked God for showing His will to her. She knew that she should remain with the Sisters of Mercy.
Was there a time, when you wanted to leave your vocation--your job, your responsibility, your family? Do you remember the mental anguish you went through as you wrestled with the desire to leave and the desire to stay?
Based on your own experience, how long should a couple date before deciding to get married? How long should they wait between the period of getting engaged and their wedding day?
Likewise, how long should a young woman or man interested in entering the religious life wait before they make the final, irrevocable commitment? For myself it was 6 years in the seminary. For our seminarian Matthew, it is 8 years. For St. Faustina, it was 8 years. (Postulancy - 1 yr / Novitiate - 2 yrs / Juniorate - 5 yrs / Solemn Profession) Why so long? Cardinal John O’Connor explains that during the period of formation, we are like the clay in the hands of the potter, being formed into the image and likeness of Jesus:
“The process of formation and development in the religious life has to be the process of the clay in the hands of the potter, the Divine Potter, Who shapes us uniquely to be filled with His Son, and yet each of us in a different way.” – John Cardinal O’Connor
Let’s now look at the solemn vows that Sr. Faustina was preparing for 8 years. The following ritual of solemn profession comes from the Community of Poor Clares (Franciscan).
Example of Solemn Profession of Final Vows
Mother: "Sister Maria Seraphina of Our Heavenly Father"
Sister: "Lord, you have called me by my name. Behold, I come to do your holy will."
(Each of us are called by name into the life of Christ, to do His will.)
Mother: "Dear daughter, what do you desire?"
Sister: "One thing I have asked of the Lord, this I seek, to dwell in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life."
(This is what we ask of the Lord each day.)
Mother: "Have you pondered well and really understood what you wish to commit yourself to do?"
Sister: "I have, with the grace of God."
(Our Lord taught us to mean what we say; let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Anything else is from the devil, he said.)
Mother: "Have you the courage to trust in God completely, that he will provide for all your needs, especially that he will give you the grace to live out faithfully what you desire to promise to him?"
Sister: "I have, with the grace of God."
(Everything we do, we do with God’s strength and not our own. It’s so tempting to rely on our own strength.)
Mother: "You have put your hand to the plough and from this day forward there can be no looking back. Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man, your Spouse, had nowhere to lay His head. Are you prepared to follow Him completely until the end?"
Sister: "I am, with the grace of God."
(We trust Him when we follow Him. Once we follow Him, we don’t look away, or we will go astray.)
Mother: "What you hold now, may you hold forever. What you promise now, may you never abandon, but with swift pace, light step and unswerving feet go forward, securely, joyfully, swiftly and prudently on the path of happiness, so that you may offer your vows to the Most High in that perfection to which the Spirit of the Lord has called you."
(Only in God’s will is our peace.)
Mother: "In preparation for the vows which you are about to pronounce, I invite you now to renounce all moral and actual right to own anything under Heaven, in the covenant with Lady Poverty granted to our Holy Mother Clare by Pope Innocent III.”
Sister: Since I desire to belong wholly to the Lord, I now renounce, once and for all,
the power of owning anything under Heaven, that I may in every way cling to the footprints of Him who became for us the Way, the Truth and the Life, He whose left hand is under my head to support the weakness of my flesh, who feeds the birds of Heaven, and clothes the lilies of the fields, will feed and clothe me, and provide all my needs until that day when His right hand embraces me and I behold Him in Heaven. Amen.
(With great trust, in humility, the sister entrusts herself to God who will provide all her needs.)
Mother: "Be faithful unto death, most dear one, to what you are about to promise
and you will be crowned by Christ with the wreath of eternal life.
Our labour here below is short, the glory is infinite."
(The Sisters kneel and the Celebrant and congregation remain standing)
Sister: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I, little Sister Maria Seraphina of Our Heavenly Father, wish to follow the life and poverty of our most high Lord Jesus Christ, and to persevere to the end.
And I vow to God, before the Blessed Virgin Mary, and I promise you, dear Mother,
to observe for the whole time of my life the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,
by living in obedience, without property and in chastity, in the form of life which the blessed Francis gave to our Blessed Mother Clare and Pope Innocent IV confirmed,
And I vow to observe enclosure, after the example of our Holy Mother Colette.
Mother: "I receive these vows on behalf of the Church and the Order.
What you have vowed to God render to Him faithfully and he shall reward you.
Look up to Heaven, dear one, which beckons us on, and take up your cross and follow Christ who walks ahead of us. For whatever tribulations we may have here
we shall enter through Him into His glory."
Over the course of 8 years, a religious sister is to prepare her heart and mind to give herself freely, faithfully, and fruitfully to her groom, who is Jesus, on the day of her solemn profession of her vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Lessons in Obedience
Of the three vows--poverty, chastity, and obedience--which one do you think is the most difficult for a religious? Most answer obedience. Let me give you an example from the Diary where Jesus illustrates how important obedience is.
[From Diary # 28] Once Jesus told me, Go to Mother Superior [probably Mother Raphael] and ask her to let you wear a hair shirt for seven days, and once each night you are to get up and come to the chapel. I said yes, but I found a certain difficulty in actually going to the Superior.
In the evening Jesus asked me, How long will you put it off? I made up my mind to tell Mother Superior the very next time I would see her.
The next day before noon I saw Mother Superior going to the refectory and, since the kitchen, refectory and Sister Aloysia’s little room are all close to each other, I asked Mother Superior to come into Sister Aloysia’s room and told her of the wish of the Lord Jesus. At that, Mother answered, “I will not permit you to wear any hair shirt. Absolutely not! If the Lord Jesus were to give you the strength of a colossus, I would then permit those mortifications.”
I apologized for taking up Mother’s time and left the room. At that very moment I saw Jesus standing at the kitchen door, and I said to Him, “You commanded me to ask for these mortifications, but Mother Superior will not permit them.” Jesus said, I was here during your conversation with the Superior and know everything. I don’t demand mortification from you, but obedience. By obedience you give great glory to Me and gain merit for yourself.
(What’s your reaction? How would you have responded if you were put in this situation? What does it mean to be obedient in married or single life?)
In another place, Jesus says why obedience is the distinguishing mark of those who strive to follow God’s will.
[Diary # 535] Jesus told St. Faustina another time, “I was obedient to my parents, my executioners and now I am obedient to my priests”. St Faustina said the devil can imitate humility but not OBEDIENCE. The fall of the devil and adam and eve was through lack of obedience. Mary was the obedient one like the saints.
Lessons in Humility through Humiliation
For me, one of the most challenging passages in St. Faustina's Diary is this instruction from our Lord: "Do not defend yourself when you are put to shame, though innocent" (Diary, 1701). Let me read you an experience Sr. Faustina wrote about:
Upon entering the convent, Sr. Faustina first worked in the kitchen. One day, probably due to her lack of cooking experience, she drew the ire of one of the other nuns who, as a result, ordered her to sit down on the table and not get off until given permission. Other nuns passed by and, not understanding why she was just sitting there while so much work needed to be done, assumed she was lazy and would amount to nothing. They said, “What an eccentric! What kind of a sister will she make?” How humiliated most of us would be if we had been in her shoes. But Sr. Faustina bore it well because she knew our Lord would vindicate her obedience. She wrote, “Truly God alone knows how many acts of self denial it took. I thought I’d die of shame. God often allowed such things for the sake of my inner formation.” She was much consoled when during prayer in the chapel she heard Jesus say, “My daughter, do not be afraid of sufferings; I am with you.”
For beings known to inflict myriad injustices on one another, we are very quick to object to any perceived injustice against ourselves. One of the first and favorite complete sentences used by little children is, "That's not fair!" While Jesus did tell us that we are blessed when we hunger and thirst after righteousness, we have to admit, if we're honest with ourselves, that much of our crying out against unfair accusations stems from concern for our own egos, not a pure thirst for justice in the world.
1701 I asked the Lord today that He might deign to teach me about the interior life, because of myself I can neither understand nor conceive anything perfectly. The Lord answered me, I was your Teacher, I am and I will be; strive to make your heart like unto My humble and gentle Heart. Never claim your rights. Bear with great calm and patience everything that befalls you. Do not defend yourself when you are put to shame, though innocent. Let others triumph. Do not stop (73) being good when you notice that your goodness is being abused. I Myself will speak up for you when it is necessary. Be grateful for the smallest of My graces, because your gratitude compels Me to grant you new graces…