Although the trait of the love of the Church appears in many schools of spirituality, in each of them it has its own specific colouring. Sister Faustina sees the Church as a great gift of God’s mercy, an extremely generous gift, because it constitutes space for the union of life between the Creator and Saviour and man. In her writings she frequently uses the image of the Church as a mother who by the very nature of things is merciful to her children, and the image of a Mystical Body of Christ in which every part lives in unity with the Head and other parts.
Sister Faustina had the opportunity to convince herself not only through the spirit of faith, but also through her numerous visions and mystical experience that it is precisely the Church that constitutes the union of man’s life with God and that it is a space containing His living presence. When I steeped myself in prayer, I was transported in spirit to the chapel, where I saw the Lord Jesus, exposed in the monstrance, she recorded in her Diary, in place of the monstrance, I saw the glorious face of the Lord and He said to me, «What you see in reality, these souls see through faith» (Diary 1420).
A sign of God’s mercy for Sister Faustina was not only the very fact of founding the Holy Church and the living presence of God in it, but also His activity directed towards man, expressed particularly through the word which enlightens and through the sacraments in which He grants various graces which are necessary for man in order to attain future life. In her litany appeals as well as in other passages of her Diary, Sister Faustina writes about this directly and openly, mentioning different manifestations of God’s great mercy, such as holy baptism, justification through Jesus Christ, endowing man with immortal life, offering man the possibility of conversion, of receiving sacraments in which Jesus grants various types of graces for each and every moment of human life…(Diary 949, 1286 et al.).
Another manifestation of God’s mercy in the Church is for Sister Faustina the spreading of God’s holiness among creatures. Only God is holy and His holiness is so great that all heavenly powers tremble before it, losing themselves in never ceasing adoration; they express their adoration for Him calling: Holy, Holy, Holy…(Diary 180). This holiness of God, as Sister Faustina puts it in her Diary, is poured out upon the Church of God and upon every living soul in it, but not in the same degree. There are souls who are com- pletely penetrated by God, and there are those who are barely alive (Diary 180). Although God pours His holiness on all souls, yet man’s sanctification depends also on his freedom, on his acceptance of the wealth of gifts which God had left for him in the Church. Yet, the very chance of transforming one’s life, of improving it with the help of supernatural means, the invitation to share the community of life with God, the possibility of an ever fuller participation in the life of Jesus and in His mission, were perceived by Sister Faustina as great gifts of God’s mercy, which were totally undeserved by man and were received by him only out of the merciful love of his Creator and Saviour. Perceiving this immense love of God in the Church, Sister Faustina could in all sincerity of heart confess her great joy which she expressed in the sentence, What a joy it is to be a faithful child of the Church! (Diary 481). Such perception of the Church awakens in her the spirit of gratitude towards God and mobilises to care about great sanctity.
The Church – As Mother
In the Holy Scripture one encounters many interrelated images and figures which are mutually linked to each other and which describe the extremely rich reality of the Church. Each of these figures: for example, that of the sheepfold, a cultivated field, the building of God, a spouse, upper Jerusalem (c.f. CCC 754-757) has its own significance and shows the Church, as it was conceived by the Triune God, and founded by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the writings of Sister Faustina, the Church is presented most frequently as the mother, O my Mother, Church of God, you are a true Mother who understands her children (Diary 1469). The Church is the mother, as it grants one immortal life in the sacraments; it guides, purifies, enlightens, comforts and strengthens one (c.f. Diary 1286, 1469, 1474); it leads souls to an ever closer union with God on this earth as well as to the glory of heaven (Diary 749, 777).
O Church of God, you are the best Mother, Sister Faustina wrote in the Diary, you alone can rear a soul and cause it to grow (Diary 197). Sister Faustina knew that God announced a revelation for the Church, in which He revealed His love for man as well as the plan of his salvation; that is why, He gave to the children of the Church the opportunity to get to know God not only through all the created things, but also through faith. Almost every feast of the Church, confessed Sister Faustina, gives me a deeper knowledge of God and a special grace. That is why, I prepare myself for each feast and unite myself closely with the spirit of the Church (Diary 481). This forever deeper understanding of God, which Sister Faustina acquired first through faith for which she prayed fervently until the very last day of her life, brought her immense joy. So she took advantage of every opportunity to draw extensively on this wealth of the Church: she meditated on the Holy Scripture; she listened carefully to the word of God; she participated actively in the liturgy and took advantage of the monthly retreats and days of meditation; she also took advantage of religious literature and participated in conferences (the so called “catechism”), which were conducted by various guest priests, mistresses and mother superiors. Oh, how sweet it is to have in the depth of one’s soul that which the Church tells us we must believe (Diary 1123), she confes- sed with unconcealed joy.
When she experienced the painful passive nights of the spirit and when terrible temptations tormented her soul, she aroused acts of faith: I believe, I believe, and again I believe in You, Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and in all the truths which Your holy Church gives me to believe…(Diary 1558). This confession of Sister Faustina’s in which she states that she believes in all the truths which the Church gives us to believe, particularly when she is plunged in a state of great spiritual darkness and discomfort, testifies to her great trust in the Church as the best Mother who uses different me- thods to raise her children and lead them to God. I give unceasing thanks to God, she wrote, for so great a grace; namely that in His great goodness He has deigned to place these pillars of light along the path of my spiritual life. They light my way so that I do not go astray or become delayed in my journey toward close union with the Lord. I have a great love for the Church, which educates souls and leads them to God (Diary 749).
As a good child who prays for the mother it loves, Sister Faustina wrote in her Diary, every Christian should pray for the Church which is its best mother (Diary 551). Sister Faustina prayed continuously for the Church in various intentions: with her prayer and self-sacrifice, she was helping the priests who proclaimed the word of God and ministered in the confessional; she entreated the Lord for the grace of conversion to sinners, for a happy and quiet death for the dying, as well as for the grace of everlasting life for the souls suffering in purgatory. In her prayers, she remembered about the Holy Father, the missionaries as well as about the suffering Church in various parts of the world, e.g. in Spain, Russia…(Diary 240, 1052, 1366, 1582 et al.). She also remembered about the sinners and the suffering and even about those who have lost hope in God’s mercy. It was for them that she made a voluntary offering of herself, and entreated God for their return to the bosom of the Church and for the grace of their becoming united with God (Diary 309). Now that I have difficulty sleeping at night, because my suffering won’t allow it, she recorded in her Diary, I visit all the churches and chapels and, if only for a brief moment, I make an act of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. When I return to my chapel, I then pray for certain priests who proclaim and glorify the Divine Mercy. I also pray for the intentions of the Holy Father and to obtain mercy for sinners – such are my nights (Diary 1501).
A child who loves its mother is always obedient to her. In the same way, obedience to the Church is – according to Sister Faustina – an expression of love for it. This obedience to the Church finds its expression not only in accepting everything that the Church gives one to believe, but also in submis- sion towards those who reveal the will of God, that is, towards priests and superiors. Such an attitude often required considerable heroism from Sister Faustina, particularly in those situations when she received orders directly from Jesus and when her fulfillment of those orders depended on the decision of the priests and the superiors. Yet, following the example of the obedience of Jesus Christ, she tried to be obedient to the Church always and everywhere, although as she confessed, she became the martyr of God’s inspirations. O Eternal Truth, she prayed, Word Incarnate, who most faithfully fulfilled Your Father’s will, today I am becoming a martyr of Your inspirations, since I cannot carry them out because I have no will of my own, though interiorly I see Your will clearly. I submit in everything to the will of my superiors and my confessor. I will follow Your will insofar as You will permit me to do so through Your representative. O my Jesus, I cannot be helped, but I give priority to the voice of the Church over the voice with which You speak to me (Diary 497). She knew that obedience to the Church, although often very painful, would not permit her to go astray and that thanks to it she will be able to fulfil God’s will perfectly. Jesus Himself assured her of it on many an occasion when He said, Repeat every one of My demands to those who represent Me on earth, but do only what they tell you to do (Diary 489). Obedience to the Church had led Sister Faustina to the very summits of mysticism and had resulted in abundant fruition of her prophetic mission.
In spite of the painful experiences and the many tribulations she suffered from priests, the Church had always acted as the best mother to her for it was God who had created it so as to enable man to develop his spiritual life.
The Church – As Mystical Body of Christ
Another image of the Church which is often summoned and is also present in Sister Faustina’s writings, is St. Paul’s concept of the Mystical Body of Christ which is an alternative and more precise way of defining the Church as a people of God. The concept of the “body”, explains bishop Edward Ozorowski, should not be conceived of here in its physical-chemical sense – as a composition of muscles and bones or else a collection of cells. In the New Testament, the concept of the “body” (soma) has a theological meaning. It points out, above all, to the idea of unity. When referred to the Church, the “Body of Christ” defines the type of relations which occur between people and Christ (vertical dimension) as well as among the people themselves who remain in unity with Christ (horizontal dimension). That is precisely how Sister Faustina conceived of the Mystical Body of Christ, many years before the II Vatican Council which emphasised so strongly such an image of the Church. For thanks to her profound faith and mystical experience, she was able to perceive a close bond between Christ and every baptised man as well as the co-dependence and co-responsibility existing among all members of the Church.
Oh, how much I love Holy Church and all those who live in it, confessed Sister Faustina, I look upon them as living members of Christ, who is their head. I burn with love with those who love; I suffer with those who suffer. I am consumed with sorrow at the sight of those who are cold and ungrateful; and I then try to have such a love for God that it will make amends for those who do not love Him, those who feed their Saviour with ingratitude at its worst (Diary 481). The mystery of Christ’s close unity with the baptised delighted and amazed her; she marvelled at how God humbles himself before His creatures and communes with them in a familiar way within the Church, even to the point of offering Himself up to them as food. Analogously to the role the head plays in the human organism, Christ as the Head of the Church plays a similar role within His Mystical Body; and thus, He is united with each and every member whom He addresses directly and personally; He grants suitable graces to every individual and allocates certain concrete tasks to all of us. He guides and directs His Mystical Body for the good of its members; he loves them as a bride loves his spouse and he attends to all their needs. We all make up one organism in Jesus (Diary 1364), concluded Sister Faustina.
Sister Faustina perceived not only the vertical dimension in the Mystical Body of Christ (the union between each of its members and Christ), but also the horizontal dimension (union between the members in Christ), from which there follows the principle of interdependence, solidarity and co-responsibility of all the members. She understood this perfectly, as she wrote, The sanctity or the fall of each individual soul has an effect upon the whole Church. Observing myself and those who are close to me, I have come to understand how great an influence I have on other souls, not by any heroic deeds, as these are striking in themselves, but by small actions like a movement of the hand, a look, and many other things too numerous to mention, which have an effect on and reflect in the souls of others, as I myself have noticed (Diary 1475). In her own life, she experienced the joys and sorrows of other members of the Church. She was overjoyed when through confession the dead members of the Church had returned to life and when love and goodness grew within the community of the faithful; whereas she was distressed when she looked at the ungrateful and frigid who persisted in sin, as then the whole Mystical Body of Christ suffered.
Out of her sense of responsibility for the living organism of the Church, she strove for personal sanctity. I am striving for sanctity, she confessed, because in this way I shall be useful to the Church. I make constant efforts in practising virtue. I try faithfully to follow Jesus. And I deposit this whole series of daily virtues – silent, hidden, almost imperceptible, but made with great love – in the treasury of God’s Church for the common benefit of souls. I feel interiorly as if I were responsible for all souls. I know very well that I do not live for myself alone, but for the entire Church…(Diary 1505). Her striving for sanctity is not only an ever fuller and more complete union with God, but also a concern for the sanctification of fellow brothers and sisters. The Lord Jesus instructed her about this when He said, Know this, My daughter: if you strive for perfection you will sanctify many souls; and if you do not strive for sanctity, by the same token, many souls will remain imperfect. Know that their perfection will depend on your perfection (Diary 1165). Sister Faustina remembered about Christ’s words very well and she fulfilled them very carefully. That is why, when a reluctance and a monotony as regards her daily duties took possession of her, she would remind herself that in the house of the Lord, there was nothing small, and that the glory of the Church and the progress of many a soul often depend on this small deed of hers (Diary 508). That is why, she tried to faithfully imitate Christ and remain in an ever closer union with Him, so that the soil of her heart would bear good fruit, and she deposited a whole series of daily virtues, silent, hidden, almost imperceptible in the treasury of the Church, for the common benefit of all souls (Diary 740, 1505 et al.). She knew that her sanctity will throb with life in the whole Church, for we all make up one organism in Jesus (c.f. Diary 1364).
sr. M. Elisabeth Siepak C.O.L.M.
„The Spiritualty of Saint Sister Faustina”
Translated by sr. M. Nazareta Maleta, C.O.L.M.
sr. M. Caterina Esselen, C.O.L.M.
Prepared by sr. M. Diana Kuczek, C.O.L.M.