God’s Overwhelming Mercy
The Filipino Chaplaincy in Vienna organized a 3-day pilgrimage to Poland from 2-4 September. Fifty-seven participants registered. I was fortunate to have made it into the list at the last moment. It was spearheaded by the devotees of the Divine Mercy. Obviously one of the main highlights of the trip was the visit to the basilica of the Divine Mercy where we had a glimpse of the convent where Sr. Faustina Kowalska receive her apparitions from Jesus. The bus ride took us 7 hours from Vienna to Poland passing through the Czech Republic.
It was my fist time to set foot on the soil of Poland. For me, this country is synonymous with the great John Paul II acclaimed as one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century. In his native land he is widely held as instrumental in ending Communist rule founded in 1952. Communist dominance waned during the labor turmoil in 1980 that led to the formation of the Solidarity Party which the Pope openly supported. Lech Walesa, a Solidarity Movement candidate, eventually won the presidency in 1990. Today, despite experiencing temporary slumps in the economy, it has emerged as the healthiest of the post-communist countries and one of the fastest growing economy in the European Union.
At our departure the weather forecast was not very favorable. It said it would be mostly cloudy with strong rain showers and a temperature of 18 degrees Celsius. But as it turned out, the weather cooperated very well because we had sun most of the time that made our trip memorable and less cold. Arriving at the city of Krakow, the second largest city and one of the oldest of Poland, we traversed through one of its thoroughfare known as “John Paul II Avenue.” It should be remembered that Karol Cardinal Wojtyla was Archbishop of Krakow for 15 years from 1963-1978 before being elevated as Supreme Pontiff.
After our mass in one of the chapels at the convent of the Sisters of Mercy, the congregation Sr. Faustina belonged, we went to pray at the big modern basilica and dropped by her tomb. Standing before her remains I thought about her life. How God can play favorites! Like Mary, she was a humble maiden chosen to proclaim a mystery we sometimes doubt : the great mercy of God!
Her life was a paragon of simplicity. Born into a poor Polish family with 13 siblings, she was given the name Helen. She had only three years of formal education because she had to work to help her family. At 20 years old she felt a strong stirring for the religious life. However she was turned down by the congregations she applied to many times because of her poor educational background. When she was finally accepted, she took the religious name Sr. Faustina. She lived in the congregation for 13 years working as a cook, gardener and porter.
Yet behind such ordinariness and monotony, she hid a rich mystical interior life. She received revelations, visions, prophecy and even participation in the suffering of Jesus. Despite her limited literacy, she kept a diary. It was later published under the title “Divine Mercy in my soul: The Diary of St. Faustina.” She wrote that Jesus revealed her purpose – to spread the devotion of the Mercy of God. On February 22, 1931 she had a vision of the now famous image of Jesus as “King of Divine Mercy” with the inscription at the bottom “Jesus I trust in you.” Sr. Faustina was later canonized by John Paul II on April 30, 2000.
St. Faustina’s life echoes God’s concern for the poor and the lost. The Parable of Mercy found in Luke chapter 15 brings us back to the very character of God. Jesus welcomes everyone without distinction. Amazingly, He has a bias for the little ones. At times we are tempted to love only those who are lovable or nice or cute. But the challenge is to love courageously even those who are less lovable or difficult; much more if they cannot give back in return. Such is God’s overwhelming mystery of mercy.