In the 1930s a Polish nun saw visions of Jesus and wrote down what he said.
More than 70 years later St. Maria Faustina Kowalska and her visions and writings are the basis for the Divine Mercy, a devotion which is increasingly popular with Catholics worldwide.
Many people make a daily habit of a series of prayers known as the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and the church celebrates the feast day on the first Sunday after Easter.
Parishes in the Diocese of Charleston have prayer groups dedicated to the Divine Mercy and several have hosted retreats on the dedication.
“Focusing on the Divine Mercy helps people to get more of an appreciation for our savior Jesus Christ, the gifts He has given us and the mercy He has poured out on us,” said John Ward, one of the organizers of a discussion and prayer group at St. Theresa the Little Flower Church in Summerville.
Father Richard D. Harris, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Columbia, often prays the Divine Mercy Chaplet with the congregation after Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.
“The Divine Mercy is a devotion at the heart of Jesus’ death and resurrection,” Father Harris said. “When so many in our world carry the burdens of unforgiveness, guilt, and restlessness, the church offers us a message of mercy, freedom and peace. The devotion has its roots in the love of God for humanity.”
Visions, writings and an image
In 1931, Sister Faustina Kowalska was living in the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Cracow, Poland.
According to a Web site run by the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, www.thedivinemercy.org/message/stfaustina, she had little education and was working in the convent gardens and kitchen when she started to have the visions in 1931. They lasted for several years.
She compiled them into a series of diaries, and the writings have since been published as “The Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska.”
The diary expressed Jesus’ desire to spread his mercy and love to everyone in the world.
In 1931, one of St. Faustina’s earliest visions revealed what was to become a central part of the Divine Mercy devotion. Jesus asked her to paint an image of him. She could not paint, but found an artist known as Kazimirowski, who produced what has now become a well-known image of Christ pointing toward his heart, which emanates rays of white and red light.
According to one of her diaries, she was instructed, “Paint an image … with the signature: ‘Jesus, I trust in You.’ I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish.”
The Divine Mercy image was first displayed in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 1938 and is now seen in many churches, on prayer cards, and in the homes of people with a special devotion.
“I have one in my office, and it’s a reminder for me during the day of how we should put our total trust in Jesus throughout every aspect of our lives,” said Columbia resident Karen Hanson, who attends Transfiguration Church in Blythewood.
St. Faustina’s spiritual directors, Father Michael Sopocko and Father Joseph Andrasz, first revealed the content of her diary after her death in 1938.
According to a timeline on the Marians’ Web site, The Divine Mercy devotion spread in Europe and was brought to the United States between 1942 and 1959, when it was initially banned by the Holy Office.
Pope John Paul II’s interest in St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy started in the 1960s, when he was still the Archbishop of Cracow. He began an investigation into her life and works, which later led to her beatification and sainthood. The ban on the devotion was lifted in 1978, six months before he was elected pope.
In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized St. Faustina and established Divine Mercy Sunday.
In the United States, the Marian Fathers now run the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass.
Prayers of mercy and love
The Divine Mercy devotion has several elements, including displaying and meditating on the image. According to a guide published by Eternal Word Television Network, www.ewtn.com/devotionals/mercy/novena.htm, others include observing the feast day, and praying the Divine Mercy Novena, which usually begins on Good Friday and continues until Divine Mercy Sunday.
Some people also offer prayers to the Divine Mercy at 3 p.m., which was described in St. Faustina’s diaries as “An Hour of Great Mercy” that should be a time of prayer for sinners and meditation on Christ’s passion.
St. Faustina also wrote about a special prayer, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, which involves a series of prayers using the rosary and meditating on the passion.
Hanson said the chaplet has become a central part of her spiritual life since she first learned about the devotion four years ago. She prays it at least once a day.
“For me, it keeps me close to God,” she said. “We’re told to pray without ceasing, and I feel like if I pray the chaplet daily for other people, for my family and for myself as well, I’m doing something to help Jesus bring divine mercy into the world.”
Ward also prays the chaplet and the rosary daily.
“Before I learned about the Divine Mercy, I never said the rosary daily, even though I always carried it with me,” he said. “The Divine Mercy has deepened my faith. It’s given me more appreciation for Jesus Christ.”
Spreading the message of mercy
Once they discover the Divine Mercy devotion, people like Hanson and Ward often work to spread information about it.
Ward’s Summerville prayer group regularly attracts between eight and 10 people to monthly meetings. He said they pray the chaplet, read from St. Faustina’s diaries and watch videos about the Divine Mercy and other topics of faith.
The Divine Mercy was also the subject of a February parish retreat at St. Theresa led by Marian Father Seraphim Michalenko, an expert on St. Faustina.
Hanson and others at Transfiguration Church have handed out information about Divine Mercy Sunday over the years.
This year, they worked with members of the retreat committee to organize a recent talk by Robert Allard, director of the Florida-based Apostles of the Divine Mercy, www.divinemercysunday.com.
In a phone interview with The Miscellany, Allard said he was a fallen-away Catholic for 25 years until he discovered St. Faustina’s diaries had several profound spiritual experiences related to them in the early and mid-1990s. He now spreads awareness of the devotion, and encourages clergy and laity to observe Divine Mercy Sunday.
“The feast day pours forth a whole ocean of graces like no other day,” he said. “It’s not only a day designated for the worship of God and his mercy, but it’s also a day of grace for all people, a day of forgiveness.”
In the Upstate, Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville recently started a Divine Mercy prayer and study group that is running through the Lent and Easter seasons.
The group’s purpose is to gain a deeper understanding of God’s mercy through the Scriptures and how it manifests in the lives of the saints and in modern daily life.