“Oh humdrum days, filled with darkness, I look upon you with a solemn and festive eye.” (Saint Faustina Kowalska, Diary, #1373)
Saint Faustina Kowalska wrote these words in 1937 at the brink of falling into a very serious illness from which she would never recover. She could not have known that this experience of darkness was only the beginning of many difficult days for herself, her native Poland and the Church. For many years, Saint Faustina had been in deep conversation with Jesus. She believed He wanted her to promote a renewal in devotion to divine mercy. Yet, for most of her life, very few of those who could help her ever took her seriously. One of her first superiors even went as far as to note that she was “nobody special.” In order to understand her message of mercy, a message we celebrate in a beautiful way on Divine Mercy Sunday, we need to look at her witness, the way she lived the mystery of merciful love during those dark humdrum days. In the friendship with Christ Divine Mercy opened up for her, this Polish mystic plunged deep into the mystery of Christ’s rejection and because of that baptism, she was able to draw even more deeply from the mystery of His wisdom and courage.
At a time not unlike our own, grave injustice, desperation, attacks on religious liberty, class struggle, uncertainty and fear overshadowed those humdrum days in which all her own plans and efforts to serve the Lord seemed to be thwarted. In August, the Soviet Union had taken up a secret policy of ethnic cleansing which would result in the arrest of about 140,000 people with mostly Polish last names and mostly Catholic religious affiliation. Although concerns over espionage provided a pretext for this effort, it would be naive not to acknowledge the religious dimension to the secular policy. In the months after her death, well more than 85,000 Polish Catholics were executed while over 25,000 were sent to labor camps. Secular idealism or dialectic materialism also incited violence among the Poles themselves. In protest against their own government’s failure to adequately address poverty, Polish peasants went on strike. There were riots and instances of police brutality in some of the most impoverished neighborhoods. Yet there were other dark movements afoot of which Saint Faustina could not have guessed. In fact, National Socialists in Germany were engulfing Europe in a wave of anti-semitism and plotting to plunge the whole world into war.
Many in the community in fact believed their fellow sister in religion was psychologically unstable, incompetent and emotionally weak. The fruits of her holiness were hidden to everyone except the most discerning. Nonetheless, it is difficult to find instances where Saint Faustina took this personal. Throughout her writings, she seems so focused on the Lord that slights on her reputation are seen mainly as an opportunity to make a little sacrifice of loving patience. Her relationship with the Lord is marked by tender affection. She often anticipates His disappointments and is constantly amazed by His personal concern for her and understanding of each situation. In the face of the rejection she often suffered, it is true that she honestly complained to Jesus about being misunderstood. Yet it seems she did so only because these misunderstandings seemed to prevent her from accomplishing what she believed the Risen Lord had asked of her. Time and again the Risen Lord invites her into deeper and deeper trust.
One such instance occurred right in the midst of those dark humdrum days Saint Faustina looked upon with festive eyes. Workers were belligerently banging at the gate of the convent monastery. (See Diary #1377) People were desperate for work and these men were demanding jobs. One of the sisters had peered through an opening and argued with them to go away. This only incited the men to bang harder and yell louder. The frightened and upset religious ran to the chapel to notify the superior. The superior asked the small and seemingly timid thirty two year old Saint Faustina to go and see if she could do anything.
Saint Faustina prayerfully went with the intention of trying to talk to them men through a kind of window in the locked gate. This would be the most prudent course of action. The workers, after all, were upset and filled with all kinds of rash judgment, and she was small and powerless. As she drew closer to the commotion, it is easy to understand why she was afflicted with doubts and fears. Rather than giving into despondency, she prayed. The Lord prompted her to do something very different from her original plan. He told her to speak to them as sweetly as she spoke to Him. Because she had already learned to be docile to these promptings through the many trials of rejection the Lord had brought her through up to that point, she was able to generously respond to this word. With confidence, she opened the gate and spoke to the men face to face. Her voice was gentle and understanding. This act of courage and respect calmed the disgruntled laborers down. Seeing the humble sister and hearing her concern for them, they too began to speak and act with gentleness. The situation was diffused and everyone went home in peace.
Can prayer help us find peace in the dark humdrum days of our lives today? There are often times in our conversations with friends and family, but also in our conversations with others in the public square, that we feel doubts about whether our words will make a difference. Under the burden of contemporary forms of secular idealism, this will only get worse for awhile. Fear might influence us to take precautions to protect ourselves and there may be a temptation to answer harsh words in a contentious manner. We may feel discouraged and ready to give up. This is not the way of mercy. Mercy is love that suffers the privation of another, feels the pain of the one who suffers, to affirm that individual’s dignity. The way of mercy can only be found through our friendship with Christ and He always challenges us to make ourselves vulnerable and open to His love.
The Risen Lord comes to us in our doubts and fears ready to bestow His courage and speak His words of wisdom. He only asks us to accept a little rejection and humiliation at the hands of others by trusting in Him. Suffering a little injustice helps us soberly face the misery that afflicts all of us. Misery is a lack of love, an absence of love that ought to be there. Our sins and the sins of others have brought about this privation and in His Divine Mercy, God longs for us to entrust this misery to Him. He burns with the desire that we should not suffer alone or in alienation, that we should know that someone understands us and has implicated Himself in our plight out of love for us. In fact, Saint Faustina believed that the only thing that was really ours to offer God is our misery — everything else is a gift from Him. In this offering, His courage and His wisdom open up the possibility of suffering the misery of another out of love and offering that misery for the glory of the Father – whose will is love and mercy itself. This kind of gentle love is the only satisfying answer in the face of uncertainty, confusion and contention.
The rejection of men and the courage of God coincide with the anawim – the little ones, the vulnerable through whom God has chosen to reveal His mercy. It is good to aspire to this kind of hidden, secret existence. It is a life of trust, trust in the mercy of God. The humble courage of Saint Faustina provides a glimpse into how God uses such “rejected” stones in foundational ways. As elements of the devotion she believed Christ asked her to make known began to help people find hope; her humble, gentle way eventually convinced those in authority that they were dealing with a mystic of great personal holiness. It was a great gift to the Church that Blessed John Paul II correctly contemplated this stone that the builders rejected. Because of his courage and leadership, her message and witness is become a sure cornerstone for our times.
On this Divine Mercy Sunday, we are invited to contemplate with festive eyes the humdrum darkness that threatens our time. If we will search for it, we might just glimpse with Saint Faustina the splendor of merciful love. Such prayer would be to peak into the deep friendship with the Lord such suffering love makes possible, and, in that contemplation, we may well savor the taste of that wisdom and courage that allows us to share this same divine love with others.
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Art for this post on Finding the Splendor of Mercy in the Shadow of Humdrum Days: Saint Faustina, artist not identified, photograph dated 19 April 2007, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.