St. Faustina & the Value of Obedience

St. Maria Faustina Kowalska

St. Maria Faustina

The lives of the saints can be so inspiring to read! Take for instance St. Maria Faustina Kowalska—she lived in Poland from 1905-1938. She conversed with Jesus during visions, experienced profound solidarity with the Passion of our Lord and He directed her to have the image of Divine Mercy painted. But it was not because of the visions granted to her or even that she gave the world the Divine Mercy image that Maria Faustina has been declared a saint. Rather, it is because she demonstrated heroic virtue. In his homily during the canonization of St. Faustina, St. Pope John Paul II said:

“Sr. Faustina Kowalska wrote in her Diary: ‘I feel tremendous pain when I see the sufferings of my neighbors. All my neighbors’ sufferings reverberate in my own heart…I would like all their sorrows to fall upon me, in order to relieve my neighbor’ (Diary, p. 365). This is the degree of compassion to which love leads, when it takes the love of God as its measure!”

Along with being a mystic and contemplative, she lived a life of inspiring heroic charity to be sure!

Sometimes, though, the saints seem to be inaccessible because of their lofty spirituality and it can be easy to believe that somehow they have been given measures of grace not available to you or me. After all, I haven’t prayed “to become a sacrificial host for sinners” today, or yesterday for that matter, as St. Faustina did (Diary, 908). Yep, it’s easy to be inspired by the lives of the saints and just as easy to put their stories back on the bookshelves thinking how they are so different from us.

This view was challenged by a passage from St. Faustina’s diary that I read not too long ago where Jesus asked her to go speak with Mother Superior about letting her wear a hair shirt:

“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 dont demand mortification from you, but obedience.’” (Diary, 28, emphasis added)

Obedience. This one word uttered by our Lord to St. Faustina shatters any notion that the saints are somehow different than you and me.  Though we might not be asked to make inquiries about a “hair shirt,” each of us is asked to follow Christ where He leads—to be obedient. To be a saint is to follow Christ wherever He leads and that is accomplished one obedient step at a time. So the next time we are tempted to compare our hum-drum lives with the saints, let us smile, be inspired, and then put one foot in front of the other to follow our Lord in obedience.

Have a blessed Divine Mercy Sunday!

The Empty Tomb

Easter SunriseHappy Easter! The days of fasting are over; Lent has run its course and today, we rejoice! Dressed in our Sunday-best, prepared to celebrate with loved-ones with a feast, it’s easy to feel happy. It’s time for Easter-egg hunts, flowers and Alleluias. No matter how many times we have experienced it, the Easter season always feels refreshing and new!

Despite these feelings of goodwill, because we’ve all heard the story of the resurrection so many times, it can become commonplace. We simply tune-out when the Gospel-writers share the big news—we’ve heard it all before! Yes, we know Jesus celebrated the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, that He died on Good Friday and that the tomb is now empty. We’ve remembered His Passion, now let’s take a moment to step back, to pause before today’s parties. Let’s take a look at the Gospel again and hear the story anew:

Risen Christ WindowIn the Gospel of John, before day break Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. She arrives only to find that the stone has been removed and she hastily runs to tell Simon Peter. By putting ourselves into the scene, we can see how disconcerting this event would be for her! When she finds the Apostles, she cries out to them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” (John 20:2) Peter and John run to the tomb. Again, it takes little imagination to see how their hearts must have been pounding, their heads swirling with theories as to what has happened. When they see the burial cloths, they believed.

What Do You Think?
It begs the question, if we were there, what would we have concluded? Or an even more pertinent question, what do we conclude today when confronted with the empty tomb?

Do we reason that Jesus has been “taken from the tomb” as Mary Magdalene supposes? Do we reach the conclusion that He is risen? Do we even know what we think? The Gospel message of Easter is not merely a news-story, no matter how sensational a story it is. No, Easter is supposed to impact our lives.

If we stop and ask ourselves these questions, we are confronted with a most astounding choice—either Jesus is who He says He is or He is a liar; either He is the Son of God, or He has deceived us; either He is risen from the dead, or it is a terrible hoax played on mankind for some sinister purpose.

Who Is Jesus?
This is the question that the empty tomb forces us to answer: who is Jesus? It is certainly more comfortable to sit on the sidelines and to watch this drama unfold with other characters taking on the roles. If we stop and ask ourselves that fundamental question—who is Jesus?—then everything about our lives should be affected by the answer.

“Either Jesus is who He says He is or
He is a liar; either He is the Son of God,
or He has deceived us.”

It may be easier to smile and go throughout the day enjoying the ham dinner then wrestle with these ideas, but there is no escaping this reality—the tomb is empty.

So today, as we bask in the good- feelings of the Easter season (and we rightfully should), let us also take a moment to stand before the empty tomb. Let us take a silent-moment and ask ourselves, just who is Jesus? May the grace and love of the Risen-One fill our hearts today and always!

Eyewitnesses to the Stations of the Cross: Part 7

CrossOver the past week I’ve posted different”eye-witness” accounts to the Stations of the Cross. They were designed to explore the wide-range of emotions among those who experienced them first-hand.  I hope that they have lead you to put yourself in the story and compare your own reactions, motivations, hopes and fears with the character’s. I invite you to reflect with me once again:


BYSTANDER
I had come out to see all that was going on, to see what would happen. I arrived about noon and the sky looked dark. There was a sense of anticipation in the air. The murmurings were that Jesus was about to do something great but I wasn’t so sure. He looked so weak, so frail.

At about 3:00, Jesus began to say something. Even though it took all that he had, he spoke loudly enough for all of us to hear him.

What he said haunts me to this day…

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Someone next to me yelled, “He is calling for Elijah!” I grabbed a sponge and put it on a spear to give him some wine to drink. Then someone else shouted, “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.”

That’s when Jesus breathed his last, and died.

JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA
They say that the veil in the Temple sanctuary was torn in two…

That the earth quaked…

That rocks were split…

For me, I don’t remember much of what happened that afternoon. The soldiers began to panic and people began to leave the hill. That’s when I saw Mary and the others standing there weeping. It was too much for me to handle, so I left, too.

Sunset was quickly approaching and with the Sabbath about to begin, I knew that something had to be done with His body immediately. What possessed me to go to Pilate, I don’t know, but I dared to ask him to give me His body. Pilate agreed.

I had a tomb nearby recently dug and we brought His body and laid it to rest there. Then, we rolled a stone across the entrance.

I just really thought that Jesus would do more…that he would be more. 

There has to be more…

Right?

Eyewitnesses to the Stations of the Cross: Part 6

CrossThis is the sixth in the series of reflections on the stations of the cross.

I began to wonder about the wide-range of emotion among those who experienced the stations of the cross first-hand. I wrote this version of the Stations of the Cross to reflect these conflicting feelings. It was originally set as a play and is out of my own imagination. It is not meant to be historically accurate. It is meant to put us into the events of that day, for Jesus’ Passion is our story, too.

Each day through Good Friday I will post another “eye-witness” account. As you read, put yourself in the story and compare your own reactions, motivations, hopes and fears with the character’s. I invite you to reflect with me:


ROMAN SOLDIER
We had been at Golgotha all morning preparing the site for the execution. The Jews look at us as though we enjoy our work. I don’t.

But what am I to do? My superior will just as readily execute me than this man, Jesus. So, we did our work. We did what we had to do.

After stretching His arms out on the cross, it was my job to take the nail, press it into His flesh and pound. You never get over the sound and feel of bone crushing.

He screamed…

They all scream.

Though His words were different, and I’ll never forget them. Unlike the others who beg for it to stop, or curse the soldiers, Jesus cried out to “ABBA” His Father. He asked him to forgive them, that they didn’t know that they were doing.

I’m not sure about anyone else, but I didn’t know what was going on.

HIGH PRIEST
Several hours later Jesus finally looked to be at the end. Good. As High Priest, I have other functions that I need to attend to. Today is the preparation day for the Sabbath, after all!

I strode over to Jesus and the soldiers made no attempt to prevent me from going right up to His feet. As the High Priest, it is my job to protect God’s chosen people from blasphemers, impostors like this Jesus.

I said to Him, “You said that You would tear down the Temple and in three days rebuild it. Then come down off that cross if you can!”

As I walked away, He surprised even me. He said, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”

There have been others before him, but Jesus seems different. Then, He said, “My God, my God. Why have you abandoned me?”

Eyewitnesses to the Stations of the Cross: Part 5

CrossThis is the fifth in the series of reflections on the stations of the cross.

I began to wonder about the wide-range of emotion among those who experienced the stations of the cross first-hand. I wrote this version of the Stations of the Cross to reflect these conflicting feelings. It was originally set as a play and is out of my own imagination. It is not meant to be historically accurate. It is meant to put us into the events of that day, for Jesus’ Passion is our story, too.

Each day through Good Friday I will post another “eye-witness” account. As you read, put yourself in the story and compare your own reactions, motivations, hopes and fears with the character’s. I invite you to reflect with me:


REPENTANT THIEF
Why did I commit my crime? I know that I was hungry and needed money. But I had no right to take the gold from that rich man. I am guilty.

But Jesus, why does He deserve to die? I haven’t seen Him do anything but good or heard anything that wasn’t true from His lips. And, yet, here He is just as I facing the same fate as me. Worse.  He has been so badly beaten that He can’t even walk let alone carry a cross.

Oh, no. He has fallen again. Even the soldiers seem to wince at His fall, flat on His face in the rocks and dust of the hill. Jesus, for Your sake I pray that it ends soon.

God, though I have no right to utter a word to you, sinner that I am, please grant me mercy that I might not face the torture that Jesus is experiencing now.

WOMAN CAUGHT IN ADULTERY
I first met Jesus at my lowest, darkest hour. Condemned, and rightly so, for adultery. Jesus began to write in the sand…

I never did learn what He wrote, but they all left, one by one, tossing their rocks on the ground. When it was just Jesus and I, He offered a hand and lifted me to my feet.

What I remember most is the way that he looked at me, not just as a sinner. Though He didn’t turn away from that part of me, either. He saw through me to the core of my being, my very soul.

Now here He lies on the ground and is naked before me.

Why, Jesus? 

Why God?