This week is what is known on the Church’s liturgical calendar as the Octave of Easter. Basically what that means is the Church celebrates the great feast of Easter for eight days. The octave will conclude next Sunday, April 23, on the Second Sunday of Easter.
As of the year 2000, however, a new feast was added to the calendar that coincides with the conclusion of this eight-day celebration of the Lord’s resurrection. At the direction of Pope St. John Paul II, the Second Sunday of Easter is now also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. It was added to the calendar at the same time as the one from whom Jesus had asked for the feast was canonized – St. Faustina Kowalska.
Faustina came into this world as Helena Kowalska (Faustina is her religious name) in Poland in 1905. She was born to a very poor family, the third of 10 children, and her family struggled mightily on their tiny farm during the devastation of World War I.
Helena first felt the call to religious life while praying before the Blessed Sacrament at the age of 7, but her family did not allow her to enter the convent. She received only three years of a very simple education, and then worked as a housekeeper in order to help her family make ends meet.
At the age of 19, while at a dance, she received a vision of Christ suffering. She immediately went to the church, and there was instructed by our Lord to go to Warsaw and enter the convent. The very next morning, she packed a bag and departed without her parents’ permission.
After arriving in the city, she worked for a year in order to save up enough money to enter the convent. In 1926, she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. In the convent, she was given humblest of tasks — working in the kitchen and the garden, and serving as the porter (person who answers the door).
Sister Faustina worked hard to serve her fellow sisters and the people in the surrounding community. At the same time, she also had a deep interior life. Beginning in 1931, she received numerous revelations, and Jesus himself began to appear to her. Following the instruction of her confessor, she recorded these revelations in her diary. Faustina lived during a time when people’s view of God was very harsh (the stern judge) and so our Lord chose her to be the apostle of his mercy.
He told her: “I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to my merciful heart.” One of the things that our Lord specifically made known to St. Faustina was that he wanted a feast dedicated to his mercy.
“My daughter, tell the whole world about my inconceivable mercy. I desire that the feast of mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day, the very depths of my tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of my mercy. The soul that will go to confession and receive holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day, all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. Everything that exists has come forth from the very depths of my most tender mercy. Every soul in its relation to me will contemplate my love and mercy throughout eternity. The feast of mercy emerged from my very depths of tenderness. It is my desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the fount of my mercy.” (Diary 699).
St. Faustina died of tuberculosis in 1938. She was beatified in 1993 and canonized in 2000. Through her, Jesus reminds us that we cannot even begin to understand the depth of God’s love for us and the mercy he will lavish upon us, if we but approach him and ask.
Remember: confession is not just for Lent.
(The above column first appeared in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist parish bulletin on March 27, 2016. It was written by Father Sean Ralph, cathedral parish administrator.)