Among most Catholics today, the mention of St. Faustina is associated immediately with the feast of Divine Mercy, the chaplet, and the novena, and for good reason. These were the primary tasks given to young Maria Kowalska as Jesus began to reveal his plans for her life. However, when one reads the Diary of St. Faustina, it’s easy to get the impression that there was something else even more central to her life and mission, namely, the Eucharist. Contemporary Catholics would do well to follow the logic of Faustina’s life and see that there is no competition between the Eucharist and Divine Mercy, and rather that it was precisely because Faustina was grounded in a coherent and consistent Eucharistic piety that she would be able to fulfill the other dimensions of her calling – the Divine Mercy devotion.
The Spirit and the Saints
Saints tend to really read the “signs of the times” with more clarity than the rest of the Body of Christ. For instance, St. Francis had a radical view of poverty that was a serious challenge to the Church of his day, but in time, the Church recognized he was correct. St. Thomas Aquinas’ theology was actually so suspect that the pope himself had to force the University of Paris to let him teach, but he eventually became a major staple in Catholic theology. In a similar way, St. Faustina gives us a good example with respect to the role of the Eucharist in one’s daily life.
In her lifetime, Catholics tended to receive Holy Communion later in life, and then they also tended to receive the Eucharist less often, sometimes only annually (the minimum obligation of all Catholics). Inspired in part by a desire to make sure that Catholics truly understood what was happening, and what they were saying “Amen” to, the age of First Communion began creeping up going into the early part of the 20th century. Born in 1905, Faustina herself didn’t make her First Communion until the age of nine. Even early in her religious life, she struggled with how frequently to receive Holy Communion. But through the mystical revelations given to her, and by following the advice of her spiritual directors, Faustina would in time become a proponent of the frequent reception of the Eucharist.
In the spiritual life, one passes through various stages: the purgative way, the illuminative way, and the unitive way. Between the purgative and illuminative, and again between the illuminative and unitive, there is a transition known as the dark night. Saints and mystics tell us that the dark night is a time where the former consolations of prayer, the intimate knowledge of God’s presence, and a sense of confidence in the Lord, begin to slowly fade away. Prayer becomes more of a desolation than a consolation; previously fruitful exercises like adoration or Lenten penances begin to feel dry and sterile. Above all, the soul undergoing this purgation can even lose confidence in God’s existence.
For St. Faustina, the dark night meant wondering whether she should receive Holy Communion. She began having doubts about the severity of her sins, and talked herself at times into believing that she was unworthy to approach the altar to receive our Lord. In time, Faustina would understand that the very doubts she experienced, the dryness she was going through, and above all the challenge of how to fulfill God’s plan for her to become an apostle of mercy would be impossible without a complete, child-like dependence on the Eucharist.
Let the Children Come to Me
One can see in the Gospels the importance of a child-like spirit, when Jesus told the crowds that they must become like a child. St. Faustina came to see that it was only through such a spirit that she would ever fulfill God’s plan for her life:
“God usually chooses the weakest and simplest souls as tools for his greatest works; that we can see that this is an undeniable truth, when we look at the men he chose to be his apostles; or again, when we look at the history of the Church and see what great works were done by souls that were the least capable of accomplishing them; for it is just in this way that God’s works are revealed for what they are, the works of God.”Diary, 464
Faustina’s spiritual life, with its deep mystical revelations and incredible mortifications, was far from the ordinary experience of the other nuns she lived with. Many of her confessors didn’t understand what she was trying to explain, and only some of her superiors truly had a grasp of the remarkable depths of her union with the Lord.
Once she found a solid spiritual director, who Jesus affirmed could help her with her doubts, she began to learn that one of her constant temptations, namely to avoid going to Communion out of a sense of some deep unworthiness, was really preventing her from understanding what the Lord was doing in her life, and what he was asking of her. To be clear, Faustina had no mortal sins, and very few venial sins. But out of a confused sense of despair and frailty, she sometimes thought it was best to refrain from going to Communion. She thought she needed to do more, or be perfect, before receiving our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
Trusting Jesus in the Eucharist
Eventually, Jesus revealed to her that this decision was actually a source of pain for him: “Know, my daughter, that you caused me more sorrow by not uniting yourself with me in Holy Communion than you did by that small transgression.” (Diary, 612)
In turn, she would realize that it was only a complete trust (“Jesus, I trust in you”) in the Eucharist that she could sustain herself amidst the difficulties of the dark night, and find her way to fulfilling her unique vocation:
“I find myself so weak that were it not for Holy Communion I would fall continually. One thing alone sustains me, and that is Holy Communion. From it I draw my strength; in it is all my comfort. I fear life on days when I do not receive Holy Communion. I fear my own self. Jesus concealed in the Host is everything to me. From the tabernacle I draw strength, power, courage and light. Here, I seek consolation in time of anguish. I would not know how to give glory to God if I did not have the Eucharist in my heart.”Diary, 1037
As we saw above, the saints sometimes are called into a special spirituality or expression of piety that will eventually be picked up by the Church and recommended as a general practice. Today, many Catholics know the fruit of a frequent reception of Holy Communion. We may need a gentle reminder about the importance of a frequent confession as well, but this practice of going to Communion often was something that challenged the common practice in Faustina’s time. It is worth remembering too precisely how Faustina’s story was bound up with Divine Mercy. It is precisely because the Lord wants to forgive us so much that we are then called to union with him in the Blessed Sacrament. Through a humble trust in God’s mercy, a recognition of our own weakness, and by the reception of his grace of forgiveness through confession, we can be made ready once again to experience the intimacy of the Eucharist. If we can take Faustina’s message seriously, we can see how Jesus’ words to Faustina really can be true of us all: “As you see Me in this chalice, so I dwell in your heart.” (Diary, 1346)