Because Pope Benedict XVI was seen as a man of tradition, it was often easy to miss the innovative aspects of his papacy. In equal-and-opposite fashion, because Pope Francis is seen as a maverick, it’s tempting to overlook the various ways he stands in continuity with his predecessors.
Yet Francis’ signature initiative — probably the thing he would tell you he’s been building toward from the beginning, his Holy Year of Mercy — has at its core a figure straight out of the St. John Paul II playbook.
In fact, there’s a woman behind the pontiff’s jubilee: St. Faustina Kowalska, the Polish nun who launched the worldwide Divine Mercy devotion.
Faustina was an early 20th century mystic who belonged to an order called The Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. She reported a series of visions, captured in her 700-page diary, in which she said Jesus told her to spread devotion to his mercy under the motto, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
Growing up in Krakow, the young Karol Wojtyla was fascinated that this message of mercy arose in Poland between the two World Wars. Later, as John Paul II, the Polish pope would beatify and canonize Faustina, and he also established a feast of Divine Mercy for the first Sunday after Easter — another request that Faustina said came straight from Jesus.
It’s true that Francis has not talked much about Faustina out loud in connection with his Year of Mercy, leading some devotees to wonder if she’s in danger of becoming the “forgotten woman” of the jubilee.
Yet upon closer examination, it seems clear that her fingerprints are all over it. Consider the following seven indications of her influence on Francis and his thinking about mercy.
1. Papal bull
When Francis issued a formal papal bull decreeing his holy year, titled Misericordiae Vultus, he chose to do so on April 11, 2015 — the vigil of the feast of Divine Mercy, the observance directly associated with Faustina.
In the bull, Francis wrote, “I think especially of the great apostle of mercy, Saint Faustina Kowalska.”
“May she, who was called to enter the depths of divine mercy, intercede for us and obtain for us the grace of living and walking always according to the mercy of God and with an unwavering trust in his love,” he wrote.
2. Programmatic line
Looking back, it seems clear that the programmatic line for Francis’ jubilee came during his first airborne news conference returning from a trip to Brazil in July 2013.
Although he was asked specifically about Communion for the divorced and remarried, he gave a broad reply about the importance of mercy. He said he believes the present era is a “kairos” of mercy, using an evocative Greek New Testament term that means a privileged moment in God’s plan of salvation.
In the next breath, Francis cited John Paul II and Faustina.
“But John Paul II had the first intuition of this,” he said, “when he began with Faustina Kowalska, the Divine Mercy …. He had intuited that this was a need in our time.”
3. “Ocean of Mercy”
In his homily for this year’s New Year’s Day Mass, marking his first public utterance of 2016, Francis argued that alongside a “torrent of misery” in the contemporary world, there is also an oft-overlooked “ocean of mercy.”
Though he didn’t explicitly cite Faustina, he easily could have. “Ocean of mercy” is one of her signature phrases, appearing in her diary a robust 16 times.
Here’s a classic for-instance, in this case from one of her visions of Jesus: “I have revealed to you the whole ocean of my mercy,” she reports Jesus saying. “I seek and desire souls like yours, but they are few.”
In another place, Faustina writes that “during Holy Mass, I was given knowledge of the heart of Jesus and of the nature of the fire of love with which he burns for us … he is an ocean of mercy.”
Welcome to the Blog! I am a Salesian of Don Bosco and was ordained to the priesthood on August 26, 2000. I hope this site is a place of interest for you where you will find ideas and information on the Catholic faith and on Salesianity.