Many years ago, a friend lent me her copy of St. Faustina’s Divine Mercy in My Soul, praising the dense book with tiny print for its insight, with the promise that I’d find immeasurable graces and assured transformation of soul within the copious pages. A year later I found myself apologetically returning the book to her unread: every time I opened it, I felt immediately lost. It seemed this Polish nun simply had nothing relevant to say to me.
Fast forward to the Year of Mercy. I decided to give Faustina another chance, and picked up her diary once more, hoping for better results. This time I had more success, finding within its pages a mentor, a spiritual guide, and even a friend I began affectionately (and hopefully not too irreverently!) referring to as “Fausty”. I rushed to meet her every morning over quiet and coffee, wondering what she’d have to say to me that day. Naturally, she taught me about mercy: Mercy is what closes the huge gap between the Creator and the creature; Mercy successfully compensates for my failure; Mercy always makes the first move. But more than anything, Faustina taught me to suffer.
I’ve always had an aversion to suffering. I took the cosiest seat. I avoided discomfort (like being cold, or feeling awkward, or experiencing someone else’s tension) at all cost. And I was absurdly optimistic, refusing to believe that anything but the most positive, most comfortable, and easiest solution could possibly be true. I preferred the Joyful Mysteries to the Sorrowful, the Resurrected Christ to the Crucified. I wanted the Easter without the Lent, and the salvation without the sorrow.
In my morning meetings with Faustina, my comfort-loving, sorrow-eschewing heart was transformed. “Gaze upon the silent Heart of Jesus, stretched upon the Cross,” she told me, and I lifted my reluctant eyes to the Crucified Christ. “Snuggle closely to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus,” she’d say, and in my imagination I’d hesitantly climb up on the cross and press my cheek against my Lord’s. “Let suffering become a delight,” she said, and I started, little by little, to learn to love it, or at least to not hate it quite so much.
Recently our church got a new priest, and one of the first of many changes he instituted was installing a brand new crucifix. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this when I first found out. I had always liked the corpus we had: it was a nice, respectable wooden carving of the Risen Christ, fully clothed in regal robes, complete with crown, and perfectly fitting for our church called Christ the King. I’d always been secretly relieved not to have to be reminded of Christ’s battered body every time I went to mass.
When I saw the new corpus unveiled at the beginning of the year, I thought immediately of my new friend, Faustina. The former royal robes were replaced with bloodied knees and rope-burned wrists, the kingly crown with a crown of thorns. The old me would have hated the new crucifix. Before Faustina, I probably would have frowned, pouted at the change, and averted my eyes. With her help, I lift my gaze, snuggle close, and find my delight in the wounded Christ,
Faustina’s diary – and her message of Mercy – that I’d originally returned unread, ended up being the grace and transformation as originally promised. What makes a soul suddenly receptive to a message it has previously heard, ignored, snubbed, or even ridiculed? St. Faustina would say that it is God’s relentless mercy that never tires, and always yearns, to close the gap between us.