October 5th is the Feast Day of Saint Faustina. For those of you who are not familiar with her, Faustina Kowalska was a Polish nun and mystic known for her visions of Jesus before World War II that fostered the Catholic “Divine Mercy” devotion.

Helena Kowalska, was born in a small town near Lodz in Poland in 1905. She had a strong faith as a youth and desired to become a nun. Overcoming resistance, he traveled to the “big city,” Warsaw, in search of a convent which would take her.  The sisters of Our Lady of Mercy eventually accepted her in 1925 and she took the name of Faustina.

Starting in 1931, at Hitler was rising to power in nearby Germany, she began to experience visions of Jesus, who spoke her. These went on for several years. When she reported these visions to her confessor, he investigated and had her submit to a full psychiatric exam. She was determined to be of sound mind and her confessor was convinced of her sound moral standing, and thus that she was not making up these visions.

She saw Jesus with a white robe and rays fanning out. Jesus directed her to have a likeness of this vision made into a painting, to be an aid in fostering a deeper devotion to and understanding of God’s mercy. Eventually, an artist, at her direction, completed a painting that is the basis for the image of “Divine Mercy” within the Catholic world today.

The messages over several years, and recorded in a diary of over 600 pages, focused on the tremendous mercy that God seeks to bestow on his people, a message vital for the horrific times about to explode and for the times following to the present day that would be filled with misery and apostasy. We are to humbly and resolutely ask for this mercy, for ourselves and for others, to show mercy to others, and place complete trust in God’s care. “I am love and mercy itself,” she reported Jesus telling her. “Proclaim to the whole world my unfathomable mercy.”

It is no accident of time and place that these messages came to this nun in Poland in the 1930s. Less than a year after her death in 1938, Nazi Germany invaded Poland and wrought enormous destruction on the land, killing millions, especially most all of the Jewish population, as part of the Holocaust. And six years later, the Soviets moved in and embarked upon over four decades of oppression. Yet God had said, trust in his mercy.

To understand the full significance of the Divine Mercy visions, they must be put in context. Not only is their time and place significant, but they must be viewed together with the apparitions of Mary, first at Lourdes, France in 1858, and then at Fatima, Portugal in 1917, just 14 years before Saint Faustina began to receive her visions. These three supernatural apparitions, just over a 70-year period and in in an arc across west to central Europe are God’s interventions for extraordinary times. Belief in God and the Christian faith were in free fall. Massive wars tore apart what had been Christendom. People were suffering and dying by the millions at the hand of two world wars, oppressive regimes, and a poverty of spirit. The scale of the human angst in these times and beyond is arguably unprecedented.

At Lourdes, in southern France in 1858, as Karl Marx was forming and spreading his ideas of atheistic “Marxism”, a young, dirt-poor girl named Bernadette Soubirous reported a series of vision of a Lady. The Lady identified herself as “The Immaculate Conception,” a title which the Catholic Church had recently bestowed upon Mary, the Mother of Jesus, declaring that she was specially graced to be without original sin. Bernadette, from the backwaters of rural France, would not have known this when she reported this title.  Following Mary’s directive, she humbled herself to dig in the dirt near the grotto where the apparitions occurred, and a spring of water began to bubble up from the dirt. That spring still flows today at that spot, now on the grounds of the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes and has been the source of numerous claimed physical healings. The core message for the Church and world that Mary gave to Bernadette during these apparitions was, “pray, pray and do penance for sinners.”

Fifty-nine years later, 1917, in the rural village of Fatima, Portugal, three shepherd children reported that Mary, the Mother of Jesus appeared to them numerous times. This was just as Vladimir Lenin successfully led the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, overthrowing the monarchy and establishing an atheistic Marxist state. These children would not have had an inkling of the events in Russia. The news of the day was the world’s most horrendous and destructive war in history to that point – World War I was raging just a few hundred miles to the northeast. Mary asked the children to spread the word to pray the rosary for peace and for an end to the war, else a greater war will follow, to offer their sufferings as reparation for sin and the conversion of sinners, for devotion to her “Immaculate Heart,” and to pray for the conversion of Russia, and that the Church consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart, else Russia will cause much misery in the world. Lenin’s triumph in Russia occurred in October, the very month of the last apparition and the well-documented miracle of the sun.

I have sprinted through these three divine interventions. You are invited to study them in detail as you wish. My point is that they are intertwined, related, sequential warnings and exhortations from God to a world that is fast falling away from him and into atheistic chaos. 

At the time of Lourdes in the mid-19th century, the forces of Enlightenment were bearing down on Christianity. Among the elite especially, the faith had faded away. The message, from the Lady who called herself the Immaculate Conception: pray, pray and do penance for the conversion of sinners.

At Fatima in 1917, as World War I raged on and as Lenin and his communists came to power in Russia and the world continued on a resolute path toward secularism, the message was: pray for peace, for the reparation of sin, for the conversion of sinners, for the conversion of Russia, and for devotion to the rosary and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

In Poland in the 1930s, about to be swallowed by evil forces, and as the world was on the doorstep of World War II, the message was: know the depth of God’s total mercy for the person whom he loves infinitely, and even as the world falls apart, place trust firmly in God’s merciful care and love.

Each apparition builds on the one before, as events and the state of the world continually worsen.

These miraculous divine interventions serve as a wake-up call to the faithful, to spread a message of conversion, prayer, intercession, repentance, and also hope in God’s mercy, which will triumph over the explosion of evil in the world. As the world spirals further from God, the very same God has been seeking to break through to call us to prayer and to have hope in his “unfathomable mercy.”

Lord God, have mercy on us!

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