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Finding the Splendor of Mercy in the Shadow of Humdrum Days

April 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Anthony Lilles, Divine Mercy, Easter

“Oh humdrum days, filled with darkness, I look upon you with a solemn and festive eye.” (Saint Faustina Kowalska, Diary, #1373)

Saint Faustina Kowalska wrote these words in 1937 at the brink of falling into a very serious illness from which she would never recover.  She could not have known that this experience of darkness was only the beginning of many difficult days for herself, her native Poland and the Church.  For many years, Saint Faustina had been in deep conversation with Jesus.  She believed He wanted her to promote a renewal in devotion to divine mercy.  Yet, for most of her life, very few of those who could help her ever took her seriously.  One of her first superiors even went as far as to note that she was “nobody special.” In order to understand her message of mercy, a message we celebrate in a beautiful way on Divine Mercy Sunday, we need to look at her witness, the way she lived the mystery of merciful love during those dark humdrum days. In the friendship with Christ Divine Mercy opened up for her, this Polish mystic plunged deep into the mystery of Christ's rejection and because of that baptism, she was able to draw even more deeply from the mystery of His wisdom and courage. 

At a time not unlike our own, grave injustice, desperation, attacks on religious liberty, class struggle, uncertainty and fear overshadowed those humdrum days in which all her own plans and efforts to serve the Lord seemed to be thwarted.  In August, the Soviet Union had taken up a secret policy of ethnic cleansing which would result in the arrest of about 140,000 people with mostly Polish last names and mostly Catholic religious affiliation.  Although concerns over espionage provided a pretext for this effort, it would be naive not to acknowledge the religious dimension to the secular policy.  In the months after her death, well more than 85,000 Polish Catholics were executed while over 25,000 were sent to labor camps. Secular idealism or dialectic materialism also incited violence among the Poles themselves.  In protest against their own government's failure to adequately address poverty, Polish peasants went on strike.  There were riots and instances of police brutality in some of the most impoverished neighborhoods. Yet there were other dark movements afoot of which Saint Faustina could not have guessed. In fact, National Socialists in Germany were engulfing Europe in a wave of anti-semitism and plotting to plunge the whole world into war.

Many in the community in fact believed their fellow sister in religion was psychologically unstable, incompetent and emotionally weak.  The fruits of her holiness were hidden to everyone except the most discerning. Nonetheless, it is difficult to find instances where Saint Faustina took this personal. Throughout her writings, she seems so focused on the Lord that slights on her reputation are seen mainly as an opportunity to make a little sacrifice of loving patience. Her relationship with the Lord is marked by tender affection.  She often anticipates His disappointments and is constantly amazed by His personal concern for her and understanding of each situation. In the face of the rejection she often suffered, it is true that she honestly complained to Jesus about being misunderstood.  Yet it seems she did so only because these misunderstandings seemed to prevent her from accomplishing what she believed the Risen Lord had asked of her. Time and again the Risen Lord invites her into deeper and deeper trust.   

One such instance occurred right in the midst of those dark humdrum days Saint Faustina looked upon with festive eyes.  Workers were belligerently banging at the gate of the convent monastery.  (See Diary #1377) People were desperate for work and these men were demanding jobs. One of the sisters had peered through an opening and argued with them to go away. This only incited the men to bang harder and yell louder.  The frightened and upset religious ran to the chapel to notify the superior.  The superior asked the small and seemingly timid thirty two year old Saint Faustina to go and see if she could do anything.

Saint Faustina prayerfully went with the intention of trying to talk to them men through a kind of window in the locked gate. This would be the most prudent course of action. The workers, after all, were upset and filled with all kinds of rash judgment, and she was small and powerless. As she drew closer to the commotion, it is easy to understand why she was afflicted with doubts and fears. Rather than giving into despondency, she prayed.  The Lord prompted her to do something very different from her original plan.  He told her to speak to them as sweetly as she spoke to Him.  Because she had already learned to be docile to these promptings through the many trials of rejection the Lord had brought her through up to that point, she was able to generously respond to this word.  With confidence, she opened the gate and spoke to the men face to face.  Her voice was gentle and understanding.  This act of courage and respect calmed the disgruntled laborers down.  Seeing the humble sister and hearing her concern for them, they too began to speak and act with gentleness.  The situation was diffused and everyone went home in peace.   

Can prayer help us find peace in the dark humdrum days of our lives today?  There are often times in our conversations with friends and family, but also in our conversations with others in the public square, that we feel doubts about whether our words will make a difference.  Under the burden of contemporary forms of secular idealism, this will only get worse for awhile. Fear might influence us to take precautions to protect ourselves and there may be a temptation to answer harsh words in a contentious manner. We may feel discouraged and ready to give up.  This is not the way of mercy.  Mercy is love that suffers the privation of another, feels the pain of the one who suffers, to affirm that individual's dignity.  The way of mercy can only be found through our friendship with Christ and He always challenges us to make ourselves vulnerable and open to His love.  

The Risen Lord comes to us in our doubts and fears ready to bestow His courage and speak His words of wisdom.  He only asks us to accept a little rejection and humiliation at the hands of others by trusting in Him.  Suffering a little injustice helps us soberly face the misery that afflicts all of us.  Misery is a lack of love, an absence of love that ought to be there. Our sins and the sins of others have brought about this privation and in His Divine Mercy, God longs for us to entrust this misery to Him. He burns with the desire that we should not suffer alone or in alienation, that we should know that someone understands us and has implicated Himself in our plight out of love for us.  In fact, Saint Faustina believed that the only thing that was really ours to offer God is our misery — everything else is a gift from Him.  In this offering, His courage and His wisdom open up the possibility of suffering the misery of another out of love and offering that misery for the glory of the Father – whose will is love and mercy itself.  This kind of gentle love is the only satisfying answer in the face of uncertainty, confusion and contention.   

The rejection of men and the courage of God coincide with the anawim – the little ones, the vulnerable through whom God has chosen to reveal His mercy.  It is good to aspire to this kind of hidden, secret existence.  It is a life of trust, trust in the mercy of God. The humble courage of Saint Faustina provides a glimpse into how God uses such “rejected” stones in foundational ways.  As elements of the devotion she believed Christ asked her to make known began to help people find hope; her humble, gentle way eventually convinced those in authority that they were dealing with a mystic of great personal holiness.  It was a great gift to the Church that Blessed John Paul II correctly contemplated this stone that the builders rejected.  Because of his courage and leadership, her message and witness is become a sure cornerstone for our times.  

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, we are invited to contemplate with festive eyes the humdrum darkness that threatens our time.  If we will search for it, we might just glimpse with Saint Faustina the splendor of merciful love.  Such prayer would be to peak into the deep friendship with the Lord such suffering love makes possible, and, in that contemplation, we may well savor the taste of that wisdom and courage that allows us to share this same divine love with others.

Note from Dan: Anthony’s fantastic book on prayer, Hidden Mountain Secret Garden, can be found HERE in print, and HERE in Kindle format

Information about the book can also be found here on Facebook.

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Art for this post on Finding the Splendor of Mercy in the Shadow of Humdrum Days: Saint Faustina, artist not identified, photograph dated 19 April 2007, PD-US author's life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Anthony Lilles

Anthony Lilles, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, completed his graduate and post-graduate studies in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas. He and his lovely wife, Agnes, are blessed with three children and live in California, where he is the Academic Dean, and Associate Professor of Theology, St. John's Seminary, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Academic Advisor at Juan Diego House, House of Formation for Seminarians. For over twenty years, Dr. Lilles worked for the Denver Archdiocese directing parish religious education, R.C.I.A. and youth ministry, as well as serving as Director of the Office of Liturgy for the Archdiocese and as Coordinator of Spiritual Formation for the permanent diaconate. In 1999, he became a founding faculty member of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary where he was Academic Dean for nine years and Associate Professor of Theology. He is a Board Member for the Society of Catholic Liturgy. Dr. Lilles has provided graduate level courses on a variety of topics including the Eucharist, the Sacraments of Healing, Church History, Spiritual Theology, Spiritual Direction and on various classics of Catholic Spirituality. His expertise is in the spiritual doctrine of Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity and the Carmelite Doctors of the Church: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In 2012, Discerning Hearts published his book "Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer," a compilation of discussions with seminarians, students, and contemplatives about the spiritual life. He collaborated with Dan Burke on the books "30 Days with Teresa of Avila" and "Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux". And, his book "Fire from Above" was published in 2016. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute. He blogs at BeginningtoPray.blogspot.com

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  • rjk123

    Very inspirational –and informative. You have spoken before of offering our misery, the only thing that is truly ours to give. That idea changed my whole understanding and the way it feels to offer everything to the Lord. Even offering Him the true awareness of my own weakness, failures and limitations, which will always be with me. No sense pretending to be or trying to be somebody else or feeling shame about who I am. Rather, thank God, and offer Him the discomfort of knowing that I am what I am for all the world to see. His power and love, then, can work through me if He wills, as it did with St. Faustina. Also, your reflection encourages me to keep speaking up– in love and wisdom according to God’s Will– with those who don’t have faith.

    • Anthony_Lilles

      This is both an insightful and down to earth reflection – you have captured a very important truth in these words. In fact, what you are saying reminds me of Romano Guardini who insists on courage in the spiritual life. He means the capacity to accept ourselves for who we a really are before God. I hope you continue to speak out — the Holy Spirit has given you edifying words to share.

  • RobinJeanne

    Wow Anthony, you did a beautiful job of capturing the essence of St Faustina’s book, makes me want to go and read it again. The chaplet of Divine Mercy is my fovorite devotion since my return back the Holy Mother Church and a little later, reading her writing lead me to fall in love with my Precious Jesus. I pray what you wrote will lead many to reading her book “Diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul”

    • Anthony_Lilles

      I appreciate this feedback. The first time I read her Diary, I found her reverent sense for Christ’s presence and straight forward conversations with Him compelling. It would be only many years later that I began to appreciate the spiritual depths of her many encounters of the Lord. Yes, you are right, what we see in the tender friendship she enjoyed with Christ stirs us to love Him too.

      • LizEst

        …and we appreciate your feedback, as well, on what we post here. God bless you!

        • rjk123

          Yes, we do, Anthony. Thank you, and God bless you. Rachel

  • LizEst

    We have nothing that we have not received (cf 1 Corinthians 4:7). Therefore, let us pray earnestly to know our weakness and misery, for by this we begin to be humble. That humility, and consequent trust in God, is itself a great gift from Him since He does not spurn the humble, contrite heart. Rather, He raises up the lowly that they might receive the inheritance prepared for them from the foundation of the world. His power is made perfect in weakness (cf 2 Corinthians 12:9).

    • Anthony_Lilles

      I love these Scripture references — thank you.

  • Phil Morgan

    Dr Lilles you are the most spiritual person I have ever met. I really miss our Sundays together teaching RCIA. You strike at a deep part of my heart when I hear you teach. Thank you.

    • Anthony_Lilles

      Dear Phil,
      I am extremely humbled by your words. Teaching and writing are wonderful gifts — but you live the mystery of merciful love out as an extraordinary father and a pillar of our community. I look forward to working with you again soon.
      In Christ,
      Anthony

    • Agreed!!

  • carl641

    helping others to find hope may be the best thing Christians can do today. If we can live visible lives of hope and light in the darkness and show others how they can do the same, I think we’ll have accomplished a lot.

    • Anthony_Lilles

      Thank you for this thought – yes, you are right on, the world needs a word of hope now more than ever.

  • abandon56

    Thank you so much for this timely message of allowing the Mercy of Our Risen Lord to draw us near. It is very helpful as I am experiencing division among my coworkers and fellow parishioners. Mercy, Lord.

    • Anthony_Lilles

      You are welcome. Sounds like the Lord is lavishing the beatitude of being a peacemaker on you just like He did for Saint Faustina – why else would He put you in such a difficult situation? I hope the hidden splendor of the Lord’s merciful love guides you through these tough situations.

  • Mari Kate

    Thank you Anthony:”Mercy is love that suffers the privation of another, feels the pain of the one who suffers, to affirm that individual’s dignity.” This is truly living with poverty of spirit. We will attend or have already attended Holy Mass today and some of us will be blessed with parishes that truly honor and Priests who will preach the message of the glory of His Divine Mercy. Others will not mention it. This is the call then to each of us that we who have been given this beautiful invitation to witness the Divine Mercy in our own lives become a visible mercy to a world, community, family or parish. St. Faustina has shown us how to become visible with His Divine Mercy: to be willing to go in humility and love, in tenderness and in His truth not only to the comfortable places but where there may be resistance, misunderderstanding or rejection.

    Read more:

    • Anthony_Lilles

      I am very moved by your humble challenge — yes it is true, we must make God’s mercy visible by living it out in those places where it is most rejected and most needed.

  • Grtgrandpa-Tom

    The Chaplet of Divine Mercy in the musical version of the prayer is very powerful, and often brings me to tears. God’s mercy is borne of love, and that love is felt in recitation of the prayer of the Chaplet. God’s Mercy is so great, He tells Sister Faustina, He will grant a complete pardon to the Soul that will go to confession and Holy Communion on the Feast of His mercy (1109). This is not a plenary indulgency. Only the Church can grant a ‘plenary indulgence.’ Some Theologians has declared that there is something far greater here. “Even if there were a sinner most hardend, if he were to recite this chaplet only once, he would receive grace from My infinate mercy (687).”
    I often remind others that God’s mercy is greater than our sins. I tell them that Moses killed a man, and David killed Goliath, but both of these men received God’s Love through Grace and Mercy. We should remember this daily, and during the test in our final hours, together with the need to pray to fend off the screaming demons. Christ Crucified have Mercy on me, a sinner. Grant that the recently departed through the mercy of God may rest in peace.

    • Yes, Grtrandpa, there is something very, very great in the Feast of Divine Mercy which Jesus requested way back on 22nd February, 1931. It is in Leviticus 16. This is what the Feast of Divine Mercy is – the Day of Atonement. He grants the Greatest Gift of Love and Mercy which only a Loving Merciful God can give to the soul that prays the Novena and the Chaplet from Good Friday for the Nine Intentions Jesus dictated, goes to Confession during this period, attends the Holy Mass, receives the Holy Communion and venerates the Divine Mercy Image which He also gave us on this same day.

      He states He shall forgive the sins and punishments thereof of that soul and restore it to the condition it was in on the day of Baptism!!!!!!!!. That is our Merciful Jesus…….that is what He has offered us on this Divine Mercy Sunday.

      In the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which He also dictated, we offer to God the Father the only single Sacrifice He cannot refuse. His Crucified Son Who suffered and died to atone for our sins and those of the whole world.

      • Grtgrandpa-Tom

        Thank you Mary, for the referrence to Leviticus 16. The entire Easter season this year has been an infusion of grace into my family. My wife and I sponsored 3 adult grandchildren in the RICA program. The Easter Vigil Mass, and Baptism was like heaven on earth. On Good Friday I carried the big rugged 8 foot Cross at our parish between Station 3 and 4 outdoors which was about a 250 foot distance.
        I am a ‘Passionist.’ I say the Stations of the Cross 5 times daily (including the 3 O’clock Hour), and have been doing so for many years. I say the Lords Prayer and a Hail Mary at each Station, then add the 15th Station as the Resurrection (30 prayers). The total is 150 prayers a day. I am saying this not from pride, but to demontrate that devotion to prayer is a main ingredient in Christian life, and to set an example for my family and others to follow. I am retired, so I have the time to commit obedience to this routine.(Who ever clings to me I will deliver; all who call on me I will answer: Ps. 91:14-15). God bless you Mary(@42), Anthony Lilles (Author/Teacher), and all who read this post.

        • You are most welcome Grtgradpa….You are truly blessed and I am awed by the way you prayerfully spent the Holy Easter Season and your daily Prayer Rule. I too, I am retired and God has so decreed I that can – and I do – spend the Hour of Great Mercy before Him in the Blessed Sacrament. Just a small addition I would suggest to your Prayer Plan…… during this Holy Hour of Great Mercy (that is what Jesus Himself calls it) pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet……Jesus told us whatever one prays for at this Hour of Great Mercy, in total Faith and Trust in Him, and is in accordance to His Divine Father’s Will it shall be granted. And you know what????, assuredly, the Holy Spirit will bring into your mind to pray for that which is in accordance with the Will of our Loving Heavenly Father.

          • Grtgrandpa-Tom

            Mary: Thank-you. The Divine Mercy ‘Message and Devotion’ booklet in the chapter THE HOUR OF GREAT MERCY says (p. 60; para 3); “Try your best to make the Stations of the Cross in this hour, provided your duties permit it (1572 of Blessed Faustina’s diary).” In our Parish (St. Mary’s, West Haven, Utah) the Stations have been Certified so the person who says the Stations will receive an Indulgence. Either one may substitute for the other it would seem, because the intent and meaning are the same in the nature of the prayers. I do enjoy both ways to worship God through His Son Jesus Christ. When saying the Stations I recite a Bible verse applicable to each Station which is in a St. Joseph Sunday Missal (which I have memorized). God bless you.

          • LizEst

            Grtgrandpa – If you are already praying the Stations of the Cross, why not add the chaplet of Divine Mercy when you are done? It’s only five minutes. Praying the Stations of the Cross carries an indulgence, no matter where one prays them. So, I’d be interested in finding out about the “certified” stations of the cross (and would you please cite the reference/web site so we can read all about it). Thank you…and God bless you.

          • Grtgrandpa-Tom

            Web: http://www.stmarysutah.org... There is a referrence to the Indulgence on their web site. I was told about the Certification by a Deacon when the RICA class went into the Chapel prior to Holy Thursday. I will ask about how the Certification was issued and where it can be viewed. Also, yes, I do at times say the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in additon to the Stations during the 3 O’clock hour.

          • LizEst

            Thanks for the information and the website. It looks like a nice parish. I’ll bet your chaplet of Divine Mercy is very meaningful along with the Stations. I had misunderstood your comments before. God bless you!

          • Grtgrandpa-Tom

            LizEst: I am glad you visited the Parish Web site. Sorry, I had given the information under Mary@42 post. I enjoy speaking with you all through this medium. And yes, our Church is very beautiful, and full of Love. Our Priest gives great homilies rooted in theological tradition to explain the deeper meaning of the daily readings. Peace be with you.

          • LizEst

            Quite all right Grtgrandpa. I saw the reference for indulgences (the Vatican document) on the site…but didn’t find a reference for the “certified stations”.

          • Grtgrandpa-Tom

            LizEst: Regarding the Certified Stations, one of the Deacons explained the certification. I myself have not seen a document per-se, but I am curious, and will research where we can view it. I feel it is in a respository in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, Bishop Wester. But it could also be in the office at our Church. Will keep you informed.

          • LizEst

            Thank you. I am most curious as I love to learn these things.

          • Grtgrandpa, the Holy Father, Blessed John Paul II solemnly bestowed an Indulegence for those who pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet before the Blessed Sacrament for the sick and the dying during the Celebration of the Jubilee Year in 2000. He also imparted the token of Superabundance of Divine Mercy Graces to all Members of the Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy – the Lay Outreach Ministry of the Congregation of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception and to all the Faithful worldwide who join them in praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet for the end of the “Culture of Death of the Unborn and Euthanasia” in March, 2003

          • You are right, LizEst. It is appropriate, Grtgrandpa – as requested specifically by Jesus Himself ( Divine Mercy in My Soul Diary No.1572) – for those who are able to do so – to pray the Fifteen Stations of the Cross at this Hour. The Stations are also found in the Booklet – The Divine Mercy; Message and Devotion – by the Congregation of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, Stockbridge MA (Page 74).

            This is the International Headquarters for the propagation of the Divine Mercy Devotion. And praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet after contemplation of each Station, is a fitting formula which enables one to cover the entire Holy Hour of Great Mercy.

  • The greatest single way God showed me His merciful love for this miserable nothingness is when He led me to know and to belong to the Eucharistic Apostolate of the Divine Mercy. If there is a thoroughly broken, dirty, sinful and utterly unworthy vessel He picked through whom to spread His Message of Divine Mercy in our beloved county, He sure picked the real thing in this old misery who has offended Him every single day of her life, squandered the daily Graces, Blessings and Protections from his Infinite Chest of His Divine Lavish Love and Mercy. I continue to learn daily from this humble, simple yet most holy Saint Maria Faustina Kowalsaka – the First Saint of the Third Millennium in our Holy Catholic Church.

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