A young boy called John was bringing wood to burn on the fire. He overfilled the sack and found it hard to carry it back to the house from the forest. He started dragging the sack along the ground but it was still too difficult for him to handle. His father standing at the door observed his struggle. He shouted: “John, use your full strength!” John tried to pull harder but he was even more exhausted. He sat down on the ground reluctantly. His Father repeated: “John, use all your strength.” John shouted back: “But daddy, I am using my full strength!” Then his father replied: “No you are not! You have not asked me to help you!” John realised that he was trying to do it all on his own. It was obvious that the task was too much for him. Help was at hand but he did not ask. Was it that he just did not think of it? Or perhaps he was too proud to ask and show his weakness?
We may be similar to John in our relationship with God. Do we have confidence to ask for help when we need it? Or are we too proud? Or do we just forget to ask for help? Whatever the answer is, we may not be using our full strength. God, who made us, also wants to help us. The only thing we have to do is ask! As Scripture says: “Ask and you will receive, knock and the door will be opened to you.”
St Paul wrote: “When I am weak then I am strong.” I am strong because when I ask God, He fills my heart and my life with His strength. I would like you to consider what it means to be weak in order to experience God's strength in practice.
God is rich. He is rich in His mercy and rich in His omnipotence. He wants to share mercy and power with us. He wants to make us strong. When we apply to His mercy we apply to His omnipotence at the same time. Mercy and power go together, hand in hand. Experiencing our own weakness opens us to God's grace and power.
First of all, each one of us has to admit that we are weak. But how can we discover this truth about ourselves? We should look at ourselves as God's creatures. We are limited. We can exercise our body but in fact it is weak. Our body is lowly in that it is wearing out. Our bodily strength gradually begins to fail, our mental powers wane, our eyesight fails and we often experience humiliating illness. Apart from physical weakness we are also spiritually weak. Satan is stronger than we are unless we are filled with God's grace and power. We tend to give into temptation very easily particularly when we rely on ourselves. That is why we fail.
Everyone wants to be perfect. But that is impossible. Everyone is a sinner after the original sin of Adam and Eve. That is why we cry out for God's mercy. When we have sinned we feel weak, spiritually weak. Each sin weakens us. In addition, we do not know how to get rid of our sins. People can either hide them inside of themselves or forget about them. But this is not a solution. They will still be within us. We may go to an analyst and confess them. But this will not bring any results either because specialists are unable to give us absolution. We will still be spiritually ill. The only genuine hope and solution is called Jesus Christ. He comes to meet our weaknesses which have resulted from the burden of sin. Christ has already paid the ransom for the sins we have committed and will be committing till the end of our lives. He is the only Saviour. We cannot be saved from our sins by doctors, psychologists or therapists. “Only in Him is there salvation; for of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved” (Acts 4,12). The name is Jesus. The only saviour is called Jesus Christ, Incarnate Mercy.
That is why we have to admit that our weakness prompts us to go to God and opens us to His power and mercy. In what way does the topic refer to the life of St Sister Faustina? Firstly, let us notice that she experienced her weaknesses in her life often. She described it in her Diary:
“I am very weak, and I attribute everything solely to the grace of God.” (Diary 1086) “Without you, I am weakness itself. What am I without Your grace if not an abyss of my own misery. Misery is my possession.” (Diary 1630) “I do not forget that I am weakness itself, though I do not doubt even for a moment that I will obtain Your Grace, O God.” (Diary 1344) “Although my weakness is great, I trust in the power of Your Grace, which will sustain me. ” (Diary 1371) “Even though that I am weakness itself, nevertheless, with you I can do all things.” (Diary 954) “With your grace one can do all things.” (Diary 1620)
St Faustina was not terrified by her weaknesses because Jesus assured her: “You see what you are of yourself, but do not be frightened at this.” (Diary 718) She wrote: “One day during Holy Mass, the Lord gave me a deeper knowledge of His holiness and His majesty, and at the same time I saw my own misery. This knowledge made me happy, and my soul drowned itself completely in His mercy. I felt enormously happy.” (Diary 1801)
Our weakness makes room for God in our life. That is why sometimes people turn to God when they experience physical illness, depression or spiritual problems. Such helplessness made Sister Faustina turn to God for help and strength. In fact, her weaknesses strengthened her relationship with Jesus. It brought her to total dependence on Him, to trust in Him more and more. One day Jesus said to St Faustina: “If it were not for this imperfection you would not have come to me.”
What did she usually do when in weakness? She prayed. Her weaknesses somehow compelled Jesus to be with her. Let me cite some of her prayers taken from the Diary: “O Jesus my dearest Master, do not abandon me not even for a moment. Jesus, you know that it is my weakness that forces You to be with me constantly.” (569) “May Your Grace, which flows down upon me strengthen me for the struggle and suffering, that I remain faithful to You and although I am in such misery, I do not fear you, because I know your mercy well.” (1803) “Jesus source of life, sanctify me. O my strength, fortify me. My Commander, fight for me. Only light of my soul, enlighten me. My master, guide me. I entrust myself to you as a little child does to its mother's love.” (1490)
What does it mean to be weak according to St Faustina? It somehow relates to having a childlike attitude towards God. In St John’s Gospel we find words which seem very strange. Jesus is saying to the Apostles: “Have not you caught anything friends?”(J 21:5). But in other versions it sounds differently: “Children do you have something to eat?” Also in the original text the Greek word ‘pajdija’ that is ‘children’ is used.
What is more, during the Last Supper Jesus called the Apostles “little children”. That word children seems to be strange when it refers to adult mature men. Why did He do so? Probably He wanted to express His care for them. He presented Himself as God who not only saves us from every evil, but also who feeds us. It shows His familiar care for man. He asks us: My child are you hungry? My child are you tired or ill? My child would not you like to go to bed earlier?
But the word ‘child’ has also an important meaning in devotion of the Divine Mercy. Jesus often called Sister Faustina “His child”. What does it mean to be like a child before God? What does this attitude consist of? In what way can we reach such a childlike attitude?
Let me answer these questions in a few points. Firstly, being like a child before God means to acknowledge one’s own nothingness and to await everything from God. A little child in its helplessness depends totally on its mother and father. The child loves and trusts them without limit. God makes us weak, since it leads us to reach out to the Lord and attracts God’s omnipotence and above all, to attract His great mercy. However, recognition, acceptance and love of our weakness does not mean justification of our sins; instead, it helps us remain in the truth about ourselves. This is essential. Awareness of our wretchedness is the case when we call God’s power and mercy.
A child’s helplessness obliges God to manifest His love. The acknowledgement of our own nothingness without faith in God’s love leads to sadness, discouragement and even to despair. A child finds hope in God’s love and unfathomable mercy.
God bestows on us countless gifts, but if we fail to perceive these gifts, this is down to the sin of pride. That is why there is so little gratitude towards God. A child is grateful. He knows that God is his Father. Therefore, he confidently throws himself into the arms of his heavenly Father. A child knows that the Father always gives him what is best for him.
Secondly, a childlike trust in God means not to accumulate unnecessary reserves. A child is totally dependent on God and relies on His providence. This does not mean that we should not acquire the necessary means to live, but we should not justify laziness or the lack of prudence by saying: “God is my Father. He will take care of me.” No! We have to do our best. The “evangelical child” does not accumulate reserves of spiritual goods such as: prayer, religious knowledge or good deeds. Similarly, he does not rely on wealth or religious experience. We have received everything as a gift from God, even when we have co-operated with Him to some extent.
Thirdly, to be like a child is not to attribute one’s virtues to oneself because it is God who puts them into our hands. To those who notice his virtues he says with simplicity: “It is not me, but God who accomplishes everything.” A child knows that all his strength comes from God because Jesus said: “For, cut off from me, you can do nothing” (J 15:5) Often we pride ourselves on our own greatness. We forget that the sole creator and giver of everything is God.
Fourthly, to remain a child before God means not to be discouraged by one’s failings. A child falls many times but he gets up straight away to walk through life with new hope. He is aware of his helplessness and lack of strength. He reaches out his hands to his heavenly Father after each fall. His falls are not too painful thanks to his smallness. After each infidelity a child runs to his parents and tells them everything he has done, believing that they will not reject him. In practice a childlike trust in God means turning with trust towards God after each sin. It means admitting his guilt and confessing unshakeable childlike faith in God’s love.
Let us move onto Sister Faustina. Her life reflected this kind of spirituality in which she was similar to St Therese of Lisieux. Initially she asked Jesus for such an attitude in her heart: “O how much I desire to be a small child. You are my Father, and you know how little and weak I am.” (Diary 242) “And I rejoice immensely in His greatness and am delighted that I am so little because, since I am little, He carries me in His arms and holds me close to His Heart.” (Diary 779)
Her development in spiritual childhood started in the novitiate. She felt as if she was rejected by God. She could not understand what was going on inside her. Therefore, she turned to the Heavenly Father to ask for his help. Also, her spiritual director advised her to trust God as a little child does: “Sister, let simplicity and humility be the characteristic traits of your soul. Go through life like a little child, always trusting, always full of simplicity and humility, content with everything, happy in all circumstances.” (Diary 255)
Jesus said to her: “I will be with you always, if you always remain a little child and fear nothing.” (Diary 295) And in another passage Christ replied: “Although My greatness is beyond understanding, I commune only with those who are little. I demand of you a childlike spirit.” (Diary 332) God let her experience that she was a child loved by God the Father. She confessed: “I felt that I was inundated with Divine light. Since then, my soul has been in intimate communion with God, like a child with its beloved father.” (Diary 27)
Jesus helped her to welcome the gift of the spiritual childhood by many visions in which He called her “his child or daughter”. He encouraged her to trust in God and assured her that God the Father was always with her even when she suffered and felt lonely. She wrote: “Then Jesus said to me: My daughter, fear nothing. I am always with you, even if it seems to you that I am not. Your humility draws Me down from My lofty throne, and I unite myself closely with you.” (Diary 1109)
St Faustina answered to this invitation to be like a child in front of God in many ways. She entrusted to her heavenly Father all her worries, joys and problems. She experienced her simplicity and weakness: “God is my Father and so I, his child, have every claim to His divine Heart, and the greater the darkness, the more complete our trust should be” (Diary 357). “I know that God is always the best of Fathers and makes little of human opinion. It follows faithfully the faintest breath of the Holy Spirit; it rejoices in this spiritual Guest and holds onto Him like a child to its mother.” (Diary 148)
Sister Faustina felt safe in the presence of the Father and knew that thanks to His power she could safely walk over precipices. She wrote: “Close to your heart I feel nothing. In these dangerous moments, I act like a little child, carried in its mother’s arms, when it sees something which menaces it, it clasps its mother neck more firmly and feels secure.” (Diary 1726) Her spiritual childhood expressed itself in trust, obedience, humility and simplicity.
We may renew our sense of being God’s child when we say the “Our Father” prayer. Also, we may often repeat the calling “Father I trust in you.” From “Jesus I trust in you” we move on to “Father I trust in you.”
Father Piotr Prusakiewicz CSMA