Crisis in our Life – The Divine Forge of Virtues
by Fr. Marius ( a Divine Mercy Priest in the congregation founded by Saint Faustina)
An extract from a letter by Fr. Sopocko to the Sisters of Merciful Jesus during World War II
"I have spent a second week in isolation, where I have been contemplating and adoring Divine Mercy in action. At the same time, I have been passing through my whole fatherland immersed in bereavement. I am united with my countrymen all over the world, as the Mercy of God has been sculpturing in their souls the heroic virtue needed to redress and propitiation the infinite Goodness of God"
History of the World War II Letter
This extract is a beginning of the first letter which Blessed Fr. Michael Sopocko wrote to the congregation of the Sisters of Merciful Jesus. To understand its true depth and meaning, we need to look at the circumstances in which it was written in early 1942. Shortly after the Germans subdued the government authorities in Vilnius (Lithuania), the Gestapo arrested all the Catholic priests from Vilnius Seminary and the whole of Poland and Lithuania was occupied by ruthless totalitarian forces.
Father Sopocko barely managed to avoid being sent to one of the Nazi Labour Camps. Dressed as a villager, he left Vilnius City and spent almost three years in the monastery of the Sisters of St. Urszula in south Vilnius. He was a witness to the devastation of his country. He was in danger of being captured and excutated at any time, since the Germans were looking for him. But, even in such inhumane and surreal conditions, he still wrote to his spiritual sisters, "I have been contemplating..."
The Mercy of God in Action
But what did Father Sopocko see? Dead bodies, mothers weeping for their children on the frontline and the lamentations of displaced persons? Yes, all these sights caused him tremendous suffering as he writes that he was united with his countrymen "in bereavement". But also, he goes deeper and sees a larger spiritual picture. He sees, in the horrendous hell of war, the Mercy of God in action. He sees that in the midst of the uncontrollable crisis of World War II, God's hand inspiring ordinary men and women to perform tremendous acts of valor and virtue. As Jesus taught us, there is no greater love than when a person lays down their life for their friends. During World War II, in spite of the malicious evil of the Nazis and their supporters, the soldiers of the Allied Forces were willing to sacrifice their life and happiness for the greater good and to insure freedom throughout the world.
Eyes of Faith and the Spirit of Prayer
To be able to live in such times and reach such conclusions, two things are needed: eyes of faith and a true spirit of prayer. Only those who are completely immersed in God, even during the worst events of history, can see the loving and merciful hand of God at work. The Hand of the Father which does not punish, but helps lost man to find a way back to the Truth, Beauty and Love.
Everything Comes from His Merciful Heart
Fr.Sopocko said: O, how we need these eyes of faith in our times. In our time 2012, we face another kind of horrendous crisis. An unbeliveable moral crisis of values and identity, up to the economic and political. We need, first of all, to have no doubt that God is observing, but He cannot intervene against the 'Covenent of Free Will' of those who make choices and desisions that are wrong and immoral. He can only intervene if asked by an individual in their own life. He cannot intervene in the free will of others for that individual. By a special grace granted in the Divine Mercy revelations He promises to come into the lives of others, but He will not take away their free will.
Trials and the Wisdom of St. Faustina
St. Faustina also understood the value of the trials in her life and how these trials were gifts from God, to draw virtue from souls. In her Diary, she wrote, "In prayer I always find light and strength of spirit although there are moments so trying and hurtful, that it is sometimes difficult to imagine that these things can happen in a convent. Strangely, God sometimes allows them, but always in order to manifest or develop virtue in a soul. That is the reason for trials". (Diary 166)
This is the fundamental difference between those who live life through their faith and those who live life through human reasoning. It is exceptionally difficult to understand why God allows us to suffer, especially when that suffering is very serious. For example, why would He allow St. Faustina to suffer from Tuberculosis which eventually took her life? He granted her so many other miracles, but did not cure her of this fatal illness. We can see a similar pattern of suffering in the lives of other Catholic saints, where many of His most beloved saints suffered unbearable humiliations, illnesses and even tortures.
Why does God permit trials
As ordinary humans, we will never be able to fully understand why God permits these things, but we can see how often sufferings can lead to unexpected goodness. For example, the trial of sickness can make us more compassionate towards others. Is not the current economic crisis helping people to see the dangers of greed, and the lack of temperance and prudence in many humans today. The futility of placing your trust in the fickle social constructions of man? Is not the current crisis in the Church making the world a safer place for children? We know that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose". (Romans 8:28)
The Acceptance of Suffering
Of course, none of us want to suffer, but suffering is a part of earthly life. The acceptance of suffering as part of life actually greatly reduces the pain of suffering. As Catholics, we must also remember, that Jesus continues to suffer for our sakes and to save souls. His suffering has not yet ended so we should remember to unite our personal sufferings in life to His and offer them in the spirit of Devotion to Divine Mercy, for the salvation of souls.
Learning from St. Faustina’s Wisdom
Tragedies, sufferings and the consequences of the actions of evil men and women will always be with us as long as we live. But we must not give in to the comfort of despair or give up striving for a fairer, more Christian world. There will always be those who will refuse to live righteously but that does not mean that we should be influenced by them, or not fight back with sound arguments and proper just actions, inspired by our Catholic faith and wisdom. But because trials and sufferings will always be a part of our life, we must allow ourselves the wisdom that God permits our trials for His own reasons. We should examine the various trials currently in our life and ask ourselves "What virtue does God want me to learn from this trial?" When we raise the standard of our behaviour and start to live by Catholic virtues and wisdom, this will inspire not only us but also those around us.
Modern anti-Catholic commentators might consider our view of suffering to be incompatible with their scientific view of the world but this is why the gift of faith is so valuable. As Catholics, we have access to the truth about life on earth. If we try to live holy lives, we will see how our prayers can change life and how God's miracles, big and small, can fix what is impossible for us to fix. Prayer comforts us during our trials and the sure knowledge that God is with us guides our feet on the path of peace.
Like Fr. Sopocko, suffering during World War II, we must try to see the work of God in the world. We must grow in wisdom and faith and allow this wisdom to influence our behaviour and the decisions we make in life. We must allow this wisdom to remind us to embrace our personal sufferings and unite them with the sufferings of Jesus for the salvation of souls.
We should also look for ways to help people to carry their cross, especially if they are particularly weighted down during a difficult period of their life. For it is not the rejection of suffering that leads to the good life, but the acceptance of suffering and that extra special act of love to try to help others to cope with their suffering. These actions are the actions of a loving heart, the heart which God wants us to have, a heart that is pleasing to God. To have a heart which is pleasing to God is the ultimate goal of our existence and although there will always be a battle in our souls, the more regularly we turn to goodness and wisdom, the more ingrained these behaviours become in our life.
Only when we learn to love, and to live love, will we start to find true joy in life. It is why Jesus came into the world to teach us how to love. So, even though we wince at the thought of suffering, we should learn that suffering is the divine forge in which our souls are shaped.