“He will help you to carry out My will on earth”
(Diary of Saint Faustina, para.53).
Those familiar with the Divine Mercy devotion are aware that Saint Faustina is referred to as the ‘Apostle and Secretary of the Divine Mercy’ – her Diary records that this is how the Lord often referred to her. But that same Diary also refers on many occasions to a second apostle of the Divine Mercy – the Confessor of Saint Faustina, Father Michael Sopocko
Fr Sopocko was born in November 1888, in Novasady, Belarus. Completing his studies at the seminary in Vilnius, he was ordained Priest in 1914, serving there until 1918, when he was appointed Army Chaplain. Later recognised as a gifted theologian, he gained his Doctorate in 1926, before becoming spiritual director at the seminary. Two years alter, he was appointed as Professor of Pastoral Theology at the Stefan Bathory University in Vilnius. And in 1933, he was appointed as Confessor to the Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Vilnius, in what is now Lithuania.
This last appointment was perhaps the answer to a prayer made by St Faustina for a confessor who would both believe and understand the revelations she was receiving from the Merciful Jesus. As it turned out, Fr Sopocko was central to much of what happened from this point forward.
Meeting the young nun in the Confessional, she revealed to him the spiritual experiences she was being granted. Father Sopocko, ever prudent, did not initially believe what he was hearing. Indeed, he announced that he did not wish to be the confessor at the convent, leading the Mother Superior to ask him – “Well, what are we supposed to do?”. He himself provided the answer; he tested the spirits, had Sister Faustina examined and declared sane and well-balanced by a psychiatrist, and then, finally believing in the veracity of her experiences, he did all he could to promote the message of Divine Mercy for the remainder of his life on earth. Continuing as confessor to the future Saint, he saw much evidence of some of the spiritual gifts she was being granted by the Lord, such as her prescience for matters about which she could not possibly have had any knowledge. At times, he was awed at the theology her words revealed – praise indeed, coming from one such as he.
Fr Sopocko was also the Priest who instructed Sister Faustina, under obedience, to record her experiences in writing, these notebooks becoming her Diary.
Later, it was Fr Sopocko who found the artist Eugene Kazimierowski, who would paint the original Image of Jesus as Divine Mercy, under the direct instruction of Sister Faustina. It is this original Image, often referred to as ‘the Vilnius Image’, which is found on this website. This is the only Image of Divine Mercy which Saint Faustina ever saw during her life. In 1935, Fr Sopocko was asked to preach at following the Easter Triduum at Ostra Brama, the entrance to the City of Vilnius; he agreed to do so only on condition that the Divine Mercy Image was displayed high above the Gate to the city – this was the first ever public display of the Image and was witnessed by Saint Faustina. It was also the very first occasion on which the message of Divine Mercy was preached publicly in accord with the wishes of the Merciful Jesus. In short, this particular occasion was essentially the very first Divine Mercy Sunday.
What is very clear from the Diary is that the Merciful Jesus thought very highly of His beloved and faithful Priest –
“He is a priest after My own Heart; his efforts are pleasing to Me.. Through him I spread comfort to suffering and careworn souls. Through him it pleased Me to proclaim the worship of My mercy. And through this work of mercy, more souls will come close to Me than otherwise would have, even if he had kept giving absolution day and night for the rest of his life, because by so doing, he would have labored only for as long as he lived; whereas, thanks to this work of mercy, he will be laboring till the end of the world” (Diary, para.1256)
When the Second World War was beginning, Fr Sopocko gave a manuscript of the Diary to Fr Joseph Jarzebowski, of the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception, who was about to flee the Nazis. Arriving in the United States, Fr Joseph began to propagate the devotion and the Marians went on to take up the cause of Divine Mercy in a special way, which they continue to do to this day.
It may seem that to be the Confessor to a living Saint is a wonderful thing, a great privilege; and while this is true, it comes at a cost. For Fr Sopocko, the Divine Mercy devotion was the source of great ridicule and suffering. This suffering had been foreseen by Sister Faustina in a vision. Complaining to the Lord about this, He replied to her –
“I am acting thus with him to give testimony that this work is Mine. Tell him not to fear anything; My gaze is on him day and night. There will be as many crowns to form his crown as there will be souls saved by this work. It is not for the success of a work, but for the suffering that I give reward” (Diary, para.90)
Saint Faustina’s vision of the future showed her that it would seem that “the work” of Divine Mercy would seem to be undone, although this was not the case – but the suffering this would bring would be real enough. And so it was. Because of erroneous translations of the Diary, missing grammar gave misleading theological impressions and so the Varican placed a ban on spreading the Diary or the Divine Mercy message itself in the form proposed by Sister Faustina. Throughout the twenty years of this ban, Fr Sopocko took consolation from the prophecy, years beforehand, of the young nun. He bore everything in fidelity to the Merciful Lord and with perfect obedience to the Church until his death in 1975. Finally, in 1978, the ban was lifted and the work of Divine Mercy progressed in a manner and at a speed unsurpassed by any past movement in the Church. It culminated in the canonisation of Saint Faustina in the year 2000, together with the institution of the Feast of Divine Mercy by Pope John Paul II. And on 28th September 2009, at the Shrine of Divine Mercy at Bialystok, Poland, and the place of his tomb, Fr Sopocko was declared ‘Blessed’ by the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, the Beatification Mass being celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Amato on behalf of the Pope. From Rome, Pope Benedict gave this message –
“In a special way I extend my greetings to the Bialystok, Poland, participants of the beatification of the Servant of God, Fr. Michael Sopocko, the confessor and spiritual guide of St. Faustina Kowalska. At his suggestion, [Sister Faustina] described her mystical experiences and apparitions of merciful Jesus in her well known Diary. And also thanks to his efforts, the image with the words ’Jesus, I trust in you,’ was painted and transmitted to the world. This Servant of God became known as a zealous priest, teacher and promoter of the Divine Mercy devotion… I unite myself with joy with the Archdioceses of Bialystok and Vilnius and with all the faithful throughout the world to whom this message of merciful Jesus is dear. My beloved predecessor the Servant of God, John Paul II, most certainly rejoices in this beatification in the Father’s house. He is the one who entrusted the world to Divine Mercy. That is why I repeat his wish: May the God who is rich in mercy bless all of you”.
As mentioned already, Fr Sopocko was a great theologian and he wrote extensively. In the following words, he writes on the theme of trust –
“The decisive factor in obtaining God’s Mercy is trust. Trust is the expectation of someone’s help. It does not constitute a separate virtue, but is an essential condition of the virtue of hope, and an integral part of the virtues of fortitude and generosity. Because trust springs from faith, it strengthens hope and love, and is, moreover, linked up, in one way or another, with the moral virtues. It may, therefore, be called the basis on which the theological virtues unite with the moral. The moral virtues, originally natural, become supernatural if we practice them with trust in God’s help.. Why does God so strongly urge us to trust? Because trust is homage to Divine Mercy”. (Father Sopocko, ‘Trust In God’, Catholic Chaplaincy, University of Glasgow)
A Prayer of Trust by Blessed Fr. Michal Sopocko
Holy Spirit, give me the grace of unwavering trust when I think of Our Lord’s merits, and of fearful trust when I think of my own weakness. When poverty comes knocking at my door: Jesus, I Trust in You, when sickness lays me low, or injury cripples me. Jesus, I Trust in You, when the world pushes me aside, and pursues me with its hatred. Jesus, I Trust in You, when I am besmirched by calumny, and pierced through by bitterness. Jesus, I Trust in You, when my friends abandon me, and wound me by word and deed. Jesus, I Trust in You, Spirit of love and Mercy, be to me a refuge, a sweet consolation, a blessed hope, that in all the most trying circumstances of my life I may never cease to trust in You”.