When I was newly married, I received a letter from an elderly aunt in Massachusetts. It was stuffed with brochures telling of a Polish nun, Sr. Faustina, her visions of Jesus, and a set of rosary beads, along with instructions for a prayer. My aunt had recently learned of Sr. Faustina and her visions of Jesus, and of the Divine Mercy Chaplet. My family is of Polish descent, and this made the attraction of the Sr. Faustina’s story even stronger for my aunt. She urged me to follow the instructions on the brochure and to pray the prayer. I did. For a while. Over the years, the brochure languished forgotten in a drawer as I went about raising children and juggling life. Years went by. My aunt passed away.
Two decades later, I was at a cathedral to look at some newly installed icons. In the lobby of the church, spread out on a table, were brochures about Divine Mercy. Hey, I thought to myself, I remember this. I picked one up. I took it home. I found myself praying the chaplet during my weekly hour in a local Adoration Chapel. I prayed it for my sons, for dear Aunt Celia, for all who are terminally ill and in need of God’s mercy and saving grace.
I noticed that in the Adoration Chapel, off to the side, was an icon, rather modern and contemporary, and I realized that it was actually a version of the Divine Mercy image. I thought about our frequent travels as a family, and how most of the churches we had visited along the way had the Divine Mercy image there, and practiced the devotion. My own parish church does not.
In a flash of inspiration, I decided that I should make an icon of Jesus as Divine Mercy, and give it to my church. Perhaps this would spark the beginning of honoring this feastday here in my own community. I knew that Sr. Faustina had kept a diary about her visions, including descriptions, and it seemed a good idea to read that first.
I looked in the public library, with no luck. There was a bookcase of devotional materials in the Adoration Chapel so the next week I looked there. I looked at the spine of every book in every shelf until my neck felt frozen in a sideways position. Nothing. There were a couple of empty shelves at the far end of the bookcase. A book lay by itself against the corner, face up. It was the Diary of Sr. Faustina. Of course. (I have almost come to expect this sort of thing after writing icons for 15 years). I picked it up and began to read.
I found the entries in the diary about the creation of the specific image, and read eagerly. The Lord appeared to Sr. Faustina as she was at prayer. One Hand was raised in blessing, the other pulling aside his robe slightly, with 2 rays of light streaming from His Heart. One was red, the other, blue. Jesus told her to find an artist and have a painting made of Him exactly the way she was seeing Him then. He told her He wanted this image displayed in every church, and to pray a certain prayer especially over all who were dying, and He would grant them His Mercy. Sr. Faustina did as he told her, and had the painting made in Vilnius. She wrote down the instructions for the prayer, which is said with ordinary rosary beads. I learned that she wasn’t 100% satisfied with the painting, but that it was acceptable enough.
The devotion to this image began to spread, throughout Poland and then the rest of the Catholic world. By the time I was inspired to write this icon, Pope John Paul II had declared the Sunday after Easter to be Divine Mercy Sunday, and Sr. Faustina had been canonized.
So far, I’ve only done the preliminary drawings and research for a Divine Mercy icon. My pastor is not overly fond of icons, and I have not yet gotten up the courage to ask him if he would even accept it if I made it for the parish. I haven’t gotten much further along than basic sketches and proportions. I know that I will complete this project one day, whether soon or in the years to come.