Good people bound by good purpose

By Weenson Oo on 01:41

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Last Thursday, in the first of a three-part series of discussions organised by St Paul’s Institute and sponsored by CCLA, an ethical fund manager, Archbishop Vincent Nichols placed before  the audience, challenging views for our society and it’s communities,  to consider what sort of City it is that we want that would better serve society. As keynote speaker for the evening, Archbishop Vincent took a view of the City as a place where people live and work. Since it is people who make the City, it follows that the City can therefore be a place of human flourishing. The Archbishop’s talk therefore was entitled ‘ Good People ’. 

Quoting TS Eliot who said ‘ there is no life that is not in community….. ’ the Archbishop offered that if one were to take the view of a City as being a community, then we must pursue all that cultivates community. The ancient Greeks he went on to say, had a clear view on the purpose of the city, ‘ the polis ’ as they called it which was to build a good society where citizens thrived as members of a virtuous communityIn a city since we are all in it together, the well being and fulfilment of each is in some ways dependent on others.  There are ties of trust and solidarity to be recognised and developed between people and  institutions which in turn create common bonds. These common bonds and shared common interests could result in good. In recent times though, the apparent legitimisation of the pursuit of self interest which were once believed to result in better outcomes for all had led to breakdowns such as  the financial crisis, prompting searching questions about inequalities which have been generated by the approach of self-enrichment. Therefore more collective thought was needed about what can be changed for the good of all. Archbishop Vincent offered as a key to the answer, the concept of ‘Good people bound by good purpose’
Good first had to be defined, itself not an easy process since we no longer share many of the patterns of thought which would help establish its meaning. Instead of applying the  conventional rationale of morality and duty he felt it would help to understand ‘desire’ as a vital and fundamental driving force of ethics and goodnessIn our quest for relationships of deep friendship and for our lives to have meaning so as to make a contribution, we all have in us  a  desire for ‘good’. The Archbishop said that respecting others and seeking their good was essential to one’s own good.  Seeking the good and responding to its attractiveness further takes us out of narrow, self-centered attitudes.  It is he suggested the path to true human flourishing and fulfilment.
However he did recognise that our desire for the good can easily be distorted through selfishness greed, pride or lust.  It is a  struggle between good and evil that runs in every aspect of our lives. Thus in order to lean to the good we need to learn to pursue virtues that become our moral agents. These would help us do that which is right and honourable irrespective of reward and regardless of what we are obliged to do. The Archbishop then briefly explored the fundamentals of the virtues of prudence, justice, courage and temperance.
Prudence or right reasoned action was the opposite of rashness and carelessness. Courage ensured firmness and the readiness to stand by what we believe in times of difficulty while Justice enabled us to give what was due to others by respecting their rights and fulfilling our duties towards them and the virtue of Temperance which helps us moderate our appetites and use of the world’s created goods was  the opposite of consumerism and the uninhibited pursuit of pleasure. These together form essentials of a happy life.
The formation of good people starts in the family which is the first school of citizenship. Loving, stable families are the vital building block of every society. Schools come next and are important in building character, as are universities and in the context of the City, the business schools. Whilst we should look to these institutions of the community to foster virtue and thereby build character, we should also look to the institutions of commerce to nurture and strengthen character. Such institutions should have a clear sense of purpose so as to be enterprises of ‘good purpose’.
When sight of purpose is lost then breakdowns of the system occur. Reflecting on the Francis Review into Staffordshire NHS Trust, Archbishop Vincent quoted the head of the professional standards authority who spoke of leaders having lost sight of their moral purpose. They seemed to have forgotten they exist to do good. Concern for finances had taken priority over care, compassion and respect leading him to say that “unless you know the purpose for which you are running an organisation you will never get the ethics right within it”.
That sense of ‘good purpose’ was not just for the public sector but also for commercial organisations. Mark Carney, the incoming Governor of the Bank of England spoke of the speaking of the need for companies to “define clearly the purpose of their organisations and promote a culture of ethical business”, and, in doing so, for employees to have “a sense of broader purpose, grounded in strong connections to their clients and their communities”. It is not simply a focus on profit as an end in itself but Archbishop Vincent suggested that the true justification of business was when profit was made while making the world a better place. Goods and services produced that truly serve people,  create employment, offer fair returns to investors, while minimising harm. Any business looking to remain true to that purpose needed people with technical skills and competencies as well as the required character and virtues he outlined earlier. These “ architects of lasting business success ”in staying true to their virtues would create a culture within their organisations that actually promotes and strengthens good practice.  
It should be noted that the exploration of ‘good people bound by good purpose’  comes up against the limits of law and regulation since these mechanisms are slow to react and new rules usually deal with the last problem not the next one. Furthermore a compliance mentality creates perverse incentives while increasing bureaucracy.  Rules become a lazy proxy for morality and people think that if what they do is not against a rule, it must be in order. Such a society he counselled, would become inherently fragile. What is required the Archbishop believed was a fundamental transformation of purpose, so that business, and the financial sector is seen by everyone as it should be - at the service of society. Reform though must be credible or as John Kay, an economic commentator says, it will take another financial crisis before the City really wakes up to the scale of reform that is needed.
Archbishop Vincent though is firm in his belief that there is great potential for good in people which far too many employers do not release or encourage because of the primary aim to maximise short term profit. In mitigation, companies tended to justify themselves through additional programmes of social benefit or philanthropy but as the Archbishop insisted, these acts of benevolence should be supplementary to the shared value created by the core work of the business activity. Rather than react to laws and guidelines or engage in these programs, it was far more important  for business to have a clear purpose to serve society. To this end, the quality of leadership is critical since all the good influences that support the way for a better society is hugely influenced by these choices made by leaders. The Archbishop drew on Paul Polman’s remarks as CEO of Unilever when he  reminded the assembled guests at the launch conference of the Blueprint for Better Business last September that in the long term no business can succeed in a society that fails. 
The Christian instinct Archbishop Vincent affirmed, sees the potential for good in a city and gave us all food for thought in noting that the Bible started in a garden and ended in a city. He then drew our attention to the setting of the evening’s lecture that the beauty that is St Paul’s Cathedral invited those of us present to gaze upwards and place our hopes and fears in the context of the Eternal. It also perhaps afforded us recognition of our frailty, our need of one another and our shared destiny. In closing, Archbishop Vincent left us with his impression that humanity had a most extraordinary capacity for good and that he deeply believed that there are many  untapped ways by which we could organise the world of work in service of the common good.

There then followed a discussion with the panel consisting of Baroness Helena Kennedy, Tracey McDermott of the FSA, Peter Selby who is the director of St Paul's Institute. Proceedings were under the chair and direction of Stephanie Flanders, the economics editor of the BBC. Questions were put to Archbishop Vincent from both the panel and audience. Archbishop Vincent's responses in the video are well worth noting.





Pictures - Marcin Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk








This Sunday.....

By Weenson Oo on 23:58

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.....….. is Divine Mercy Sunday, a solemnity of the Roman Catholic Church celebrated on the Sunday after Easter. The choice of this particular Sunday is not by coincidence considering the first mass during which the image of the Divine Mercy was first displayed was indeed on the occasion of the first Sunday after Easter. Instead it was through a vision received by Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska to whom the image first appeared that Christ Jesus Himself it was, who required the image of the Divine Mercy to be blessed on the Sunday after Easter.



Divine Mercy Image at Westminster Cathedral


Early Life and Calling 

Born on August 25 1905 into a family of ten and named Helenka Kowalska, Faustina was the third child of Stanislaus, a carpenter and Marianna Kowalska. While attending an Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at the age of 7, she wrote that she felt a calling to religious life and wanted to enter the convent after finishing school. Unable to obtain parental permission to follow her calling, she went to work as a housekeeper in Lodz to support herself and her parents. A year passed and despite asking her parents again and on two occasions, she received firm refusals to enter a convent.

At aged 19, Faustina whie attending a dance in a park in Lodz with her sister, Faustina stated that during the course of a dance she had a vision of a suffering Jesus. Rushing away to a church, she reported that she was told by Jesus to leave for Warsaw immediately and join a convent. So she packed a small bag that night  and without telling her parents nor knowing anyone in Warsaw, took a train bound for the city the following morning.


Convent, illness and the first vision

While at Warsaw she was referred by a priest at St James’s church in  Grójecka Street to some accommodation whilst making her approaches to several convents. Faustina was finally accepted by the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy on the provision that she would pay for her habit. In 1925 she worked for a year as a housemaid, making deposits from her savings until she finally received her habit in 1926 when she took the name ‘ Maria Faustina ’ of the Blessed Sacrament. Faustina was Polish for ‘ fortunate or blessed ’. Two years later in April 1928, Maria Faustina took her first vows as a nun at a ceremony attended by her parents.

Faustina was sent to a convent in  Vilnius initially for a year as a cook before being transferred to a convent in Plock in Poland. It was at Plock that Faustina first showed signs of an illness, believed to be tuberculosis which would lead to her demise nearly a decade later. It was also at Plock that Faustina first saw the image of Christ that would lead to her writings on the Divine Mercy.

In 1931, one night while in her room in Plock, dressed in a white garment with rays of white and red light emanating from near his heart, Jesus appeared to Faustina as the ‘ King of Divine Mercy ’. In her diary ( Notebook 1, items 47 and 48 ), Faustina wriote that Jesus told her to paint an image in accordance with the vision before her with the signature ‘ Jesus, I trust in You ’. Jesus also told Faustina how He desired the image to be venerated.


Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: 'Jesus, I trust in You '. I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and then throughout the world. I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish


Faustina also noted in her diary that Jesus had also told her that he wanted the image of the Divine Mercy to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter and that Sunday should be called the Feast of Mercy. Unable to paint nor finding assistance in doing so, it was not until three years later that the first artistic rendering of the image would be made under Faustina’s direction.


Further visions, writings and historical notes

Late in May of 1933, Faustina would again be transferred to Vilnius as a gardener. It was here that she met Father Michael Sopocko, who after making his own investigations, would support her in advising her to maintain a record of all her conversations with and messages from Jesus. It was Fr Sopocko too who introduced Faustina to the artist who would, under her direction, produce the first image of the Divine Mercy, the only painting of the image Faustina herself ever saw. It in 1934 that Faustina recorded a prediction that her message of the Divine Mercy would be suppressed for some time and appear to be ‘ utterly undone ’ before it would gain acceptance again. Item 378 in Faustina’s Notebook 1 bore this interesting inscription


There will come a time when this work, which God is demanding so very much, will be as though utterly undone. And then God will act with great power, which will give evidence of its authenticity. It will be a new splendour for the Church, although it has been dormant in it from long ago.


In September 1935, the year of the first mass of the Divine Mercy, Faustina wrote of a vision about the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in her diary. In the chaplet which was about a third of the length of the Rosary, Faustina wrote that the purpose for the prayers of mercy contained in the chaplet was threefold – to obtain mercy, to trust in Christ’s mercy and to show mercy to others.

By November of that same year, Faustina had written the rules for a new contemplative congregation devoted to Divine Mercy and a month later visited a house in Vilnius which she had seen in  a vision as the first convent for the congregation. However she was reminded by Archbishop Jalbrzykowski that she was perpetually vowed to her current order

Faustina’s long time supporter Fr Sopocko wrote the first brochure on the Divine Mercy devotion in the summer of 1936. It carried the image of the Divine Mercy on the cover and Faustina was in receipt of this as her illness took hold. She was moved to Pradnik in Krakow where she would spend most of the final two years of her life in prayer while writing her diaries.  In March of the following year, Faustina wrote of a vision that the feast of Divine Mercy would be celebrated in her local chapel in the presence of large crowds and that the same celebration would be held in Rome before the Pope. In July, the first holy cards with the Divine Mercy image were produced and Faustina began at the suggestion of Fr Sopocko to write the instructions for the novena of Divine Mercy which she had reported as a message from Jesus on Good Friday. Throughout the year, much progress was made in promoting the messages of Divine Mercy and a pamphlet with the image of Divine Mercy  was published with the title Christ, King of Mercy. In it were the chaplet. Novena and the litany of Divine Mercy. 


The passing, beatification and canonisation of Sister Faustina 

In April 1938, Faustina’s illness had worsened and she was sent to a sanatorium in Pradnik. However by June she was no longer able to write and Fr Sopocko who visited her wrote of her condition but noted her ecstasy when in prayer. Later in September, Faustina was taken back home to Krakow where she would remain until passing away in October after making her final confession, 13 years after entering the convent. She was buried on October 7 and now rests at the Basilica of Divine Mercy in Krakow.

Before her death, Sr Faustina predicted a terrible war and asked for prayers for Poland. When her prediction of war came true, Archbishop Jalbrzykowski allowed public access to the Divine Mercy image and the size of the crowds attending lef to the Divine Mercy devotion which was a strength and inspiration for many especially during the difficult times of the war. By 1941 the devotion had spread to America where millions of copies of Divine Mercy prayer cards were distributed there and wordwide. Whilst in hiding during the war  Fr Sopocko wrote the constitution for the congregation and assisted with the formation of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Mercy. Within 13 years for Faustina’s passing, 150 Divine Mercy centers had already been established in Poland alone. However in 1959 Faustina’s writings were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books and remained there until the index was abolished in 1966 by Pope Paul VI. It had been reported that the initial ban stemmed from theological issues so in 1965 Karol Wojtyla, then Archbishop of Krakow launched a new investigation while submitting a number of documents about Faustina to the Vatican, requesting that the process of her beatification should begin.

In 1977, over a year before being elected as John Paul II, Archbishop Wojtyla asked the Vatican to review and lift the ban on the Divine Mercy devotion to successful effect the following year. Thus in April 1978  the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of faith declared that the notification ban was no longer binding, and stated that misunderstandings were created by a faulty Italian translation of Faustina’s Diary which were compounded by difficulties in communication during World War II and the subsequent Communist era.

The formal beatification of Faustina involved the case of Maureen Digan, a visitor from the United States to the tomb of Sister Faustina. While praying at the tomb Miss Digan a sufferer from  Lymphedema (a disease which causes significant swelling due to fluid retention) for decades and who had undergone 10 operations including a leg amputation without success reported that while praying at Faustina's tomb, she heard a voice saying ‘ Ask for my help and I will help you ’ This she did and her constant pain stopped. 2 days later Maureen Digan reported that her shoe became too large for her because her body stopped undue liquid retention. Her recovery was investigated by numerous physicians who stated that she was healed but were unable to provide any explanation for the occurrence. The case was declared miraculous by the Vatican in 1992 based on the additional testimony of over twenty witnesses about her prior condition.

Sister Maria Faustina was beatified on April 18, 1993 and canonized on April 30, 2000 as the first saint in the 21st century. That her Vatican biography directly quotes some of her conversations with Jesus distinguishes Saint Faustina from the many other reported visions. At a  modest estimate made in 2010, the following of the Divine Mercy devotion was believed to be over one hundred million Catholics.

It would not have escaped our notice that Saint Faustina's writings about the need to obtain, trust and dispense mercy mirrors very closely the words our Saviour gave us in that as we ask for mercy ourselves so  should we show it to others. Thus it is very appropriate therefore that as Christ Jesus Himself intended, this special feast should follow the passion and celebrations of Holy Week when we recall the sacrifice of our Lord and rejoice in His resurrection and saving grace, when indeed our reflections should encourage us to turn those words into deeds.

Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska 25 August 1905 - 5 October 1938
Picture - pilgrimages.com