Today, as I write this, we celebrate the Feast day of a very special Saint; one who was called by Jesus the “secretary of His mercy.” St Faustina Kowalska, by the prompting of our Lord, devoted her life to proclaiming the message of Jesus’ Divine Mercy. With so many people walking in shame, pain and emptiness, the message of God’s mercy is needed today more than ever and this is where the beautiful connection between Christ’s Divine Mercy and Pastoral Counseling merge.
One question I think we need to ask ourselves is this: Why do we find it so difficult to receive God’s mercy? So often we leave confession, being absolved of our sins but still holding on to the past, the guilt, and the feelings of total, complete unworthiness. While we know that the absolution we receive from the Sacrament of Confession is not dependent on how we feel afterwards, there is still something profound that should be analyzed here.
God extends His mercy. He takes our hearts and wipes away every stain. We are forgiven. But have we forgiven ourselves? The shortage is never in God’s mercy, but rather in our willingness to take a look within ourselves, see what is there and let God’s mercy wash over it. The list of reasons why we struggle to forgive ourselves is exhaustive, and whether it’s done subconsciously or not, the reality is most of us would rather hold on to our brokenness, our past, our shame and our sin because it’s safe and it’s comfortable and if we stay where we’re at then we never have to risk anything.
I often think of the woman in Scripture that was caught in adultery and was about to be stoned to death. Jesus came to her aide. Everyone dropped their stones, turned and walked away. But how many times are we the ones casting stones at ourselves? The message of Jesus is the same for us: drop the stones. Pastoral Counselors help us to name the stones we’re holding on to and they help lead us to Jesus where He can take the stones from our shame-filled grips and whisper the liberating words, “Neither do I condemn you (John 8:11). ” Jesus didn’t condemn the woman, but He called her to a new way of life. God’s mercy doesn’t just take away our sins, it calls us to total liberation from the bondage of all the things holding us back and all the ways we hold ourselves back.
This is where Pastoral Counselors come in and embark on a journey with their clients toward interior freedom so they may be receptive to the mercy of Christ. “Pastoral Counseling is one form which the ministry of Jesus takes in this age. It follows upon the announcement that the reign of God will bring freedom to those held captive, joy to those in sorrow, sight to those who are blinded. It is shaped by counselors who identify their work with the work of Jesus, who has called people to Himself that their sorrows may be comforted and their burdens eased (Blanchette).” Pastoral Counselors help their clients address the shame, the pain and the walls that are blocking them from receiving the fullness of healing. These walls were built to protect ourselves. Maybe it was to protect us from the rejection we received from our friends on the playground or from the disappointment of being overlooked by others, even those within our own families. “For each individual, the sources of captivity, pain, blindness, and sorrow take a unique concrete form. To these forms of evil, sin, or ugliness, the pastoral counseling process holds up the values of the Gospel (Blanchette).” Our walls may look different and they may be unique to our personal experiences but despite the reasons they were built, the walls have served a purpose. However, these walls also hold us captive from the fullness of truly living.
Pastoral Counselors work with clients to understand the walls, why they were built and how they can gently come down. In this way, they help their clients work through the things that are prohibiting Christ’s mercy from penetrating their hearts. A vision of hope, health and wholeness was given to us by Jesus and it is the Pastoral Counselor that helps their client walk towards this vision, internalize the vision and by God’s grace, become the vision. Jesus told St. Faustina, “I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My merciful heart (Diary 1588).” Pastoral Counselors must be an extension of this healing. Every Pastoral Counselor must take these words given to St. Faustina by Jesus and bring them to their clients so that they can hear Him speak His mercy into every area of their lives.
As Jesus said, “The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to my Mercy (Diary 723).” Let us never cease in asking the Lord for His mercy and healing, trusting it will always be given. Jesus, we trust in you. St Faustina, pray for us.