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“Mary’s Captive”

“This is the instruction he left us: fly to the Immaculate One in all your hardships. This exhortation he took from Jesus Himself, who, while hanging from the cross, charged the Apostle John to take Mary as his own mother.” So spoke John Paul II of Fr. Stanislaus Papczynski, founder of the Marian Fathers, whose Beatification took place on September 16,  2007 in the Shrine of Our Lady of Lichen, in Lichen, Poland.

On December 15, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI ordered the publication of a decree on the miracles, heroic virtues and/or martyr’s death of eight-six candidates placed on the altar of God. Among them were three Poles: Blessed Simon of Lipnica, Celine Borzecka, and Fr. Stanislaus Papczynski, founder of the Congregation of Marian Fathers.

The ratification of the miraculous revival of a child pronounced dead in its mother’s womb, a miracle attributed to intercession of Servant of God Father Stanislaus Papczynski (1631-1701), opened the way to his long-awaited beatification.

An act of consecration

 “I, Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary Papczynski, consecrate and confide to God, the Father Almighty, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and the Blessed Mother ever-Virgin Mary, conceived without sin, my heart, my soul, and my body, leaving absolutely nothing for myself, that I may henceforth be the slave and servant of God Almighty and of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.” Such was Blessed Stanislaus’ act of consecration to God and His Blessed Mother after he left the Piarists and decided to found the Congregation of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.

His desire to consecrate himself to Jesus through Mary was formed from his earliest years. Jan — for so he was christened — found himself entrusted to Jesus and Mary even before he was born. Sophia, his mother, while crossing the Dunajec, was swept into the river and miraculously saved through the intercession of the Mother of God. Immediately she consecrated to God and Mary the child she was carrying. She brought Jan into the world on Saturday, May 18, 1631, in the village of Podegrodzie, near Nowy Sacz in the Sandetian Valley. The eighth child of Thomas and Sophie Papczynski, Jan grew up in a warm atmosphere of family love, a circumstance that would bear much fruit in his future life. He learned his piety mainly from his mother who had a fervent devotion to Mary, belonged to a rosary fellowship (the Fraternity of Saint Anne) and the Third Order Franciscans.

Throughout his life, Jan, who later took the monastic name of Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary, knew the constant presence, solicitude, and intercession of Mary — blessings that flowed to him from his act of consecration. With all his strength he responded to Mary’s tenderness with deep filial love, offering to her Immaculate Heart all his labors and humiliations; entering the Piarist Order; promoting the Fraternity of Our Lady of Tenderness, which was then being actively fostered in the Piarist monastery in Warsaw (this in the wake of Mary halting a plague that was ravaging the city); dedicating to her his first written work Prodromus Reginae Artium (Messenger of the Queen of Arts); then, after leaving the Piarists, donning the white habit and fighting for a new congregation in her honor; always and everywhere spreading the devotion to her Immaculate Conception, which at that time was by no means evident to all, since the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was not declared until 1854.

Father Stanislaus called constantly on his fellow countrymen to cherish the Lord’s Handmaid, for he knew that it was only thanks to her help that her beloved nation, then being threatened by the incursions of the Turks, would remain faithful to God. When setting out to fight the battle of Chocim, and later to relieve the siege of Vienna, King Jan III Sobieski confided himself to Mary’s care and the prayers of his confessor, Fr. Papczynski. As an act of thanksgiving for the subsequent victories so earnestly prayed for (the entire nation had joined with Fr. Stanislaus in a great work of collective penance), the king enlarged the foundation creating the Marian Institute and conferred upon it numerous royal privileges.

A demanding love

Those who look into the eyes of the Immaculate One can to see Jesus in others. They hear the human desires of God and the divine desires of humankind.

Father Papczynski was not only one of the greatest humanists of seventeenth-century Poland, but also a great mystic communing through everyday things with his Creator, who is Love Himself. His writings reveal his delight in the mystery of God and the mystery of man’s dignity that derives from it: “Man is created by God and to Him, through the Sacrament of Baptism, is man consecrated by His Mystical Church. What a great honor! You, man, came out of the mind of God. The Holy Trinity itself has chosen you as its temple. You are the image of God, for, just as on the church altar God remains hidden in the Blessed Sacrament, so does He abide in the human heart that offers itself to Him. That is why he addresses these words to us: ‘With all the strength that is within you, prepare your heart for me, that, drawn by your love, I may repose in it like the bridegroom in his chamber.’ ‘My son, give me your heart’ (Prov 23:26). Why? ‘That I may reside in it, abide in it, remain there, reign there, and take my rest there for ever.’ Apart from God, let us countenance no other presence on the altar of our hearts.”

The love of the Father, who offered up His only Son, and the love of the Son, who desired to die for us, prompt our hearts to imitate this love and bestow this love upon others, for we cannot love God without loving others as well. Father Stanislaus repeated the words of Saint Phillip of Neri: “You must love everyone with genuine love. Never nurse hatred toward anyone because of some hurtful word, for the heart that bears no love for its neighbor has no love of God.” And he added: “Nothing displeases the Divine Majesty more than a love that makes us suffer every regrettable incident, every unpleasantness in word or deed as though it were our love of neighbor that had caused it. Stop to think if it is not you that were unpleasant to someone, if out of a sense of exaggerated zeal you did not accuse or denounce someone; if you were not the one to annoy someone first. Stop to think why you are not pleased with someone else’s talents and abilities; why you are not well disposed to that person’s progress to perfection; why you behave grudgingly with some and use harsh and bitter words with others. Take time to consider if all this comes not from a righteous zeal but rather from your own violent inclinations, in case you bring down upon yourself the stern judgment that visits you today.”

Father Stanislaus did not only preach love of neighbor in his sermons and writings, but also practiced it in his own life. He prayed for those who reviled him, forgave those who took him by force and placed him in a solitary cell for the sole reason that he faithfully observed all the monastic rules. The needy he never sent away empty-handed. He was called “father of the poor,” for he distributed alms, helped the orphans and widows, found dowries for the young women coming to the monasteries, and visited the sick and suffering in the hospitals. “In giving alms,” he used to say, “I give them to God at interest.” Divine Providence, in which he had so much trust (he named her patroness of his monastery) never disappointed him.

Another expression of his love of neighbor was praying for the souls of the dead. In the spring of 1675, he served as military chaplain in the army of Jan III Sobieski, which was then fighting the Turks in Ukraine. It appears that many souls of the dead besieged him at that time, begging for prayers. The constant battles fought by the Polish forces with Moscow, the Cossacks, Turks, Tartars, and Swedes, as well as internal unrest within the Polish Commonwealth, natural disasters, famine, and disease — all these reaped a rich harvest of death. Father Stanislaus knew that thousands of the dying were going to meet their Maker unprepared. He knew what great torments of unsatisfied longing for God awaited those souls, for in his mystical visions he often descended in spirit to Purgatory. Consequently, he offered up for them personal acts of fasting, mortification, self-denial, and prayers; and he urged his fellow countrymen to follow his example.

Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski had this to say about praying for the dead, a practice that Father Papczynski so ardently fostered and encouraged: “We pray for the dead not only to sustain them, but even more so to recall to mind that we do not have a permanent home here, but await another. …Our world today needs to be reminded of the great truth about man, namely that he is called to life eternal, which does not end in this world. Belief in eternal life has a supremely important purpose: it teaches us to respect man….Even the highest factory smokestack will fall into ruin; but the tiniest child that dies in its mother’s arms and is buried in the ground will rise from the dead, for Our Heavenly Father will raise it up on the last day. This truth must be felt through the ground and point us to heaven. Belief in the unending, eternal life of man is a necessary condition of justice.”

Advocacy for the poor

While praying for the dead is an important expression of Christian love, so is caring for the soul of our neighbor while he still lives. Those who love God proclaim the truth of His love to others. Father Papczynski constantly reminded the faithful of this privilege and duty: “God desires every soul, even the basest and most unworthy, to enter into His heavenly kingdom, for He charges those whom He has raised to the apostolic office with the duty of proclaiming the Gospel to every living person: monarch as well as subject, rich as well as poor,                old as well as young — indeed, every human being, literally everyone! Therefore decide for yourself what a base thing you have done by passing up an opportunity to minister to the small as well as to the great. Ignore no one. Teach the Commandments to all; assist them in bettering their lives.”

But where do we draw the strength to discharge this all but endless task of witnessing to God’s love? Father Papczynski’s writings provide the answer to this question: “My soul, rise to the task! Do you wish the darkness of night to engulf you? If your lamp lacks light, light it with your desire to receive the Holy Eucharist. For, your light goes out when you burn too lightly or not at all with a desire to receive the Lord’s Body.”

The power of the Eucharistic Jesus and a strong devotion to Mary enabled Father Stanislaus to discharge his apostolic task to the very end. He was an extraordinary preacher who was listened to by the greatest Scripture scholars and theologians. He served as spiritual director to the apostolic nuntio, Antoni Pignatelli, who would later become Pope Innocent XII. A teacher and educator, he ministered to the sick and poor. With Our Blessed Mother’s help he founded the Congregation of Marian Fathers and fought for its papal approval with unflagging determination.

 Most of his activity revolved around the village folk. Keenly aware to the spreading plague of drunkenness, he campaigned for sobriety. An abstainer himself, he urged his spiritual charges to abstain from the consumption of alcohol. He knew that alcohol provides no solace to the spiritually wounded, and so he did all in his power to awaken among his flock a hunger and thirst for God, and then assist in their spiritual growth.

When at last his strength gave out, he continued to witness to Jesus by accepting the wasting disease that suddenly afflicted him. He offered up his increasing pain for the souls of the dead. With great earnestness he prepared himself to meet Jesus and Mary face to face. He died on September 17, 1701.

In death as in life, he continues to help those who pray for his intercession before God. Countless people attest to the graces they have received through his intercession: spiritual conversions, healings from physical ailments and addictions, rescued pregnancies, and release from various spiritual torments.

A testament

“The life of Venerable Stanislaus Papczynski is proof that it is possible to live out God’s truth. It often seems that Christ’s teaching is too difficult, that it is even impossible to carry out; and yet there are so many saints!” — said Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski at the tomb of Father Papczynski.

“Jesus calls every one of us to walk in the way of His love, to carry it to those who are here around us, in school, in seats of learning, at home, and at work. Always accompanying us in this daily journey, in this unselfish losing of our self, is our Mother, the Immaculate Helper, who in good times as well as in times of misfortune, adversity, and national calamity, remains at our side. Just as she did not desert Christ on the cross, so she does not abandon us, her children, to our suffering.”

May we, in the presence of Mary and all the saints, who desire to help us in our ordinary, day-to-day affairs, repeat the words of Father Papczynski’s prayer: “Lord, my God, grant me a strong faith, an unshakable hope, and an undying love. Grant this grace to my heart, that I may come to desire You, and in desiring, to seek; in seeking, to find; and in finding — to love.”

Małgorzata Radomska

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