ST. FAUSTINA KOWALSKA: Apostle of Divine Mercy
1905 – 1938
In these 20th century times which have seen an almost total collapse of moral values and a rise in the spirit of atheism it is essential for God and the church to find an instrument to give the world a much needed message from God: “I am sending someone to all mankind with my mercy. I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to my merciful heart. I want to make known to souls the great mercy I have for them and encourage them to place their trust in the bottomless depths of my mercy. Humanity will not find peace until it turns trustfully to Divine Mercy.”
Apostle of Divine Mercy
God found such an instrument to spread his world-wide mission in Faustina, an obscure young nun. Like St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690) whom God had called to make known in the world devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Faustina was a simple, uneducated and lowly but courageous religious who put her complete trust in God.
She too was given a gigantic task: the mission to spread the message of mercy to the whole world thereby to renew within the Church, faith and devotion in the mercy of God.
Her calling was not only to make known the mercy of God to all mankind but for her to practice mercy toward others herself. This is why her constant prayer was, “I want to reflect your Heart, compassionate and full of Mercy. Let your Mercy, O Jesus, be impressed upon my heart and soul as a seal, and that will be my badge in this and the future life.”
Her mission was to convey new forms of devotion to the Divine Mercy and to initiate a great movement of devotees and apostles of Divine Mercy.
St. Faustina was born to Marianna and Stanislaus Kowalski on August 25, 1905 in the sleepy village of Glogowiec, Poland. She was the third of ten children of a working-class family. Her father was a poor carpenter who had to work hard at night so he could till the fields during the day. In this way was he able to support his family.
For twenty years until she entered the convent she was known by her baptismal name of Helen or Elena. Even from a very tender age she stood out because of “her love of prayer, work, obedience and also her sensitivity to the poor.”
Since religion was always most important in their family with God and the Church coming first Helen grew up very pious with faith guiding her daily life.
She was only seven when she heard God calling her to a more perfect life in a religious vocation. However this proved to be very difficult as the family was very poor.
Sometimes she could not even go to mass because of all the chores that had to be done. When she managed to go by doing her chores at night she did not have a decent dress to wear to mass. Since the girls had to lend each other their “best” dresses, she, not being selfish or pushy, usually ended staying at home because of lack of proper clothing.
When she grew older she gained permission from her parents to work as a maid to friends of her parents in order to earn money to buy clothes to attend church. However it was different when Helen told her parents her desire to become a religious. They did not agree as they had many debts and no money to pay for the trousseau and dowry then required of novices. Besides they needed her help at home as they were getting on in years.
Helen was in a quandary. Her problem was whether to obey her parents or follow the voice of God. Prostrating herself before the Blessed Sacrament in the Cathedral of Saint Stanislaus Kostka she heard her answer. “Go at once to Warsaw, you will enter a convent there.”
Joins Congregation of the Sisters of our Lord of Mercy
With only enough money for her fare to Warsaw Helen arrived at St. James Church in the Ochota district of Warsaw. The kindly parish priest directed her to his friends Mr. & Mrs. Lipazyc. Here she remained for a year working as a maid servant yet being treated like a member of the family.
It was by no means easy to find a convent to join. It was only after a couple of disappointments and rejections that she found herself at the door of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lord of Mercy. She was told by the Mother Superior who met her, “Ask the Lord of the House if He will accept you into the congregation.” Stunned at the strange request she nevertheless went to the tabernacle and did as she was bade. Praying to Jesus she heard this reply, “Yes, I accept you”. So accept her they did.
However she still had to work another year to save up enough money to pay the essential expenses of entering the convent. It was after she saw a vision of the suffering Christ that she entered the convent on August 1, 1925. She lived there for 13 years known as Sister Maria Faustina.
Trial of Suffering
When she first entered the convent it seemed to her as if she had stepped into the life of Paradise. However at the end of the first year of novitiate she began to experience untold sufferings because of the darkness pervading her soul called the “dark night of the soul.” She felt no consolation in prayer nor could she meditate. Fearful of what was happening to her she prostrated herself at God’s feet and begged for mercy. Her soul began to agonize at the thought of God rejecting her. She suffered the trial of trials – absolute abandonment and despair. It seemed as if she had lost God forever.
Why? What was the meaning of these severe trials?
She got her answer when the trial that lasted a year ended. It was as if she were newly born seeing everything with a different perspective.
The call of Jesus and the idea of suffering matured gradually in Sister Faustina’s thinking. Because Faustina’s life as a religious was marked with suffering she realized that union with God is always through the Cross. Suffering not only purifies the soul but makes it possible for the soul to participate in the saving work of Jesus Christ. Suffering then becomes not a curse but an opportunity. If you perceive the loving hand of God suffering will cease to be suffering but a delight.
After the trial her sisters began to look at her suspiciously. Some thought that she was mentally ill or possessed by the devil or the victim of her pride. But all noticed her being very recollected, silent, kind-hearted and with great love for everyone.
But life went on in the convent and in several religious houses with Faustina doing all kinds of menial tasks like cooking, gardening, selling bread and even doorkeeping. This was fine for Faustina as she had no aim for high office and nursed no ambition. Little did the nuns know that in their midst was someone who would bestow new forms of devotion to the Divine Mercy so the world could rediscover ways of a religious rebirth.
The Image of Divine Mercy
Faustina had frequent visions of Jesus. In the evening of February 22, 1931 Faustina who was in her cell first saw Jesus in a white garment. He had one hand upward in a sign of blessing while the other was touching his chest. Faustina saw coming from the garment which was slightly opened at the chest two big rays – one red and another white.
Then Jesus instructed her: “Paint a picture according to the image you see and put these words in writing ‘Jesus I trust in you!’ I wish that this picture be venerated for in your chapel and then in the whole world.:
When Faustina spoke of her vision to her confessor he merely said to her “to paint the image of the Lord in your soul.”
However the Lord told her, “My image is already in your soul.”
However, Faustina’s superiors and confessors just regarded her as a victim of illusions.
It was not until 1933 when Faustina was sent to the convent of Wilnos, heart of Lithuania where she was given a new spiritual director that she began to be taken seriously. Her director who was not only spiritual but learned, prudent and holy but had her first visited by a psychiatrist.
More out of curiosity than conviction her priest sent Faustina to a painter who would paint the image the Lord had asked to be painted under her guidance.
However Faustina was first disappointed in the painting. When she told the Lord about it He just told her, “The value of the picture should not consist in the beauty of the color but in the grace.”
When asked the meaning of the two rays Faustina told her confessor what the Lord had said.
The rays are reminders of the Blood and Water flowing from Jesus’ heart pierced by the soldier’s lance. Pale red stands for Water which is the biblical symbol for the graces of the Holy Spirit that makes souls righteous. Water is found in the two Church sacraments of Baptism and Penance that brings us Jesus’ forgiving love and allows each person to experience mercy in a unique way, that is love which is more powerful than sin.
The red ray stands for the blood which is the life of souls. This is the Holy Eucharist that nourishes the soul with great divine life which is sanctifying grace. It reminds us of the new covenant of God with humanity which was sealed with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Thus the Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament of Merciful Love which perpetuates the Sacrifice of the Cross.
The words Jesus I trust in You must be with the image. This is because “the essence of devotion to the Divine Mercy requires TRUST in GOD and becoming ever more merciful to others oneself. The person must trust and practice works of mercy.
When the new image was ready Jesus told her of his next incredible request.
Feast of Mercy
“I wish a feast of my mercy. I wish that this picture, painted by you, be displayed in the Church of Ostra in Wilnos. It is to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter which was to close the Jubilee year of Redemption. I wish this Sunday to be the Sunday of Mercy and that Sunday to be the Feast of Mercy.
The feast of mercy was born in my heart for the consolation of the whole world.
On that day priests are instructed to tell everyone about God’s great and unfathomable mercy.
I desire that this Feast be a refuge and a shelter for all souls but especially for poor sinners.
I am more generous with sinners than with the just because it is for them that I have come to earth. It is for them that I shed my blood. No sinner will ever exhaust my mercy because the more one draws from it, the more there will be. . I am giving them the last hope of salvation, that is recourse to my mercy. If they will not glorify my mercy they will be eternally lost.”
Unbelievably the bishop gave his permission. When people looked at it with awe and wonder they thought it a symbolic representation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The image which became known as Jesus, I trust in you represents not only Divine Mercy but acts as a sign or reminder of our Christian duty to trust God and to love our neighbor.
Unfortunately the original painting was lost in the war. But other pictures were soon made and scattered all over the world.
Chaplet of the Divine Mercy
Our Lord first taught Sister Faustina this form of prayer which is prayed on one’s rosary beads on September 13-14, 1935. It was to be a means of obtaining God’s pardon and thus turning the wrath of God from the sinner. Jesus taught that He would grant everything asked of Him by the saying of this chaplet provided that what they ask it in accord with His will.
The novena of Chaplets to the Divine Mercy is to precede the Feast and to begin on Good Friday.
The 3 o’clock Prayer
Another thing our Lord asked of Sister Faustina was to honor the hour of His death. “As often as you hear the clock strike the third hour, immerse yourself completely in my mercy, adoring and glorifying it. In this hour I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of me in the virtue of the value and merits of my sorrowful Passion for it is the hour of grace for the whole world when mercy triumphed over justice.”
By means of venerating this image God promised to grant many unusual graces to souls like: eternal salvation, great progress on the way to sanctity, the grace of a happy death and whatever other graces people will ask of Him.
For those who spread the message of Divine Mercy and devotion for it Jesus gave a special promise that at the hour of their death He will not be a judge but a merciful savior for them. Hardened sinners will crumble beneath the priest’s words speaking about His unfathomable mercy and about the compassion He has for them in His heart.
Conditions for Gift
However to receive these great gifts certain conditions had to be met: 1. Trust in God’s goodness 2. Active love of neighbor 3. The state of grace following holy confession 4. Worthy reception of the Holy Communion on that Sunday.
Sister Faustina’s Diary
The whole mission of this holy nun is to be found in her “Diary” titled Divine Mercy in My Soul.
It all began in 1933 when imposed on her was the writing of a diary though she knew hardly how to write as she had less than three years of schooling. God told her to write so that the people may learn to love Him and to write about His mercy. So Faustina began to record the spiritual guidance she received through the visions which primarily was the message of the “Divine Mercy of God.” In her diary she wrote: “O my Jesus, each of your saints reflects one of your virtues; I desire to reflect your compassionate heart, full of mercy; I want to glorify it. Let your mercy, O Jesus be impressed upon my heart and soul like a seal, and this will be my badge in this and the future life.
In fact the diary was later published with the title: Divine Mercy in My Soul: The Diary of St. Faustina.” It has since been translated into many languages and is ranked as a spiritual classic.
A New Congregation
In the Diary are repeated requests by our Lord that Sister Faustina found “a new congregation”. This filled her with so much dismay that she kept replying, “Lord, I am not able!”
But Jesus turned a deaf ear and told her, “By yourself alone you will not manage anything but with me you can do anything.”
When asked by her confessor to write the rules of the new Institute she did it under the Lord’s dictation. At the end of it she wrote “Mercy is the greatest attribute of God. All that surrounds me is a testimony of it.” The priest then realized that he was dealing with divine inspirations that could only come from heaven.
Eventually the request of the Lord to found a congregation entirely dedicated to propagate the mystery of the Divine Mercy matured in Faustina’s thinking that it referred to a movement made up of active congregations of men and women – a supra-national community of people making up one family characterized by the desire to have imprinted upon their hearts and works the divine attribute of mercy.
Two years before her death on October 5 in 1938 Sister Faustina was plagued by trouble with her lungs that left her often with fever and feeling easily exhausted. The sisters insisted that she was just being spoiled wanting to be a saint.
When her tuberculosis got so bad she was sent to a sanitarium in Cracow. At least here she was given her own cell where she could surrender herself to prayer and contemplation. However when she got back with a clean bill of health she was accused of being capricious. “Either get cured or die”, her superior cruelly told her.
The nearer she came to the end of her life the more she who was misery itself wanted to become “all mercy.” Her last years were spent gasping for breath and in constant pain.
She finally died at the age of 33 the same age of Christ, her spouse. She left us this message: “Love God, because he is good and of great mercy!”
She was beatified in Rome on Mercy Sunday, April 18, 1993 by Pope John Paul II.
Ban on Faustina’s Divine Mercy
It is interesting to note that God had foretold to Sister Faustina that her work would be interrupted someday. And interrupted it was for twenty long years in the form of a Ban to spread the devotion by the Catholic Church itself who wanted time to study the devotion to Divine Mercy as presented by Sister M. Faustina Kowalska.
It was not until April 15, 1978 that Pope John Paul II was influential in having the ban lifted. In his second encyclical of his papal reign he talks about Dives in Misericordia or Rich in Mercy no doubt influenced by our Apostle of Divine Mercy herself.
She is already considered one of the great mystics of the Church comparable if not surpassing even St. Teresa of Avila probably because she was instrumental in giving the world a much needed message for these times.
It was Pope John Paul II who in April 30, 2000 canonized Maria Faustina Kowalska, visionary and Polish mystic, in Rome in front of 100,000 pilgrims. She received sainthood not for being a humble lay sister but for “her heavenly visions, her obedience and her deep devotion to God recorded in her diaries.”
She had offered her own suffering to God to make amends for her sins and the sins of others. She got this idea from a miracle described in John’s Gospel wherein the faith of an invalid of 38 years had banished his disability.
St. Faustina earned her sainthood because she ably fulfilled the three tasks that Jesus entrusted to her: “First, to remind the world of God’s merciful love for every human being. Second, to spread devotion to the Divine Mercy through veneration of the image, instituting a feast of the Divine Mercy, reciting the chaplet of the divine Mercy and praying at the Hour of Mercy (3:00 pm). And third, to proclaim and entreat God’s mercy for the world and an attitude of mercy toward one’s neighbor.”
SOURCES of REFERENCE
ST. FAUSTINA KOWALSKI
April 18 (Oct. 5)
The Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Saints – p 234
Butler’s Saint for the Day – pp 472 – 474
Illustrated Lives of the Saints – Vol. II – pp 460 – 461
Saint Companions – pp 374 – 375
Saints – p 234
Saint of the Day – pp 268 – 269
The Big book of Women Saints – 301
Meditation on the Saints – Vol. 4 pp 60 – 85
Saints and Heroes Speak – Vol 4 pp 18 – 55
Voices of the Saints – pp 716 – 717
Saints for Our Times – pp 160 – 171