Blogger’s Note: This is the second of three posts along my path to the Sacred Heart about the three Polish saints whose loving example pervaded World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland.
St. Faustina Kowalska
“I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to my merciful heart.” — Jesus to St. Faustina
Born Helena Kowalska in Głogowiec, Poland, in 1905, to a poor, religious peasant family. Felt called to religious life at an early age, but went to work as a housekeeper to help support herself and her family. Accepted to the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy (OLM) in Warsaw in 1924, and in 1926, received her habit and the name Sister Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament. Began having visions of Jesus as “the King of Divine Mercy” in February 1931, instructing her in His love and mercy, asking her to to paint His likeness with the inscription “Jesus, I Trust in You,” and to establish a feast of mercy in the Church. View a more complete biography here.
I have to admit, of the three Polish saints I am profiling, I know the least about Faustina. Unlike Maximilian Kolbe, whose zeal for saint-making, boundless energy, and prolific publishing career made him known even before his martyrdom, or John Paul II, who was the most well-traveled pontiff in history and one of the most recognizable figures of the 20th century, St. Faustina lived out her vocation and mystical experience primarily in private. Like many Catholic mystics, she suffered poor health, and she died at just 33 years old. She is one of a handful of saints for whom an autobiography exists; it was written at the urging of her confessor, is some 600 pages long, and is on my reading list for this fall.
How did St. Faustina love as God loves? It seems to me she did so with humility, obedience, and perseverance. She pursued her vocation to the religious life in obedience to a vision of Jesus she had as a teen and despite rejections from several convents. After the Sisters of Mercy accepted her, she worked two more years as a housekeeper to earn the money for her religious habit before she was allowed to enter the order. She was generally assigned the humblest duties, helping in the kitchen or garden, or like Sts. André Bessette and Blessed Solanus Casey, as porter (doorkeeper). When Jesus asked her to paint the Divine Mercy image, she sought help for three years before a painting was produced. She told her confessor of her visions and conversations with the Lord, and was subjected to psychiatric evaluation. Having established her sanity, she devoted the rest of her life to spreading devotion to Divine Mercy as best she could from her community, despite her failing health.
As I said, I know little—but what strikes me most about St. Faustina is her simplicity and willingness to suffer for the love of Jesus. This Lent I prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet each day, and often used an audio version as I drove. The version I used included St. Faustina’s meditations on the Passion in between each of the chaplet decades. Her visions of Christ’s tortures and sufferings were vivid, but she did not shrink away from his call to embrace His suffering and unite her own to it in order to save souls.
A final thought: The Sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Kraków is like an intergalactic spaceport, with crowds coming and going, strange lines and loops and a tall turret overlooking the city. But the Chapel of the Miraculous Image is an older, smaller, quieter space, and the OLM sisters’ chapel (where we were blessed to celebrate Mass) is humbler still. It was in such places that St. Faustina encountered our Lord, accepted a portion of His agony and united her own with it to satisfy His thirst for souls—a humble handmaid at the foot of the cross.
“O most Sacred Heart, Fount of Mercy from which gushed forth rays of inconceivable graces, be mindful of your own bitter passion and do not permit the loss of souls redeemed at so dear a price.” — St. Faustina Kowalska
Tomorrow: Pope St. John Paul II
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