Eighteen-year old Helen Kowalska had things on her mind as she attended a dance in Lodz, Poland. She was doing her best to forget them, dancing gaily with her sister and friends, when her merriment came to a halt. As she later wrote, “I suddenly saw Jesus at my side. Jesus racked with pain, stripped of his clothing, all covered with wounds, who spoke these words to me: ‘How long . . . will you keep putting me off?’”
For eleven years, Helen had been hearing God’s voice inviting her to “a more perfect life.” She wanted to respond by entering the convent, but her parents refused. Denied, she was trying to ignore the “call of grace” and “stifle it with amusements.”
The sight of Jesus’ suffering against the setting of carefree diversion jarred Helen. She left the dance and settled her affairs that night. Then, with little else than one dress, she slipped off to Warsaw to find a convent that would accept her.
And so it began, quietly and without fanfare. In 1925, as the world danced blithely through the rise of Fascism and Nazism, Helen entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. And for the next thirteen years, Jesus began releasing through her—Sister and Saint Maria Faustina—a flood tide of mercy sweeping out from his heart into the heart of Poland, and onto the whole earth.
Murder and Mercy. How greatly the world of Helen’s day needed mercy! The year she entered the convent, Mussolini was proclaiming himself dictator of Italy. By 1938, when she died, Germany was massing forces under Hitler. A year after that, one of the worst wars in history commenced, unleashing unthinkable human suffering on a global scale.
On the eve of that brutal epoch, God used Faustina to reveal the “oceans of mercy” that he wanted to pour out on a world that soon would stand stripped, wounded, and racked with pain. Oceans of mercy rolling in—in personal and intimate relationships with himself, in a deep awareness and understanding of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and in a renewed outpouring of his Holy Spirit. Mercy in God’s overwhelming love for his children, even as so many prepared to blaspheme and abandon him while enslaving and slaughtering one another. Mercy poured out, even before people knew to cry out for it.
Oceans of divine mercy—and all announced through an insignificant sister in the convent of Our Lady of Mercy.
Mercy’s Secretary. In the diary that brought the message of divine mercy to the world, St. Faustina recorded her conversations with God. She spoke of her doubts, fears, and resolutions; she made reference to her sufferings, rarely detailing the specifics; and she testified to the mercy and love of God that she experienced.
The diary was labor for Faustina, who had only two years of schooling. She kept it because her confessor, having no time to hear her “lengthy confessions,” told her to “write everything down” and show it to him occasionally. She wrote, too, because Jesus called her the “secretary of my mercy” and directed her to live not for herself but for the benefit of others. “Be diligent in writing down every sentence I tell you,” he said, “because this is meant for a great number of souls who will profit from it.”
And so Faustina wrote, producing more than six hundred pages from 1934 until shortly before her death. Some entries recount her experience of “terrible darkness,” spiritual trials, and a fearsome sense of knowing “the power of the Just God.” Others describe times of comfort and joy, when she “snuggled closely” to Jesus. In those moments, Faustina liked to lie prostrate on the floor of the chapel or of her convent cell. There, flooded by God’s presence, in the mystery of what he showed her and despite the dread of what it might mean, she found relief and comfort.
Let your heart be filled with joy. I, the Lord, am with you. Fear nothing. You are in my heart. . . .
Do not be discouraged by the difficulties you encounter in proclaiming my mercy. [They are] . . . evidence that this work is mine. . . .
Do as much as is in your power, and don’t worry about the rest. . . . I am pleased to rest in your heart and nothing will stop me from granting you graces.
With these and other words, God strengthened his unlikely secretary as she struggled to carry out her assignment. He asked only that she listen and obey. He would take charge of the outcome!
Instruments of Tender Mercy. Jesus let Faustina in on God’s plan to flood the world with mercy. “Before I come as the Just Judge,” he told her, “I am coming first as the King of Mercy.” Above all else, the obedience he required of her was that she spread the news.
In 1931, Jesus instructed Faustina to “paint an image” and under it the words, “Jesus, I trust in you.” The image, familiar now to many, depicts Jesus clothed in white, one hand raised in blessing. The other hand draws aside, slightly, his white garment to reveal two large rays of light spilling out from beneath. One red, one pale, the rays symbolize Jesus’ blood and water poured out as mercy for the world.
He also directed Faustina to initiate the process of celebrating every first Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. On that day, he assured her, “the very depths of my tender mercy are open”—and open to everyone. “Let no soul fear to draw near to me,” he told Faustina. “I pour out a whole ocean of graces [on those] who approach the fount of my mercy.”
In another vision, Faustina recalled seeing “a great radiance and, in the midst of it, God the Father.”
Between this radiance and the earth I saw Jesus, nailed to the cross in such a way that when God wanted to look at the earth, he had to look through the wounds of Jesus. And I understood that it was for the sake of Jesus that God blesses the earth.
Love, Always Love. “As often as you want to make me happy, speak to the world about my great and unfathomable mercy,” Jesus urged Faustina. And she did speak, so that the world might cling to him as all hell seemed to break loose. It caused her much anguish.
When a superior informed her that God would never stoop to communicate with “such a miserable bundle of imperfections as you,” Jesus affirmed that he did indeed want “to show the power of my mercy” through Faustina’s lowliness. When she felt particularly inept and incapable, Jesus assured her, “Do not fear; I myself will make up for everything that is lacking in you.”
At every turn, Jesus met Faustina’s doubts and “misery” with tender expressions of his love. “My daughter,” he called her. “My delight, sweet grape in a chosen cluster, my dearest secretary, comfort of my heart.” Faustina reciprocated with her own terms of endearment, opening her heart to “Jesus, friend of a lonely heart, my dearest Bridegroom, my most compassionate Creator.”
Faustina needed all the heavenly comfort she could get. Throughout her life in the convent, she often felt—and, in fact, often was—unable to perform her daily tasks of cooking, cleaning, or gardening. Some of the nuns scorned her for this, assuming that she shirked work and feigned illness. Some judged her to be prone to “hysterics” and hungry for attention.
Faustina suffered acutely—and, for the most part, silently—through their reproach and criticism. Until near the end of her life, no one—herself included—knew that she had suffered for years from tuberculosis. The disease claimed her life on October 5, 1938. Obedient to the very end, Faustina showed the world that, come what may, the Father’s mercy can never be exhausted.
Pure love is capable of great deeds, and it is not broken by difficulty or adversity. . . . It knows that only one thing is needed to please God: to do even the smallest things out of great love—love, and always love.
Do Not Despair. Fittingly, Maria Faustina Kowalska was canonized by Pope John Paul II on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 30, 2000. And so, in both her life and her words, Jesus still calls out: “O soul steeped in darkness, do not despair. All is not yet lost. Come and confide your heart in God, who is love and mercy.” n
Ann Bottenhorn lives in Saint Johns, Florida. All quotes are from the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul (Marian Press).