Although not – yet – in the universal calendar of the Church, today is the memorial of Saint Faustina Kowalska, the nun who received numerous visions of Our Lord manifested as ‘the Divine Mercy’, with the now-familiar read and white rays emanating from His Sacred Heart, a devotion first widely promulgated by another Sister four centuries earlier, Margaret Mary Alacoque.
Helena Kowalska, as she was prior to her religious profession, first received her vocation at the age of seven, knowing she was one day to consecrate her life to God. Yet, as is the way with most young people, as she entered teen years, the world’s wiles waylaid her until, at a dance, Christ appeared to her wearing His crown of thorns; she ran to the cathedral, where Christ asked her, without taking provision for the flesh, to make true her childhood intention. In a quite literal apostolic ‘leaving everything and following Him’, Helena embarked on the next bus to Warsaw, with no luggage, and not telling anyone; a parish priest found her a room, whence she asked at various convents, all of them refusing the impoverished peasant, with no dowry, until the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady took, well, mercy on her.
Although often ill – one wonders about Blaise Pascal’s dictum that sickness is the natural state of Christians – Helena found her home, taking the name Faustina – the ‘fortunate one’, perhaps after an early martyr – and was gifted with continual visions of Christ. She found a sympathetic confessor, Father Michael Sopoćko, who, after ordering a psychiatric evaluation (which Faustina passed as perfectly normal) encouraged her to write down what Christ said to her, now her famous ‘Diary’.
Christ also asked Faustina to have an image painted, which she did, the now near- ubiquitous one by Eugene Kazimieroswki. The face matches up almost perfectly with that of the Shroud of Turin.
Sister Faustina died, likely of tuberculosis, on this day, October 5th, in 1937, predicting that there would be a terrible war, a fulfilment of the prophecy first made to the young seers at Fatima if the world did not repent.
Father Sopoćko spread devotion to the ‘Divine Mercy’, which spread rapidly throughout the world. There was some opposition just before the Second Vatican Council, perhaps due to an imperfect translation and a misunderstanding of some of the limits, but Pope John Paul II, always a devotee as a bishop and cardinal, took things under his own pastoral direction, and instituted the Second Sunday of Easter as ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’, on the eve of which feast he himself was to pass into eternity, and on which day, in 2011 and 2014 he would, respectively, be beatified and canonized.
Saint Faustina exhorted us all to avail ourselves of the Divine Mercy, now open wide to receive as many souls as respond to God’s grace. As she said, we pray the Chaplet – and, we might add, the Rosary, at Mass – to obtain mercy, to trust in Christ’s mercy, and to show mercy to others.
All Christ desires is our faith, our trust and our love. It is with these small treasures that He will give us, in return, an infinite and eternal reward.
Jezu, ufam tobie. Jesus, I trust in Thee.