Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska was a humble instrument to the Lord, desiring religious life at only seven-years-old.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. At seven years old, I was swapping Nilla Wafers for Oreos on the playground, let alone thinking about my vocation. But, for Faustina, her role in her family encouraged her to grow up fast. By sixteen, she was supporting and caring for her nine other siblings as the family’s housekeeper.
As much as she obeyed her parents’ wishes to stay at home, Faustina often sought out Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament with a deep desire to join the convent at a young age. In 1924, she received her first vision of Jesus, who instructed her to leave home for the convent in Warsaw, Poland. She later found her place in the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, where she took her first religious vows as a nun in 1928. She was only 22-years-old.
Saint Faustina famously recorded her visions of Jesus in a diary. You might be familiar with the image of Jesus as the King of Divine Mercy, wearing a white garment with red and pale rays coming from his heart. This presentation of Christ came directly from one of Faustina’s visions. Out of these visions also came Divine Mercy Sunday (when Jesus explained he wanted the Divine Mercy image to be “solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter”), as well as the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy, an intercessory prayer used on rosary beads for a special remembrance of Christ’s passion.
Learning by the Way of Mercy
Because of saints like Faustina, we come to understand the merciful heart of Jesus more fully and seek it out in our own lives. I’m here to share with you how her little story continues to change my ordinary heart in hopes that it might inspire you, too:
- God is not stingy with His mercy.
- Suffering can actually make us holier.
- Mercy is at the heart of community.
- Our own forgiveness is necessary for mercy.
God’s mercy is freely given, not earned. God’s choice to humbly send down His son, who died on the cross for us, is the ultimate outpouring of His merciful heart, freely offering Himself, again and again, every time we partake in the Eucharist at Mass.
Next time you attend Mass, count how many times you recite prayers that ask for God’s mercy. Even though He offers it to us anyway, we acknowledge that His mercy is necessary and vital to our spiritual life.
In one of Saint Faustina’s diary entries, she writes, “Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Savior; in suffering love becomes crystallized; the greater the suffering, the purer the love” (#57, page 29).
In other words, our ability to endure suffering of any weight or kind is making us more like Jesus. Let’s be real; nobody wants suffering to occur. But, Faustina is inviting us to see these moments of trial as opportunities for us to lean into God’s love and mercy.
Jesus desires to be near to us. We are called to open our hearts to that closeness and trust that He is working in our hearts no matter the circumstance. Faustina also shares, “When I see that the burden is beyond my strength, I do not consider or analyze it or probe into it, but I run like a child to the Heart of Jesus and say only one word to Him: ‘You can do all things’” (#1033, page 392).
The first time I ever prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet was among my team of Life Teen summer missionaries a few years ago. One of the missionaries had an intention to pray for a relative who fell ill. Without hesitation, our staff joined together in the chapel with our rosaries to pray.
The Chaplet is commonly used in these times to pray for those that are sick and dying. It is also prayed after having received Holy Communion at Mass. In numerous revelations, Jesus made it clear that the Chaplet is not just for the person praying it, but for the whole world. Faustina finishes the prayer in one diary entry with “for the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us” (475). The following entry is edited to say, “have mercy on us and on the whole world” (476).
I consider this change and why it was so important for Jesus to iterate. While this communal prayer is intended for those approaching the hour of death, I think Christ intended it for anyone in need of God’s mercy (all of us!). There is so much power and volume in praying these words together, asking for the Holy Spirit’s guidance on not just us but the entire world.
Easier said than done, right? I think, for me, this token of wisdom from Faustina really hits the hardest. Just as God offers us endless mercy, we are given a similar responsibility to pay this mercy forward. This could look like patience with that sibling who’s getting on our nerves, forgiveness toward a friend who we feel wronged us, or even mercy toward ourselves and the ways we have fallen short in loving and trusting Jesus.
If I’m being honest, I don’t think I’ve always been the greatest friend to others. Oftentimes, I wallow in self-pity and blame myself for anything and everything I may have said or done wrong. Other times, I put all the blame on the other person. Yet, it is in moments like these I am challenged to not only accept God’s mercy but to share it: “He who knows how to forgive prepares for himself many graces from God. As often as I look upon the cross, so often will I forgive with all my heart” (390, page 175).
Walking in the Way of Mercy
Saint Faustina’s life is validation that Jesus can make the ordinary extraordinary. Even though we may not experience these same profound images of Jesus in our daily lives, we can look to Faustina as an instrument of total humility and trust in the Lord.
If you find Saint Faustina’s life to be difficult to understand or even too unbelievable, ask yourself why. Invite Saint Faustina to pray with you and ask God to open your mind to the possibilities of His mercy and love. As Saint Faustina reminds us, all we need to do is run to the Lord like a child and say only one word to Him: “You can do all things.”