Taken from the Gospel for Sunday's Mass:
"Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained."
Seven years ago Sister Faustina Kowalska was proclaimed Blessed by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square on April 18th. It was through the efforts of this great Polish Pope that her cause was furthered and on Divine Mercy Sunday this year he will culminate his dauntless efforts of promoting devotion to Divine Mercy and recognition for Our Lord's special "Apostle of Mercy" when he canonizes this humble Polish nun as Saint Faustina. For her story, taken from the Top 100 feature on this newest saint of the Church, see SAINT FAUSTINA: APOSTLE OF DIVINE MERCY
Blessed Sister Faustina Kowalska was born on August 25, 1905 in the village of Glogowiec, west of the city of Lodz in Poland. She was baptized Helen Kowalska in the parish church of St. Casimir in Swinice Warckie two days later. In 1912, at only seven years-old she heard Jesus' voice in her soul for the first time, inviting her to strive toward perfection. After receiving her First Holy Communion two years later, she soon entered school but was deterred from truly getting an education for she dedicated all the time she could to working for a family in a nearby town to help pay the bills for her parents. In 1922 she told her parents it was time for her to move on, not to a career or higher education but a higher calling. Her parents were not keen on the idea and so she acquiesced to look for work to continue supporting them. When she was 30, with hardly any formal education behind her, Helen knew her calling was unmistakable and followed Our Lord's words, and, despite being turned away by the Mother General in Warsaw the year before, persisted.
Her perseverance paid off when, at the age of 30, she was accepted into the convent of the Congregation of Sisters of the Divine Mother of Mercy in 1925. Less than a month after entering on August 1, 1925 she could not hide her longing to find a stricter, more contemplative, cloistered Order, claiming prayer time suffered because of all the duties. The work chores also tired her out incredibly, which prompted the Mother Superior to send her to a vacation house of the Congregation to recuperate as a postulant. In April of the following year, she was healthy enough to enter the Novitiate in Krakow where she received her religious habit and the religious name of Maria Faustina of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
It was a fitting name for, unknown to all but a few of her fellow sisters, this humble peasant girl was gifted with extraordinary mystical experiences granted by the True Presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament - Jesus Christ. She received so many messages, that in 1934 when she was a professed nun, her spiritual director Father Michael Sopocko, a university theology professor, instructed her to keep a diary of these experiences. Though her formal education consisted of a scant two years of elementary schooling and she was terrified at the thought of trying to write anything, she dutifully obeyed. Diligently she recorded on paper the daily spiritual experiences, insights, revelations and visions she was receiving about Divine Mercy.
As the preface of her compendium called "Divine Mercy in my soul Diary", published by the Marian Helpers Press in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, indicates - it was "the journey of her soul." A journey that was anything but smooth, littered with doubts and human frailties physically, emotionally and spiritually. In fact, two months as a Novice left her in a void spiritually. The Order changed Novice Mistresses and Sister Marie Faustina felt lost. Not only that but she entered a spiritual void similar to that explained by Saint John of the Cross in his "Dark Night of the Soul", but her new Directress of Novices was a wise, holy woman and could see the potential in Faustina as well as what she was experiencing. She excused her from all spiritual exercises, urging her to stay close to God and always be faithful. It paid off on Good Friday in 1928. After suffering through this terrible void for a year, the cloud of uncertainty and despair was lifted and she clearly could understand the suffering our dear Lord underwent. That year the Resurrection gave her even more cause for joy and hope for she once again had renewed zeal and purpose. Immediately she began her ten-day retreat which climaxed with her taking her temporary vows on April 30, 1928.
In December that same year, at the General Chapter of her Congregation, a new Mother General was elected. She was Mother Michael Moraczewska who would remain Faustina's superior for her entire life and to whom Sister Marie Faustina would confide in with her Diary and profess her perpetual vows. Sister Faustina was assigned to several duties and locations throughout Poland during the five years of her tempory-vow status.
It was on February 22, 1931 when Our Lord instructed Faustina in a vision to draw and color the image she had been seeing of Him. This, basically is the same image we see today of the Image of Divine Mercy with the rays of Divine Mercy emanating from him in red and blue streaks, the latter representing the blood that poured from His body during His Passion and Death, and the former representing water that poured from His Heart when the centurion pierced it with a lance.
On May 1, 1933 in Our Lady's month of May Sister Faustina took her final vows in Krakow before Bishop Stanislaus Rospond. Shortly thereafter she was sent to Vilnius where she met the artist known as Kazimierowski whom, on January 2, 1934, she commissioned to paint the image Jesus requested. He proudly presented the finished painting to her in June that year and Faustina expressed disappointment that it could not match the beautiful vision she had seen of Our Savior. But she soon became too ill to do anything about it as a cold overcame her which landed her flat in bed by the end of July. Yet she continued to write in her Diary, but by the first week in August her fellow sisters became so concerned they sent for Father Sopocko to give her the last rites. But she regained her strength and was able to resume her duties quicker than many expected.
In Fall of that same year, while strolling with her students on the way to the evening meal on school grounds in Vilnius, she witnessed a vision of Our Lord above the small chapel on campus. It was the same vision she had seen many times before, but this time the rays extended out covering the entire campus and then to the whole world. She knew intuitively that Christ's Divine Mercy was intended for the entire world.
From that time on she was sent to various other houses run by the Congregation but her health steadily got worse. She was sent to different hospitals for tests and no diagnosis could be found as she continued weakly to fulfill her mission on earth. On September 27, 1937 she met with the Mother Superior of the Congregation's House in Krakow, where her ill health forced her to be returned, and the two made final preparations for printing holy cards of the Image of Divine Mercy.
On April 21, 1938 she became so ill that she was once again admitted to the hospital, this time in Pradnik. Two months later, her health had grown so perilous that she was unable to continue her Diary. Later in August of the same year she feebly wrote to the Mother General asking pardon for any wrong she had ever done to anyone. On September 17, the inevitable was confirmed: Sister Faustina was near death. While all those around her were sad and dejected at this turn of events, Sister Faustina was upbeat and positively looking forward to Heaven as she told her spiritual director Father Sopocko on his final visit to her on September 26,1938, "My one occupation is to live in the presence of my Heavenly Father."
After making her last confession and receiving the Holy Viaticum late in the afternoon of October 5, 1938 she slipped fast and died at 10:45 p.m. in the Krakow convent with her fellow sisters at her bedside. At last she was free from the suffering that she had offered up to God as the "Messenger of Divine Mercy."
Her funeral was held two days later which was not only the First Friday of the month, a day dedicated to the Sacred Heart, but also the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. After the requiem Mass she was buried in the Krakow Convent's cemetery located in the gardens of the Order's property there.
The Mercy devotion spread like wildfire throughout Blessed Faustina's homeland after her death in 1938. It became a strong spiritual elixir amid the horrors the Polish people endured in World War II. At the front lines of those enamored of God's Mercy and the revelations the Son of God gave to Blessed Sister Faustina stood the young Polish priest Father Karol Josef Wojtyla.
The devotion to Divine Mercy was brought to America by Father Joseph Jarzebowski of the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception (MIC). In the face of the Third Reich's Nazi regiments surrounding Poland and threatening an invasion, at great personal peril, this dauntless priest entrusted himself to Divine Mercy and safely smuggled Sister Faustina's writings across enemy lines. Father's cinematic escape took him across his war-torn native land through Lithuania, Russia, Serbia and Japan and on into America via a Japanese freighter.
Before this dangerous flight, Father Jarzebowski vowed to Father Michael Sopocko, Sister Faustina's Spiritual Director, that he would reproduce and distribute materials on the Divine Mercy once safe on America's shores. By God's Grace and Mercy, he fulfilled this vow with the help of the Saint Stanislaus Kostka Province of the Marians. He fruitfully encouraged the priests and brothers to actively proclaim the message of Divine Mercy in print, word and deed, and they joined him in this newfound ministry.
Opposing forces frequently connive to prevent the dissemination of holy revelations. And too, Holy Mother the Church is known for her prudence regarding unproved and uninvestigated spiritual occurrences. Sister Faustina's Diary was not immune to attack or theological scrutiny. In the early stages of Pope John XXIII's pontificate, the Vatican received erroneous and confusing translations of the Diary. An uneasy political climate made it impossible to verify the original's authenticity. Consequently, the Holy See silenced it in the forms proposed by Sister Faustina's writings. Just as the Holy See did regarding Padre Pio, Venerable Mary Agreda, Maria Valtorta and many in this day and age. So, too, with Sister Faustina's Diary. When the Vatican's ban was issued, the Marians obediently ceased promoting Sister Faustina's writings. During this time, they continued to propagate devotion to God's Mercy and align their materials with Scripture and the Magisterium. But it was left to God's Mercy to allow Archbishop Wojtyla to intervene and turn the tables back in favor of Faustina.
As the head of the Archdiocese of Krakow Archbishop Karol Wojtyla commissioned Bishop Julian Groblicki to begin proceedings in the canonization process of Sister Marie Faustina Kowalska on October 21, 1965. This action made her officially a "Servant of God." The Archbishop, of course, would go on to become Cardinal Wojtyla, who would close the Informative Process on September 20, 1967 after her body had been exhumed and her remains moved to a special prominent place in the chapel of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. Pilgrims have flocked there ever since, praying for her intercession. On January 26, 1968 the Acts of the Informative Process were submitted to the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints and four days later the same Pontifical Congregation began the process for beatification of Sister Faustina. Twenty years after John XXIII had approved the ban, and following the selfless efforts of then Bishop Wojtyla, Pope Paul VI lifted the Vatican's ban on April 15, 1978 At the time, the future Polish Pope had dedicated himself to completing an accurate translation of Sister's Polish Diary. It is an understatement to say his persistent influence, singularly effected the approval of Christ's revelations and his country woman's holy journal. Six months later, that same Cardinal Wojtyla would become the 264th successor of Peter - Pope John Paul II. It was truly no coincidence, rather a "Godincidence."
On July 12, 1979 the Sacred Congregation sent notice to the Congregation of Marians, the Order responsible for promulgating Divine Mercy Devotion, that there no longer existed any impediments to the spreading of Divine Mercy Devotion in the forms proposed by Sister Faustina. The following year, the Holy Father published the Encyclical "Dives in Misericordia" ("Rich in Mercy"), in which he stressed the need for "Christ's messianic program, the program of Mercy" to become " the program of His people, the program of the Church" (#8) "The Church," he wrote, "professing Mercy and remaining always faithful to it, has the right and the duty to call upon the Mercy of God, imploring it in the face of all the manifestations of physical and moral evil...that cloud the whole horizon of life of humanity today."
In the spring of 1981, Marian priest Father Seraphim Michalenko, who had been appointed vice postulator for North America for the Cause of Sister Faustina, left his home base in Stockbridge to accompany Maureen and Bob Deegan and their son Bobby from Boston to the tomb of Sister Faustina in Poland. The purpose: to pray for a miracle for Maureen. There she received a dramatic healing which changed her life. As a result, the Deegans moved to western Massachusetts where the couple began full-time work for the Church through the Shrine of The Divine Mercy. On December 21, 1992, Maureen's miraculous healing was accepted by the Church as the miracle needed for the beatification of Sister Faustina and announced to the world two days later.
Thus, on April 18, 1993 before a packed St. Peter's Square on the first Sunday after Easter - designated Divine Mercy Sunday - Pope John Paul II elevated Sister Faustina to the status of Blessed with the Beatification of this Venerable Servant of God, now known as Blessed Sister Marie Faustina Kowalska. This sublime act in recognizing the genuineness of Christ's revelations to Sister Faustina, as well as her singular piety, culminated our Holy Father's lifelong efforts to propagate the Divine Mercy devotion; labors which began in Poland in the 1930's.
The beatification of Sister Faustina is of particular interest to thousands of Catholics in North and South America, as well as Europe, Asia, Australia and all who have become involved in greater devotion to Christ as Merciful Savior and the Church's traditional Works of Mercy, through reading Sister Faustina's Diary. This 600-page Diary was a fulfillment of Our Lord's promise to her that she was to be the apostle and secretary of His Mercy, proclaiming His Mercy to the whole world. Even before her death, the Message of Divine Mercy had begun to spread, inspiring countless numbers of people to a deeper trust in God. In her Diary, Blessed Faustina had predicted a number of the events that have happened including the ban on the Devotion, the lifting of the ban, and her own eventual beatification in Rome on the first Sunday after Easter, which Jesus had told her He wanted celebrated as the Feast of Divine Mercy. Truly prophecies that came true. For more fulfillments of what she received, we recommend www.divinemercy.org
But the value of her Diary is not so much due to its prophetic passages as to its spiritual content. Theologians and scholars are astounded at its depth, and rank Blessed Faustina in the company of such mystics as Saint Catherine of Sienna, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Saint Therese the Little Flower. Like them, this loving servant gave her fiat to her Master and He molded this simple Polish girl into a very holy nun with a special mission that would reach all four corners of the earth. As He relayed to her, "Through you, as through this Host, the Rays of Mercy will pass to the world." To which we can only say what now Saint Faustina always said: Jesus, I trust in You.
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