Saint Faustina was born Helena Kowalska in a small village called Głogowiec, Poland, on August 25, 1905. She was the third of ten children. She came from a very poor family that had struggled hard on their little farm during the terrible years of WWI. During her childhood, she distinguished herself by acts of devotion, her love for prayer, hard work and obedience. Her parents relied on her to help in the care of her siblings and on their farm. For the Kowalska family, life was steeped in a simple yet deeply personal faith. Despite completing only three years of schooling, Faustina in her Diary clearly described what she wanted to achieve, in a simple and precise manner: ‘From the age of seven, I experienced the definite call of God, the grace of a vocation to the religious life. It was in the seventh year of my life that, for the first time, I heard God’s voice in my soul; that is, an invitation to a more perfect life. But I was not always obedient to the call to grace. I came across no one who would have explained these things to me’.
At the age of sixteen, Helena experienced her first vision of Jesus whilst at a dance with her sister. She fled the dancehall and went to the Cathedral to pray. It was here that Jesus instructed her to leave for Warsaw and join a convent there. She applied to many orders but was refused. Then on August 1 1925, she applied to the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, located at Żytnia Street in Warsaw. There she was finally accepted. In her Diary she described how she felt when she was accepted to the convent. She said: ‘It seemed to me that I had stepped into the life of Paradise. A single prayer was bursting forth from my heart, one of thanksgiving”
Helena took on the name Sister Mary Faustina. She completed her probation in Krakow where she took her initial religious vows, and five years later, she took perpetual vows professing chastity, poverty and obedience. She worked as a cook, gardener and doorkeeper in various houses of the congregation. Her extraordinarily rich mystical life was not visible to anyone in the convents or outside. She was a focused and silent person but at the same time she was cheerful and full of unselfish love for everyone.
Fr Michael Sopocko met Sr. Faustina in August 1933. He became her spiritual director and he saw that she had a very close union with God and discerned that the Holy Spirit was working strongly in her. Sr. Faustina told him of the many visions she was having and told him constantly about one vision in particular that she had on 22nd Feb 1931 when she was in her cell. She said: "In the evening, when I was in my cell, I became aware of the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One hand was raised in blessing, the other was touching the garment at the breast. From the opening of the garment at the breast there came forth two large rays, one red and the other pale. In silence I gazed intently at the Lord; my soul was overwhelmed with fear, but also with great joy. After a while Jesus said to me, 'paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the inscription: Jesus, I trust in You.'"
Fr. Sopocko, encouraged Sr. Faustina to keep a diary and to record all of her conversations with Jesus. He arranged for the picture to be painted, and in July 1934, it was completed. The rays, Jesus explained, "represent the Blood and Water that gushed forth from the depths of My mercy when My agonizing heart was pieced on the cross. The pale rays symbolize the water, which cleanses and purifies the soul. These rays will shield the soul before the justice of My Father. Fortunate are those who live in this shelter, for the justice of God will not reach them there."
Even before her death in 1938, the image was well known in Europe. During World War II, the Devotion to The Divine Mercy became a shield of strength and hope especially for those in the numerous concentration camps throughout Poland, and even beyond its borders. Throughout the 600 pages of her diary, Sr. Faustina records many promises of Jesus attached to devotion to the Divine Mercy image as well as to the Divine Mercy messages.
Sr. Faustina died in Krakow on October 5, 1938 having lived for only 33 years. In 1965, The Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, (later known as Pope John Paul II) asked a leading theologian, to analyse and write an evaluation of her Diary. He was so impressed by the writing that he not only decided to write the critical analysis but to devote his life to the study and promotion of her message. The next year, Sr. Faustina’s remains were exhumed and placed in a tomb in the chapel of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. Blessed Faustina Kowalska was declared a Saint by Pope John Paul II in Rome on April 30, 2000. That particular day, the first Sunday after Easter, was established as Divine Mercy Sunday, and on this day Jesus told Faustina that ‘All the Divine flood-gates through which grace flow are opened’. Speaking at her canonisation St Pope John Paul said: ‘And, Faustina, a gift of God to our time, gift of the land of Poland to the whole Church, obtain for us to perceive the depth of God's mercy, help us to make it a living experience and give witness to it…. Us today, fixing our gaze with you on the face of the Risen Christ, let us make our own your prayer of trusting abandonment and say with firm hope: Jesus, I trust in you’
Reflection on the Life of St. Faustina
Since her death, the immensity of the Divine Mercy devotion, has spread throughout the world. Jesus told St Faustina that "Humanity will not find peace until it turns with trust to My mercy" God wants us to ask him for his mercy, to be merciful in turn and to completely trust in Jesus. Putting mercy into action is the real challenge of Divine Mercy Devotion. We can radiate God's mercy to others by our actions, our words, and our prayers. The Lord will help us recognize the various ways we can each show His mercy in our daily lives.
The corporal works of Mercy are:
To feed the hungry;
To give drink to the thirsty;
To clothe the naked;
To shelter the homeless
To visit the sick;
To visit the imprisoned
To bury the dead.
The spiritual works of mercy are:
To instruct the ignorant;
To counsel the doubtful;
To admonish sinners;
To bear wrongs patiently;
To forgive offences willingly;
To comfort the afflicted;
To pray for the living and the dead
“I will not allow myself to be so absorbed in the whirlwind of work as to forget about God. I will spend all my free moments at the feet of the Master hidden in the Blessed Sacrament.” – St. Faustina