Apostle of Divine Mercy: The inspiring life of Helena Kowalska, or St. Faustina

She was born Helena Kowalska on August 25, 1905 to devout Catholic peasants in Glogowiec.At age 7 she knew that she wanted to be a nun. But she had nine brothers and sisters so her parents would not give her permission. They wanted her to work to help the family survive.She left home at age 16 to support herself and help her parents financially. But being a housekeeper in Aleksandrow, Lodz and Ostrowek was only a means to an end.When she was 20, she knocked at the gates of the Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Krakow. Here she became who she was meant to be, Sister Mary Faustina. Later she became Saint Faustina.Although most of the nuns at the convent didn?t know it, Sister Mary was special. She had revelations, visions, the ability to prophesy, read souls, to be in two places at the same time and other divine gifts.   ?She was an extraordinary person, cheerful and helpful,? Sister Beata Piekut said in an interview with Michal Jedynak, a writer for the Polish Catholic Church publication, ?Opoka.??When she entered a room, we would say, ?Our theologian is here,? because she was always talking about God.?The other sisters remembered her as natural, serene and full of kindness and love.Her writings reflected the fact that she could also be impatient, although she never showed it. She was disappointed with nuns who were lazy, envious and conceited, she wrote. And she disliked hypocrisy. She wrote in her diary that ?I cannot stand it when a person acts as if she is kind and at the same time puts a spoke in my wheel.? She added, ?What great strength of will is needed to love that kind of a soul for God. Sometimes it amounts to heroism.?Sister Mary said she began writing the diary because Christ asked her to do so. It is considered a philosophical and theological masterpiece, even though she had no formal training in either field. She wrote that a voice in her soul told her ?Do all you possibly can for this work of My mercy. I desire that My mercy be worshipped, and I am giving mankind the last hope of salvation ? that is, recourse to My mercy.?Sister Mary said her heart rejoiced at the message. Christ?s words helped her understand that ?nothing can dispense me from the obligation which the Lord demands from me.? The message Sister Mary received about divine mercy had two sides to it, she wrote ? to trust God?s mercy and to have mercy toward others.Others might have wondered about God?s mercy if they had been in Sister Mary?s shoes, however. She contracted tuberculosis suffering a good deal from it. But she never questioned God, always telling herself that it was His will. She suffered for a reason, she wrote. She bore her pain in secret. Only her spiritual director, the priest Michal Sopocko, knew about the illness as well as about her supernatural powers. Because she hid those powers others underestimated her.When she first developed tuberculosis, doctors missed it saying she was in good health. She knew otherwise ? and finally doctors diagnosed it. As her tuberculosis progressed, Sister Mary spent a good deal of time in pain. She told none of the nuns about the disease or her suffering, however ? and it never prevented her from praying for the conversion of sinners. Sometimes the pain spells lasted three hours and became so bad that they ?took away my consciousness,? she wrote.   The other nuns could see she was having health problems but were unaware it was something that would be fatal.?Despite her weak health, she never complained about her physical state,? Sister Beata said.Because she was almost always on her feet, the other nuns didn?t think she was seriously ill. On the rare occasions when she was unable to perform her convent responsibilities or go to the chapel to pray, some became cruel, accusing her of malingering. Once she felt constant pain in her hands and legs. ?Suddenly I saw a sinner who benefited from my pain and came closer to God,? she wrote.  By June of 1938, she could no longer write in her diary, and it finally became obvious that she would not live much longer. She died that year when only 33-years-old.Director Jerzy Lukaszewicz made a beautiful film about her life in 1994. He didn?t concoct any conflict, as Hollywood might have done to give the film more pizzazz.He and actress Dorota Segda, who portrayed the nun, decided to focus simply on the good that Sister Mary accomplished, not worrying about whether that approach would generate a big box office. It worked. The film turned out to be a huge success.Lukaszewicz could have created tension and conflict by focusing on the devil persecuting Sister Mary, an approach that could have struck a dramatic chord with moviegoers, Segda said. But he didn?t.At the time when the film was made, few Catholics had heard of Sister Mary. Segda said she took the role because it sounded interesting but before the movie she ?didn?t know what a great person she was.? Once realizing the kind of person she was playing, Segda poured her heart into the role. Her stunning portrayal led to film critics voting her Europe?s actress of the year.After 13 years she is still touched that many people associate her face with a person as special as Sister Mary. That continuing recognition was ?the most wonderful result of my work,? she said. A great acting performance requires an actress to immerse herself in the character of the person she is portraying. In the case of Sister Mary, it required that Segda understand how the nun felt when God was speaking to her. The actress said reading Sister Mary?s diary helped to obtain that understanding. So did wearing a coif, a tight-fitting cap worn under a veil. She said the coif gave her ?a kind of an inner silence, which is extremely helpful, especially on a set. This role needed concentration.?Sister Mary was aware of Satan and hell.?I, Sister Faustina Kowalska, by the order of God, have visited the Abysses of Hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence,? she wrote. ?The devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God. What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: That most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell.? Later she wrote about the horrors that sinners face in hell ? the never-ending guilt, the endless darkness, the terrible suffocating smell, the continual company of Satan, whom she described as hideous. ?There are special tortures destined for particular souls,? she wrote. ?I would have died at the very sight of these tortures if the omnipotence of God had not supported me.?Sister Mary was given sainthood in 2000. The Sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Krakow?s Lagiewniki district, where she lived and died, has become the world?s most important shrine to the special quality of mercy. Pope John Paul II consecrated it after the church enlarged it in 2002. It now draws millions of faithful believers every year.On the first Sunday after Easter 100,000 jam the sanctuary to celebrate the Feast of Mercy. Sister Mary wrote that Jesus told her: ?My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners.?The sanctuary?s painting ?The Image of Divine Mercy? is one of the best-known and most beautiful visions of Christ. But Sister Mary was never satisfied with it.Father Seraphim Michalenko of the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in the American city of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, has written on the faustina.org Web site: ?Faustina would come to the artist every so often between January and June of 1934, and every time she came, he would have to change the face because she didn?t like it. It was at least 10 times and maybe more. So finally she came one day, and as far as she was concerned, the image was ugly, but Jesus said ?leave it in the state it?s in. It?s not good but it will do. You don?t have to change it any more?… and that?s the one that matches the shroud.?One of the reasons Sister Mary received sainthood was that a number of Catholics told of having experienced miracles after reciting a prayer for mercy that she had come up with. She said the words were divinely inspired. She heard them inside one day and began speaking them.The momentum toward sainthood ?all started with the testimony of a woman who, because of her prayers, received God?s grace of cure,? Sister Beata said.Vatican officials studied Sister Mary?s diary for signs of miracles ? a requirement before a person can become a saint. However, the translation of the document was flawed, so the church could find no evidence of miracles in it. But many people continued to be miraculously healed after praying to Sister Mary. ?I started to collect the documentation, and the case was introduced to Rome,? Sister Beata said.That documentation and others led to Sister Mary being beatified in 1993 and to becoming a saint in 2000.Now the cheerful, uncomplaining nun is one of the church?s most beloved saints. Her life wasn?t spectacular but she stood out because of her love of prayer, work and obedience.The plaque that commemorates her at the Vatican says, ?Through her the Lord Jesus communicates to the world the great message of God?s mercy and reveals the pattern of Christian perfection based on trust in God and on the attitude of mercy toward one?s neighbors.?

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