Helena Kowalska was the third of ten children of a peasant family who lived in Glogowiec, Poland. She was simple, uneducated, and attractive. As a child she began to sense God’s call, but she was twenty before she found it irresistible. In 1925, Helena entered the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. She took the name Faustina and was assigned to domestic service.
On the evening of February 22, 1931, Jesus appeared to St. Faustina. He wore a white robe, and two rays, one white and one red, flowed from his breast. In this and subsequent visions, Christ directed Faustina to propagate devotion to the Divine Mercy. He instructed her to make a painting of his image, promising that anyone who honored it would be saved. He also told Faustina that he wanted the whole church to celebrate the first Sunday after Easter as the Feast of Mercy.
Faustina’s first efforts met with ridicule, doubt, and only lukewarm support. However, after 1933, with the aid of her spiritual director, Father Michael Sopocko, she made good but slow progress. By 1935 thousands in Poland were participating in the Divine Mercy movement.
The Divine Mercy meant not only receiving mercy, but also giving it. With Faustina we can pray that we too might become merciful:
Help me, O Lord, that my eyes may be merciful, so that I may never suspect or judge from appearances, but look for what is beautiful in my neighbors’ souls and come to their rescue. Help me, that my ears may be merciful, so that I may give heed to my neighbors’ needs and not be indifferent to their pains and moanings. Help me, O Lord, that my tongue may be merciful, so that I should never speak negatively of my neighbor, but have a word of comfort and forgiveness for all.
Help me, O Lord, that my hands may be merciful and filled with good deeds, so that I may do only good to my neighbor and take upon myself the more difficult and toilsome tasks. Help me, that my feet may be merciful, so that I may hurry to assist my neighbor, overcoming my own fatigue and weariness. My true rest is in the service of my neighbor.
Faustina died of tuberculosis in 1938. After her death the Divine Mercy devotion has grown steadily. With the support of Pope John Paul II, it became popularly established throughout the entire church. Faustina, and other saints like Margaret Mary Alacoque, Joan of Arc, and even the Virgin Mary, were simple and unassuming young women. What makes them extraordinary is God’s grace. He seems to favor ordinary folks with his mercy, which is very good news.
Image credit: The First image of Merciful Jesus, painted in the presence of Saint mary Faustina Kowalska by Eugeniusz Kazimirowski, 1934. Public Domain via Wikimedia.