Trust: A Journey into the Diary of St. Faustina
Talk 2: June 24, 2015
(Next Class: July 8, 2015 / No class on July 1)
(Please turn to the Diary #163)
"O Lord. I want to be completely transformed into Your mercy and to be Your living reflection. May the greatest of all divine attributes, that of Your unfathomable mercy, pass through my heart and soul to my neighbor.
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, O Lord, 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 neighbors and take upon myself the more difficult and toilsome tasks.
Help me, O Lord, that my feet may be merciful, so that I may hurry to assist my neighbor, overcoming my own fatigue and weariness (...)
Help me, O Lord, that my heart may be merciful so that I myself may feel all the sufferings of my neighbor. (...)
May Your mercy, O Lord, rest upon me" (Diary 163).
I want you to think back for a moment to when you were in high school.
- Do you remember your high school job?
- Do you remember your first dance?
- Do you remember what you wanted to be after high school?
- Did you ever consider being a nun or a priest?
This past Sunday, our seminarian Matthew shared his vocation journey beginning with his visits to the church with his grandmother when he was just 6 years old. His grandmother instructed her young grandson to pay attention to what the priest was doing at the altar. He felt the call then in some faint, mysterious way. When he began high school, he tried to push away that feeling, as he was planning to think about which college and perhaps deepen his relationship with the girl he was dating. But, things began to unravel. Things didn’t go as he planned. That’s when he was angry at God. After a period of wrestling and arguing with God, Matthew surrendered and accepted the will of God.
Vocation: A call from God and our response of love
Do you remember the time when you had a definite plan for your life, but the plan began to unravel? In today’s class, we’re going to explore the the concept of vocation as a call from God and as our response to that call. We will review in the Diary of St. Faustina, her call to a religious life was heard at a young age. Numerous obstacles stood in her way, including her family and circumstances such as poverty. But those obstacles became instruments of fulfilling God’s plan.
Many people use the word vocation (from the Latin vocare, meaning "to call") in reference to the call to be a priest, sister, or brother. However, the Catholic understanding of vocation is much broader: every baptized person has a vocation--a call--to love and serve God. How you choose to live out that vocation is what each person must discern. Each vocation begins with God’s love for the person. It is a life of love in a concrete, particular form that comes from God. This love involves first God’s total gift of Himself to the person, and in response to that love, the person’s total gift of self to Him. Jesus tells us, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn 15:16).
Our Vocation to Love
Thus our vocation is all about love. From this understanding of vocation, how would you answer this question: What will God think of you if you were originally called to a religious life, but because of life’s circumstances you lived it out as a single woman? Will you be considered any less before the eyes of God because you did not fulfill that call? More broadly, at the end of your life by what criteria will you be judged of your personal call? In the Diary, St. Faustina wrote down the words of Jesus to her, “I desire that you be entirely transformed into love and that you burn ardently as a pure victim of love…” Whichever the state of life that we live out on this earth, the desire of Jesus for each of us is to be loving and merciful as is He. St. John of the Cross said, “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”
The Call of St. Faustina
Unusually drawn to spiritual pursuits, at the age of five, Helena (Faustina) joyfully awoke and told her family about a wonderful dream she’d had. Mary, the Mother of God, had held her hand and strolled with her through a beautiful garden. When she was seven, something new took place. One evening at Vesper (evening prayer), during the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at the parish church (St. Casmir), Helena “heard” Jesus in a new way. He spoke to her soul, and the little girl, who was already attuned to spiritual communication, heard what the Lord had to say. In the Diary, St. Faustina writes, “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 did not always obey the call of grace. I did not know anyone who might have explained these things to me.” (Diary 7)
The response to the call to “a more perfect life” was already taking place in the young Helena. She was helpful and obedient to her parents as much as she could. Her father was very strict, and she shielded her brothers and sisters from her father’s switch when a punishment was coming their way. And neighbors often remarked that it didn’t seem as though Helena truly belonged to a family which had so many ornery children. “She was different,” everyone said. Occasionally, Helena would also set up a “store” to sell little home made dolls and trinkets to other children. Nothing cost more than a Polish penny or two. When the store closed at the end of the day, however, Helena gave away her proceeds to help the “poor” children.
At the age of nine, she received her First Communion. On the way from the church, Helena was walking home by herself. She seemed to be in her own world, overflowing with joy. Several neighbor women stopped her and one asked, “Why aren’t you going back with the other children?” Helena replied, “I’m going with Jesus.” Along the way, when Helena met one of the First Communion classmates, Helena stopped her and asked, “Are you happy about today?” Her friend replied, “Of course, look what a pretty dress I’m wearing.” Helena, who was wearing the one not-so-pretty dress that was also shared by her sisters said, “I am happy because Jesus has come to me.”
Reflection Question: If you jog back your memory to your childhood, was there a time when you were touched by God or perhaps invited by God to a “more perfect life”? I’m not just talking about religious vocation here. I’m talking about the station of your life. It is rare that we get a direct call from God like St. Faustina. Do you agree with St. Faustina that you did not obey the calls of grace?
The Obstacles to Her Call: Parents, Education, Poverty
Over the years, Helena had become a favorite child of both of her parents. She was pretty, even-tempered, and extraordinarily helpful and obedient. She would help around the house with the chores in the kitchen, milking the cows, and taking care of her siblings. Her parents already knew that they would always want Helena close to them. She was too precious to ever give up. She began her primary education when she was 12 years old, due to the closing of the schools in Poland during the Russian occupation. She was only able to complete three trimesters. In the spring of 1919, all the older students were notified that they had to leave the school, in order for the younger students to begin..
By the age of 14 (1921), her growing attraction to God was an undeniable reality to her. Yet her sisters, brothers, and parents lived in a different reality--necessities of farming, keeping house, and feeding a family. At the age 16, Helena began working outside the home to earn money in order to support herself and the family. However, when her prayer life had grown to such an extent that work and sleep became difficult, she left her job as a housekeeper. She went to her parents to ask for permission to leave home and enter a convent; they said no citing financial difficulty as their reason.
The Turning Point
As her parents continued to reject her requests to enter religious life, she abandoned her spiritual life to an extent. Helena began to live a worldly life--buying fashionable clothes, attending dances and parties--all in an attempt to ignore the call she felt deep inside. In July of 1924, she and her sister Josephine attended a dance in the park behind the Cathedral of St. Stanislaus in Lodz. During the dance, she suddenly saw Jesus at her side. He was racked with pain, stripped of His clothing, and covered with wounds. He spoke to her: “How long shall I put up with you, and how long will you keep putting Me off? (Diary 9) This encounter with Jesus was the turning point in her life. She ran to the cathedral, threw herself on the floor before the altar, and begged the Lord to be good enough to let her know what she should do next. Then she heard these words: Go at once to Warsaw; you will enter a convent there (Diary 10).
She got up from prayer, went to her house and confessed to her sister what had happened. She asked her sister to say goodbye to her parents on her behalf. When asked about her provision for the trip, Helena answered, “What I am wearing is enough. Jesus will take care of all my needs.”
In Warsaw, Guided by Trust
When she arrived at the Warsaw train station, she was overcome with fear. It was getting dark and she had nowhere to stay. She prayed to the Blessed Mother, “Mary, lead me, guide me.” Immediately she heard Blessed Mother tell her interiorly to get a ride out of the city to a nearby village to stay for the night. The following morning, not knowing what to do next, she entered the first church she came across, St. James Church. While praying there, she received a divine direction, “Go to that priest [Fr. James Dabrowski] and tell him everything. He will tell you what to do next.” When Helena had explained her situation to Fr. Dabrowski, he directed her to the home of Mrs. Aldona Lipszyc, a solid woman of faith whom he knew well. While staying at her house, Mrs. Lipszyc directed Helena to various convents. However, one after another, Helena was met with refusal. Perhaps the reasons were her somewhat neglected appearance, her lack of education, her extreme poverty, and her present occupation as maid. They would refuse her by saying, “We do not accept maids here.”
Accepting or Rejecting Our Vocation
Have you hired someone to work for you? (Perhaps a handyman, plumber) What criteria did you use to accept or refuse hiring? (Perhaps reputation in the community, word of mouth) What criteria do you think a bishop relies on to accept or refuse a young man desiring ? What criteria do you think a mother superior of a convent relies on to accept or refuse a young woman who knocks on her convent door? She certainly can’t accept everyone who knocks on the door, even if the candidate is convinced of her own vocation. How about a young man who is madly in love with a young woman who kneels down and proposes for marriage? How does she determine his true motivation and intention? It’s difficult to know the true intention or the motivation of a person.
In St. Faustina’s day, dowry was a necessary criteria for being accepted or rejected by a religious order. That practice may seem too worldly, seeing that only the well-to-do could enter religious life. Many religious orders waived the dowry but still required enough down payment for the religious habit. Did those convents that rejected St. Faustina obstruct God’s will? Or by rejecting her, did those convents serve as instruments to fulfill His will?
Rarely in life are all of our motivations pure, selfless and worthy in regard to the things that we do or try to do. We can have some “less-than-adequate” motivations somewhere in the back of our mind. A bishop, a mother superior, or a young woman who has received a proposal have to weigh many factors before the person is accepted. Can this young man promise and fulfill his obedience to the bishop? Does this young young woman have any past emotional wounds that would be obstacle to her living a religious life in the convent? Does this young man truly love me enough to marry me and be faithful to me?
What did the many obstacles mean to Helena? Was it God’s way of saying to her that she wasn’t called? Or was it God’s way of preparing her for His timing?
Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy
After many rejections, Helena was heart broken, and she called to the Lord Jesus, “Help me. Don’t leave me alone.” (Put something here about dowry) One day Helena came to the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. She knocked and told the portress that she would like to enter the convent. Unbeknownst to Helena, Mother Michael, the Mother Superior, was observing her from the doorway and, also unimpressed by her appearance, intended to send her away immediately after she had heard her petition for entrance. However, she decided it would be more charitable to ask the girl a few questions before sending her away. In the course of conversation, Mother Michael noticed that despite that the girl could not afford the dowry typically required of a candidate, she had a pleasing smile, a likeable countenance, much simplicity, and sincerity. Mother Michael asked Helena to go to the Lord of the house and ask whether or not He would accept her. Helena understood that she was to go to the chapel and appeal to the Lord in prayer for an answer. “Immediately, I heard this voice,” Helena later wrote of this moment: “I do accept; you are in My Heart.” (Diary 14) Helena then told the mother superior of Lord’s response. Mother Michael said, “If the Lord has accepted, then I also will accept. Mother Michael also explained to Helena that she would have to find the funds for a wardrobe, even if the convent graciously dispensed with the dowry requirement.
Acceptance into the Convent
It would take Helena a year of work as a maid to earn enough money for the wardrobe. During that year, Helena faced two other challenges. Her employer, Mrs. Lipszyc believed that such a good girl like Helena should be married and not be locked up in a convent. So she began finding suitors for Helena. The other challenge was her parents who sent Helena’s sister to Warsaw to dissuade Helena from entering. After overcoming these obstacles, Helena finally entered the convent on the eve of the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels, August 1, 1925. Several years later, she wrote of this moment in her Diary, “I felt immensely happy; 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.” (Diary 17)
A few weeks after her entrance, she felt a strong desire to leave and find another, more strict order that dedicated more time to prayer. However, Jesus appeared to her again, tortured and wounded and said to her, “It is you who will cause me this pain if you leave this convent. It is to this place that I called you and nowhere else, and [it is here] I have prepared many graces for you” (Diary 19).
-Fr. Paul Yi