Our Lady of Mercy takes a special place in the school of St. Faustina’s spirituality. Sister Faustina took the devotion to Our Lady from family home, but in her religious life it deepened significantly. It was fostered not only by the spirituality of the Congregation, whose main Patroness is Our Lady of Mercy, but also by a very personal contact with Mary. In numerous apparitions, visions, meetings Mary revealed to Sister Faustina the mystery of the Divine Mercy in her life, she taught her, strengthened, accompanied in her prophetic mission. “I am your Mother by God’s unfathomed mercy” (Diary 449), said Mary, “I am not only the Queen of Heaven, but also the Mother of Mercy and your mother, too” (Diary 330).
For Sister Faustina, Mary was above all the Mother of God’s Son – Mercy Incarnate and out of God’s mercy also the mother of every man. As a careful and the best mother and the Mistress of spiritual life, she taught her the contemplation of God in her soul, obedience to the will of God, the art of love of the cross and care for these virtues, which condition the attitude of trust in God and mercy towards neighbours. „I saw Our Lady – Sister Faustina noted – who said, ‘O, how God likes the soul that faithfully follows the inspiration of His grace. I gave the world its Saviour, and you are to tell the world of His great mercy and prepare the world for His second coming, when He will come not as a merciful Saviour, but as a just Judge. O, that day is terrible. The day of judgement has been determined, the day of God’s anger, the angels tremble at the thought of it. Tell souls of His great mercy, while there is still time for mercy; if you should remain silent now, you shall be held responsible on that terrible day for a great number of souls. Do not be afraid of anything, be faithful right unto the end. I feel compassion for you’.” (Diary 635).
When the Congregation chose Mary for the Heavenly Superior General (15 August 1937), Sister Faustina envisioned all sisters covered by Her coat and heard the words of a great promise, “’Every one of you who perseveres in zeal until death in My Congregation shall evade the fire of Purgatory; and I want each of you to be characterised by the virtues of humility and meekness, chastity and love of God and neighbour, compassion and mercy.” After those words, the Congregation vanished from the vision, and I was left on my own with the Blessed Mother, Who instructed me on the will of God, how to apply it in my life, submitting entirely to His most holy erdicts. You cannot please God unless you do His will. ‘Daughter of Mine, I advise you most earnestly to do all that God asks of you, for that is most pleasing in His holy eyes. I dearly want you to distinguish yourself in your faithfulness in doing the will of God. Put the will of God above all other offerings and whole-burnt sacrifices.’ As my Heavenly Mother was speaking to me, a deep understanding of the will of God entered my soul” (Diary 1244).
Devotion to Our Lady is the next remarkable element in Sister Faustina’s spirituality. She learned it from the very first years of her life. During her childhood she already heard her father praise Mary early in the morning as he sang The Little Office of Her Immaculate Conception. The Kowalski family had the custom of singing the Litany of Loretto together in May and of saying the rosary in October. In the room in which the family prayed there was a statue of Our Lady next to the crucifix before which the family would kneel every day, and in front of the house on the pear–tree there hung a little shrine around which they would gather to pray during the summer months. We may say that Mary was part of Sister Faustina’s life from the cradle, and so she turned to Mary quite naturally in every need. This is also why, upon arriving in Warsaw to enter the convent, Our Lady was the first one to whom she turned for advice and help. “When I got off the train – she recalls years later when she recorded these events in her Diary – and saw everyone going their own way, I was overwhelmed with anxiety. What was I to do? Where to turn to? I did not know anyone [in Warsaw]. I said to Our Lady, ‘O Mary, guide me, lead me.’ Immediately I heard in my soul these words, that I was to leave the city for a certain village,9 there I would find a safe place for the night, which is what I did and found it, just as Our Lady had said” (Diary 11). The description of this incident demonstrates how simply this 19–year–old girl related to the Mother of God and how well she listened to Her commands.
At the age of 20, Helena Kowalska entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy where her devotion to Mary developed and deepened still more. Because from then on, she had become the daughter of Her who „proclaims mercy from generation to generation, has the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God’s mercy. She knows its price, she knows how great it is” (DM 9) was united to Her Son’s salvific work throughout Her entire life. And as a good daughter Sister Faustina learned from her Mother how to fulfil her vocation, how to cooperate with the Merciful Jesus in the work of rescuing lost souls, and how to love God and people.
Mary – Mother
Out of the many titles under which Mary is honoured in Christianity we find most frequently in Sister Faustina’s writings the title closest to man’s heart: Mother, Mother of God, and her Mother.
In the Congregation, to which the Lord Jesus had called Sister Faustina, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary is honoured in a special way under the invocation of Our Lady of Mercy. She is the One who obtained mercy in an exceptional way, since She was preserved from the stain of original sin, endowed with the fullness of grace, and raised to the dignity of being the Mother of God’s Son. She gave Mercy Incarnate to the world. At the same time, Mary is the One who „still in an exceptional way, made possible with the sacrifice of her heart her own sharing in revealing God’s mercy” (DM 9), as She stood on Calvary at the foot of the cross of Her Son. For this reason She „has the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God’s mercy. She knows its price, she knows how great it is” (DM 9). Likewise Mary, „through her hidden and at the same time incomparable sharing in the messianic mission of her Son, was called in a special way to bring close to people that love which He [Her Son] had come to reveal” (DM 7). And thus, the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy honour Mary under this title. Following the example of their Most Holy Patroness, the sisters cooperate with the Divine Mercy in the work of rescuing lost souls. Our Lady of Mercy is represented by the statue of Mary stretching out Her arms to the people (ready to come to our help), with Her mantle lightly draped over Her arms. In iconography the mantle has been used from the beginning as the symbol of Our Lady’s protection and mercy towards people.
Sister Faustina honoured Mary always as the Mother of God’s Son, Mercy Incarnate. She never treated Mary in an autonomous way but always in connection with Jesus, as His Mother, sharing in His salvific mission. In numerous apparitions, the Blessed Mother, being entirely focused on His person and fully active in His work of saving souls, often came to Sister Faustina with Her Son (Diary 608, 846 and others) or showed Herself as the One who leads to Him.
Sister Faustina often wrote in her Diary about the role of Mary as the Mother of Mercy, recognising not only the mercy which She had obtained in the highest degree, but also the mercy which God grants to people through Her.
„Through Her, as through purest crystal came
You mercy down upon us, Lord.
By Her – Man is pleasing to God again,
By Her – graces of all kind on us are poured” (Diary 1746).
For Sister Faustina, Mary was not only the Mother of God’s Son but also her personal, spiritual Mother. Our Lady reminded Sister Faustina in a special way of the truth about Her spiritual motherhood, which the Holy Church confesses, presenting it as a gift of the Divine Mercy. On the patronal feast of the Congregation, wrote Sister Faustina, “I saw the Blessed Virgin; She was inexpressibly beautiful, and She came down from the altar, approached my kneeler, hugged me to Her bosom, and said these words to me, ‘I am your Mother by God’s unfathomed mercy’.” (Diary 449, cf. Diary 805). Furthermore She told Sister Faustina, “My daughter, at God’s command I am to be a Mother to you in a special, exclusive way, but I want you to be a child of Mine in a special way, too” (Diary 1414).
Sister Faustina responded with her whole heart to this request of the Most Blessed Mother, becoming Her faithful and loving daughter. After perpetual vows, this bond with Mary as her Mother became even stronger. Sister Faustina expressed this in the following way, “O Mother of God, Mary Most Holy, You, O Mother, are now my Mother in a very special way, because Your beloved Son is my Bridegroom, so we are both Your children. For Your Son’s sake, You have to love me. Mary, dearest Mother of mine, direct my inner life to make it pleasing for Your Son” (Diary 240).
This very personal relationship of Sister Faustina with Our Lady is apparent in various situations of her everyday life, about which she wrote in her Diary. She entrusted to Mary her joyful moments, such as her perpetual vows (Diary 260), just as much as her moments of suffering when she would not hesitate to complain to Her. Sister Faustina entrusted her whole life to Her, “O Mary, Mother and Mistress mine, unto You I give my body and soul, my life and death, and whatever shall come thereafter. All this I put into Your hands, O my Mother” (Diary 79). Sister Faustina asked Her for the following graces, purity of heart, soul and body (Diary 79); for protection against the enemies of salvation (Diary 79); and for the grace of fidelity to inner inspirations and of faithfully carrying out God’s will (Diary 170). She begged for all this so that she may become dearer to Jesus and may worthily praise His mercy before the whole world and throughout all eternity (Diary 220).
The Most Blessed Mother would let Sister Faustina feel her maternal love and care many times (Diary 789, 1114). “One day, Our Lady visited me. She was sad, Her eyes were downcast; She let me know that She had something to tell me but, at the same time, that She did not want to talk about it. When I realised this, I started to entreat Her to tell me and to look upon me. All at once Mary looked upon me with a kind smile and said, ‘You will go through some suffering due to illness and doctors, and you will also meet with much suffering in connection with the painting, but don’t be afraid at all.’ Next day I fell ill and suffered a lot, just as Our Lady had told me, but my soul is ready for suffering” (Diary 316). Sister Faustina was aware that Mary, like a good Mother, watches over, takes care of and is always near Her child. “She alone is always with me – she wrote in the Diary – Like a good mother She is watching over all my experiences and efforts” (Diary 798). Sister Faustina felt so much like a child of Our Lady that she wanted Mary to be the superioress of the convent – which she wanted to found – and the sisters her faithful daughters (Diary 568), just as in her maternal Congregation.
Mary allowed Her spiritual daughter to share in Her experiences and mysteries On Christmas Eve of 1937, Sister Faustina wrote, “After Holy Communion, the Blessed Mother showed me the care and concern She had in Her heart for the Son of God. But that concern was so full of the fragrance of submission to the will of God that I should rather call it delight, not concern” (Diary 1437). Another time, Sister Faustina recorded, “I experienced the joy the Blessed Virgin felt as She was being taken up into Heaven…” (Diary 1244, cf. Diary 182). Sister Faustina’s relationship with the Most Blessed Mother was extremely loving and close, based on the great intimacy that can only exist between the most tender Mother and Her loving daughter.
Mary As The Model And Mistress Of The Interior Life
From the early centuries of Christianity, Mary was regarded as: the model of evangelical life based on faith, hope and love; the image of perfect communion with Christ in His life and apostolic mission; and the example of obedience and seeking to do the will of God in everything, of docility to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, and moreover of sensitivity to every possible need of others.
For Sister Faustina, Mary was above all the model of complete entrust- ment to God, that is to say, of fulfilling His will and of showing mercy toward people. “There was not a trace of anything in Her Heart other than what God wanted” (Diary 1710, cf. Diary 1437), even though the sword of pain pierced Her soul more than once throughout life (Diary 915). As she meditated on Mary’s life, Sister Faustina noticed too that living the faith perfectly, and thereby carrying out the will of God, depends on the degree of our union in love with Jesus. “O Mary – she wrote, contemplating the mystery of Jesus’ presentation in the temple – this day a terrible sword pierced Your Blessed Soul, no-one knows of Your suffering, save God. Your soul does not break down but is courageous, for it is with Jesus” (Diary 915).
Our Lady was for Sister Faustina not only the model of complete trust in God, manifested by Her fiat given at the annunciation in Nazareth and sustained up to the moments of Her Son’s agony on Golgotha, but She was also the model of all the virtues. From among these, she particularly valued Her purity (Diary 161), humility (Diary 161), silence and recollection of spirit (Diary 1398), Her hidden cooperation with Jesus in the work of saving souls, as well as Her complete dedication to the person and work of Her Son (Diary 315). Mary was for her the model of virginal surrender to God and also of spiritual motherhood towards souls. It was from Her that Sister Faustina learned how to love souls and even to bear the greatest sacrifices for their salvation.
Mary was for Sister Faustina more than an objective model of Christian life, which she observed carefully and reflected in her own life, because She was also the Person who was actively involved in the formation of her spiritual life. This is why Sister Faustina calls Our Lady her Instructress (Diary 620) and the Mistress of the interior life, who teaches us how to live for God and souls, not only in theory but also in practise, with the example of Her own life. Hence, Sister Faustina entrusted her interior life to Mary with full confidence, asking Her to guide it. “O Radiant Maiden, pure as crystal, completely immersed in God, I entrust my inner life to You, arrange it all to please Your Son” (Diary 844). She renewed these petitions many times, and Mary, as the best of Mothers, instructed her how to behave, what to do, what to pay attention to in the interior life.
Mary taught her above all to discover God in her own soul. “Our Lady is instructing me – Sister Faustina wrote in the Diary – on the soul’s inner life with Jesus, especially in Holy Communion” (Diary 840). But not only this one time. On the occasion of preparing for Christmas, She recommended that Sister Faustina constantly adore Jesus dwelling in her soul. “My daughter – She told her – try to make yourself meek and humble, so that Jesus, Who dwells perpetually in your heart, may rest. Adore Him in your heart, do not leave your interior” (Diary 785). Sister Faustina faithfully followed Our Lady’s advice and encouragement to abide with God in her own soul and there to discover His presence and His power. For this reason, she would not look for God in some far–off place, but focus her whole interior life on increasing her union with Him living in her heart.
The Virgin Mary encouraged her as well to carry out the will of God faithfully. “Daughter of Mine – She said – I advise you most earnestly to do all that God asks of you, for that is most pleasing in His holy eyes. I dearly want you to distinguish yourself in your faithfulness in doing the will of God. Put the will of God above all other offerings and whole-burnt sacrifices” (Diary 1244). She instructed Sister Faustina to accept all God’s requests like a little child, without questioning them; otherwise, it would not be pleasing to God (Diary 529) since it would express a lack of confidence in His wisdom, omnipotence, and love. With the example of Her life into which She allowed Sister Faustina to enter, the Blessed Mother herself showed Sister Faustina what the perfect fulfillment of God’s will consists in; that is to say, in carrying it out externally and in interiorly harmonizing one’s will with the will of God (Diary 1437). Sister Faustina avowed sincerely that Mary taught her how to love God interiorly and also how to carry out His holy will in all things (Diary 40) without which it is impossible to please God (Diary 1244) or Our Lady. Mary assured her that “the soul that faithfully carries out God’s will is dearest to me” (Diary 449).
The faithful fulfillment of God’s will is inseparably connected with the cross. This is why Our Lady taught Sister Faustina many times the art of accepting and living through suffering, which cannot be avoided by anybody. “You should know, O My daughter – Mary told her – that even though I was elevated to the honour of being the Mother of God, nonetheless, seven swords of sorrow pierced My heart” (Diary 786). She recommended that even when joyful, Sister Faustina should always keep her eyes fixed on the cross (Diary 561), on the Passion of Her Son. In this way, she would be victorious (Diary 449). Mary, pointing to Her own life, taught Sister Faustina to neither ignore the cross nor avoid it but to accept it always, because it is part of the divine plans. The cross, when embraced, always leads to victory – to the purification of the soul. And this purification brings about a closer union with Jesus and a fuller participation in His salvific mission.
As the daughter of Our Lady of Mercy, Sister Faustina was to further distinguish herself by the virtues of: humility, meekness, chastity, love of God and neighbour, compassion and mercy (Diary 1244). “Dearest Daughter – Our Lady said some other time – I want you to exercise three virtues which are dearest to Me and most pleasing to God: first – humility, humility, and yet again humility. The second virtue is chastity, and the third love of God. As my daughter, you have to distinguish yourself with these virtues” (Diary 1415).
Mary, as the Mistress of the interior life, gave Sister Faustina advice not only regarding her personal perfection but also regarding what was closely connected with it: the apostolic mission, which Christ had entrusted to her. “I gave the world its Saviour, and you are to tell the world of His great mercy and prepare the world for His second coming. (…) Tell souls of His great mercy, while there is still time for mercy; if you should remain silent now, you shall be held responsible on that terrible day for a great number of souls” (Diary 635). After these serious words laden with responsibility, Our Lady strengthened her, saying, “Do not be afraid of anything, be faithful right unto the end. I feel compassion for you” (Diary 635). Sister Faustina received the mission of proclaiming the mystery of Divine Mercy to the world by the testimony of life, words, deeds and prayer. Our Lady strengthened her in this mission, pointing to Herself as the model of the hidden life and constant intercessory prayer. “Your lives – She said to Sister Faustina – are to be like My life, quiet and hidden away, you are to be in continual union with God, entreating on behalf of humankind, and you are to prepare the world for God’s second coming” (Diary 625). On another occasion, Our Lady no longer asked for prayer, but demanded it: “My daughter, I require you to pray, pray, and yet again to pray for the world, especially for your Country” (Diary 325).
Sister Faustina proved to be a diligent and faithful disciple of Our Lady. Not only did she listen to Her advice, instructions and orders; she also faithfully put them into practise. The imitation of Mary and the fulfillment of Her commands quickly bore the expected fruits in Sister Faustina’s life. “The more I follow the Blessed Mother – she wrote – the more deeply I come to know God” (Diary 843). The faithful imitation of Mary sanctified her soul (Diary 161) and led her to intimate union with Jesus. The devotion to Our Lady in Sister Faustina’s life was not some form of piety. It was not only a devotion to Mary, but, above all, it was a devotion to following the example of Mary. Sister Faustina not only prayed to the Mother of God and celebrated Her feasts, she also earnestly imitated Her as well. She learned from Mary to penetrate into the mystery of Divine Mercy and to contemplate it in everyday life, to trust in God and to show mercy toward her neighbours, sharing in Jesus’ life and mission – in the work of saving lost souls. Sister Faustina was a faithful disciple and beloved daughter of Our Lady of Mercy, reflecting Her life in her own life: quietly and hidden, yet contributing so fruitfully to Jesus’ salvific mission.
sr. M. Elisabeth Siepak ISMM
„The Spiritualty of Saint Sister Faustina”
Translated by sr. M. Nazareta Maleta ISMM.
sr. M. Caterina Esselen ISMM
Prepared by sr. M. Diana Kuczek ISMM