My Memories of Sr. Faustina
There are some truths of the Holy Faith, that we apparently know and we often recall them,but we do not understand them well, neither do we live them. It was like that with me in respect to the Truth of the Divine Mercy. I thought about this Truth so many times in my meditations, particularly during retreats, I talked about it so many times in my sermons and repeated it in my liturgical prayers, but I did not examine its contents and its significance for spiritual life; in particular I did not understand, and for the time being I could not agree that the Divine Mercy is the highest attribute of the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. What was needed was a simple, holy soul, closely united with God, who – as I believe – on God’s inspiration told me about it and stimulated me to study, research and reflect on the subject. Such a soul was the late s. Faustina (Helena Kowalska) from the Congregation of the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, who has achieved gradually that, today, I regard the devotion of the Divine Mercy, and in particular establishing the feast of the Divine Mercy on the first Sunday after Easter, to be one of the main aims of my life.
I met Sr. Faustina in the summer (June or July 1933) as a penitent in the Congregation
of the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy in Vilnus, Lithuania (25 Senatorska St.), in which I was, then, an ordinary confessor. She attracted my attention with an unusual subtlety of her soul and a close union with God; there was mostly no matter for absolution and she never offended God with a deadly sin. Already at the beginning she stated that she had known me for a long time from a vision, that I was to be her spiritual leader and I had to carry out some God’s plans that were to be presented to me through her. I ignored her story and I put her to some test which made s. Faustina start looking for another confessor, with the permission of the Mother Superior. After some time she returned to me and she said that she was prepared to bear everything and she would never leave me again. I cannot reiterate here all the details of our conversation, which is partly included in her diary, written by her on my recommendation, since later I forbade her to discuss her confession experiences.
On getting to know s. Faustina better I concluded that the Gifts of Holy Spirit worked
in her in a concealed state, but quite often they appeared more openly, partly overwhelming her soul in a lively manner, arousing surges of love, solemn heroic acts of sacrifice
and self-denial. Particularly frequently, I could see the work of the Gifts of Understanding, Knowledge and Wisdom thanks to which s. Faustina clearly saw the nothingness of worldly things, and the importance of suffering and humiliations. In a simple way she got to know the attributes of God, and most of all His Infinite Mercy.
On another occasion, she, in turn, kept her gaze fixed at the beatific, joyful light for some time, out of which a figure of Christ emerged in a walking position, blessing the world with His right hand, and with His left one opening His robe in the vicinity of His heart, two rays gushed out of the opened robe – a red and a white one. S. Faustina had already had such and other sensual and mental visions for several years and she heard supernatural words, captured by the sense of hearing, imagination and the mind.
Being cautious of s. Faustina’s illusion, hallucination and delusion, I turned to the Mother Superior, Irene, to inform me who s. Faustina was, what opinion she enjoyed among her Sisters and Superiors in the Congregation. I also requested that her mental and physical health be examined. Having received an opinion favourable for her in every respect, still for some time I took an expectant position. I partly did not believe, I was thinking, praying and examining, I also asked some enlightened priests for advice on what to do, without revealing what and whom it concerned.
All it concerned carrying out alleged definite demands of Our Lord Jesus to paint the picture, which s. Faustina used to see and to establish the feast of the Divine Mercy on the first Sunday after Easter. Finally, motivated by curiosity of what the picture would look like rather than the belief in the authenticity of s. Faustina’s visions, I decided to set about painting the picture.
I contacted an artist painter, Eugeniusz Kazimirowski, who lived in the same house as I did
and who undertook the task to paint a picture for a certain sum of money. I contacted other Superior as well, who allowed s. Faustina to go to the painter twice a week in order to show what the picture should look like.
The work took several months and finally in June/July 1934 the picture was completed.
S. Faustina complained that the picture was not as beautiful as she saw it, but the Lord Jesus comforted her and said it was enough the way it was and He added: “I am offering people a vessel with which they are to keep on coming for graces to the fountain of mercy. That vessel is this image with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You”.
For the time being Sr. Faustina was unable to explain what the rays in the picture meant.
After a few days she said that the Lord Jesus had explained it to her in a prayer: “… rays
in the image denote blood and water. The pale ray stands for the water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the blood that is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross. Happy be the one who will dwell in their shelter, for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him…, I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over its enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I Myself will defend it as My own glory…, I desire that the first Sunday after Easter be the Feast of Mercy…, that whoever approaches the Fount of Life on this day will be granted complete remission of sins and punishment. Mankind will not have peace until it turns with to My mercy…, Before I come as the just Judge, I am coming first as the King of Mercy, so that no one can seek excuses on the Judgment Day, the Day which is not far away”.The picture was slightly novel in its contents so I could not place it in the church without the Archbishop’s permission, whom I was ashamed to ask for, let alone tell him of the origin of the picture. Therefore, I put it in a dark corridor next to St. Michael’s church (in the convent of the Observant Sisters) At that time I was just appointed the rector of St. Michael’s church. S. Faustina had foretold the difficulties of my stay at this church and in fact unusual events developed quite quickly. S. Faustina demanded that I should place the picture in the church at all costs, but I was in no hurry; finally during the Holy Week of 1935 she said to me that the Lord Jesus demanded that I place the picture in the Sharp Gate for three days where the triduum at the end of the jubilee of Redemption was to be held. The triduum was planned on White Sunday. Soon I learnt that the said triduum was going to be held indeed and the parish priest of the Sharp Gate, canon Stanislaw Zawadzki, asked me to say the sermon.
I agreed, on condition that the picture would be placed as a decoration in the window
of the cloister where the picture looked impressive and attracted more attention than
the picture of Our Lady.
After the service the picture was put in its previous, hidden place and it remained there
for another two years. Only on April 1, 1937 I asked His Excellency, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Vilnus for permission to hang the picture in St. Michael’s church, the rector of which I was still at that time. His Excellency the Metropolitan Archbishop answered that he did not want to decide on that himself. He ordered that the picture should be seen by a commission gathered by the canon Adam Sawicki, the chancellor of the Metropolitan Curia. The chancellor ordered that the picture be displayed in the sacristy of St. Michael’s church on April 2nd since he did not know what time it would be seen. Because I was busy working at the Seminary and at University I was not present when they came to see the picture and I do not know who was on the commission.
On April 3rd, 1937 His Excellency the Metropolitan Archbishop of Vilnus informed me that
he had already detailed information on the picture and he gave permission for the picture
to be consecrated and displayed in the church, provided that it should not be hung in the altar and nobody should be told of its origin.
On that day the picture was consecrated and hung next to the great altar on the readings side, from where it was taken several times to St. Francis’s parish (post-Observantine) for a Corpus Christi procession to the altars set up. On December 12th, the Observants moved it to a different place and then the picture was a little damaged, and in the year 1942, when they were arrested by the German authorities, the picture returned to its former place next to the great altar, where it has remained up to this day, held in great reverence by the faithful and decorated with numerous votive offerings.
Several days after the triduum in the Sharp Gate s. Faustina told me of her experiences
during the celebration, which are described in detail in her diary. Then, on May 12th,
she saw in her spirit the dying Marshal J. Pilsudski and she told me about his terrible sufferings. The Lord Jesus was to show it to her and say: “Look what the greatness of this world ends in.” Next she saw his judgement and when I asked how it finished she answered: ” The Divine Mercy seems to have prevailed with the intercession of the Virgin Mary.”
Soon, the foretold by s. Faustina great difficulties, in regard to my stay at St. Michael’s church began. They kept intensifying until they reached a climax in January 1936.
I told almost nobody about those difficulties, until the critical day when I asked s. Faustina for prayer. To my great surprise, on that very day all the difficulties evaporated like a soap bubble, while s. Faustina told me that she took my sufferings on herself and on that day she experienced as much of them as never before in her life. When she then asked
Our Lord Jesus for help, she heard the words: “You have decided to suffer for him and now you want to shrug it off. I have allowed only some part of his sufferings for you to carry on”.
Here she told me in great detail the cause of my sufferings which had allegedly been communicated to her in a supernatural way. The accuracy was extremely striking, the more
so that in no way could she have known about the details herself. There were several similar cases.
In mid-April 1936, ordered by the Superior General, s. Faustina left for Walendow, and then
for Cracow, while I reflected in earnest on the idea of the Divine Mercy and I started to look for a confirmation at the Fathers of the Church that it was God’s greatest attribute, as s. Faustina said, since I found nothing on the subject at the newer theologians. With great joy I encountered similar expressions at St. Fulgentius and St. Ildefons, and the most of them at St. Thomas and St. Augustine, who while commenting on the Psalms, spoke in great length on the Divine Mercy, calling it God’s highest attribute. I had then no serious doubts as to the supernatural character of s. Faustina’s apparitions and from time to time I started to place articles on the Divine Mercy in theological journals, justifying rationally and liturgically the need for the feast of the Divine Mercy on the first Sunday after Easter.
In June 1939 I published the first brochure “The Divine Mercy” with the picture of the Most Merciful Christ on the cover in Vilnus. I sent this first publication first of all to Their Excellencies the Bishops gathered at the Episcopal Conference in Czestochowa, but I did not receive any response from them. The next year, 1937, in Poznañ I published another brochure entitled “The Divine Mercy in the Liturgy”, the reviews of which I found in several theological journals, generally very favourable. I also placed several articles in Vilnus dailies, but I did not reveal anywhere that s. Faustina was the “causa movens.”
In August 1937 I visited s.Faustina in Cracow-Lagiewniki and I found in her diary a novena
to the Divine Mercy, which I liked very much. In response to the question where she got it
from she said that Our Lord Jesus had dictated it to her Himself. The Lord Jesus had supposedly earlier taught her the chaplet to the Divine Mercy and other prayers that I decided to publish.
On the basis of some of the expressions included in the prayers I created the Litany of the Divine Mercy which, together with the chaplet and the litany, I gave to Mr. Cebulski (Cracow, 22 Szewska St.) with the purpose of obtaining the Imprimatur in the Cracow Curia and printing it with the picture of the Divine Mercy on the cover. The Cracow Curia granted the Imprimatur with No 671, and in October the novena appeared on bookshop shelves together with the chaplet and the litany.
In 1939 I brought a certain number of these pictures and novenas to Vilnus, and after
the outbreak of the war and the entrance of the USSR troops (19.09.39) I asked His Excellency the Metropolitan Bishop of Vilnus for permission to distribute them together with the information of the origin of the picture presented on the chaplets, for which I obtained consent. Then I started to spread out a private cult of the picture (for which I obtained oral permission) and the prayers created by s.. Faustina and approved in Cracow.
After the Cracow edition had been sold out I had to copy the prayers on a copy machine,
and when I could not manage it in a face of great demand, I asked the Metropolitan Curia
of Vilnus for permission for a reprint with an explanation concerning the content of the picture added on the first page. I obtained the permission with a signature of the censor f.. Prelate Zebrowski Leon, of 06.02.1940 and of His Excellency the Bishop Suffragan Kazimierz Micha³kiewicz and the notary of the Curia Fr. J. Ostrewka of 07.02. 1940 with No 36. I would like to emphasise that I did not know whether and who would sign the Imprimatur and on this issue I did not communicate with His Excellency the Bishop Suffragan, who died several weeks later.
Frather Prelate Zebrowski made some stylistic corrections as a censor in the text of the Cracow edition, but the faithful in general preferred to leave the text without any alternation. Thus, with the censor’s permission, I turned to the Curia again (already after the death of His Excellency the Bishop Suffragan) with a request to have the prayers approved without the corrections. Fr. Notary J. Ostrewko took an application to the Metropolitan Bishop, who, through the said notary, told me to use the approval signed by the late Bishop Suffragan, which I accordingly did. I present here detailed circumstances of obtaining the permission because it was said later (in the official spheres) that I had acquired it by some trick.
Already in Vilnus, s. Faustina told me that she had an urge to step out of the Congregation
of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy with the aim of founding a new religious Congregation.
I considered the urge to be a temptation and I did not advise her to treat it seriously.
Later, in her letters from Cracow, she still wrote about this urge and finally she obtained permission to leave the Congregation from her new Confessor and the Superior General
on condition that I would agree on that. I was afraid to take the responsibility on myself
so I responded that I would agree only if the Cracow Confessor and the Superior General
not only allowed, but ordered her to step out. Sister Faustina did not receive such an order and that is why she calmed down and stayed in her congregation until her death.
I used to visit her during the week and I talked, among others, about this Congregation which she wanted to found, and now, when she was dying, she was stressing that this might have only been an illusion, like perhaps also all the other things she talked about. Sister Faustina promised to talk about it to Our Lord Jesus in a prayer. On the next day I held a mass for s. Faustina, during which it occurred to me that just like she had not been able to paint the picture but she had only gave directions, she would not be able to found the new congregation, but only gave general indications; the urges in turn, meant that the new Congregation was a necessity in the coming terrible times.
Next, when I came to the hospital and asked if she had anything to say on the issue,
she answered that she had no need to speak since Our Lord Jesus had already enlightened
me during the mass. Then she added that I was mainly to strive to establish the feast
of the Divine Mercy on the first Sunday after Easter – that I was not to worry too much about the new Congregation, that I would learn from certain signs what was to be done on the issue and by whom. She said that in the sermon which I had said on the radio that day the intention was not completely pure (in fact it was like that) and that I was to strive mainly for that in the whole problem. She said that she saw me to take vows from the first six candidates to this Congregation in a little wooden chapel at night, that she would die soon, that she was already done with everything she was supposed to say and write. Before that she described to me what the little church and the house of the first Congregation would look like and she bemoaned the fate of Poland, which she loved so much and which she frequently prayed for. Following the teachings of St. John of the Cross, I almost always treated s. Faustina’s stories in an indifferent manner and did not ask for details. In this case too, I did not ask what fate would meet Poland that she bemoaned so much. She herself did not tell me that, only sighed and hid her face in her hands from the terror of the image that she probably saw then.
Almost everything she foretold concerning the Congregation came true in the minute details. When in Vilnus, on 10th November, 1944 I took private vows from the first six candidates
in the wooden chapel of the Carmelite Nuns or when three years later I came to the first house of the Congregation in Myslibórz, I was amazed at the striking similarity to what the late s. Faustina had said. She also foretold in some detail the difficulties and even persecutions t hat I encountered because of spreading the cult of Divine Mercy and my attempts to establish the Feast of this name on Low Sunday. (it was easier to bear all that with the conviction that it was the will of God concerning the issue from the beginning).
She foretold me her death on 26th September, that she would die in ten days time
and she died on 5th October. Due to the lack of time I was unable to attend her funeral.