Years before St. Faustina was a saint, my twin sister and I were often approached and asked what our names were. I’m not sure if people were expecting something along the lines of Cassidy and Kylie or Maddy and Michaela, but our response, “Gertrude and Faustina,” always seemed to elicit surprise. We began to expect that look of shock!
Having a unique name was special to me, although I rarely shared the story behind my parents’ choice. It began before my parents met, when my mother was just 16 years old. Her own mother gave her a pamphlet on Divine Mercy, which she promised to read simply to respect her mother’s wishes. Her father had left her family 10 years prior, and the pain and hardship that followed left my mom completely disinterested in God. Remembering her promise one night, she opened up the pamphlet and her eyes caught these words of Jesus: “Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet” (Diary of St. Faustina, 619).
She began to weep. She was struck to the core of her being; she was loved, and loved by a Father who was always with her. That night, her life changed forever. She no longer wanted to refuse his love, but told him over and over again, “Jesus, from this day forward, I want to be your friend!”
St. Faustina, the Polish sister on the back of the pamphlet, would continue to be a vessel of the Lord’s unconditional love for my mother. But it was years later that she would name a daughter for this heavenly friend, and in turn, pass on a friendship that I, too, would grow into.
As the youngest of eight children, life revolved around my loud and loving family. Our schedule was full of basketball games and track meets, parish events and family celebrations. On top of our already-full house, neighbors, cousins and friends were often over. Despite being a shy child, I loved people and wanted to be a part of the action.
Amidst the joys and excitement of life, however, I struggled to stand out and find my own identity. There did not seem to be any one thing I was gifted at that one of my siblings hadn’t already mastered. At the same time, attending public middle school and high school, I got caught up in measuring myself according to the worldly standards of worth. No matter how cute my hair looked or how hard I worked for my creativity or accomplishments to stand out, I didn’t think I was enough. I wanted to fit in, and yet, far more, something inside desperately wanted to be uniquely loved and beautiful. Whenever I experienced my weakness, sinfulness and brokenness, it was hard to believe another person would fill this deeper longing, much less God.
My sensitive nature was drawn to those who were sick and suffering, and I thought I would one day be a cardiologist. Although God had other plans, my love of the human heart has never left me. And through St. Faustina, I have come not only to understand the human heart, but also the unique identity and beauty of my own.
My parents had given me the diary of St. Faustina when I was 12 years old, but the sheer size of it intimidated me. Through brief perusing, I sensed she was very unlike me, with her regular visions and even trips to purgatory and hell!
As I grew older, however, St. Faustina met me in my search for who I really was. At university, I began to realize the depth of my desires for love. I would pick up her diary on late nights when I returned to my dorm room restless and unsatisfied. In Jesus’ words to St. Faustina, I would hear him speaking to me:
“I am concerned about every beat of your heart. Every stirring of your love is reflected in My Heart. I thirst for your love” (Diary, 1542).
“I am pleased that you confide your fears to me, My daughter. Speak to Me about everything in a completely simple and human way; by this you give Me great joy” (Diary, 797).
These late-night readings broke open to me a God who loved in a way that my heart ached for, and inspired me to speak more honestly to him. I had feared a call to the religious life, thinking that my deep desires for love would be forfeited. Yet, with the small but increasing confidence I had, I prayed to the Lord, telling him each longing I had for marriage, children, the type of nurse I wanted to be and even my dreams for travel and service. In giving him each one of these desires, I heard his voice in my heart saying, “I want you for Myself.”
I knew it was his love, pursuing the gift of my heart, which I had so often overlooked. When I responded “yes” to being totally his, I was flooded with peace and joy. I remember smiling, aware of St. Faustina’s presence, who again helped me to recognize and trust the loving voice within.
At the beginning of my religious life, I read a book called “The Life of Faustina Kowalska” that cast a new light on my patron. I discovered a red-haired and freckled young woman who, before entering the convent, loved to dress fashionably! Then, as a sister, she was known to be social and creative, even nicknamed “the lawyer” because she would get so passionate discussing things. I also began to see her weaknesses—how she cared too much about what others thought or gave into fears and doubted the Lord. And yet, far from being annoyed by these frailties, Jesus kept offering his love to her anew.
St. Faustina not only became more real to me, but in connecting with her, I began to see the whole message of mercy in a new light. Jesus was asking me to step into the truth of my neediness and misery—which I felt would disqualify me from receiving his love—and there receive his love, and therefore the deeper truth of my goodness. I knew this required courage. My entire life I lacked courage. I desired the courage to be more honest with myself, with others, with God, and no longer held back by shame and rebellion.
This meant entrusting my work to him even if I, despite my best efforts, felt unprepared. It meant choosing to receive his love in painful memories or in the rough areas of my personality. It meant making honest confessions and experiencing a deeper conviction that my sins do hurt him precisely because he loves me so much. It wasn’t always easy, but through my growing dependency on him, he revealed to me my own goodness.
Several years later, St. Faustina would convict me of another truth. I was struggling to trust the Lord in a particular matter. Trust is always about something specific, and this something felt like it was rocking the whole boat of my heart.
Consoled by the fact that St. Faustina often did not know what to do, I opened her diary and read, as if for the first time, “The graces of My mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is—trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive” (1578). Why, I wondered?
What is it about trust that it is the one thing he asks for? Feeling powerless, I told the Lord, “Just let me understand, and then I’ll consent.”
Suddenly, after months of wrestling, it was plain to me that he was saying, “I’m asking you to consent without understanding, out of love for me.”
It was an invitation to love him in a deeper way, and I recognized the beauty of it. My whole heart swelled with a strong desire to trust Jesus, to say yes to him, whatever that entailed. And alongside that was an equally strong desire that hearts everywhere would also trust him, so that his love would be received all over the world more and more!
He was teaching me that he is deeply good. He is worth trusting. He knew what I needed, and in requiring this letting go of my own understanding, he received the freedom to act in my life and fill me with a deeper joy. And, in the midst of that dialogue, a prayer called The Litany of Trust emerged. I realized that in trusting him, I’ve only received more of his love.
St. Faustina has been a friend in the truest sense, helping me to recognize the merciful love that reveals my goodness and his. No matter what the past contains, the present offers or the future holds, there is a love that is deeper than any suffering or evil. And it’s worth fighting for.
Some material herein reproduced from the forthcoming Marian Press book titled “Our Friend with Faustina.” Used with permission of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the B.V.M. Learn more about the Sisters of Life by visiting SistersofLife.org