Feast Day: October 5th | Patronness of World Youth Day and of Divine Mercy
This week, I would like to take us back to central Poland in 1905 (though this was two decades before the country would actually be reestablished after WWI) to the poor Kowalska family. They lived in the town of Głogowiec, pronounced something like gwo’govjets if you’re wondering… As a little girl, Helena, the 3rd of 10 children, while her family was attending Eucharistic Exposition felt the first stirrings of a call to religious life. She described it as “God’s voice in my soul … an invitation to a more perfect life.” She discovered in her own heart that pull to give herself entirely to Jesus, a sense that Christ desired an exclusive relationship with her. It was a stirring that would at first delight her, but which as the years went by, she would find difficult to reply to.
In this case her parents flatly refused her request to enter the convent once she had finished school. They had good reasons: a big family, not much money, how would they make ends meet without Helena working? How would they possibly pay her dowry to whatever convent she was able to enter? Their daughter would have to live with the practical realities of their life and get a job to support the family. Other girls could listen to their hearts and join the convent, but not her, at least not right now. Helena got a job as a housekeeper, and filled her life with simple work and the pleasures of young life. But God’s love would not cease to tug at her heart. Now trying to turn her back on it, she found the Lord prodding her, her heart had that disquiet that often comes when we step off of God’s path. One day, at 18 years old, she was at a dance with her sister but found herself face-to-face with Jesus, seeing Him suffering, and speaking directly to her: “How long shall I put up with you and how long will you keep putting Me off?”
The vision shook her, cleared away all the distractions and distance that she had put between herself and Jesus, and reminded her of the gentle, loving voice that had once delighted her. She stumbled from the dance, fell prostrate before the Tabernacle in the Cathedral of Łódź (where she worked, and where the dance was happening), and knew clearly what the voice she had avoided for so long was trying to tell her: “Go at once to Warsaw; you will enter a convent there.” She didn’t know Warsaw, didn’t know any of the convents there, but was willing to take the next step she did know. She boarded a train for the big city, taking nothing but the dress she was wearing, and did not even stop to tell her family what was happening. Christ’s words so long ago had found a place in her heart: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” [Matthew 10:37]
Getting off of the train, the magnitude of the unknown seemed to swallow her. She did not even know which way to depart from the train station. She whispered a prayer to Mary “Mary, lead me, guide me” and found, marvelously, that she knew where to go, at least for that night. God was good to her the following days, always giving enough insight to know her next step: she stopped in the first church she found the next morning, went to one of the Masses being celebrated that morning, and simply knew that she should talk to that priest. He connected her with a prayerful lady who helped her while she visited the different convents there in Warsaw, but Helena found to her sadness that each one closed the door in her face. Again, in the face of such uncertainty, she again appealed to prayer: Jesus “Help me; do not leave me alone”, and with that, finally came across the convent that would one day become her home, the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. The Mother Superior there did not immediately reject the poor girl who stood before her, but instead chose to also simply trust in Jesus. She directed Helena to the chapel with the Blessed Sacrament and waited outside as Helena asked Jesus if this was the right convent. ““Lord of this house, do You accept me?” she prayed (one of the other sisters there had told her to put it that way.) Jesus loves when we ask that question! And He responded immediately in her heart: “I do accept; you are in My Heart.” Helena stepped from the chapel with the quiet peace of someone placing themselves in God’s hands, and the Mother Superior asked “Well, has the Lord accepted you?” She answered, “Yes”, and the good sister responded “If the Lord has accepted, then I also will accept.”
Helena would have to work as a maid for another year in order to have enough money to pay for her habit, but that was all that the convent asked of her, and that year was a beautiful one during which the Lord continued to deepen that longing in her heart to be all His, and His own desire to give Himself intimately to her. She entered the convent on August 1st, 1925 with much joy. The fight for her vocation wasn’t over, but the Lord’s Love had carried her to the community where He had many graces in store for her.
– Fr. Dominic Rankin is a guy. Jesus has not drawn him in the intimate and spousal way that He wooed Helena’s heart. It was not during a dance that Christ emphatically beckoning him to “come, follow Me”! But Faustina’s story is a beautiful glimpse at how Our Lord sometimes calls women into a life consecrated to Him. I have spoken to many sisters, and they often speak of a call along these lines – an invitation to an exclusive love – that they find the Lord offering to them. That’s beautiful!