The Early Life of Bl. Dina Belanger of Quebec

Dina was born in Quebec City on April 30, 1897, the only child of a fairly well-to-do family. In so many ways, she was surrounded by love and showered with blessings right from the start. Her parents provided her with tender care, religious formation, and a solid example of Christian virtue. She says of them in her autobiography:

Only in heaven shall I fully understand the vigilance, devotedness, and love of my father and mother. It is one of God's greatest blessings to be born and brought up in an atmosphere of peace, union, and charity, edified by the sublime examples of constant conformity to God's good pleasure....

All my life I have had before my eyes the example of parents who generously relieved the poor, giving alms on every side, and bestowing comfort wherever they passed.... How often have I heard them say, "Do not put down my name," or "This is for you, but do not say anything about it." How many anonymous gifts they made.... Nursing the sick was a real mission for my mother, a task which my father shared by approving and assisting her kindly ministrations. This conduct on his part often entailed heroic sacrifice. How many outings forfeited? How many plans sacrificed to relieve some needy family, either among our relatives, or total strangers, by day or night, close at hand or far away, whether the need was certain, or only probable?

Dina's mother was her first catechism teacher. Her father sometimes assisted with this, and provided extra affection and care. Dina wrote of him:

How happy I was when my father entered the house in the evening! He seldom could come home at noon. He would take me in his arms, kiss me, and [play with] me before his supper, although he then must have been quite worn out with his day's toil. I was his idol. He would spend hours playing with me and answering my endless questions. His greatest joy was to procure pleasant surprises: a walk, or a trip, some little present, a rosary, a statue, some toy or piece of jewelry. Speaking of the latter, the first I remember were a tiny golden heart and a little cross. A heart, symbol of the gift of my own to Jesus, and of my love for Him, and a cross: emblem of Jesus' love for me.

This is not to say that Dina's parents spoiled her. She makes it quite clear in her autobiography that her parents knew the importance of loving correction and discipline. She wrote:

How I thank my good parents for having loved me in the true sense of the word, for real love supposes correction of faults, what should I have become, left to my pride, my stubbornness, my whims and fancies, my mischievous tricks? No doubt I should have developed into a sulky, unbearable child, all the more so as I was brought up without the salutary contact of other children. Later on, I should have been unable to agree with anybody, or get on without making those around me suffer. My God, I thank Thee for having given me parents who taught me to obey.

We are spending some time on the nurturing of Bl. Dina as a child for good reason. For Bl. Dina, like St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Faustina (as we shall see) was blessed with loving and devout parents, who gave her religious instruction, and a shining example of Christian virtue. In other words, both St. Faustina and Bl. Dina were the objects of God's merciful love, through their parents, before they could even understand it. God's mercy came first. Their lives of holiness-of trust and surrender to God's merciful love-was but a response to the divine initiative, which began from the earliest days of their childhood.

This is also a wonderful example to follow for those of us who are parents. Sometimes we think that being devoted to the Divine Mercy means taking on an elaborate regimen of pious practices-chaplets, novenas, pilgrimages, and so on. And such piety can indeed be a good thing, a channel of graces to our souls. But these graces are not supposed to stagnate and collect in our hearts; rather, they are meant to flow through us to our neighbours in need-and as parents, who is more in need of our merciful love every day than our own children? God's merciful love, channelled through us, can make a bigger difference to our children than to anyone else in our lives. Bl. Dina, for example, was so deeply moved by her parents' love for her that she wrote these words (and how would you feel as a parent, if your child wrote these words about you?):

To prove my gratitude, I am duty bound to become a saint.... Only thus can I make a fit return for their past and present solicitude. Yes, I will become a saint. I will become holy in the degree God has marked out for me. Thus may I repay [my parents] for the pains they have taken for my education, and console them in their grief over our separation.

Bl. Dina felt herself called to an intense life of prayer from an early age. At the age of 13 she consecrated her whole life to Jesus through the Blessed Virgin Mary. Dina wrote: "Would that I might consecrate all souls to [Mary]. It is she who leads us to Jesus; it is she whom we must allow to live in us in order that Christ may substitute Himself in place of our nothingness. How similar were the sentiments of St. Faustina, my Mother and my Lady, I offer You my soul, my body, my life and my death, and all that will follow it. I place everything in Your hands."

Dina was especially enthralled by the radiant glory of God, shining through the beauties of nature-and those who have ever been to Quebec will appreciate that such beauty was all around her. She wrote:

I spent the summer in the country with my parents. Nature with its varied charms exerted a powerful spell over me; dusk settling down over the landscape, moonlight shimmering on the water, flowers, the forest, the river, butterflies, birds all enraptured me. The warm caressing breath of the wind, the whispered murmur of the leaves, the deep silence of the night, the aspect of the stars ravished my soul. This reverie, all unknown to me, was a sort of pious meditation, which was to deepen and become a real contemplation rendering me speechless, and inflaming me with gratitude and love for the Infinite God and consuming me with the desire to possess the unique, ideal Beauty.

(This series continues next week on the Mercy spirituality of Bl. Dina Belanger. Quotations from her autobiography are taken from Autobiography of Dina Belanger: Religious of Jesus and Mary, 1984 edition.)


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