The Habit and New Name

The following is an excerpt from the Marian Press book 52 Weeks with St. Faustina by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle:

“Have great confidence; God is always our Father, even when He sends us trials.”

— Mother Directress to Sr. Faustina when undergoing a great trial (Diary, 24)

Saint Faustina’s life was a pilgrimage towards Heaven — and our life is, too. In this spiritual exercise, we delve into Helen’s progress in the religious life, as well as her experience of a dark night, disappointments, hard decisions, and great difficulties in prayer. Let’s now take a look at what Helen experienced and the choices she made in seeking God’s will for herself.

On January 23, 1926, towards the end of Helen’s postulancy, Helen left Warsaw for Krakow so as to prepare for the next stage of her religious life: her novitiate. Later in her Diary, St. Faustina would express the incredible feelings she experienced upon entering this phase: “An inconceivable joy reigned in my soul,” she wrote (Diary, 21). On April 30, 1926, the solemn ceremony of receiving the habit and veil for the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy in Krakow-Lagiewniki took place.

This ceremony was a pivotal moment in Helen’s life. She would move forward in the religious life and also be addressed by a new name. In addition to these important things, something extraordinary happened to Helen. It was so profound that Helen fainted. A certain Sr. Clemens Buczek was assigned to assist Helen at the altar by helping her to take off the white gown she had previously worn and don her new habit and veil. Sister Buczek rushed Helen a bit. “Hurry and put on the habit.”12

That’s when smelling salts were called for.

From that day forward, Sr. Clemens would endlessly tease Helen about the incident. It wasn’t until after Sr. Faustina’s death that Sr. Clemens learned what had actually taken place. Saint Faustina wrote in her Diary, “The day I took the [religious] habit, God let me understand how much I was to suffer. I clearly saw to what I was committing myself."

She continued, “I experienced a moment of that suffering. But then God filled my soul again with great consolations” (Diary, 22).

Helen received her new name: “Sister Maria Faustina,” which was chosen by Mother Leonarda Cielecka, the superior general of the congregation.

Dark night

Sister Faustina aimed to please. She wanted to do everything to please God — every little and big task. She exhibited a joyful demeanor and was quick to help with any need, offering her efforts and sacrifices for the souls in Purgatory.

She often encouraged her fellow sisters to pray for the souls in Purgatory. There’s no doubt her visit to Purgatory was permanently etched on her heart. Yet Sr. Faustina suffered from more than the usual trials of convent life. It wasn’t long after Jesus revealed to her the sufferings she would endure that she suffered various “splinters” from the Cross. One big splinter was in the way she was treated by some of her fellow sisters. Though she was very accommodating, there were some sisters who tormented her and others who didn’t believe Sr. Faustina when she said she was sick. This all contributed to her anguish.

Toward the end of the first year of her novitiate, a heavy darkness descended upon Sr. Faustina (Diary, 23). No matter how much Sr. Faustina prayed or the kind of prayers that she prayed, she found no joy in prayer. Remember, Faustina was the one who thought that she should leave the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy because there wasn’t enough prayer. Now, she struggled with any prayer at all. Some of the great saints have also experienced this condition, called the “dark night” or “the dark night of the soul.” Saint John of the Cross may have been the first to have coined the phrase.

Saint John of the Cross explained the spiritual life extensively in his writings. He wrote:

[I]t is most fitting and necessary, if the soul is to pass to these great things, that this dark night of contemplation should first of all annihilate and undo it in its meannesses, bringing it into darkness, aridity, affliction and emptiness; for the light which is to be given to it is a Divine light of the highest kind, which transcends all natural light, and which by nature can find no place in the understanding.13

The dark night of the senses and the spirit are distinct times of purification of the soul. In the dark night of the senses, God purges the soul of earthly affections, desires, and passions to prepare the person for a union with Him. The dark night of the spirit then purifies the person even more, finally raising the person, when the darkness clears, into the heights of self-forgetful adoration of the infinite light and love of God. Sister Faustina’s Mother Directress tried to help her through the difficulties, encouraging her to hang in there. But the trial was extremely intense, like nothing Sr. Faustina had ever experienced. On top of the aridity she felt in prayer, a great fear gripped her heart.

Poor Sr. Faustina! It was almost too much to bear. “I could find nothing but great misery,” she said. Yet she was reminded of God’s great glory. “I could also clearly see the great holiness of God.” But Sr. Faustina didn’t dare lift her eyes to meet His. She reduced herself “to dust under His feet and begged for mercy” (Diary, 23). It would be a long six months of darkness, day in and day out. We should remember, though, that according to St. John of the Cross, when a soul is immersed in the dark night, God continues to communicate through infused contemplation, but God’s light is actually blinding and the soul only perceives darkness.

Confused and miserable

Sister Faustina couldn’t help but remember that the second year of her novitiate was coming up. If she couldn’t get through this great trial, what would become of her? “Whenever I recalled that I was to make my vows, my soul shuddered.” She could not meditate, nor could she understand any of the spiritual writings that she attempted to read. “It seemed to me,” she wrote, “that my prayer was displeasing to God ... that by approaching the Holy Sacraments I was offending God even more” (Diary, 23). Yet Sister Faustina’s confessor would not let her miss one single Holy Communion, knowing she was undergoing such a huge trial. Can we even imagine her pain?

The saint in the making said, “God was working very strangely.” She couldn’t even understand simple truths of the faith. “My soul was in anguish, unable to find comfort anywhere.” Then, her trial increased to the point that she felt totally rejected by God. “This terrible thought pierced my soul right through; in the midst of the suffering my soul began to experience the agony of death,” she wrote. “I wanted to die but could not.” Everything seemed to be of no avail. What was the sense in striving for sanctity or mortifying oneself if it didn’t please God? She made it known to her directress of novices, who said to her encouragingly, “Know, dear Sister, that God has chosen you for great sanctity. This is a sign that God wants to have you very close to Himself in Heaven. Have great trust in the Lord Jesus” (Diary, 23).

Of course, Sr. Faustina wanted to trust God. But her inner darkness got worse instead of better. Sister Faustina tried to endure in faith with all her might. She fled to Jesus’ Sacred Wounds and repeated words of trust. She recalled, “These words became for me an even greater torture.” She went to the Blessed Sacrament. “I began to speak to Jesus,” she wrote in her Diary. “Jesus, You said that a mother would sooner forget her infant than God His creature, and that ‘even if she would forget her infant, I, God, will never forget My creature.’” She pleaded with Him. “O Jesus, do You hear how my soul is moaning? Deign to hear the painful whimpers of Your child. I trust in You, O God, because heaven and earth will pass, but Your word will last forever.”

There was silence. Nothing changed. “I found not a moment of relief” (Diary, 23).

One morning, Sr. Faustina felt overcome with despair as she prayed earnestly. “Complete darkness in my soul. I fought as best I could till noon.” Later on, “deadly fears” seized her and zapped her of physical strength. Sister Faustina went to her cell and fell on her knees before the crucifix. She cried out for mercy. “But Jesus did not hear my cries. I felt my physical strength leave me completely.” She fell to the ground, “despair flooding my whole soul.” She suffered excruciating torments, “terrible tortures in no way different from the torments of hell” (Diary, 24). She suffered this way for almost an hour. She might have been given a glimpse of this hellish torture when she was about to take her veil earlier that year. It’s no wonder that she fainted.

Sister Faustina felt oddly paralyzed in this strange pain and despair. She was unable to call for help. Thankfully, another novice entered Sr. Faustina’s cell, found her in that awful state, and immediately told the directress. The directress arrived and called out to Sr. Faustina to get up “in the name of holy obedience.” She then instructed, “Have great confidence,” adding that “God is always our Father, even when He sends us trials.” Her words helped. But again that evening, Sr. Faustina was immersed in yet another trial of terrible darkness.

She suffered intensely and would later say, “Only one who has lived through similar moments can understand how terrible is this torment of the soul” (Diary, 24).

Mother Mary brings relief

That night, Mother Mary came to visit Sr. Faustina. She was holding the Infant Jesus in her arms. “My soul was filled with joy, and I said, ‘Mary, my Mother, do You know how terribly I suffer?’ And the Mother of God answered me, ‘I know how much you suffer, but do not be afraid. I share with you your suffering, and I shall always do so.’” Mary smiled warmly at Sr. Faustina and then disappeared. Sister Faustina was transformed by the heavenly visit. “At once, strength and a great courage sprang anew in my soul; but that lasted only one day,” she recalled (Diary, 25).

“It seemed as though hell had conspired against me. A terrible hatred began to break out in my soul, a hatred for all that is holy and divine” (Diary, 25). A spiritual battle was being waged in her soul. Sister Faustina poured her heart out to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. She wanted Him to stop “hiding” from her. The suffering continued. On Good Friday at the end of her novitiate and during evening Adoration, Jesus let Sr. Faustina know how much He suffered for her. Sister Faustina said, “Jesus catches up my heart into the very flame of His love.” She forgot everything else, being so “invaded” by the “Divine Presence,” as she said. She continued, “Jesus gave me to understand how much He had suffered for me.” This encounter with Jesus left the young mystic with “[a]n intense yearning — a longing to love God” (Diary, 26).

Something to ponder

Would Sister Faustina have chosen to endure the intense dark night she experienced if she was given the choice? I believe that she would have chosen it, no matter how painful and intense it would be, because she ultimately desired the holy will of God and all that was required to advance in holiness. As we discussed earlier, Sr. Faustina was given a glimpse of the sufferings she would need to endure when she received her habit. She might not have been privy to a sneak peek at everything, but she certainly chose to accept whatever God would give her. In addition, though Jesus was at times “hiding” from her, she continued to trust Him by choosing to make acts of trust through her prayers and actions.

Along our pilgrimage to eternal life, we also will face all sorts of decisions at crossroads, opportunities, trials, and challenges. Would we necessarily choose to undergo the twists and turns that unfold in life? Which way should we turn? How do we respond? Are we striving for holiness? Might God be involved in it all?

Take time this week to think about your spiritual journey. Where are you headed? Are you headed in the right direction? Do you need to take a detour, or a U-turn? Ask Mother Mary to help you as you ponder and pray. After all, she is famous for instructing, “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5).

A merciful action

Take some time to reflect on who might feel lost or, in some sense, in darkness and need a helping heart and hand. Do your best to encourage that person or family in some way. For inspiration in deciding upon your merciful actions this week, refer to the “How to Use This Book” section to see the description of deeds of mercy that Jesus gave to Sr. Faustina.

A PRAYER OF MERCY FOR THIS WEEK

(To be prayed each day this week.)

Dear Merciful Jesus and Blessed Mother Mary, help me to remain on the straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life and to lead anyone troubled with darkness into God’s light.

Saint Faustina, please pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You!

Amen.

 

You can order 52 Weeks with St. Faustina by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle here:

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52 Weeks with St. Faustina by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle:

“Have great confidence; God is always our Father, even when He sends us trials.”

— Mother Directress to Sr. Faustina when undergoing a great trial (Diary, 24)

Saint Faustina’s life was a pilgrimage towards Heaven — and our life is, too." data-share-imageurl="https://www.thedivinemercy.org/sites/default/files/field/image/stfaustina1.jpg">

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