Suffering, 'A Great Grace'

The following is an excerpt from the Marian Press book 52 Weeks with St. Faustina by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle:
“Suffering is the greatest treasure on earth; it purifies the soul. In suffering, we learn who is our true friend.” — Diary, 342
In this spiritual exercise, we discuss suffering at the beginning of Helen’s religious life, what happened when she was tempted to leave the congregation, and her experiences of interior and physical suffering. We also learn of her profound experience observing the suffering souls in Purgatory.
Suffering is a great mystery. Folks will sometimes flee or recoil from its pains and effects. In a world of pleasures, suffering is no fun. Why put up with it? Why should we embrace it? Catholics view suffering in a much different light. Christ Himself suffered immensely. He was persecuted, spat upon, and scorned by the very people He helped. He was scourged, crowned with painful thorns, and carried on His own shoulders the instrument of torture upon which He would eventually be crucified. But it was not in vain! Jesus’ Passion, Death, and subsequent Resurrection from the dead opened the gates of Heaven for us! Let’s look at what St. Faustina teaches us about suffering.
At one point, St. Faustina wrote, “True love is measured by the thermometer of suffering” (Diary, 343). That one sentence gives us so much to ponder. Saint Faustina went on to thank Jesus for the sufferings in her life:
Jesus, I thank you for the little daily crosses, for opposition to my endeavors, for the hardships of communal life, for the misinterpretation of my intentions, for humiliations at the hands of others, for the harsh way in which we are treated, for false suspicions, for poor health and loss of strength, for self-denial, for dying to myself, for lack of recognition in everything, for the upsetting of all my plans.
Thank You, Jesus, for interior sufferings, for dryness of spirit, for terrors, fears and uncertainties, for the darkness and the deep interior night, for temptations and various ordeals, for torments too difficult to describe, especially for those which no one will understand, for the hour of death with its fierce struggle and all its bitterness (Diary, 343).
Saint Faustina then acknowledged that Jesus first drank the cup of suffering before she did, and to a much greater intensity. Our sufferings in life can never hold a candle to our Lord’s. However, we can take courage because Jesus knows all about suffering and its redemptive benefits.
Saint Faustina continued:
I thank You, Jesus, You who first drank the cup of bitterness before You gave it to me, in a much milder form. I put my lips to this cup of Your holy will. Let all be done according to Your good pleasure; let that which your wisdom ordained before the ages be done to me. I want to drink the cup to its last drop, and not seek to know the reason why. In bitterness is my joy, in hopelessness is my trust. In You, O Lord, all is good, all is a gift of Your paternal Heart (Diary, 343).
Saint Faustina thanked Jesus for everything, including both the pains and the joys of her life. She desired only His holy will. She continued, “I do not prefer consolations over bitterness or bitterness over consolations, but thank You, O Jesus, for everything!” (Diary, 343). The saint in the making came to learn that Jesus knew what was perfect for her soul. When we can acknowledge that fact, we stop fighting against God’s will. We discover that many opportunities for grace lie hidden in difficulties. In fact, St. Faustina teaches us, “Suffering is the greatest treasure on earth; it purifies the soul. In suffering, we learn who is our true friend” (Diary, 342). These and other seeds of wisdom would blossom in Helen’s heart as she grew in holiness and surrendered her will to God.

Helen Enters the Convent

In our last chapter, we left off with Helen being accepted by the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. But Helen faced one last hurdle before she could enter the convent: She would have to work for about a year out in the world in order to save up the money she needed for her dowry. The momentous day finally arrived on August 1, 1925, on the eve of the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels, when Helen Kowalska left the world she once knew and crossed over the threshold to religious life.

After she passed her first examination, which confirmed that she was free from obstacles for entering religious life, Helen began as an aspirant and became a postulant (someone undergoing a trial period in religious life). Several years later, Helen would describe her experience upon entering. “I felt immensely happy; it seemed to me that I had stepped into the life of Paradise,” she wrote. “A single prayer was bursting forth from my heart, one of thanksgiving” (Diary, 17). The deepest desire of her heart since she was a young child was becoming a reality.

Though Helen was happy to enter religious life, she quickly became discouraged after only a few weeks and was tempted to leave. She felt that too little time was devoted to prayer, yearning for a stricter congregation with a more rigorous prayer life. She planned to meet with the Mother Superior the following day. Helen went to the chapel that evening seeking direction from Jesus. But she left the chapel the same way she entered — confused. When Helen reached her cell, she prostrated herself on the floor, begging God for help. Suddenly, bright light filled her little part of the dormitory. Jesus’ sorrowful face appeared on her curtain. His sacred face appeared wounded. Large tears were rolling from His eyes and onto Helen’s bed.

She was astounded and sad all at once. “Jesus, who has hurt You so?” she asked.

Jesus told her, “It is you who will cause Me this pain if you leave this convent. It is to this place that I called you and nowhere else; and I have prepared many graces for you” (Diary, 19). Helen immediately asked forgiveness for not trusting God. She also spoke to a priest the following day in Confession, who reiterated God’s will for her. Now at complete peace, she would no longer doubt where it was that Jesus wanted her to be.

Purgatory: a Place of Suffering and Transformation

Helen was very familiar with interior suffering, but now in the convent, she would also taste the cup of physical suffering. At times, she felt deeply tormented mentally and spiritually over the humiliations and pain that she experienced at the hands of some of the sisters and her superiors. The pain from these interior torments sometimes caused her to suffer physically. As Helen matured in the spiritual life, she realized the great power in redemptive suffering — in offering her suffering to God and asking Him to use it for His glory. She would later write, “Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Savior; in suffering love becomes crystalized; the greater the suffering, the purer the love” (Diary, 57). She also learned she could suffer her Purgatory while on earth, and that she should work hard to help free souls from Purgatory.

A few weeks after Helen went through the interior trial of feeling tempted to leave the congregation, she became physically rundown due to a variety of things, including spiritual conflicts that weighed upon her. When Helen was at the point of exhaustion, her superior decided to send her to Skolimow, near Warsaw, to the congregation’s rented summer country home. The home was used for the sisters living in Warsaw and the girls in their charge. There, Helen would get a much-needed rest, doing only the light work of cooking for the other sisters and looking after one convalescing nun.

In Skolimow, this young postulant experienced an incredibly profound mystical vision that involved her guardian angel. Helen had asked Jesus for whom she should pray. Jesus said He would reveal it on the following night. Helen was shown the souls in Purgatory. Her guardian angel appeared and instructed her to follow him. “In a moment I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls” (Diary, 20). Later, she explained her visit to Purgatory. Though she observed the souls praying fervently, Helen was made to know that their prayers could not be of any use for themselves. They needed prayers from others to aid them. Helen asked the souls what was their greatest torment. It was their longing for God. The souls were assured that they would indeed be with God in Heaven in eternal happiness, but first, they needed to be purified.
Helen also observed that the Blessed Mother, called the “Star of the Sea” by the Holy Souls, visited them and brought them “refreshment.” No doubt Mother Mary brought great hope and comfort to the souls. Her guardian angel escorted her out of Purgatory, and she heard an interior voice, “My Mercy does not want this but justice demands it” (Diary, 20). Helen was deeply impacted by this visit, and afterwards prayed earnestly for souls. Some souls would actually visit her, seeking prayers. We will discuss this more later on.
Helen returned to Warsaw and to her work in the kitchen, and finished out her postulancy.
Something to Ponder
With great clarity, Jesus told us that if we want to be His disciples, we must deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow Him (Mt 16:24). We shouldn’t run from our cross. Thomas à Kempis wrote in The Imitation of Christ, “In the cross is salvation, in the cross is life, in the cross is protection from enemies, in the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness, in the cross is strength of mind, in the cross is joy of spirit, in the cross is highest virtue, in the cross is perfect holiness. There is no salvation of soul nor hope of everlasting life but in the cross. Take up your cross, therefore, and follow Jesus, and you shall enter eternal life.” At one point, St. Faustina wrote, “All sufferings are nothing in comparison with what awaits us in heaven” (Diary, 596). Jesus told her, “It is not for the success of a work, but for the suffering that I give reward” (Diary, 90). Take some time throughout the week to meditate on the purpose of suffering and your crosses in life. Is it possible to consider that suffering is “a great grace”? Could you thank God for your daily crosses as St. Faustina did?
A Merciful Action
Could you carry out a merciful action this week that involves more of a sacrifice on your part than usual? Perhaps it’s in giving of your time. Is there someone in your life who needs help? Take this “merciful action” to prayer and ask our Lord, His holy Mother, and St. Faustina to guide you. Also, commit to praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
(To be prayed each day this week.)
Dear Merciful Jesus, help me to be more generous in my desire to sacrifice and to suffer for Your glory. Please grant me the graces to deny myself, pick up my cross, and follow You. I want to be Your disciple. Please also relieve the Holy Souls in Purgatory and bring them to Heaven soon. Mother Mary, Star of the Sea, and St. 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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