Each day, we fight a battle. It might be with the challenges we face in our vocation, state of life, or employment. It might be in the fact that every day, a spiritual battle is waged over our souls. The devil, who never sleeps, is constantly seeking to snatch souls to hell. Not a happy thought, but nonetheless, this is the reality of our life on earth. We need to be battle ready. We are to pray and stay in the state of grace, striving to be a radiant example of faith to others, caring for our eternal life, but also endeavoring to help others get to Heaven, too. Each challenge and daily burden is actually an opportunity to turn to God in prayer. Let’s turn our attention to Helen and how she handled contradictions and the opportunities for grace that unfolded in her life, specifically in dealing with her parent’s rejection of her desire for religious life.
Helen was sad that her parents would not give their blessing on her ardent desire to enter religious life. She obediently returned to domestic work. A dowry of clothing and money, necessary to enter religious life, was out of the question. The family simply couldn’t afford it. Helen tried to explain that Jesus would provide. Her parents would not budge. Helen promptly left for the big city of Lodz to live with her cousins and search for work. Soon, Helen was employed by three female tertiaries, members of the Third Order of St. Francis. They were receptive to 17-year-old Helen’s requests for time off for daily Mass, the Sacrament of Confession from the tertiaries’ confessor, and visiting the sick and dying. Jesus kindled the desire in Helen’s heart to comfort the dying, preparing her to be concerned for dying souls later on as a religious sister. Her new job seemed to be a win-win situation. She could earn wages, stay connected to the Church, and help souls through spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Her access to the women’s confessor, Fr. Wyzykowski, was a great bonus!
Helen’s heart yearned for God
When Helen was 18, she again begged her parents’ permission to enter the convent. She received the same answer: “No!” Her heart sank over yet another flat refusal. She gave up trying. She began to ignore God, perhaps as a sort of survival tactic. Helen recorded in her Diary, “I turned myself over to the vain things of life, paying no attention to the call of grace, although my soul found no satisfaction in any of these things” (Diary, 8). As surprising as it might sound, Helen tried to suppress the graces entering her heart. Might the devil have been wreaking havoc in her heart and soul? Helen immersed herself in city life hustle and bustle, buying the latest fashions and frequenting dances with girlfriends.
Still, Jesus never stopped calling her. For a time, the future saint ignored Him. Helen recalled, “The incessant call of grace caused me much anguish; I tried, however, to stifle it with amusements.” She continued, making a full disclosure, “Interiorly, I shunned God, turning with all my heart to creatures. However, God’s grace won out in my soul” (Diary, 8).
This reminds me of a lesson I learned from my former spiritual director, the Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, SJ, who encouraged the faithful to surround themselves with like-minded, faith-filled friends and acquaintances. This is not to say that Helen’s choice of friends was imprudent, but it does give us something to ponder. We might ask ourselves if our friends lead us to Heaven — or not.
Two of Helen’s sisters, Genowefa and Natalia, were living in Lodz, working as domestic servants as well. In time, Helen was also employed at another domestic job, caring for children and doing housekeeping for the Sadowska-Wieczorek family in Lodz, where Helen was much admired for her sincerity, charity, and contagious joy. At first, Helen’s fashionable clothes put off Mrs. Sadowska, who thought Helen was much too fashionable for the work. It wasn’t long into their first conversation, however, that the woman realized Helen’s great character. Mrs. Sadowska observed Helen’s strict fasting and dedication to prayer, and was delighted with Helen’s way with the Sadowska children. Helen was a reliable employee and a grand storyteller, no doubt garnering this talent from her father, who told many stories over the years to his children, tales he learned from his modest book collection, the Bible, and magazine articles.
Jesus appears and surprises Helen with a direct question
In July 1924, Helen accompanied her sisters Jeannie and Natalia, as well as a friend, Lucy Strzeleck, to a dance at Venice Park.8 It should have been an enjoyable experience; after all, everyone was having fun whirling and enjoying the music. Helen, on the other hand, was going through a battle of sorts. She felt zero comfort or pleasure being amongst her friends and the festivities. “While everybody was having a good time, my soul was experiencing deep torments,” she later explained (Diary, 9).
This particular evening would become a major turning point in Helen’s life.
Jesus appeared to her at the dance. We can imagine Helen’s shock. Jesus’ appearance was unsettling, for He was covered in wounds as if He had just been scourged, “racked with pain, and stripped of His clothing” (Diary, 9).
“How long shall I put up with you and how long will you keep putting Me off?” Jesus succinctly asked (Diary, 9). He was calling her out of a distracted, somewhat worldly life and into His holy will for her.
Completely bowled over by the incredible, miraculous moment, it seemed to Helen as though just she and Jesus were standing together. Everything else was a foggy mirage, fading away in an instant — the people, the music. She walked off the dance floor to gather her thoughts and pretended that she had a headache in order to escape the dance. Her sister was perplexed at the sudden change. But Helen did not divulge what had really happened. Instead, she walked straight towards the Cathedral of St. Stanislaus Kostka, paying no attention to her surroundings. Upon arriving, totally oblivious to the few people present in the church, Helen immediately prostrated herself before the tabernacle to pour out her heart. Where should she go? What should she do? Helen heard, “Go at once to Warsaw; you will enter a convent there” (Diary, 10). Could Helen trust in those words?
Knowing she would leave in the morning, she went home to tie up loose ends. Jesus had instructed, “Go at once.” She would try to get at least some sleep, though she was wide awake at that point because of her amazing encounter with Jesus.
Who wouldn’t be?
The morning came quickly. Helen bid farewell to her sister and announced her plan to her uncle, who was clearly upset and quickly reminded his niece that her parents would be thoroughly crushed if she went without their blessing. Helen asked her uncle not to tell them about it just yet. She gave him all of her clothing to bring to her parents, with the exception of the clothes on her back. “Jesus will take care of all my needs,” she simply stated.
A bit reluctantly, her uncle took her to the train station to board a train to Warsaw as Jesus had instructed. With one dress to her name and a heart filled to the brim with anticipation, this saint in the making was about to embark upon an exciting journey that would not only dramatically change her own life, but all of ours, too.
Knowing that she would finally enter a convent, Helen felt strong and confident in her decision to board the train to Warsaw — that is, until she sat down and her confidence vaporized. Doubts and fear suddenly set in like a runaway freight train zipping uncontrollably down the tracks. As thoughts of disappointing her parents pummeled her mind, she began to cry softly. She began to pray. She wanted to follow Jesus, but leaving her parents behind was so difficult.
Something to Ponder
What did St. Faustina do when faced with a challenge, or when she was immersed in battle? She was discouraged over her parents’ continual refusal to allow her to enter the convent. What did she do with her fears and doubts? Growing in holiness, she surrendered her heart fully to God, not relying upon feelings, but rather, upon faith. She teaches us to be vigilant and not lose heart, choosing instead to trust God.
Saint Faustina wrote:
My Jesus, despite Your graces, I see and feel all my misery. I begin my day with battle and end it with battle. As soon as I conquer one obstacle, ten more appear to take its place. But I am not worried, because I know that this is the time of struggle, not peace. When the burden of the battle becomes too much for me, I throw myself as a child into the arms of the heavenly Father and trust I will not perish. O my Jesus, how prone I am to evil, and this forces me to be constantly vigilant. But I do not lose heart. I trust God’s grace, which abounds in the worst misery (Diary, 606).
She continued, “In the midst of the worst difficulties and adversities, I do not lose inner peace or exterior balance, and this discourages my adversaries. Patience in adversity gives power to the soul” (Diary, 607).
Take some time this week to reflect upon the daily challenges in your own life. Do you lose patience? Do you become angry? And do you remember to immediately bring these burdens to God? Could you devise a simple plan, a way to turn directly to God when things creep up on you or unexpectedly smack you in the face? Having a battle plan will be very beneficial.
A Merciful Action
Is there someone in your life who needs mercy? Someone who needs Christ’s love? Can you pray this week to surprise a total stranger with an act of mercy? No doubt God will provide the stranger! Try to carry out these two works of mercy, one for someone in your life and one for a total stranger, this week.
A Prayer of Mercy
Dear Merciful Jesus, please help me to see You more clearly in my daily life, even in the daily battles and contradictions. Please help me to surrender my will to Your holy will. Help me to be merciful.
Mother Mary, help me.
Saint Faustina, please pray for me.
Jesus, I trust in You!
[This text above is an excerpt from Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s book: 52 Weeks with Saint Faustina: A Year of Grace and Mercy (Marian Press, 2018)]
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Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle is a Catholic wife, mother and grandmother. She loves teaching the Faith and has served as a Catechist for thirty years, is a retreat and pilgrimage leader, and an award-winning best-selling author of more than thirty books. She’s also an award-winning journalist, an International speaker, and the EWTN Host and creator of three television series. Donna-Marie knew St. Teresa of Calcutta for a decade, received a special blessing on her writing from St. John Paul II, has participated at a Vatican Congress and has appeared on many programs including Fox News, Zenit News, EWTN News Nightly, Vatican Insider, Rome Reports, and Vatican Radio. She is a frequent guest on EWTN's Bookmark, Women of Grace, and Sunday Night Prime, as well as on national radio and television. Her memoir is entitled The Kiss of Jesus. Learn more at her websites: www.donnacooperoboyle.com and www.feedingyourfamilyssoul.com