St. Maria Faustina Helena Kowalska (1905-1938) was one of the great Christian mystics of the 20th century, perhaps one of the greatest mystics of all time.
Originally Helena Kowalska, this Polish nun wrote what has been called the Divine Mercy Diary, narrating the daily struggles and joys of her spiritually exceptional convent life.
Hers differs from most other spiritual diaries not only by its rich mystical content but also by virtue of its immediacy and simplicity.
With her health rapidly deteriorating, Faustina strove to follow the strict religious observances of her order. And with permission from her superiors, she continued to write striking descriptions of her alleged encounters with Jesus, whom, she says, spoke to her on a near-daily basis.
Her recorded mystical visions and encounters include seeing Jesus as a person of great beauty and grace. They also include seeing many souls suffering in hell and those bound for hell—some of these hell-bound souls apparently were fallen priests and religious persons.
In a way arguably similar to the Hindu notion of karma transfer, Faustina claims to have suffered for the spiritual benefit of others. In essence, she claims that sin transfers from less pure souls to purer souls. She wrote that Christ told her:
You are not living for yourself but for souls, and other souls will profit from your sufferings. Your prolonged suffering will give them the light and strength to accept my Will (Saint Maria Faustina Helena Kowalska, Divine Mercy in My Soul, 2nd edition, Stockbridge Mass.: Marian Press, 1990, p. 34).
For believing Catholics, St. Faustina’s Diary is filled with the kind of simple, unpretentious wisdom that eludes so many apparently great philosophers, scholars, and intellectuals who are limited by their own conceptual constructs. St. Faustina writes that Jesus, in one visitation, said:
Speak to Me about everything in a completely simple and human way; by this you will give Me great joy. I understand you because I am God-Man. This simple language of your heart is more pleasing to Me than the hymns composed in My honor (Ibid., p. 316).
With regard to the idea of sacrificial love (agape), Faustina says souls not in a state of grace caused her intense suffering by virtue of the spiritual transfer of sin and impurity:
Sometimes when I meet a soul that is not in a state of grace…the suffering is terrible (Ibid., p. 304).
She says solitary “heroic souls” are misunderstood and hated by the world but nonetheless receive strength from God as they prayerfully assist others with humility and courage:
They not only carry their own burden, but also know how to take on, and are capable of taking on, the burdens of others (Ibid., p. 329).
And she believes this essentially spiritual connection with other souls may occur at a distance:
During the night, I was suddenly awakened and knew that some soul was asking me for prayer, and that it was in much need of prayer. Briefly, but with all my soul, I asked the Lord for grace for her (Ibid., p. 319).
This evening, I felt in my soul that a certain person had need of my prayer. Immediately I began to pray. Suddenly I realize interiorly and am aware of who the spirit is who is asking this of me; I pray until I feel at peace (Ibid., p. 326).
Indeed, distance seems to have no effect on interior perception:
For the Spirit, space does not exist. It sometimes happens that I know about a death occurring several hundred kilometers away (Ibid., p. 327).
Also, speaking of dying souls she says:
I feel vividly and clearly that spirit who is asking me for prayer. I was not aware that souls are so closely united, and often it is my Guardian Angel who tells me (Ibid., p. 325).
Concerning the idea of ‘spiritual warfare’ she recounts in another diary entry:
Today I have fought a battle with the spirits of darkness over one soul. How terribly Satan hates God’s mercy! I see how he opposes this whole work (Ibid., p. 320).
Faustina also says that even religious persons are far from perfect. Pettiness and jealousy figure prominently in religious life, just as in the secular world:
I have experienced just how much envy there is, even in religious life. I see that there are few truly great souls, ready to trample on everything that is not God. O Soul, you will find no beauty outside of God. Oh, how fragile is the foundation of those who elevate themselves at the expense of others! What a loss! (Ibid., p. 326)
On a happier note, she writes that spiritually inclined souls recognize each other when they meet, even if not discussing religious matters:
A soul united with God… easily recognizes a similar soul, even if the latter has not revealed its interior [life] to it, but merely speaks in an ordinary way. It is a kind of spiritual kinship. Souls united with God are few, fewer than we think (Ibid., pp. 307-8).
Some might wonder if St. Faustina was merely hallucinating or imagining things. Nevertheless she, herself, openly admits to experiencing moments of doubt:
Once again, a terrible darkness envelops my soul. It seems to me that I am falling prey to illusions. When I went to confession to obtain some light and peace, I did not find these at all. The confessor left me with even more doubts than I had before (Ibid., p. 109).
And quite unlike many alleged psychics and mystics, she was concerned with verifying her interior perceptions:
Especially now, while I am in the hospital, I experience an inner communion with the dying who ask me for prayer when their agony begins… since this has been happening more frequently, I have been able to verify it, even to the exact hour (Ibid., p. 326).
While atheists and worldly-minded people would probably reduce Faustina’s claims to psychophysical aberrations,¹ for Catholic believers she represents the very best of their mystical tradition.
¹ For an alarmingly biased and scientifically unsound critique of parapsychology in general, see The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology, 4th edition (2009), p. 555.