When St. Faustina first found me, I was sitting in a Perpetual Adoration chapel as a frizzy-haired, glasses-wearing girl of twelve. She no doubt wore a slightly mirthful, teasing smile as she viewed the girl whom she would one day serve as heavenly aid and Confirmation patron.
I fully understand her smile. For my part, if I could have seen her, I would have been duly awestruck and wonder-filled (seeing saints not numbering among the most frequent of my life experiences), but possibly more befuddled than anything else. There was not much in the way of the mystic or the consecrated life in my twelve-year-old head. Or, to be more direct, there was none of it.
Rather than veils and visions, I preferred to dream of diapers, mud stains, macaroni and cheese, and other such enchanting domestic realities when it came to my future. I wrote mounds of fantasy stories, played guitar, thought deep thoughts, planned out the color scheme of my wedding, and named my first five children.
So I’m not sure quite what St. Faustina found so intriguing about me (or, rather, what God found so intriguing about the pair of us), as I sat in that chapel one Sunday morning and noticed a fat crimson book called Diary resting on the chapel bookshelf. What exactly made St. Faustina and I a twosome?
Was it the fact I had sought out (well, begged, rather) the Adoration chapel rather than the after-Sunday-Mass religion class, just for that year, and our pastor had given his approval? After all, St. Faustina bore a profound love for the Eucharistic Jesus, exclaiming with joy, “All the strength of my soul flows from the Blessed Sacrament.” (Diary, 1404) Was it that?
Or was it a kind of saintly humorous irony, found in the idea of befriending a girl who wanted at least ten children when she herself was a nun?
Was it the fact that I was struggling with recurrent bouts of anxious scrupulosity over whether sins I’d committed were mortal or venial, and she was the courier of an unprecedented message of Divine Mercy?
Perhaps it was all of these. Perhaps I’ll never know for sure. Most likely, God simply knew I needed her, though at first glance I didn’t think we had much alike.
Well, no—on reflection, I realize we actually did have a few tidbits of commonality. We both wrote big books, and we both wrote poetry.
That may very well have been what got our relationship going.
When I first picked up Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, I was irresistibly drawn to it because it was hefty. To me, a thick book is always a tantalizing tapestry, a promise of extra hours of captivation (why have something be a hundred pages when you can make it five hundred? Can you even imagine a hundred-page Lord of the Rings?), and I was personally determined that all of my future (famous) fantasy novels would be several inches thick. Diary held similar sway with me. It thudded deliciously on my lap and I built up considerable muscle mass in my phalanges from holding it open, week after week. So I suppose St. Faustina and I connected from the start because neither of us seemed to have issue with being prolific.
And then came her poetry. Diary begins with a collection of small stanzas, technically simple yet eloquent verses of St. Faustina’s praises to God and to His infinite mercy. I’ll admit, poetry has forever been my joy; my first published writing was poetry, and I began my first fantasy story with a poem, so I suppose St. Faustina got points with me for doing likewise. (I’m starting to realize I have alarmingly polar delights in gratuitously thick books and slender poems. Hopefully that’s not a problem.)
So, lured in by these common interests as it were, throughout my seventh-grade year I read her Diary. I read of her fascinating mystical experiences; her attention-arresting encounters with Our Lord; her profound spiritual insights; her intense physical, spiritual and emotional sufferings; and of course, the powerfully lavish message of Divine Mercy that Christ imparted to her for the world. It was engrossing, if somewhat heavy reading for a preteen, and I’m sure I didn’t quite absorb all of it. But it made its impact on me nonetheless. In particular, I religiously highlighted and underlined her passages that spoke of God’s mercy whenever I was feeling overly anxious or arid; she wrote much on her experiences of spiritual dryness and darkness in the soul, yet still spoke of the Father’s constant unseen presence, and this was a consolation to me. I found her style to be simple, unassuming, and yet probing.
Our relationship was very much like the story of two disparate girls who form a miraculous friendship despite their disparity. Anne Shirley and Diana Barry, for instance—and St. Faustina did have red hair.
So, regardless of the fact that she was a virgin mystic and I wanted to be a vivacious mommy; despite the truth that she was uneducated and Polish and I was a homeschooled lil’ southern belle; although her incredible spiritual life contrasted sharply with my complete ordinariness . . . the next year, I chose her for my Confirmation patron, and added her name to mine. “Faustina,” pronounced my bishop through the wafting scent of chrism, “be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
That was seven years ago.
I’m now in my twenties, but not much has come to me in the way of alteration. I still love fat books and poetry, and my hair is still frizzy—and I still find myself wondering from time to time at the mystery of how I came to choose a saint so very different than me for my patron. I’ll see a painting of her and remember, with a little guilty jolt, “Oh, right! She’s mine.” Or, rather, that I’m hers. My scruples no longer trouble me, and I’ve been able to comfort others a little who suffer from them; and upon reflection I have no doubt that’s all due to her intercession. My family and I have survived significantly deadly storms and other trials through the recitation of the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
So why haven’t I thought about her more since my Confirmation?
I pray the Divine Mercy Novena annually with my family, and recently I read the detail-filled Faustina: The Mystic and Her Message by Ewa Czaczkowska. But I admit I haven’t reread St. Faustina’s Diary in full since those Sunday mornings in the chapel. Nor do I pray to her nearly as much as I ought to. Much of this is due to my own laziness, and a little of this is probably also due to the fact that our immediate commonalities are few, at least in my mind—although she did plenty of ordinary things like bake bread and tend gardens, which isn’t too far removed from my place among the family laundry pile. I sometimes frown at myself and reflect, “I should be much closer than this to my patron saint.” It’s the niggling feeling one has of neglecting an old pen pal because of the busyness of life, and maybe also because I’m wondering what to write about.
But I suppose our relationship with the saints, particularly our patrons, must always grow, whether we’re two peas in a pod or two peas out of the pod. In my instance, perhaps God intended my relationship with St. Faustina to be a very slowly growing thing. He might very well have chosen us for one another precisely because we’re so different at first glance, and He wanted to surprise me, throughout my life, with just how much I have left to learn from her. And I can’t say I mind that. If God blesses me with wifehood, motherhood and all those mud stains and macaroni one day, who’s to say that St. Faustina won’t be right at my elbow, keeping the pot from overflowing with more domestic grace than even St. Anne or St. Anna Maria Taigi could boast of?
“When I hesitate on how to act in some situations,” my Polish patron once said, “I always ask Love. It advises best.” I know that’s something I can relate to just as closely as she did; because it’s the most important thing of all. Love enables all vocations, both consecrated and marital; Love binds the saints and their brethren here on earth together more closely than any other similarity in the world. Love orchestrated her life and mine, and brought St. Faustina and I together in the first place.
So despite my years-long negligence and our face-value differences, I’m starting to think St. Faustina and I will have a beautiful relationship in the years to come, after all. But thank Heaven she’s the Apostle of Divine Mercy. She’ll need a lot of it to put up with me.