Dear English-speaking readers! I know I have been really bad at translating things lately, but you can imagine how the end of the school year looks like…

The big news is that I am leaving school and Gdynia – at least for a while – and I will be in charge of our vocation ministry! Apart from closing things in school, I am also moving to Poznań. That means a lot of packing…

Packaging is a well known thing for me. I am moving for the third time since I joined the Society and I have done it countless times before. The sound of tape and paper boxes reminds me of the different stages in my life. This year, however, I paid special attention to a temptation that comes up. When I take out a pile of papers from my shelf and find things, that I didn’t even remember I had, a silent voice says to me: “There is nothing to look at here, pack everything.” It seems like an innocent thing, because even a few extra boxes would fit into the car and I would transfer them to Poznań. Then while unpacking, I would probably here the same voice: “There is nothing to look at here, put everything on the shelves.” The problem is not that I would have less space on my shelves, but the fact that I would have dismissed myself from answering a very important question:  what do I actually need in life – as a woman, a Christian, and finally a nun. What will I need for my new mission, and what can I leave behind, without unnecessary sentiment. What will help me in following Jesus more closely, and what makes me turn quietly away from Him.

It seems worse, if such voices come up in our spiritual life. It may be that God will discover areas in us that we have not known before, and we will find it easier not to look at them. We are able to carry a heavy bag of unresolved issues, unexplained quarrels, undetected desires and unknown grievances for long years. But for what?

Perhaps that is why I like packaging – if I do not listen to unkind voices in my head, it is a great opportunity to get rid of what, instead of giving life, has become an unneeded ballast. Will I have enough courage? After all, they might always “come in handy”.

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Caricature of God

Recently I heard a sentence that hurt me very much: “Islam is a religion of Satan.” It is even more difficult for me, because it was not said by any of my rebellious students, but by a Catholic priest. Paradoxically, at the same time, Pope Francis was meeting in Egypt with the imam Ahmad al-Tajjib, and together they reminded the world that there is no place for violence in any religion.

Last week our bishops wrote a really nice letter about the fact that true patriotism has nothing to do with nationalism. Meanwhile, on Saturday the nationalists walked through the streets holding the cross and shouting “death to the enemies of our nation.”

Why are there still people who turn around God’s teaching so much, that instead of preaching the Good News, they make a weapon out of it? They are showing people a caricature of God. All I can do is pray for their conversion, and hope that when they come face to face with the true God, they will be able to forgive themselves all the evil they have done. As for the mercy of God, fortunately I have no doubt.

In this sad reality, however, there is a little spark of hope. It shows up gently and whispers, that you and I can build good everyday by showing that the one that is different is not our enemy. We can remind everyone, that every human being is a child of the same God, who created the world as good.

During the long weekend in Poland I have the opportunity to participate in a Ignatian retreat for students and witness how they meet with the living God and experience his love. My heart is smiling at such a sight. A few days earlier I heard that Christians in Egypt are organizing something in the form of spiritual exercises, but for the followers of Islam. The Muslims come out of them uplifted, saying that they never felt so close to Allah. That is powerful! That is the Church and the world I want!

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What if you were not afraid?

The day after the attack in London, on one of the FB pages of my Society,  I found a picture with the words “we are not afraid”. I agree wholeheartedly, but not because I do not expect terrorists in Gdynia. I am deeply convinced that the worst way out and the favorite tool of satan is fear.

Recently in Warsaw, some students gave me a quote from their chaplain: “How would you live, how would you love, if you were not afraid?” My friend Romek claims that this was not the best he has said over the past few years, but it turned out to be the strongest message in the hearts of young people.

Today’s world is filled with fear, not just of terrorist attacks, but also of the uncertain future, commitments, risks… This fear also accompanies me every day. Not the one of losing life, but of something going wrong, of being judged or rejected. I’m afraid that I will not make it on time or just fail. And I do not even notice that it is this fear that paralyzes me and stops me from doing good or from reacting to evil. It is this fear that causes me to focus on small things and forget about the great ones to which God is calling me. That is why it is so important for me to change the perspective sometimes and see that I am not alone. That we can unite ourselves against the evil of this world and say: we are not afraid, we will consistently respond with love.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

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Silence teaches humility

I waited for month until “Silence” came to Poland, so I ran to see it as soon as it was possible. I got exactly what I expected: a lot of unanswered questions. I saw something deeper than my attempt to search for the right way. I saw that sometimes there simply is no answer, because it is known only to God. Once again I saw the value of discernment and radically following the Holy Spirit. He has a different path for each one of us, sometimes radically different from the one we would consider to be correct. This has two consequences – thinking that I know what is right leads to pride, and judging other people’s choices does not lead to good. However, this requires such a close relationship with God, that you are able to hear His voice in the slightest shake.

Surprisingly, something else became important to me – the image of Christ appearing repeatedly in the film – the face of Jesus from Veronica’s veil painted by El Greco. This artist was of much importance to me on the way of my vocation, and it was his painting that appeared on the pictures from my first vows. A small sign from God just for me. In the cinema we met two Jesuit friends and two of my former students (now high school students). To each of them, God definitely spoke differently through the film, but He certainly spoke. You cannot be indifferent to the questions posed.

The viewer is given many dilemmas about faith, doubt, denial of God. Many thoughts I have not yet gathered, and I know that this experience will be working in me for the next weeks. Of equal importance, however, might be the circumstances of making the film for over 20 years. The way it worked in the heart of Martin Scorsese, the way it transformed Andrew Garfield, and how it will change the world of the people who see it. With growing curiosity I am now reading interviews about “Silence” and articles about Christianity in Japan, because this is the story of God working today in the midst of His people.

The Christian life is something much more than saying that I believe in the existence of one God, Creator of the universe. It’s even more than the confidence that He is good and devoting my life to Him. Faith is the acceptance of a way, which can be very confusing and surprising, but always leads to Love.

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Death in the name of a better world

The Catholic part of the Polish Internet was flooded yesterday by news of a tragic death of a volunteer in Bolivia. I began to wonder why such news instead of causing my anxiety and wanting to close myself at home, only strengthen my desire for missionary work. Maybe it’s the hope for being a heroic martyr and a faster way to beatification. Perhaps it’s the feeling that I’m doing something important for someone. Maybe it’s my love for the poor and a desire to be among them. With the words of fr Kasper Kaproń OFM I discovered that it might be something else.

“The first call was at four o’clock in the morning local time: “We are preparing a material about the murder of the volunteer. Could Father say something? “.
Yes. For media murder is material. Today, it was on the news, and tomorrow it will not matter. There will be new, more attractive information. Who will be there tomorrow, when the desperate family will be feeling a great emptiness? Who will be interested in this other girl, who is now fighting bravely, but tomorrow will be going through a difficult struggle with emptiness?
Bolivia is a beautiful country with great people. I fell in love with the local people, their culture … And it hurts me when I read in the comments that “if you go to the less civilized countries, you should expect something like this to happen” (as some said). What happened today, however, in a sense, is the consequence of medial propaganda and the consequence of great inequalities in the world split into two worlds: those blessed with abundance and those fighting for every day. Propaganda proclaiming that you have to put up walls to protect yourself; propaganda proclaiming that the ones guilty are those of a different skin colour (lighter, darker): “They are to blame for all the evil in the world, all this violence,” or “They are responsible for my poverty … they have everything, and they keep using us.” In such a world there will always be murders for a few pennies; in such a world there will be fear, because the others are “uncivilised”.
Helena came to us to fight these inequalities and to proclaim that another world is possible: a world based on the Gospel. Let this death, as always, in Christianity, become a leaven of new missionary vocations: people free from fear, wanting to build a world without walls and inequality. Because the world as it is now can no longer function.”

At such moments, I want to go to the end of the world, to bear witness with my own life that we will not accept dividing people into better and worse, black and white, modern masters and slaves. We want to build a world of solidarity, friendship and love, and we will not rest until we are at least a little closer to a world like this. We will tear down walls and build bridges, even if we have world leaders, terrorists and people of hatred against us.

We are slowly approaching a great jubilee in our Congregation – the bicentennial of Philippine’s arrival in North America. Our first missionary set out on a long journey to bring Christ to people who did not know Him. Today often the missionary countries could bring their strong faith to Europe. Today, much more important is to work with those who feel excluded, to demonstrate a simple human solidarity and kindness and, above all, to be open to the fact that they have something very important to offer us. The best we can do is stop dividing the world into “us” and “them”, because it is such thinking that led to the death of Helena.

Let us continue building a better world, even if it means giving our lives for it!


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The tourist and the pilgrim

Yesterday I finally watched the first episode of “The Young Pope.” I have already heard a lot about this show and so far I’m not disappointed. Whatever we say – it definitely confronts us and asks a lot of good questions. Every second dialogue could do for a good homily or a blog post. This time it will be about one sentence that probably no one would pay attention to, but I really liked it. Pius XIII says: “I will never shed my aversion against tourists… because they’re just passing through”

Just passing through. Without engagement, without deeper relationships. Just to see, enjoy and go on. Without obligations. Hop in, hop out, take photos. Is that not the image of today’s world? A Christian has to go deeper, because only in the deep is there pure water. Sometimes I really have to stop sliding on the surface. Stop my daily run and focus on what matters most.

At the same time I remind myself that this life is only a road to the real world. My favourite quote from Catherine of Siena is: “Life is a bridge. Go through it, but don’t build your home there.” The other extreme is going down so deep, that it’s hard to get out. The point is not in growing roots and safely surviving life in what is known. This is probably what attracts me most in religious life – there is no stagnation, only constant looking for the better way of serving God and the people.

So we should not be a tourist on the go and not get stuck in a warm cosy cottage. I think the key is to be a pilgrim. As a pilgrim I know where I am going. I walk the paths that lead me to my goal, but I will not run, because I know that I need to save my strength. I also know that the road itself is important, not because of all the things I will visit and see on the way, but because it will teach me life, and I will meet people there, who will change me for the better.

Life is an amazing pilgrimage. I hope not to be a tourist, who is just passing through – taking a selfie in front of the museum and buying a hot dog at the gas station.


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The light of hope

Yesterday, I read a quote from the New York Times: “Pope Francis already gave hope to homosexuals, divorced and supporters of the Big Bang theory. Now it’s time for animal lovers and vegans.” This was a reference to the words of the Pope, who was talking to a boy about a dog, saying: “Heaven is open to the whole of God’s creation.” The controversy caused by this sentence in interesting, because it does not mean that dogs have a soul and need salvation. It expresses only a fairly obvious truth that all of creation that was given to us in paradise will not be taken away for eternity. Nature will not be “saved,” but will keep giving us joy with its beauty in Heaven.

Similarly, there should not be much controversy around the Big Bang theory. Even in religious books for children it is clearly written that this theory is not at odds with our faith. So what’s the big deal? I think the key here is the word “hope.” Pope Francis does not reject anyone, no one is being scared with going to hell and everyone is given hope for a life with God – you only need to want it.

God is greater than our sins and weaknesses, He can handle the twisted stories of our lives and wants us all to enjoy His presence forever. Francis is just reminding us of this, following Jesus, who came to earth just for that reason. In today’s Gospel Matthew quotes a passage from the Book of Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone“. Christ came to lead us to the light! He Himself IS the light.

But the problem is that we still like to get lost in the dark, because the light hurts our eyes, it makes us look deeper into our hearts and see the truth. Darkness is not only committing moral sin, but even more often our inflexible law, in which we feel safe, looking down upon others. The light shows us that we are not better than others and that might hurt. Let us, however, not get discouraged in our efforts, because we are created to live in the light, there is our happiness. Let us not loose hope!

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To want more

I just came back from another inspiring meeting of our sisters in Europe. In addition to the joy of being together, we had the opportunity to hear first-hand about the history of writing the new Constitutions. Religious Constitutions are a set of rules in the Society, which speak about how our lives should look like, how we want to serve the Lord. Our first Constitutions were written by St. Madeleine Sophie Barat in 1815 and served us well for decades. The Second Vatican Council however called for some changes that needed to be applied to all documents. Our predecessors did not want to violate the original writings, valuing them in total as a huge legacy of our foundress, so they started the process of writing a new document. It is now a great treasure for us, which I am still constantly discovering with delight.

Today marks exactly 30 years from the date on which the letter, confirming that our Constitutions are officially approved, arrived in the Mother House. It was after 5 years of a long and painful process of discussing observations proposed by a committee from the Vatican. The process itself was important and fascinating. It required a lot of effort and sadness, but also taught us humility and seeking God’s will.

I would like to write about one of the observations, which for me was very inspiring. One of the criticisms that we heard concerned that our rules apply only to the ideal, the way we want to live and there is no mention of what minimum must be met in order to be a good Religious of the Sacred Heart. Maybe that’s why I love them so much – because there is a spirit in them that allows me to grow, and not a set of regulations and expectations, which I have to meet.

I thought that the same thing is true of the Gospel. Jesus doesn’t gives us a prescription: “do only so much, and you will be saved.” He is not interested in how we can get into Heaven, but he wants us to sell everything, give Him our whole hearts. Of course, we need to keep the commandments, but it is not fulfilling the law that gives meaning of our lives. It’s the search for infinite love. Even if we are doing it with a poor result, even if we keep falling. It is important that we keep moving in the right direction. May our hearts always want to be bigger and never ask “is this enough?”.

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I am not prepared for Christmas. Waking up for our vigil mass didn’t help, neither did reflecting on Isaiah, nor talking to my students… I didn’t even have time for translating my blog. My heart is still somewhere on the run, and not at the Christmas table. My room is a mess and I don’t know if I will have time to clean up

Today, however, I discovered that in this sense I can be close to Mary. She was also not prepared. She didn’t have her baby clothes neatly stacked, cradle set up and toys hung over it. She was on the road, Jesus’ birth came as a surprise. And that was the way planned by God. He comes when you do not expect Him. Maybe we should just let Him do that.

Holidays will not be rescheduled. They will come and gone as usual. And Jesus will not come when we plan it, nor when we feel prepared. He will come at the best time. So what can we do? Open our heart. So little and so much.

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Ordinary sainthood

el_greco_-_st_veronica_holding_the_veil_-_wga10457Once in a while when I have a hard time and I feel alone in my everyday struggles, I am given a glimpse into the communion of saints. For a moment, I see all those who have passed away and who are supporting me with all their might, so I am also able make the best use of my life. I imagine that there in Heaven we will sit together having a heavenly cup of tea. I remember the saints who had a big influence on me at different times of my life: St. Ignatius, St. Madeleine Sophie, St. Teresa, St. fr. Pio, two St. Francises, St. Filipine… and many others. They are not only an example for us. They are present!

Recently I talk a lot with students about holy patrons, especially those of Confirmation and that they are the ones supporting us most. Somehow, on this occasion I personally felt a little bad. After all,  Eve, my predecessor had quite a shameful past, and although it is nice to have a name after the first woman, I can’t find much in her biography to follow. There was also one blessed Eve, but her vocation was closing herself in a small room with bars… and that’s not exactly my sensitivity. My middle name is Mary and she is indeed a patron of the highest quality and the most holy among people, but is therefor intimidating with her immaculate conception. So I am left with my patron from Confirmation. The story of her is quite complicated. Originally it was supposed to be Victoria (I am definitely too ashamed to say exactly why Victoria 😉 ), but my catechist said that there is no such saint (which is actually not true…) and I had to settle for Veronica.

Unfortunately St. Veronica doesn’t seem to be a very good patron either. The problem with her is that in fact she really does not exist (this probably my catechist did not know) – she was made up by the christian tradition in the fourth century – only then began the story of a woman who wiped the face of Jesus on the way of the cross. Her name comes from the words vera eikon ( “real image”). For a while I was disappointed that I didn’t have anyone to turn to… until suddenly it came to me!

Maybe it was because of the year of mercy, that I was able to realize that since my patron Veronica does not exist, she is the symbol of the millions of ordinary anonymous saints who have not been raised to the altars, who don’t have their images on pictures, whose CVs are not being read and whose feasts are not being celebrated. But they are enjoying eternal life in Heaven, because they lived their lives in friendship with Jesus, doing good and being merciful to the suffering neighbor, not considering this as heroism, but something most ordinary. Perhaps among such saints is my grandmother, my uncle, a next door neighbor. Being a saint is not about great things we did, on the contrary, it’s about seeing how we can do nothing without God and letting Him work in us without resistance.  Saint Veronica became an unusual patron for me, because she shows that holiness is really for everyone, it is just as near as a wipe of the veil.

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