The editor’s of the MICHAEL Journal would like to share with you the remarkable story of a holy and privileged soul, drawn in part from the autobiography of Blessed Dina Belanger. May it inspire you to aim for Heaven, just as Dina did during her sojourn on earth.
Dina Belanger was born in Quebec, Canada, on April 30th, 1897. Olivier and Seraphia Belanger were quite well off and lavished a great deal of attention on their only child. Although this could have made Dina quite spoiled, they were very careful that their precious little girl would only know and understand that which would keep her holy and pure.
Dina’s parents were truly the essence of devotion and Christian love that every mother or father could hope to achieve. They carefully trained their little girl to shun every offense against God, even the most involuntary. And from her earliest moments, Dina strove to please them. She would say later: "Only in Heaven will I understand the watchfulness, devotedness and love of my mother and father. It is one of the greatest heavenly favors, to be born and to live in a climate of peace, union, charity, sublime example and constant conformity to the designs of Providence" ... "To prove my gratitude to them, I have but one duty – and a very pressing duty: to become holy. It is a sacred obligation. If I fail in this, I am devoid of filial devotion; I do not deserve to be called their child."
Dina’s mother taught her how to pray and sing to God. As soon as Dina could follow along, she would unite herself with her mother in singing hymns of praise to Heaven. Mrs. Belanger would also take her small daughter to prayer meetings and other religious functions. One day, when Dina was four years old, her mother took her to a retreat being preached in honor of St. Francis Xavier. The priest spoke about Hell. The following night, Dina experienced a dream that she would never forget.
In her dream, she envisioned horrible demons, bright-red, rushing in and out of a railway train. They moved constantly and were full of distress. The fear she felt upon seeing them crushed Dina; the sight of these repulsive creatures gave her great pain. Afterwards, she described this dream as a great grace because she had only to remember it and she experienced a hatred and fear of sin equal to the sight of the demons. This attitude towards sin would follow her throughout her entire life.
During her childhood years, Dina often demonstrated tendencies to be strong-willed and obstinate. Her parents however, watchfully corrected this bad behavior. Later Dina would say of them, "How grateful I am to my parents for having known how to love me in the fullest sense of the word! For true love presupposes correction. What would have become of me had I been left to the mercy of my pride, my obstinacy, my whims, my unjustifiable roguishness. I would have been all the more ill-humored and unbearable because of being brought up on my own, never being thwarted by other children; and later on, I would never have been able to get on with people or be tolerated without unwittingly causing everyone else to suffer. My God, thank you for making my parents teach me to obey them."
Dina accompanied her mother during her charitable visits to the poor. These works of charity were not without sacrifice. However, the Belanger family conducted them in secret. More often than not, the individuals never knew who their benefactors were. God loves a generous giver and the parents of Dina are certainly recorded in the Book of Grace inscribed in Heaven, because of how they opened their hearts to the poor.
Dina’s education began with the faith. For these holy parents, everything good was simply attributed to God. Because of this Dina learned the advantage of a good relationship with God very quickly. She was a good student; she loved to study and took on her work with much enthusiasm. Often she would go with her parents to convents in Montreal and it was there, witnessing the investiture of a cousin into the convent, that she first became conscious of her desire for the religious life.
After her first confession, the unique attentions and favors she received from Our Lord started to increase. At the age of six, she started her formal education at the Congregation of Notre Dame. She describes herself during this time: "I was extremely shy and sensitive: the slightest thing made me cry. With unrelenting ambition, I aimed at first place; if I failed, I worked quickly to recover lost ground. Obedience came easily to me. I carried out the least recommendation as faithfully and promptly as I did the sternest commands."
Prayer-time at the school was very attractive to Dina. She would often go to evening prayers, with her mother watching from the window. One day, her teacher asked her who her patron saint was. Dina did not know the answer and so said to herself: "Very well! I will be a saint. I will provide a patron for those who will bear my name!"
At the age of eight, Dina began piano lessons and became very proficient in music. It became her own special way of praising God and through the melody, Dina would offer her thoughts of love to Jesus. Soon after, she made her First Holy Communion and Confirmation. She describes this great event in her life: "When I had received Holy Communion in the morning, I had no fear of exterior events" ... "I became much more recollected in prayer, avoiding every unnecessary movement and not raising my eyes when I was reading my prayer book. My conscience was extremely delicate: the slightest suggestion (of evil) made me tremble, for fear of causing my Jesus any pain: insignificant things seemed worthy of great fidelity."
At the age of eleven, Dina received her intermediate grade diploma for piano. She began to compete in various events, although any compliment was always received as a praise to God for her accomplishments. She would say: "Thank you but the credit is not mine; God did it, and I am merely His instrument."
At the age of thirteen, Dina consecrated herself to Mary through the devotion of Blessed Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort. This great blessing gave her much consolation and she abandoned herself to Mary’s care. Her studies continued, and she continued to devote a great deal of her time to her spiritual life. She listened with care to all sermons and other religious instruction.
She says: "I was an extremist by nature; I was dedicated to goodness, so I was determined to achieve perfection. If, one day, when grace left me to my own devices, I had said: ‘I am not going to follow the path of duty any longer’, I would have gone to any length. How good the infinite Master was to constrain me to follow Him!"
When she was sixteen, she asked her parents permission to enter the novitiate. However, because she was so young, they told her to wait. With her characteristic obedience, Dina acquiesced to her parents wishes. During these years of her life, she spent many pleasant hours with her family and friends. She joined several charitable organizations and did much volunteer work, visiting the sick and those in need.
Her music education continued and she earned her diplomas quickly. "This musical study brought me closer to God; I offered him each note I played as an act of perfect love. My hours of practice often turned into a meditation, especially when the pieces were slow and rather reflective in style." Although performing caused her nothing but aversion, she never showed it and was always gracious and pleasing.
At the end of 1915, it was decided that Dina would continue her musical training at the New York Conservatory of Music. Because this was a two-year course, Dina went with two companions who would later join a religious order also. Dina was loath to leave the safety of her parents care, but in a true spirit of obedience, she left for the United States.
The young Canadians stayed at the convent of the Ladies of Jesus and Mary. There was a chapel close to the entrance of the convent, and Dina never lost the opportunity to visit and speak with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Dina immersed herself in her studies with vigor, but with a natural prudence, frequented popular entertainment very seldom.
"My divine Master took the shortest possible route to ensure that I soon arrived at a desire to be humiliated and despised. On His part, this was not achieved in a moment, a day or a week, but was an incessant task – an attitude which was infiltrating my mind, a truth which was taking root in my heart never to be banished. They were invaluable resources from which I learnt to cherish humility as a pearl beyond price, and one day I wanted to gain possession of it. It made me indifferent to the opinion of others... Jesus did not want me to take any pleasure in my efforts, and He permitted that, by my way of acting, others could not suspect what was going on within me. What I am writing at this moment may seem very obscure; the divine action is so profound that I am powerless to put it into words."
During the three years before Dina was to enter the convent, she experienced a terrible spiritual trial. All spiritual exercises became a source of aridity; prayers and meditations were a constant struggle. Despite this, Dina persisted in an intense prayer life, never neglecting even the slightest devotion. It was during the beginning of this trial that she began to hear the voice of Jesus speaking in her heart.
She says: "His light brought unfamiliar representations before the eyes of my imagination. I prayed a great deal about this voice and these representations. I was assured that they were my divine Master teaching me; anything that speaks of obedience, humiliation and self-sacrifice can come only from Him. I begged the grace not to allow myself to be ensnared by the evil spirit... I again told Our Lord of my ardent and sincere desire to love Him with a pure love and of my confidence in His goodness which could not allow me to give way to illusion against my will."
Our Lord helped Dina to understand that when He was speaking to her, than all was calm and at peace. However, when Satan tried to manifest himself as something other than he is, everything became noisy and disturbing. "I want to explain once and for all the expression that I shall use, such as: I saw... Jesus said to me... and other similar expressions. They mean I saw in my imagination, and Jesus told me by an interior voice which every soul hears in the depths of his heart in moments of divine consolation."
To make reparation for sacrileges committed against Jesus and the salvation of souls became two duties that Dina took upon herself to carry out. Throughout the rest of her earthly life, she was to concentrate on these two themes. Her sufferings and sacrifices brought countless souls to Heaven. For three years, Dina continued her studies in music by correspondence. This time filled her with much anticipation, because her love for the cloister through the years had never ceased. Then in the summer of 1920, Jesus spoke to her and told her to join the Congregation of Jesus and Mary. Good-byes’ to her mother and father were said. The day so long desired had come at last.
|Sister Mary Cecile of Rome|
Dina entered the convent on August 11, 1921. Dina’s spiritual darkness intensified to the point that, as the sister’s admitted her within the convent walls, she had a distinct sense of repugnance. In her words: "I felt utterly dry. Far from experiencing the least emotion, my heart was cold as marble, as hard as a rock."
Dina’s postulancy was extremely difficult; the devil was always there to try to discourage her from her life’s mission. However, her intimate union with Jesus protected her and she resolved to put all her old life behind her and begin anew. She would not even allow memories from the past to distract her from her intense desire to follow her new way of life perfectly.
After a retreat while she was still a postulant, Dina made a summary of her plan for the future: "To obey blindly, to suffer with joy, and to love to the point of martyrdom!" Dina clung to her vocation and often said that to go back to the world would have been the cruelest suffering. Mother Superior instructed her to teach young people the piano and Dina undertook this new task with enthusiasm. In her young students, she saw the image of God.
On February 15, 1922, Dina went into the novitiate and took the name of Sister Mary St. Cecilia of Rome. She prayed to St. Cecilia: "Holy spouse of Jesus, my desire is to sing with you: I love my Christ. To honor you, I desire an immortal and noble crown, like yours. In heaven, I want to be adorned with the robes associated with your three claims to glory. Prepare a lyre for me, tune it with your own. Together we will sing a canticle of love, we will compose an eternal symphony of rich chords for the glory of the Eternal."
During the next few months, Dina wished fervently to progress further in holiness. During this time, she spent time writing thoughts and poems to her beloved Jesus, along with teaching music. Her one wish was to remain hidden in the confines of the cloistered life.
Jesus began to favor her with many insights into the divine mysteries. During Lent He shared with Dina a unique understanding of His divine Passion and she gained a greater knowledge of His love for her. "I longed for the moment when I would surrender myself to Jesus, in reality, as His Spouse, committing myself by the holy vows, I received this special permission and the day chosen was a Saturday, the 25th of March, feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin. A happy coincidence!"
On the day of her profession, Dina took as her ideal the complete substitution of herself for her loving Jesus. She wished to remain so united with Him, that her thoughts, words and deeds would come from Him and her will would be entirely subjected to His. She repeated an examination of conscience frequently, always delving deeper and drawing ever closer to her beloved Spouse.
"In this way, I realized that I was an apostle of love. The divine Mendicant convinced me of the truth that men on earth are dependant on one another, for their spiritual as well as their social life. I had a moral responsibility towards all the souls throughout the world, those living at the present time and those who would be created in the future.
"This is the reason: the actions of Jesus are infinite in value; one single act of love offered by Him to the Father could save millions of worlds. Hence, if I remained annihilated, the Savior, hidden beneath the cloak of my exterior being, could freely carry out His pastoral mission, baptizing and purifying souls in His Blood, bringing them to perfection, enabling them to run towards the fragrance of His perfume. But, alas! If I simply hesitated to remain in the state of death, if for one moment I desired to be born again out of dust, then I would interrupt the action of Jesus; perhaps just at that moment He was ready to shed a torrent of graces on the entire universe and, if I placed an obstacle in His way, I would become responsible for the lack of good accomplished because of an absence of divine light. The Master was beginning to trace out for me the nature of the mission about which He had spoken to me some time before I entered the novitiate."
Dina became sick with tuberculosis during this time and began to spend many hours in the infirmary. However, because of her intimate union with Jesus, she often lost count of the days spent there. During the Holy Mass, she would receive visions of celebrations in Heaven which transported her soul into paradise. She would often hear the choirs of Heaven and she said: "I can no longer find pleasure in earthly harmonies and melodies. No! No! Even at their most perfect, they are but a faint murmur, lacking warmth. Oh! How captivating are the heavenly harmonies!"
Jesus continued to ask her to write about whatever she saw or heard. Her understanding of heavenly things grew and so did her love for God. She had many battles with the devil and although she suffered much because of this, by following the counsels of Jesus, she became more virtuous as a result of them.
As her illness progressed, Dina was told to give up her music students. She obeyed with the same willingness she showed in all things, although this new sacrifice cost her very much indeed. Our Lord asked her to accept or perform all acts of self-denial without dwelling on them. Although she was forbidden to go to Mass very often due to her illness, she was there in spirit. Her soul would fly towards her beloved Spouse in the Blessed Sacrament.
During the month of October, 1924, Dina revealed how God inspired her with a hunger for the salvation of souls. She united herself with Jesus to do reparation for the evil that had been done so that souls, who were on the danger of being eternally damned, would be saved and brought to eternal happiness.
God gave Dina to understand that she was nothing and that in accepting His will, her responsibility did not weigh her down, but gave her freedom. He told her that on earth millions of souls were depending on her willingness to conform and abandon herself to the divine action.
On February 16, 1925, Dina was given a special insight into Jesus in the Eucharist. The veil of mystery was torn apart and she beheld God in His true presence. "He is there, my God, infinite Unity, adorable Trinity, under the appearance of a small piece of bread. Jesus is there, in His sacred Humanity, His Heart, His precious Blood, His Soul, His eternal Divinity; He is there, whole and entire, in each Host consecrated throughout the world and in each fragment of consecrated Host." Jesus told her: "You will not possess me more in Heaven, because I have absorbed you totally."
Her spiritual desert continued throughout this time of grace. Dryness, aversion, temptation to discouragement and despair: all of these things she experienced. However, the peace in her soul was never disturbed and she often said that she was content, even in the midst of this spiritual dryness. She was given insight on the angels and saints in Heaven and the Blessed Trinity.
Dina made a vow of total perfection, something which she had wanted to do since she was a novice. Now that her superiors finally gave her permission, her joy was complete. Her submission to the Divine Will grew in leaps and bounds; because of this the devil continued to torment her and above all tried to prevent her from receiving Holy Communion. Many times, it was only because of her obedience that she was able to receive.
Jesus let her know in a special way how the link between souls is so important and especially those who are consecrated to Him in the religious life: "I am letting you see the whole multitude of consecrated souls, to the end of time, so that you will understand how even one soul completely given over to me can radiate on all the other souls. You can see that, through it, my rays reach out into the distance, far into the distance, to the furthest end, meaning that I am doing good until the end of time.
"I call upon all consecrated souls to abandon themselves totally to me, to let themselves be filled by me, to let me act freely in them and to shine through them as I will. I call upon all of them. And you see how few there are who do not refuse me anything. In all this multitude, in each soul, nothing human should be visible, only me, me alone. When my heavenly Father looks upon consecrated souls, he should recognize and see only me in each one of them. Alas! This is far from being the case!
"My little Bride, listen... listen well... If all consecrated souls refused me nothing, if they allowed me to act freely in them all the time, all other souls would be saved. Yes, all other souls would be saved. Seeing only me, his well-beloved Son, in consecrated souls, hearing only my divine voice, my heavenly Father could not refuse them anything... pray and intercede with my divine Father. Intercede, that means praying earnestly, praying untiringly, praying with the certainty of being given what you are asking. Pray and intercede!"
From this moment onwards and for the rest of her life on earth, Dina prayed constantly for the conversion of consecrated souls. Her suffering augmented as she threw herself into the light of God’s grace and worked to wrest souls from the snares of the devil. He fought with her with all his strength; but her trust in the love of Jesus won many souls for Heaven. Although she often felt totally abandoned by God, in those same moments He was showering graces of pardon and purity upon the earth and saving many souls. She said: "I am undertaking a completely new life, a life of consuming love."
On August 15, 1928, Dina Belanger made her perpetual vows in the Congregation of Jesus and Mary. What a great joy she felt as she became the spouse of Christ forever and was united for eternity with Him.
The following year Dina’s health started to decline very quickly. Because she could not write anymore, one of the sisters was always with her to take down the reflections and interior inspirations she received from Our Lord. They said that when they went to visit her in the infirmary, it was like walking into a sanctuary. Her love of suffering found goodness and delight in all the moments of her last days on earth. Although sometimes in excruciating pain, she continued to smile and her face was shining with happiness at being able to suffer for her Jesus.
"This general weakness, this sense of oppression, these violent spasms of pain... they are all a consummation of every moment (of my life)... I feel I am being torn to pieces and destroyed for Him... How good it is!..." As the end approached, she was fully conscious and joined in the prayers for the dying with the other sisters. At about three in the afternoon her breath slowed and she said, "I am suffocating." She left in the same position as St. Therese of Lisieux, almost sitting up in the bed with her gaze fixed on Heaven. Dina died September 4th, 1929, at the age of thirty-three years old.
Cardinal Rouleau, Archbishop of Quebec at that time, wrote to the Mother Superior after reading Dina’s autobiography. He said: "These pages, radiant with faith and divine love, reveal to us the increasingly profound working of Our Lord in the soul of his ‘little Bride’. To read and meditate on these writings can bring only profit, especially to souls consecrated to the Lord."
Indeed, in the life of Blessed Dina Belanger we can find an unfailing faith and hope in Jesus. She was beatified in Rome by Pope John Paul II on March 20th, 1993. Let us follow her example during these troubled times, when evil grips our world and abandon ourselves to God’s loving and merciful care. May God bless you!