Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What a Labor Camp Can Teach Us…

What can a labor camp in Siberia teach us about God’s will? Let me count the ways! Better yet, let Father Walter Ciszek, Servant of God, count the ways.

One of the best books on knowing and accepting God’s will in everyday circumstances can be found in He Leadeth Me, by Fr. Ciszek. It is a very readable two hundred plus page book; published by Ignatius Press. Written in 1972, approximately ten years after returning from the Soviet Union, Fr. Ciszek takes the reader through his spiritual journey during the dark days of the Soviet prisons and labor camps of Siberia.

As a Jesuit priest, Father Walter had a dream: He wanted to preach and minister to the Russian people. His dream was realized in 1940. With two of his fellow Jesuits, he made it into the Russia under a pseudo-identity. However, in 1941, he was arrested under charge of being a “Vatican spy.” First, he was sentenced to four to five year in solitary confinement in a prison in Moscow. After trying to maintain his sanity in absolute solitude, he was then condemned to several years of hard labor in Siberia with barely enough food and clothing to stay alive.

In hindsight, Fr. Ciszek viewed his trials in solitary confinement as a time of preparation and purification. The time spent alone for so long- praying, rehearsing the Mass over and over again in his mind, meditating on God and waiting on Him -prepared him for the great undertaking of ministering to his prison mates in the labor camps of Siberia.

By Divine Providence he received bread and wine to celebrate Mass in secret on a fairly regular basis. He gave retreats to priests and laymen alike. He provided spiritual direction; this was especially beneficial for prison mates who were on the brink of despair. All of these priestly duties were performed at the risk of endangering his life. The penalty for such illegal activity was starvation, extra labor, torture and even death.

Like so many Christians, Father Walter Ciszek went into God’s work expecting one thing and getting something totally unexpected. Quite often, the Lord inspires in us a passion or a vision for some mission without feeling the need to communicate every last detail to us; especially those seemingly impossible circumstances we have yet to encounter. So that we can burrow our way through the obstacles, God gives us a kind of basic training; which is to allow circumstances to contradict our mission before it even begins.

With the passion to serve, the Lord tells us to wait as He did with Fr. Walter in the quiet years of solitary confinement. His quest to minister to souls in need seemed to be on hold indefinitely; or better yet, it appeared to be a lost cause.

One of the greatest contributions this book has to offer for today’s Christian is to see that our daily circumstances is the content of God's will for us. To this end, he writes: “Ultimately, we come to expect God to accept our understanding of what his will ought to be and help us to fulfill that, instead of learning to see and accept his will in the real situations in which he places us daily.”

More on the next blog.

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