Catholicism is a curious thing. The beliefs, the practices, the traditions are all so lovely but can seem so obscure to the outsider. Take for example the Communion of Saints. We Catholics believe that those who have gone before us, and lived worthy lives are still accessible to us here and now. They are 'in heaven' but also where heaven and earth meet - (where there is love)- they are also present. And they are not just present in a ghostly-luminous-cue-the-choir-music sort of way; they are to be a real and tangible help to us here, on the other side of the veil, who could certainly use some assistance.
It is well enough to say your prayers, and read saintly books that inspire us by their example, but even better when we are personally touched. God, in his goodness to me, has always found a way to send a helper to me when I am really in a spot and I am always very grateful. In the past I have had just the right book fall off a shelf at just the right time or heard a homily where a priest will mention something a saint has said that just cannot be a coincidence and off I go, encouraged by the word.
This past week after going through various difficulties, I quite accidentally stumbled onto a website of Fr. Walter Ciszek. I knew it was more than a coincidence. He is on the path to canonization in the church. Some of you may have read his book With God in Russia which is an outstanding work on the time he spent (about 25 years) in the Russian Gulag and the infamous Lubyanka prison. The book which was co-written, is an account of the various tortures he endured in arctic temperatures, and how he did so, it is certainly a worthy read.
The lesser known, but in my humble opinion superior work, is his memoir called He Leadeth Me. It is the spiritual account of what he endured during the same time frame. I read it years ago and was touched beyond measure by the work. In this account, there is no heroism at all. He simply tell us how each day went, and how horribly he failed to meet the demands he felt were before him as a Christian. Almost every page was filled with personal failure, betrayal, heartache,distress,cowardice, loneliness, less than worthy efforts on his part and that of others. Yet shockingly, over the course of the book you come to see his soul and its magnificent struggle towards a life of Grace. It is the story of a perfect failure turned into more perfect success, simply because he persevered.
There are so many times in all of our lives when that is in fact all we are really being asked to do. Stay in the game for one more day. Despite how we feel, despite our failures, despite how others have treated us, or we have treated others. Forget about the heroics or the glory of it all, we must simply keep going. But to keep going is really more than enough.To keep going can sometimes be a great heroism in itself. I am happy to be learning this lesson right now, and even happier for feeling heaven reached out to teach it to me.
The future, hidden as it was, was hidden in His will and therefore acceptable to me no matter what it might bring. The past, with all its failures, was not forgotten; it remained to remind me of the weakness of human nature and the folly of putting any faith in self.
Fr. Walter Ciszek
Fr. Walter Ciszek