Yesterday I came back from the Belmont Abbey Apologetics Camp where I spoke on More Christianity to about 75 high school and college kids. Pat Madrid was there and our friends, David and Anne Trufant–owners of the wonderful camps Kahdalea and Chosatonga. There are ideas cooking to expand the camp next summer and offer apologetics and a mountain vacation in North Carolina for adults as well as students.
I had time to finish the classic book by Fr Walter Ciscek–He Leadeth Me. For those who don’t know the story, Fr Ciscek was born to Polish immigrant parents in Pennsylvania in 1904. He trained as a Jesuit and responded to the call to go to Russia as a missionary. After further training in Rome we was posted to a little village in Eastern Poland. The second world war came along and Easter Poland was invaded by the Red Army. Walter, with another priest, joined a group of refugee workers and went into the Ukraine to work in a logging camp. He was arrested and charged with being a Vatican spy. After nine years solitary confinement and intense interrogation and torture he was sentenced to fifteen years hard labor in Stalin’s Siberian slave labor camps. Finally in 1963 he was released and returned home.
Reading about the daily, seemingly meaningless suffering he endured pulled me up short. How soft we are! What weaklings we suburban American Catholics are! As a friend of mine observed recently, “the ordinary upper middle class American lives a life of daily luxury that would have made a Roman emperor blush. Simply the luxury of our air conditioning, our swimming pools, the food that is flown in from around the world, the restaurants and cars and gadgets and houses–it’s all so lush and rich that I blush myself at the riches we enjoy.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that riches are wrong. I believe God wants to bless us and there is nothing wrong with being prosperous. What amazes and disgusts me however, is that in the midst of this stupendous comfort and wealth I hear so many people complaining. Soooo much grumbling and moaning and blaming others. Sooo much immature selfish vanity, so little giving, such mean spirited lack of generosity, and then when they do give they want a brass plaque so everybody knows that they are the donor. Yet, there was Fr Ciszek–every morning for fifteen years getting up at 5am to do fifteen hours of back breaking physical work in the freezing climate of Siberia before crashing into his only private space–a wood plank bunk in a crowded barracks–only to do the same the next morning. Yet he comes through it and writes a sweet and beautiful book about how to find God in the midst of suffering, and how to keep your sanity and do a good and honest days’ work that you can be proud of, and how to minister to his brothers as a priest even though to do so was to risk torture and execution daily.
I’m ashamed of myself. I’m ashamed of myself. I look at the Catholic Church in America and wonder what on earth would happen if we ever had persecution in this country. We’d curl up and die at the first sign of hardship. Why do we think we would do anything different if we cannot even endure a tiny bit of inconvenience for our faith here and now? The problem is that our luxuries, our comforts and our ease have made us soft. We’re spineless creatures, and should anyone come along and challenge our luxury, challenge our soft attitudes, challenge our luxurious self indulgence we cut them down and cut them off.
May the Lord have mercy. Servant of God Walter Ciscek, Ora pro nobis.
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