Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lenten Reading...

This Lent, I embarked on He Leadeth Me, by Fr. Walter Ciszek. Several years back, I read his first book, With God in Russia, which I loved. And I heard that his second book was just as powerful.

In a nutshell. Fr. Ciszek was an American Jesuit priest who worked in a mission in Poland, and ultimately in the former Soviet Union during World War II. While in the Soviet Union, he was arrested and charged with being a spy and enemy of the state, and sentenced to 16 years of hard labor in Siberia. With God in Russia was a lengthy description of his time in the labor camp and how he survived. He Leadeth Me is more what I would call "spiritual reading;" it is divided into themes, although it does follow a loose chronology, and focuses solely on how he maintained his spiritual life through such a trying event.

Fr. Ciszek spends a lot of time on how he gradually came to abandon himself totally into God's hands and plan, and how he realized that in the past, when he *thought* he was doing God's will, he was actually still holding back. I was fascinated by his details of how he saw his work as his prayer and offering to God, and how he managed to still surreptitiously say daily Mass. Towards the end, he focuses on the time he spent after his sentence was fulfilled but before he could leave the country. He describes the faith of the Russian people, despite the constant state indoctrination into atheism, as so endearing and strong. Even though there was "freedom of religion" at this time, no prostylizing was permitted, even to the extent of parents bringing their own children to church! So, people would seek out Fr. Ciszek secretly, asking to have their children baptized, marriages blessed, and seasonal traditions carried out. This made him even more worthy of suspicion by the government, naturally. I just loved his descriptions of saying Mass in someone's house, blessing Easter food and hearing confessions for 12 hours at a time in a tent, and generally carrying out his priestly vocation in the conditions dealt to him. It was exciting and heartwarming.

It took me awhile to get through this book, although it's not very look, about 200 pages. I used it as a sort of lectio divina, underlining passages that I wanted to go back to, and only reading a small amount each night so that I could dwell on it. It was really very good, and I highly recommend it to add to your queue of spiritual reading.

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