He Leadeth Me
Friday Book Pick: He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J.
At any time in life this book is a worthy read; the lessons are so deep and so well taught. He Leadeth Me deserves to be ranked among the old familiar spiritual classics that get “prescribed” in confession and spiritual direction from time to time—books like The Imitation of Christ, The Soul of the Apostolate and The Story of a Soul. But right now, in the midst of this unprecedented coronavirus experience, this particular book stands out as a lighthouse in a dark harbor.
Do you know the story of Fr. Walter Ciszek, the Jesuit priest who was assumed long dead by his community and his family when he reemerged in the United States after 23 years of labor camps, torture, and solitary confinement? This man came face-to-face with death (two examples of many are his having been brought before a firing squad and having nearly been starved to death), and yet he lived to tell about it. His is a story worth knowing. This Servant of God was the all-American son of Polish immigrants who had settled in Pennsylvania, where the rough-and-tumble youth grew up aspiring to be a Jesuit because it was the toughest challenge he could imagine. After the famously long Jesuit formation and his priestly ordination, Fr. Ciszek, following his heart and his long-held love for Russia, answered the call to serve there as a priest.
As history has shown, atheistic communist regimes have little affection for the Catholic Church and less for her priests. Therefore, perhaps it could have been predicted that on trumped-up charges, believed by no one, Fr. Walter Ciszek would be arrested as a “Vatican spy” and go on to suffer intensely at the hands of his Soviet captors. The suffering he endured became a kind of second seminary for him as he learned lessons in trust and surrender that he, perhaps, could not have learned in any other way. He said it himself: “God is a very patient teacher, and I was a most stubborn pupil.”
Fr. Ciszek was convinced that the mysterious workings of divine providence brought about his return to the United States to impart the powerful lessons he had learned to others.
Simply put, Fr. Ciszek, through what he suffered, came to the unflinching conviction that God has a special purpose, a special love, a special providence, for all those He created—all His children. And further, that God’s will can be found in the circumstances, events and details of the moment. This strikes me as a valuable insight to try to apply to the present moment. Can I see the circumstances of the pandemic, the place where I am experiencing it, the people I am experiencing it with, and the unfolding effects, as God’s will for me? “We may just be a little afraid to accept this,” Fr. Ciszek acknowledges, “in all its shattering simplicity, for its consequences in our lives are both terrible and wonderful.”
The implication of Fr. Walter Ciszek’s conviction is that every moment of our lives has a purpose, that every action has value beyond our understanding. Think of what you were doing in the hours before you stopped to read this reflection. What did those activities mean to you? What do they mean to God? No one’s life is insignificant to God, and no moment of a life is insignificant to Him either.
Father concludes his book by putting forth this question: “For what can ultimately trouble a soul that accepts every moment of every day as a gift from the hands of God and strives always to do His will?”
What can trouble us indeed?
Spending some time each day in spiritual reading that leads to prayer will be time well spent. There could be no better book for the remaining days of “lock-down” than this one, written by a man who knew about “lock-down” and found in it the will of God. May it be true for each of us!
Mother Clare, CFR