The Crucible: He Leadeth US

Stanton Skerjanec reminded me in his first blog post that there exists a reader-author relationship that develops when writing, in this case, blog posts. I find this important to highlight because CBC and the New Evangelization have a strong focus on building relationships with others. Relationships form in many ways, but meaningful relationships must be intentional and we must be willing to share a personal part of ourselves with another. Allow me to share with you a personal experience of mine that has had a huge impact on my life…

The summer after my Sophomore year of high school, I experience health issues that placed me into hospitalized inpatient care for the entirety of the summer. I was discouraged and depressed that my whole summer would be spent with limited access to people, but more even more challenging was having to face my ailment head on. That summer was easily one of the most difficult moments in my life, but subsequently one of the most transformative. During those three months, having little else to do, I began to read some of the great Christian authors –C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and a couple others.  Probably the most influencial author I was introduced to was Fr. Walter Ciszek, a Jesuit priest who lived in the mid 1900s. In his book, He Leadeth Me, Fr. Ciszek shares his overwhelming experience while serving as a missionary priest to the Russian people behind the Iron Curtain.

Fr. Ciszek, early on in his life, could be described as a zealous and rebellious youth who decided, against his parents’ wishes, that he was going to become a Roman Catholic priest. But Fr. Ciszek was also very ambitious and so he not only wanted to be a priest, but he hoped to undergo numerous years of training to become a Jesuit priest, learn the Byzantine Rite, and answer Pope Pius XI’s appeal to send missionary priest to the Soviet Union. Fr. Ciszek dedication paid off and he was ordained a priest and granted permission to travel into Russia to begin his missionary work to the refugees in the labor camps. Out of necessity, Fr. Ciszek had to hide his identify as a priest and minister to the Russian Catholicsin secret. However, the first few months he was there, Fr. Ciszek was immediately met with much apathy, and was put to shame by the contrasting zeal of the Communists leaders. Fr. Ciszek was eventually discovered and arrested on the charge of being a Vatican spy. So began the numerous years of interrogation, isolation, and hard labor.

During his imprisonment and interrogation, Fr. Ciszek experienced deep doubts and failed many times to act with courage in the face of his persistent interrogators. During his nearly 23 years of imprisonment, Fr. Ciszek struggle with why God would lead him all the way to Russia only to be imprisoned and have limited access to serve the Russian people. Fr. Ciszek also was physically, mentally, and spiritually challenged through the countless years of isolation, interrogation, and work in the labor camps. After countless interrogation sessions, Fr. Ciszek gave in and signed a false dossier, admitting that he was a “Vatican spy”. The punishment for his “crimes” was 15 years of hard labor at the GULAG. However, before he was sent to the labor camps, he had to endure another four years of interrogations and testing at the prison in Lubianka. During those four years of utter despair and complete loss of hope, Fr. Ciszek was reminded of the words of Christ during His agony in the Garden of Olives:

“Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me…but not as I will, but as thou wilt”.

After reflecting on these words of Christ, Fr. Ciszek experienced a serene peace and overwhelming sense of hope and consolation. The source of this new-found strength in the face of intense difficulty came in his absolute, self-abandonment to the will of God. It was through reading Fr. Ciszek’s experience that I found meaning in my own trial and how to face my own crucible.

In Marine Corp Basic Training, new recruits go through a grueling 13 weeks of training, which is longer and arguably more difficult than basic training for any other branch of the military. However, at the end of the training is a 3-day long Crucible in which recruits get very little sleep and are tested on everything they’ve learned over the previous 12 weeks. A crucible can also refer to a testing point of metal to determine its melting point. In Marine Corp Training, the Crucible is used to test recruits in extreme circumstances to get them to change- to give up their own individual will for that of the collective Corp.

 Fr. Ciszek, likewise was tested to his breaking point before conceding his entire will to the Will of the Father. I think we all, like Fr. Ciszek, try to seek out God in our own lives to some degree or other, but we often times hold back in any particular facet- something that we determined makes us “who we are” and manifests itself in fear, anxiety, pride, selfishness, or self-worth. The crucible brings us to a testing point where we are left with no other option but to give an absolute gift of self by abandoning our will in its entirety. Once done, we can learn to find God’s will in all things- not as something that we will find in the future. “Perfection (then) consist(s) simply in learning to discover God’s will in every situation and then in bending every effort to do what must be done.” (Ciszek, 1974). It sounds so simple and yet is probably the hardest challenge one could every face. It is, as Fr. Ciszek puts it, the “final test of all faith and all belief, and it is present in each of us, lurking unvoiced in a closet of our mind we are afraid to open.” But once you’ve reached that point of total, uncalculated self-abandonment to the Will of God, there is an interior freedom and peace to be had.

My challenge for myself and everyone then is this: Ask yourself what in your life do you hold back from God? Where do you fail to abandon yourself totally to the Will of the Father? If you have not already experienced a “crucible” of your own, what in your life is so near and dear that you couldn’t imagine giving up? It’s often times in these crucibles- testing points- where we find we must abandon our Will most completely and without reservation. Although, personal trials are not something you have to go out finding for yourself in order to completely surrender self- sometimes it’s those little crucibles we face every day that teach us to surrender our will. Whatever it may be, find your crucible and face it head on, without fear or reservation. This advent season, I pray that each and every one of you are able to offer the gift of your will completely to that of Will of God, and so to experience the interior freedom and joy of self-sacrifice.