HE LEADETH ME
by Fr Walter J Ciszek SJ
(Ignatius Press, 1995, 202pp, $29.90. ISBN: 978-0-89870-546-1. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Many people regard the 1970s as a time of great turbulence and uncertainty within the Church. However, one gem to emerge from this period, which Ignatius Press reprinted some years ago is He Leadeth Me by Fr Walter Ciszek.
Written as a sequel to With God in Russia, Fr Ciszek states in his prologue that He Leadeth Me complements his previous book.
Although both books cover his life in the former Soviet Union, With God in Russia provides the outline, whereas He Leadeth Me is essentially a spiritual reflection on the events of his life there .
An American Jesuit of Polish origin, Fr Ciszek volunteered to join the Russian mission while still a Jesuit student.
Established during Pius XI's pontificate, the mission's purpose was to train and ordain priests for the Russian rite with the intention of sending them to Russia should the opportunity arise.
Fr Ciszek completed his studies at the Russicum in Rome before being appointed to a Russian rite parish in Albertyn in what was then Eastern Poland, near the border with the Soviet Union.
Although the focus in this volume is on his spiritual reflections rather than on the events themselves, Fr Ciszek makes some references to the biographical details so as to contextualise his reflections.
When Soviet forces occupied Eastern Poland in September 1939, Fr Ciszek's parish was closed. He and another priest made the decision to travel into the heart of the Soviet Union disguised as labourers, so as to minister to Catholics.
They were posted to the Urals and conducted a clandestine ministry, which ended in June 1941.
Following Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union, Fr Ciszek was one of thousands arrested by the NKVD and sent to the feared Lubyanka Prison in Moscow, where he spent the next five years during which there were frequent interrogations.
Found guilty of being a US spy, he was sentenced to hard labour in a gulag in Siberia. Undeterred, as in the labour camp in the Urals, he conducted a clandestine ministry.
This frequently involved performing heavy labour on an empty stomach, so that he could observe the Eucharistic fast (which at that time was from midnight) so he could celebrate Mass either during the lunchtime break or after work.
Upon his release, Fr Ciszek was permitted to live in Norilsk. Later, the KGB ordered him to move because his pastoral work as a priest was proving too successful.
The same thing would happen to him following his move to Krasnoyarsk, where he worked full time as a priest. He then relocated to Abakan where he was far more circumspect in his priestly ministry.
Fr Ciszek was eventually repatriated to the USA in 1963 in exchange for some Soviet spies.
Some common themes emerge in Fr Ciszek's reflections, one of which is the need for Christians to see the events of their lives as opportunities for them to grow in holiness and in love for God.
Similarly, Christians should not become despondent when things don't work out, nor when apostolic activities are curtailed.
He Leadeth Me also contains some beautiful reflections on the Eucharist. Being deprived of the opportunity to receive the Eucharist for lengthy periods, and the difficulties he endured at other times in celebrating Mass and distributing communion are salutary reminders for those of us reading this book not to take the Eucharist for granted.
Fr Ciszek's reflections on the Church are just as timely now as when he wrote them. He argues that no matter what grievances a person has with the Church, they should never leave it, because it is the mystical body of Christ: Catholics have an obligation to "seek a solution within the Church and not outside it" (p. 184).
He Leadeth Me is a moving and inspiring reflection, written by someone who suffered greatly as a priest to bring Christ to others, while at the same time retaining an optimistic outlook. This work is highly recommended reading.
Michael E. Daniel is a regular contributor to AD2000.