Like Fr. Ciszek we can learn to do the will of God if we attempt to do everything with a bit more love than we might at first think we can offer. With practice, we can learn to take self out of the middle of that which is being asked, letting God replace it with the graces needed to get through painful or difficult situations. Fr. Ciszek’s example teaches that our very presence is more important than anything we can or cannot do: it is about being present to God in our prayer, opening ourselves to that which comes our way, asking for the grace to act in love, and accepting the path which is before us. If we fail along the way, we can turn to God for help, but what is most important is that we keep trying. Similarly, if all we can do is share our presence with others, be assured that it is the best gift to be offered. We can learn how to be as other Christs, knowing that even the smallest deed done with love is a great gift to God. This is what Fr. Ciszek came to understand. He learned to let go of getting stuck in self-pity and found freedom in embracing the presence of God in the midst of horrific conditions. In this, he became holy, and so too, can we.
©Michele L. Catanese
* The quotes are all from He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter J. Ciszek, S.J. The specific quotes here can be found on pages 48-50. ~ Fr. Ciszek wrote a number of books. The first was called With God in Russia (written with the assistance of Daniel J. Flaherty, S.J.) and was intended as a memoir, written at the behest of his Jesuit superiors. However, about 10 years later he wrote He Leadth Me (again with the help of Fr. Flaherty) and said it was the book he wanted to write in order to say all that he was not able to write earlier. Later he wrote With God in America: The Spiritual Legacy of an Unlikely Jesuit.
For more on the life and experience of Fr. Ciszek here are two short, but excellent biographies:
1. I chose to use my photo of bluebonnets in the Texas Hill Country because they are a sure sign that Spring is here. Lent happens as winter turns into spring, and so I also think of these flowers as a symbol of new life. They bring joy to the hearts of the many who view them. Viewing a carpet of them in a field is definitely life-giving.
2. This painting is St. Francis Giving His Cloak to a Poor Man by Giotto. It is the second of the 28 panels in his fresco on the walls of the Upper Church in the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi, Italy. I chose this because St. Francis of Assisi is another outstanding example of someone who made a radical transformation from entitled rich kid to one of the truest disciples of Jesus who ever lived. He learned to become totally selfless in everything he did, even when he had to overcome his fear and utter distaste for lepers and the poor. https://www.wga.hu/html_m/g/giotto/assisi/upper/legend/franc02.html
3. This is another of my photos, taken on the Big Island of Hawaii. These small yellow birds were relatively prevalent, a sight that continued to grab my attention because of their vivid color. I chose them with the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in mind: "Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they?... So do not worry...." (Matthew 6:25-34)
4. Photo of Fr. Walter J. Ciszek, S.J.: This is the one the Jesuits have used on his prayer card. You can find it at one of the sites listed above.
5. Russian Arctic, East Siberian Coast, n.1, painted by David McEown: I chose this water color because it seemed to convey the bleak Siberian winter. It contains a bit of beauty which is present even in the bleakest places, as seen in the colors which seem to be reflected from sky and snow.
6. Icon, Nuestro Salvador De Las Sandias by Fr. William Hart McNichols: I chose this icon because it conveys a sense of peace and healing. Jesus is holding a symbol of peace which is also a symbol of the life which comes with interior freedom. You can find this icon at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/nuestro-salvador-de-las-sandias-012-william-hart-mcnichols.html
7. This is one of my favorite images of all. It is a sculpture of The Creation of Adam by God which is found in Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France. It is one of the most tender, and thus consoling, images I have ever seen. It speaks of the love with which God created us: the breath of His breath and the clay fashioned just right so that we might have life as described in Genesis 1 & 2.
Finally, a thank you to the dear friend who inspired this entry: In gratitude that you are such an inspiration to me and to so many others, Fr. Richard.
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