Fr. Walter Ciszek was ordained a Catholic priest in 1937. Born in Pennsylvania to Polish immigrants, he was sent to eastern Poland as a missionary. Just two years later, the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland. Fr. Ciszek followed the train of Poles into the Soviet Union. He functioned clandestinely as a priest until his arrest in 1941. Under torture he signed a confession that he was a Vatican spy. He would spend five years in the infamous Lubyanka prison, mostly in isolation, as well as fifteen additional years in hard labor – shoveling coal onto ships, working in mines, etc. He has written two books of his experiences: With God in Russia and He Leadeth Me.
In his second and spiritual-focused book, Fr. Ciszek recounts an episode with a Soviet/Communist interrogator – which would be common – during his latter four years in Lubyanka. After signing the fake-dossier, Ciszek was expected to ‘cooperate’ with the communists. The priest found himself afraid amidst spiritual desolation. At one point he said the blackness and hopelessness overwhelmed him. He could only see two possibilities: cooperation with the communists or execution. For that one moment, the Jesuit had lost all hope and faith in God. He had lost the sight of God. He was ashamed.
What did he do? He turned immediately to Our Lord Whom he had forgotten. “I had to pray that He would never let me fail to remember Him and trust in Him. I pleaded my helplessness to face the future without Him. I told Him that my own abilities were now bankrupt and He was my only hope.”
Almost immediately Fr. Ciszek was bolstered by the thoughts of Our Lord’s Agony in the Garden. Jesus said, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” “It was total self-surrender, a stripping away of all human fears, of all (human) doubts about his own abilities to withstand the passion, of every last shred of self, including self doubt.” He calls this realization a conversion to live a total self-abandonment to God’s Will. He was left with peace and clarity in total trust of Our Lord rather than himself. “No danger could threaten me, no fear could shake me, except the fear of losing sight of Him. The future, hidden as it was, was hidden in His Will and therefore acceptable to me no matter what it might bring.”
The interrogator recognized the change in him quickly. There was no fear. There was a peaceful strength. When pushed to cooperation with the communists, particularly to return to Rome and act as a Soviet spy, the priest simply refused. With the threat of execution, the priest peacefully abandoned himself to Our Lord. “I think I smiled. I knew then I had won.”
Fr. Ciszek was not put before a firing squad, but sent to Siberia to the labor camps.
What a lesson for you and me in our present day!