With God in Russia

Kevin Beckman's picture

My parish had a guest celebrant today: Fr. Michael Shields, missionary to Siberia. Today's Gospel reading was the account of Jesus being served by Mary and Martha. Traditional exegesis holds that Martha represents the active apostolic life while Mary represents the contemplative life. Fr. Shields said that the purely contemplative life is a special vocation to which not everyone is called, but that even the most active lay person, priest, or religious must make some time for contemplation; Blessed Teresa of Calcutta's Sisters of Charity spend hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament every day. Prayer is the nourishment of our soul just as food is nourishment for the body. If we don't eat, we sicken and die. If we don't pray, the life of grace in our soul withers and dies. Prayer is also the fuel for our apostolic work. The lay man who works but doesn't pray quickly burns out. The priest who works but doesn't pray will labor much and have little to show for it when he's done. With the typical clarity of the saints, St. Alphonsus Liguori put it this way: "He who prays will be saved. He who does not pray will be damned."

Several lay faithful from Magadan traveled with Fr. Shields to the US to help him with his fund raising for the mission. Many of them had done time in the Gulag when the Soviet Union still existed. One old woman had fashioned a rosary out of trinkets, fishing line, and left over slag from the camp's smelter back when it was still operating as a prison. Another lady had been a prostitute as a teenager and slept in the streets in thirty below weather before being baptized by Fr. Shields as an adult. They had all suffered but they all persevered. The USSR is dead but life is still hard in Siberia. The message of Fr. Shields's homily was that God is greater than our problems. God has been there for the people of Magadan and he'll be there for you. Christianity will not end all of your suffering but it will enable you to endure suffering in a spirit of love and self-sacrifice, just like our Blessed Lord. This doesn't necessarily mean that you will have the emotion of joy in the midst of suffering; consolations like that are a gift from God. If we are faithful, if we keep the commandments and pray, then even in the depths of our pain or loneliness or desolation, there will still be a corner of our soul where we feel peace because our suffering means something. We are loved by God.

The title of this entry comes from the memoir of Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ: With God in Russia. I strongly recommend it.

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