Friday, March 28, 2008

I Crossed

I Crossed
For Fr. Walter J. Ciszek, S.J.

I knew that I must abandon myself entirely to the will of the Father and live from now on in the spirit of self-abandonment to God. And I did it. I can only describe the experience as a sense of “letting go”, giving over totally my last effort or even any will to guide the reins of my own life. It is all too simply said, yet that one decision has affected every subsequent moment of my life. I have to call it a conversion.

I had always trusted in God. I had always tried to find his will, to see his providence at work. I had always seen my life and my destiny as guided by his will. At some moments more consciously than others, I had been aware of his promptings, his call, his promises, his grace. At times of crisis, especially, I had tried to discover his will and to follow it to the best of my ability. But this was a new vision, a totally new understanding, something more than just a matter of emphasis. Up until now, I had always seen my role — man’s role — in the divine economy as an active one. Up to this time, I had retained in my own hands the reins of all decisions, actions, and endeavors; I saw it . . . as my task to “cooperate” with his grace, to be involved to the end in the working out of salvation. God’s will was “out there” somewhere, hidden, yet clear and unmistakable. It was my role — man’s role — to discover what it was and then conform my will to that, and so work at achieving the ends of his divine providence. I remained — man remained — in essence the master of my own destiny. Perfection consisted simply in learning to discover God’s will in every situation and then bending every effort to do what must be done.

Now, with sudden and almost blinding clarity and simplicity, I realized I had been trying to do something with my own will and intellect that was at once too much and mostly all wrong. God’s will was not hidden somewhere “out there” in the situations in which I found myself; the situations themselves were his will for me. What he wanted was for me to accept these situations as from his hands, to let go of the reins and place myself entirely at his disposal. He was asking of me an act of total trust, allowing for no interference or restless striving on my part, no reservations, no exceptions, no areas where I could set conditions or seem to hesitate. He was asking a complete gift of self, nothing held back. It demanded absolute faith: faith in God’s existence, in his providence, in his concern for the minutest detail, in his power to sustain me, and in his love protecting me. It meant losing the last hidden doubt, the ultimate fear that God will not be there to bear you up. It was something like that awful eternity between anxiety and belief when a child first leans back and lets go of all support whatever — only to find that the water truly holds him up and he can float motionless and totally relaxed. . . .

Whatever the trials of the moment, whatever the hardships or sufferings, more important than all these was the knowledge that they had been sent by God and served his divine providence. I could not always fathom the depths of his providence or pretend to understand his wisdom, but I was secure in the knowledge that by abandoning myself to his will I was doing as perfectly as I could his will for me.

Spiritual freedom of this sort, as I knew from bitter experience, is not something that can be attained overnight or ever possessed in its final form. Every new day, every new hour of every day, every new circumstance and situation, every new act is a new opportunity to exercise and grow in this freedom. What is required for growth is an attitude of acceptance and openness to the will of God, rather than some planned approach or calculated method. Even ascetical practices such as penances, fasting, or mortifications can be hindrances rather than helps if they are self-imposed. Striving instead to eliminate self-will, to accept God’s will revealed in the circumstances of daily life, is the surest way to achieve growth in conformity to the will of God. It will provide more than enough virtue to be practiced, suffering to be sustained, pain to be borne; more important still, it will make us fit instruments to achieve his designs, not only for our own salvation but for others as well. The service of God must take preference over all else.

A spirituality based on complete trust in God, therefore, is the surest guarantee of peace of soul and freedom of spirit. In it the soul must learn to act not on its own initiative, but in response to whatever demands are imposed by God in the concrete instances of each day. Its attention must be centered precisely and primarily on God’s will as revealed and manifested in the people, places, and things he sets before us, rather than on the means required to fulfill it. Then no matter what the means demand — suffering, risk, loneliness, or physical hardships such as hunger or sickness — the consciousness of fulfilling God’s will in accepting them makes the sacrifice easy and the burden light. There is no other reason to accept sacrifice and mortification; indeed to seek them for any other motive than conformity to the will of God is the sign of some spiritual distortion. But accepting whatever comes or happens as the will of God, no matter what it costs spiritually, psychologically, or physically, is the surest and quickest way to a freedom of soul and spirit that surpasses all understanding and explanation. . . .

God in his providence does not leave men at peace until they are converted in a crisis that, sooner or later, must come to every heart. God’s grace demands the total transformation of man, for man belongs to God. Only in faith, only by a change of heart, can a man enter into the kingdom of God. Sooner or later man must learn that this changing and unstable world cannot be the source of his security, of true peace of heart. “Seek first the kingdom of God,” says the Lord, “and all these things will be added to you.” That is the source of our ultimate peace and security — God’s providence — but we must learn to accept him on faith, to seek his will in all things and follow it, to place our confidence and trust completely in him. Once we have done that, we must live in that spirit daily in all we do, in all we say, in all we think. And living in that manner, whatever we do here on earth will help to spread the kingdom of God.

Our primary responsibility, then, the main object of all our efforts, must be the transformation of ourselves, of our hearts and our lives. Insofar as we succeed at this, we promote the spreading of God’s kingdom, for by doing this, we are at the same time disposing ourselves to help others and contribute even further to the spreading of the kingdom. What this means in the concrete is that each of us must faithfully fulfill the duties of our daily life. The circumstances and people that God each day presents to us through his providence offer us the opportunity to perform action after action in proof of our dedication to the kingdom. Whether we are married and taking care of home and family, or studying in school, or working in an office or a factory or on a farm, whether we are dedicated to the priestly or religious life, matters little — in whatever we do, we must always seek first the kingdom of God. That is, all of our actions of every day must be accepted as from God and referred back to him, must be done in a way that fulfills his will, for in this way alone is the kingdom of God promoted and spread on earth.

We experience daily just how difficult it is, therefore, to promote the kingdom of God in our personal lives by fulfilling his will in every respect. No one who has tried seriously to live each day in this way will say it is an easy task. It can only be done with the help of God’s grace. That grace is always given to us, but we must learn to recognize it in the people and circumstances presented to us by God’s providence, in the thoughts and inspirations that tug at our minds and our hearts. We know that we do not always respond to God’s grace, for his grace always demands of us sacrifice, renunciation of self-will, effort, and an untiring spirit of dedication — and the practice of these things does not come easily to the young, or the tired adult, or the old. Yet that is what the kingdom of God is all about.

— Walter J. Ciszek, S.J., with Daniel L. Flaherty, S.J., He Leadeth Me, Ignatius Press, 1995 (originally published by Doubleday & Company, 1973), pp. 76–77, 159–160, 168–169.

See also:

An Easter in Siberia (1958)

Monday, May 22, 2006

“Because there are priests . . . .”

“the people”

And: Jennifer’s Favorite Links.

O will be confirmed this (Friday) evening at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. She has chosen the name Isabel. Barbara Palumbo is her sponsor.

Sunday, 30 March 2008, 8:43 p.m.+:

Father Walter Ciszek, Servant of God, please intercede for M’s aunt, Sister Dorothy A. Flood, CSJ.

So ends this blog.

After  Life