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Humility - a Virtue for all Seasons!

Humility - a Virtue for all Seasons!:

First Trial in Lumber Camp Teplaya-Gora

Fr. Walter yearned to preach the Gospel to those enslaved behind the Iron Curtain. His chance came when, during World War II, the Soviets overran Poland, where he was stationed. He began work among the lumber workers in the Ural Mountains. How quickly was his dream crushed. Supervision so tight, that it was nearly impossible to speak openly about God. Even worse, the workers themselves had no interest to hear about God. Propaganda, fear and the struggle for existence had dulled any sensitivity for the supernatural. In delusion, he was tempted to run away. It all seemed a colossal mistake; it wasn't anything like he had expected.

"And then one day, together, it dawned on us. God granted us the grace to see the solution to our dilemma, the answer to our temptation. It was the grace quite simply to look at our situation from His viewpoint rather than from ours. It was the grace not to judge our efforts by human standards, or, by what we ourselves wanted or expected to happen, but rather, according to God's design. It was the grace to understand that our dilemma, our temptation, was of our own making and existed only in our minds; it did not and could not coincide with the real world ordained by God and governed ultimately by His will.

Our dilemma at Teplaya-Gora came from our frustration at not being able to do what we thought the will of God ought to be in this situation, at our inability to work as we thought God would surely want us to work, instead of actually accepting the situation itself as His will. ...

The simple [humble] soul who each day makes a morning offering of 'all the prayers, works, joys and suffering of this day' - and who then acts upon it by accepting unquestioningly and responding lovingly to all the situations of the day as truly sent by God - has perceived with an almost childlike faith the profound truth about the will of God. To predict what God's will is going to be, to rationalize about what His will must be, is at once a work of human folly and yet the subtlest of all temptations.

The plain and simple truth is that His will is what He actually wills to send us each day, in the way of circumstances, places, people, and problems. ... The temptation is to overlook these things as God's will. The temptation is to look beyond these things, precisely because they are so constant, so petty, so humdrum and routine, and to seek to discover instead some other and nobler 'will of God' in the abstract that better fits our notion of what His will should be. That was our temptation at Teplaya-Gora. The answer lies in understanding that it is these things - and these things alone, here and now, at this moment - that truly constitute the will of God. The challenges lies in learning to accept this truth [humbly] and act upon it, every moment of every day" (He Leadeth Me, excerpts pp. 42-45).

Second Trial in Prison

Shortly thereafter, Fr. Walter was discovered and sent to prison. He describes his trial: "Helplessness is the word. If I had felt frustrated at Teplaya-Gora, because I could not work among the people the way I had hoped, that feeling of frustration was as nothing compared to this sinking feeling of helplessness and powerlessness. ... To both prison officials and fellow prisoners alike, I was a thing of no value, I was worthless. And so added to the common feeling of helplessness and powerlessness, I suffered the hollow and sickening sense of being useless as well.

As I had done in every other crisis, I turned to God in prayer. I sought His help, His sympathy, His consolation. Since I was suffering especially for His sake, since I was despised precisely because I was one of His priests, He could not fail to comfort me when He Himself, in His human life, had fitted Isaiah's description of 'despised and the most abject of men'. He too had sought for someone to comfort Him and had found none. Surely He would sympathize with my plight; surely He would comfort and console me.

His way of consoling me, however, as had happened so often in the past, was to increase my self-knowledge and my understanding of both His providence and the mystery of salvation. When I turned to Him in prayer in the depths of my humiliation, when I ran to Him utterly dejected because I felt useless and despised, the grace I received in return was the light to recognize how large an admixture of self had crept into the picture. I had been humiliated and I was feeling sorry for myself. No one appreciated me as a priest, and I was indulging in self-pity. I was being treated unfairly, unjustly, out of prejudice. There was no one to listen to my sad story and offer me sympathy, so I was feeling sorry for myself. That was really the extent of my 'humiliation'. ...

In how may other ways, too, had I allowed this admixture of self, this luxury of feeling sorry for myself, to cloud my vision and prevent me from seeing the current situation with the eyes of God? No man, no matter what his situation is ever without value, is ever useless in God's eyes. No situation is ever without its worth and purpose in God's providence.

Many men feel frustrated, or disappointed, or even defeated, when they find themselves face to face with a situation or an evil they cannot do much about. Poverty, addiction, alcoholism, social injustice, racial discrimination, hatred and bitterness, war, etc. - all can serve as a source of bitter frustration and hopelessness. But God does not expect a man single-handedly to change the world, or overthrow all evil, or cure all ills. He does expect him, though, to act as He would have him act in these circumstance ordained by His will and His providence. Nor will God's grace be lacking to help him act. ...

What each man can change, first of all, is himself. And each will have - indeed, must have - some influence on the people God brings into his life each day. He is expected as a Christian to influence them for good" (ibid., pp. 49-54).

Third Trial at the crucial Interrogation

Later, accused of being a Vatican spy, Fr. Walter was transferred to the Lubianka Prison in Moscow. The KGB boasted of doing "their best work” there, that is, by eliciting confessions through torture. Fr. Walter resisted terror, intimidations, beatings and interminable interrogations night and day for a period of 12 months; his strength was at an end. And he kept waiting for the Holy Spirit to intervene as he knew He should. ...

The show-down came. A pistol was put to his head and he was told to sign the confession, or get ready to 'sign out!' Still, the Holy Spirit was silent! In that terrible silence, he buckled and signed the confession, a political weapon against the Catholic Church.

Back in his cell he trembled uncontrollably. Why hadn't God, at least, let him die of a heart attack before signing the papers.? "I had trusted in Him and His Spirit to give me a voice and wisdom against all my adversaries. I had confounded no one, but had myself been totally broken and confounded. ...

Little by little, surely under His inspiration and His grace, I began to wonder about myself and my prayer. Why did I feel this way? The sense of defeat and failure was easy enough to explain after that episode in the interrogator's office, but why so strong a sense of guilt and shame? I had acted in panic, I had yielded under the threat of death. Why should I hold myself so fully responsible, why feel so guilty, for actions taken without full deliberation or full consent of will? ...

Slowly, reluctantly, under the gentle proddings of grace, I faced the truth that was at the root of my problem and my shame. The answer was a single word: 'I'. I was ashamed because I knew in my heart that I had tried to do too much on my own, and I had failed. I felt guilty because I realized, finally, that I had asked God's help but had really believed in my own ability to avoid evil and to meet every challenge. I had spent much time in prayer over the years, I had come to appreciate and thank God for His providence and care ... but I had never really abandoned myself to it. ... In short, I felt guilty and ashamed because in the last analysis I had relied almost completely on myself in this most critical test - and I had failed.

Had I not even set the terms upon which the Holy Spirit was to intervene in my behalf? Had I not expected Him to prompt me to give an answer I had already predetermined was the answer I would give? I had not really left myself open to the Spirit. I had in fact, long ago decided what I expected to hear from the Spirit and when I did not hear precisely that I had felt betrayed. Whatever else the Spirit might have been telling me at that hour, I could not hear. Learning the full truth of our dependence upon God and our relation to His will is what the virtue of humility is all about. For humility is truth, the full truth, the truth that encompasses our relation to God the Creator and through Him to the world He has created and to our fellowmen. And what we call humiliations are the trials by which our more complete grasp of this truth is tested. It is self that is humiliated; there would be no 'humiliation' if we had learned to put self in its place, to see ourselves in proper perspective before God and other men. And the stronger the ingredient of self develops in our lives, the more severe must our humiliations be in order to purify us. That was the terrible insight that dawned upon me in the cell at Lubianka as I prayed, shaken and dejected, after my experience with the interrogator.

The Spirit had not abandoned me, for the whole experience has been His work. The sense of guilt and shame I felt was rooted in my failure to put grace ahead of nature, my failure to trust primarily in God rather than in my own powers. I had failed and I was shaken to the roots, but it was a salutary shaking. ... It was not the Church that was on trial in Lubianka. It was not the Soviet Government or the KGB versus Walter Ciszek. It was God versus Walter Ciszek. God was testing me by this experience like gold in the furnace. Thanks be to God!... I had learned... how totally I depended on Him for everything even in my survival and how foolish had been my reliance on self.

The greatest grace God can a man is to send him a trial that he cannot bear with his own powers - and then sustain him with His grace so he may endure to the end and be saved” (ibid., excerpts pp. 78-82). (Fr. Walter Ciszek's cause for beatification was introduced some years ago in Rome.)