To Russia, with Love!

Gaudate Sunday – Cycle B

Is 61:1-2a, 10-11 Psalm Lk 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54. 1 Thes 5:16-24 Jn 1:6-8, 19-28

A week of rejoicing
I often marvel at the brilliance of God’s plans for us. This past week has been one huge Marian celebration for our parish. On Friday we celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Our fiesta began on Thursday night with Mass at 11PM that lasted until at least 1AM in the morning. Then, Friday night we again had a Mass with the Knights of Columbus, the Adoracion Nocturna, Matachinas and Mariachis, what a joyful celebration. I think that it is fitting that we end such a joy-filled week with Gaudate Sunday. Why? Gaudate is the Latin word for “Rejoice!” – And to show our joy we wear pink (excuse me Rose) vestments because we are overjoyed at the fact that our celebration of Christmas is only a week away!

Immaculate Conception – Father Walter Ciszek
Not only did we celebrate the Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe this past week, but on Monday we celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Which is the day when we honor the conception of Our Blessed Mother Mary in the womb of her mom, St. Anne. Monday is also the 24th Anniversary of the death of Servant of God Father Walter Cizsek.

Gangbanger to Priest
Walter Ciszek was born the son of Polish parents in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. He grew up a bully, and stubborn like his father. He was known to be “a tough” – if we met him today on the streets we would call him a gang-banger.

When Walter was in 8th grade he decided to become a priest. His father was shocked. Priests were meant to be holy men, and Walter was as far from being holy as he could imagine. However, Walters mom prevailed over his father and soon Walter went away to a Junior Seminary in Michigan.

To Russia – the heart of Christian Suffering
While he was in the seminary, he read the biography of St. Stanislaus Kostka who walked from Warsaw to Rome. St. Stanislaus inspired Walter to join the Jesuits and prepare to go to Russia, where the Communists had recently taken over and killed over 150,000 priests.

Walter studied in Rome, and when he was ordained he was sent to Poland, when in September of 1939 Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded and destroyed the school he was running. Father Walter snuck into Soviet Russia under the assumed the name of Wladimir Lypinski and went to work as a lumberjack in the forests of the Ural Mountains. This was the last that the world knew about him, as he disappeared into the forests of Russia to work as a lumberjack during the day and to hear confession, celebrate the Mass and talk with people about God at night.

To the Gulag
In 1940 he was arrested by the secret police and spent 5 years in solitary confinement, being tortured by the secret police before being sentenced to 15 years in the Gulag – at a slave labor camp in Siberia north of the Arctic Circle, where he loaded coal onto freighters.

Proclaim Liberty to the Captives
Why did Father Walter go to Russia, to such a dangerous place at such a dangerous time? Father Walter was convinced that God had called him to all of the suffering that was going on there at the time. In his own way, he recognized that God was calling him “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God.

Father Walter lived out the life that God had called him to by bringing the presence of Christ into the most desperate situations that existed on earth at the time. He lived and worked with the poorest of the poor, and in doing so, he was able to imitate the love of Christ by his solidarity with those who. Father Ciszek responded to the scriptures that we heard today because he chose to live out his life responding to the Gospel message.

We too have an obligation to live out the Gospel, to bring glad tidings to the poor by reminding them that God loves them. We do this when we share what little we have with those around us without expecting return. The readings that we use for this Gaudate Sunday lead us to joy through a life of selfless love.

Rejoice Always!
The second reading thought by Scripture Scholars to be one of the earliest writings of the New Testament. St. Paul writes to us with great enthusiasm. He says “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” So that no matter where our life has led us, we are always to rejoice, giving thanks for the many great blessings that God has given us.

Discovering joy in the will of God
In his biography, Father Walter came to discover through the sufferings inflicted upon him by the Soviet prison system, “that across the threshold I had been afraid to cross, things suddenly seemed so very simple. There was but a single vision, God, who was all in all; there was but one will that directed all things, God's will. I had only to see it, to discern it in every circumstance in which I found myself, and let myself be ruled by it. God is in all things, sustains all things, directs all things. To discern this in every situation and circumstance, to see His will in all things, was to accept each circumstance and situation and let oneself be borne along in perfect confidence and trust. Nothing could separate me from Him, because He was in all things. 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 past, with all its failures, was not forgotten; it remained to remind me of the weakness of human nature and the folly of putting any faith in self. But it no longer depressed me. I looked no longer to self to guide me, relied on it no longer in any way, so it could not again fail me. By renouncing, finally and completely, all control of my life and future destiny, I was relieved as a consequence of all responsibility. I was freed thereby from anxiety and worry, from every tension, and could float serenely upon the tide of God's sustaining providence in perfect peace of soul

This is the reason why we should “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”


The voice crying out in the Desert
John the Baptist was sent to be a “the voice of one crying out in the desert” – In one way the desert that John was sent to cry out in was the desert of sin, where our souls are thirsting to know the love of God.

What is your Testimony this week?
Father Walter was like John the Baptist, he responded to God’s call to go into the desert and witness to the love of God by the testimony of his life. The witness of St. John the Baptist, and the witness of Servant of God Walter Ciszek is to testify to the truth of Jesus Christ at work in their lives. The question that the scriptures call us to answer this week is “What is my testimony?” “What is your testimony?” When people encounter us this week will they see our testimony? Will they know that it is our experience of the love of Christ that leads us?

If they do not, does it mean that we too need to hear the words of the Gospel and “make straight the way of the Lord” by repenting and changing our ways so that Christ can come directly into our hearts and through our hearts into the world?

No comments: