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July 2, 2009

Would my faith survive? - *

I'm reading He Leadeth Me, by Fr. Walter J. Ciszek, a Jesuit priest who spent 23 years in Russian prisons and labor camps because of accusations that he was a Vatican spy. During this era in Russia, religious persecution was commonplace. Conditions in the camps were brutal, and millions died there. Prisoners were forced to work long hours day after day with minimal rations to sustain them. Those who were discovered to be practicing their faith were punished more severely. Fr. Ciszek's book doesn't focus so much on the deprivations and abuses he endured, however, as it does on the faith that helped to sustain him during these long years, and on ways his faith changed and grew to help him meet the challenge.

While detained in Russia, there was no access to the externals we often associate with the practice of our faith. There were no churches; there was no cross, no chalice, no Bible. It was risky to talk about faith, for there were many informers. Yet as Fr. Ciszek writes, he speaks of the things that sustained him during these years. He had memorized the words of the Mass, and despite the need to do so in secrecy, he celebrated Mass almost every day. Sometimes he was the only communicant. He mentions that he came to new understandings of Bible passages and prayers he remembered.

As I read his story, and as I've read about others who were persecuted for their faith, I can't help but wonder how I would fare under similar circumstances. If I had no access to the Bible, would I remember enough of it to keep my faith alive? If I were unable to talk with others openly, would my inner life be strong enough to survive? If I faced religious persecution, would I have the courage to remain faithful?

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