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With God in Russia (a review)

For full disclosure, I completely skipped over the afterword as it was not germane to the story and written by a dissident priest whose teachings are not particularly edifying to me.

Recently Blogger/Vlogger Sarah Corriher and I engaged in a mutual book challenge since both of us have read a lot of books. The challenge was that I would read a book from her list of finished tomes and she would do likewise, from mine.

I will let her speak- if she wants- about her progress on her assigned book Bernadette Soubirous by Francois Trochu. She will be on our show here.

For my part, having finished her suggestion- With God in Russia- I will now review my thoughts.

Sometimes current circumstances aid in the apprehension of mental images. It is natural when reading a story, to try and envision the sights and scenes in your own mind to gain better context.

Had I read, and formulated my thoughts about, With God in Russia by Father Walter Ciszek in August I might have had a difficult time visualizing the elements.

As a live audience heard last night, my visual context was just fine, thank you very much. I listened to- and tried to participate in- an entire show about Marian apparitions in Africa while my truck slipped and slid through slush and mush and Ice caked on my windshield. I got home about 11 PM and woke to a blanket of white over everything.

Very Russiaesque indeed.

I fall a bit short in visualizing the suffering and the sacrifice and the larger meaning, to my great frustration. Like being shocked and stunned by the appearance of the fallen snow, we are always shocked and stunned by the revelation of a fallen world. I once asked a good friend why it is that a person is most viscously attacked when he tries most to serve God. The answer cut to the chase-

John, have you even read the Gospels?

Our nature tells us to believe that only good things will happen to those who love God and seek to honor Him. This notion must rise from our own concupiscence because we certainly have no empirical evidence to support this. We certainly have no Biblical basis for it either.

Matthew Chapter 10
16 “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.
17 But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues,
18 and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans.
19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say.
20 For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
21 Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.
22 You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.

Persecution? Beatings? Death? Great! Where do I sign up? *gulp*

People look at preachers like Joel Osteen they wag their heads and mock our religion. They see it all as a money- grubbing parlor game of hucksters and fakes. They see religion as a man-made construct and a scam. That is because the hucksters are standing in front of the true faith masquerading it and substituting sugar water for bread.

The truth is Genuine Christianity is a religion no human being could ever create. It's absurd! No human mind could be drawn to the true faith by it's own efforts. It's madness to even suggest it. Only God's Grace can draw us to it and carry us through it. Only With God can we find our joy. With God, we can find it anywhere, in any circumstance. This is the joy that makes no human sense, the peace that surpasses understanding.

The dichotomy of God's recipe for our happiness and the world's, cannot be more clearly seen anywhere than in Father Walter Ciszek's biography. What can the world say about 23 years of suffering in the frozen tundra of Russia?

Father Ciszek worked in blinding snow and temperatures 40 degrees below zero. He endured back breaking work until he could do nothing but collapse. He endured blistering heat inside train cars. He endured suffocating thirst and gnawing hunger that forced him to eat grass to stay alive. He was mocked, ridiculed, beaten, interrogated and falsely accused.

He endured all these torments not for weeks or even months but decades. 23 years he suffered and endured for the crime of being a Catholic Priest and so-called Vatican spy.

With God in Russia is the 39th spiritual book I completed since the start of 2021. It is different from the other 38 in the sense that is a straightforward, real world account devoid of Angels or apparitions dictated spiritual themes and lessons. It is a very ordinary man doing very ordinary things such as swinging a hammer, driving a truck, pushing a cart. His dining hall is a prison bunk, his feast is a bowl of soup and a cup of water. You, the reader, must provide much of the context.

The context you provide will depend on the faith you have (or don't).

The everyone has a right to be happy crowd can't make any sense of a story like this. Is this how your God treats His friends? He allows them to be beaten, robbed, slandered, imprisoned and estranged from those He loves? Is this how your God proves His love for you?

No, I would respond. This is.

The context I would provide is from Matthew 25.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne,
32 and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33 He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,
36 naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
37 Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
38 When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
39 When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
40 And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

We have it on Our Savior's word that it is truly blessed to give food for the hungry, drink to the thirsty and welcome to the stranger. To clothe the naked, to care for the ill, to visit those in prison is the work of God.

How much more blessed is a one who, because of his devotion to God, becomes the hungry, thirsty stranger in cold and deeply hostile land? How much more a man who is stripped naked and humiliated- even in sub zero temperatures- for His love of God?

How much more blessed is a Priest who gets no visits from his family in 15 years of prison labor- for His love of God?

How much more the martyr Priest who facing this unimaginable hardship steals opportunities to perform Mass and Confession and the Daily Office at substantial risk of further harm to himself after direct threats from the KGB?

In summing up the meaning of With God in Russia, I can only hearken to the words of Jesus in Luke 10:37

Go and do likewise.


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