27 November 2008

There's nothing like a little suffering to sharpen one's sense of gratitude. Now some of us think we suffer plenty each Sunday, the witnesses of liturgical tomfoolery and garish vestments (at this morning's Mass, my parish priest, bless his soul, wore a cream-colored chasuble with a large turkey on the front bordered with fall leaves and pumpkins). And as much as we'd like to skip these holy days of obligation (but wouldn't dare) just to escape the gratingly irritating music and Catholic-lite homilies, none of us would ever really want to miss out on receiving the Eucharist; and reading of Father Ciszek's years-long deprivation of the Body and Blood of Christ, and his subsequent risks taken to offer Mass in the arctic climes of Siberian prison camps, we might come to understand we have not suffered that much at all, and rather that gratitude is in order:
Sometimes I think that those who have never been deprived of an opportunity to say or hear Mass do not really appreciate what a treasure the Mass is. I know, in any event, what it came to mean to me and the other priests I met in the Soviet Union; I know the sacrifices we made and the risks we ran in order just to have a chance to say or hear Mass. When we were constantly hungry in the camps, when the food we got each day was just barely enough to keep us going, I have seen priests pass up breakfast and work at hard labor on an empty stomach until noon in order to keep the Eucharistic fast, because the noon break at the work site was the time we could best get together for a hidden Mass. I did that often myself. And sometimes, when the guards were observing us too closely and we couldn't risk saying Mass at the work site, the crusts of bread I had put in my pocket at breakfast remained there uneaten until I could get back to camp and say Mass at night. Or again, during the long arctic summer, when the work days were the longest and our hours of sleep were at a minimum, I have seen priests to get up before the rising bell for a secret Mass in a quiet barracks, while everyone else clung to those precious extra moments of sleep. In some ways, we led a catacomb existence with our Masses. We would be severely punished if we were discovered saying Mass, and there were always informers. But the Mass to us was always worth the danger and the sacrifice; we treasured it, we looked forward to it, we would do almost anything in order to say or attend a Mass.
--Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J., He Leadeth Me, Ch. 13, p. 143
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