We hear comments nowadays about how "hard" the things are that the
Church demands of modern Catholics - particularly in the days following the
publication of documents like THE UNIVERSAL CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC
CHURCH, SPLENDOR VERITATIS, and, now, EVANGELIUM VITAE.
Here's something that ought to give us a bit of pause. The author,
Father William Mendenhall, is currently the Spiritual Director of Mary,
Queen of the Apostles Seminary, Moscow, Russia. The article is reprinted
with permission of the publisher in its entirety:
"MASSED OUT?" NEVER!
"One of the many spiritual advantages in Russia is the chance to see
the selfless and energetic dedication of so many young priests and religious
here. They work hard and rewards of their labors are becoming apparent!
Russian vocations to the priesthood and religious life are growing. They
are actually concerned about sanctity of life as part and parcel of
expressing love of God and of neighbor, and central to this concern is their
love of the Eucharist.
"I was invited to participate in a conference on the Eucharist
recently in the West. It was a beacon of faith and hope for the more than
eight hundred who attended. One older gentleman was so inspired that a
phrase he had heard from a young priest began to bother him, and he wanted
to know whether or not his discomfort was warranted or exaggerated. The
priest had told him "I'm massed out."
"I began with an explanation that sometimes a priest will say three
or four Masses on a Sunday, and toward the end of the day he feels that he
is losing focus. "No," responded the elderly gentleman, "we were all on
holiday, and I was inviting him to go with me to a nearby Catholic church
for daily Mass. He declined." I asked him to take the following true
account back to his priest friend as kind of an answer.
PREPARATION FOR MARTYRDOM
"Father Casimir was ordained to the priesthood in 1945 in the western
part of the former Soviet Union. He came recently to Moscow, and visited
our seminary. It was the first time that he had visited Moscow since 1946.
That was the year he was 'invited' to the massive KGB prison on Lubyanka
Street, which is a block from St. Louis' Catholic Church, the only church in
the Soviet Union that Stalin permitted to remain open - as a service to the
Catholics of the Western diplomatic community, and as a showpiece of
"Tolerance was not shown to Father Casimir and hundreds of other
priests and religious. Many were executed; Father Casimir and others were
sent east into the Gulag system of prison camps. He worked for 10 years in
the mine shafts in the Northern Urals, and spent several more years in
official exile in that area. He said that life in the mines and in the
camps was hard, but a very genuine spiritual life was present there.
"The first question from the 1995 crop of seminarians was, 'Could
you celebrate Mass while in prison?' The answer was as inspiring as it was
surprising. 'I celebrated Holy Mass nearly every day. The rector of our
seminary told us before our ordination to the priesthood that most of us
would be arrested, and many would be killed or die in prison. He therefore
instructed us to memorize the Mass and key passages of Sacred Scripture
by heart before ordination, since we wouldn't be able to take missals or
Bibles into the camps.
"So every night after work, I would by lying on the second shelf
[the labor camps had barracks similar to those in German concentration
camps], out of view of the camp police, with a piece of bread and a teaspoon
with a few drops of wine. Yes, a teaspoon served as the chalice for the
Precious Blood of Our Lord! I said Holy Mass from memory. It was always
beautiful. However, it was particularly beautiful when we celebrated in the
mine shafts. We worked at a depth of over 300 meters (900 feet). The camp
police were not at all interested in going down that far because of the
danger of collapse, so tat that depth the prisoners could even sing hymns
"When I was released from the labor camp, the sentence of exile was
still in effect, and I knew that I could be thrown back into prison if I
were caught celebrating Mass or preaching the Gospel. But I was ordained
for that, so I was careful in my work.
RICHES AMID POVERTY
"One thing that I have found is that in the most difficult and
poorest conditions, a rich spirituality is possible. The opposite danger is
also true. I visited the West last year, but I do not think I could live
there. So much wealth, such worries about worldly ambition and power, but
so little spiritual life! In the parish church where I work now, we have
eight Sunday Masses, all of them full to overflowing. We have six choirs
(three adult and three children's choirs). We had our socialist
'liberation' many years ago. Now people are seeking to satisfy the deepest
thirst of all!
"No matter what suffering you have to endure, no matter what
sacrifices you are called by Christ to make, rejoice, my young friends. You
are called to the vineyard of God, to the Altar of Christ! And what a
calling! May God bless you!'
"Occasionally, a visiting priest from the West will decline the
invitation to say daily Mass privately or in one of the few churches in
Moscow, stating, 'No thanks, I'm on holiday.' So was Father Casimir. All
his days in prison were holy days.'"
Kind of makes one ashamed of ourselves, doesn't it?
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