As a boy growing up in the Bronx, I was influenced by many good priests (and, sadly, also knew well a notorious abuser). The Augustinian Fathers who formed a community at my parish, St. Nicholas of Tolentine, were men of faith and inspiring examples. I had always felt a call to the priesthood, so when a priest came and spoke to the boys in my year about a high school for boys considering the priesthood, I decided to apply to it, and decided to attend it when I was accepted. So there I was, a somewhat different high school student. I liked to read books with religious themes: one that very much impressed me was With God in Russia. It was written by an American Jesuit, son of Polish immigrants. He was Fr Walter Ciszek.
Fr Ciszek was a brave man, who went as a missionary to the Soviet Union in 1939. He was caught and spent 5 years in Moscow’s Lubyanka prison, and then 15 years in the Gulag. He was finally released and sent back to the United States in 1963. After reading his book, I found out that he was living in the Jesuit Community at Fordham University—right near me in the Bronx. So I called him on the phone one day. I didn’t know what to say to him, but I told him how much I liked his book. He was kind and indulgent, talking to me for good while. I’d forgotten all these things until the other day when I came upon a quote from another of his books. I’ve transcribed it below. I hope you enjoy it.
Love and Peace,
Fr. Liam Quinlan
This simple truth, that the sole purpose of man’s life on earth is to do the will of God, contains in it riches and resources enough for a lifetime. Once you have learned to live with it uppermost in mind, to see each day and each day’s activities in its light, it becomes more than a source of eternal salvation; it becomes a source of joy and happiness here on earth.…
The notion that the human will, when united with the divine will, can play a part in Christ’s work of redeeming all mankind is overpowering. The wonder of God’s grace transforming worthless human actions into efficient means for spreading the kingdom of God here on earth astounds the mind and humbles it to the utmost, yet brings a peace and joy unknown to those who have never experienced it, unexplainable to those who will not believe.
Consoling as conformity to the will of God may be for the soul, as productive of peace and joy as it may prove, it cannot be gained simply for the asking. Nor, in my opinion, can a proper understanding of pain and suffering be achieved without the larger vision of salvation or the more immediate context of apostolate and of vocation. For my part, at any rate, I learned it only through the constant practice of prayer, by trying to live always in the presence of God, by trying to see all things as a manifestation of his divine will. It wasn’t always easy; nor did I always succeed. Through the hardships of the Urals, through the anguish of Lubyanka, through the sufferings and adversities of the prison camps, my inner struggle of soul never ceased. No matter how close to God the soul felt, how blessed it was by an awareness of his presence on occasion, the realities of life were always at hand, always demanding recognition, always demanding acceptance. I had continuously to learn to accept God’s will—not as I wished it to be, not as it might have been, but as it actually was at the moment. And it was through the struggle to do this that spiritual growth and a greater appreciation of his will took place.
~ Fr Walter Ciszek, SJ, He Leadeth Me