When we think of the great Jesuit missionaries, we think of men such as St. Francis Xavier, St. Isaac Jogues and St. Paul Miki, who gave their lives toiling in foreign lands to preach the Gospel. Yet their stories seem to be from the distant past; where are the great missionaries today? He Leadeth Me, is the story of Fr. Walter J. Ciszek, an American priest who served as a missionary in Communist Russia. He wrote the book because he felt that he “had learned much during those years of hardship and suffering that could be of help to others in their lives.”
In 1929 Pope Pius XI called for priests from around the world to travel to Russia and serve a people whose clergy were decimated by the Communists. A Jesuit novice at the time, Ciszek’s heart was stirred by the Holy Spirit to serve these people. He was sent to Rome to study in the Russian college. After being ordained a priest, he travelled to Albertyn, Poland to serve in an Eastern Catholic Church, since priests could not directly travel into Russia.
While in Poland, the Soviets overran the countryside. The parish mission was closed in Albertyn. Fr. Ciszek, along with another priest decided to accompany the Polish refugees travelling to Russia for work. They arrived in Russia and went to work at a lumber camp. To their dismay, there was no apparent apostolate in the camp. Most of the workers were afraid to talk about religion because of the numerous informers in the camp. Fr. Ciszek and his brother priest would sneak away from camp to say Mass.
After working there for a short time, the Soviets arrested Fr. Walter under the suspicion that he was a Vatican spy. He was held in captivity for many years and underwent very harsh interrogations. Throughout these difficulties, Fr. Walter discusses his interior struggle to trust God and accept everything as coming from him. He wanted to serve the people of Russia, but first God had to purify his soul through various trials and afflictions. After being completely broken of his pride, Fr. Walter learned to trust completely in God and not on his own abilities. This would help him have a successful apostolate in the labor camps.
His chapter on work, describing the labor camps in Siberia is truly a gem. Fr. Ciszek was sentenced to some of the harshest and demeaning labor in Siberia because he was a priest. In an area where men struggled to stay alive and did the minimum to survive, he offers these thoughts:
By the way I went about my work, every day, every hour, to the best of my ability and the last ounce of my strength, I had to try to demonstrate again in the wind and snow and wilderness of Siberia what Christ had demonstrated through twenty years of carpentry at Nazareth: that work is not a curse but a gift of God, the very same gift he gave to the first man, Adam.
While in the labor camp, Fr. Ciszek did have the opportunity to say Mass and hear the confessions of his fellow workers. He learned to cherish the beauty of the Mass, since the prisoners had to undergo great difficulties to sneak away to participate in it. With strength from above, he endured the labor camps and after many years was released but relegated to live in the outskirts of Russia. I will leave the reader the opportunity to discover how Fr. Ciszek was eventually freed from Russia and returned to the United States.
Through his suffering and agony, God stripped Fr. Ciszek of dependence on self and opened him up to the greatest joy and peace that a person can have. He reflects,“The greatest sense of freedom, along with peace of soul and an abiding sense of security, comes when a man totally abandons his own will in order to follow the will of God”
It’s a simple but profound message. The more we conform our lives to Christ and seek to do his will, the more joy we will have. God’s will for us is found in the ordinary events of our daily lives. It is found in the present moment, not in some mysterious plan that we have to reach for on our own.
So whether you are looking for answers to why God allows suffering, struggle with meaning in your day-to-day job, or just want to be inspired by a story of true courage, He Leadeth Me will help you learn how to draw closer to God and accept whatever he sends to you, no matter what the circumstance.
Bob Waruszewski is a cradle Catholic from Pittsburgh, PA. He graduated from St. Vincent College with a bachelor’s degree in both mathematics and economics. Currently he works in the regulatory department for a natural gas distribution company in the Steel City and is enjoying life as a married man. He is a proud father, and he enjoys playing sports, hiking and reading a good book. His favorite saint is St. Joseph.The Catholic Gentleman.