by Fr. Tommy Lane
Alexander Solzhenitsyn had been in the Gulag, a Soviet prison camp. He had been forced to do back-breaking labor until he came to the point of exhaustion. With little food and little rest, he was constantly watched by guards and never allowed to communicate with another human being.
Never permitted a newspaper or magazine from the outside, he came to believe that he was forgotten by everyone, even God. In his despair, he decided to commit suicide, but he could not reconcile that act with the teachings of the Bible. Then he decided to end his misery by trying an escape, knowing that he would surely be shot. He rationalized that his death would then be at the hands of another and not his own doing.
The appointed day came when he would put his fateful plan into action. Sitting under a tree during a brief respite from work, he glanced at the guards to see where they were positioned. Just as he started to jump and run, a prisoner he had never seen before stood in front of him. Looking into his eyes, Solzhenitsyn said he could see more love than he had ever seen before emanating from the eyes of another human being. The prisoner stooped down with a small twig in his hand and began to draw the symbol of the cross in the soil of Soviet Russia. When Solzhenitsyn saw the cross, he knew God had not forsaken him. He knew God was right there beside him in his deepest pit. Little did he realize that at that very moment, Christians all over the world were praying for his release, and within three days he would be sitting in Geneva, Switzerland, a free man. (From Battle Fatigue by Joe Brown, p136)
I was reminded of that story by Habakkuk in the first reading today praying to God,
How long, O Lord? I cry for help
But you do not listen!
I cry to you “Violence!”
But you do not intervene. (Hab 1:2)
Was Habakkuk praying without faith? He said to God, “you do not listen”, “you do not intervene.” How often when a crisis comes we concentrate on the crisis instead of on God. This is the common fault of humanity, the fault of Solzhenitsyn; our faith is strong when everything is going well, but when the crisis hits we pray like Habakkuk yet also like Habakkuk we say “you do not listen”, “you do not intervene” and we have questions about God and we wonder if God exists or even if God is gone on vacation. Every time the Hebrews suffered a setback in the desert after escaping from Egypt they complained and said that it was better in Egypt and they should never have left. What a short memory they had, forgetting the miracle of the exodus. In one sense we could say the great sin of the Old Testament is forgetting; the Chosen People forgot what God had done for them and instead only looked at the difficulties around them and then they sinned.
Crises are an opportunity for us to grow, there is more growth in the valleys than in the mountain tops. And we will have many of these opportunities. Someone has said we have a crisis every year and a major crisis every decade. Crises are an opportunity for us to grow in faith. God responded to Habakkuk encouraging faith. God said,
…the just one, because of his faith, shall live. (Hab 2:4)
We have been blessed down through the centuries with wonderful examples of faith even in the midst of despair and darkness. On Friday we celebrated the feast of St Thérèse of Lisieux and this is what Cardinal Basil Hume wrote of her,
“In 1987 I visited St. Thérèse’s cell in the Carmel of Lisieux. By the door of her cell, scratched into the wood, she had written, “Jesus is my only love.” That was not written in exaltation but in near despair. She was thus crying out to her Beloved that even when she experienced nothing but absence, emptiness, darkness, she clung to the assurance of being loved and carried in his arms. That is faith at a heroic level – that is trust, clinging to God when everything in our experience would seem to contradict his very existence, or at least his love for us.”
The following was found written on a cellar wall in Cologne (Köln) after World War II,
When Solzhenitsyn saw the cross, he knew God had not forsaken him. He knew God was right there beside him in his deepest pit. And because God is with us in our deepest pit, in the Gospel Jesus encourages us to pray with faith. (Luke 17:5-6) We are not to be like the man who went outside and stood by a tree and prayed, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea.” The tree didn’t move. The man said, “I knew there was no point in praying; I knew you would not move any way.” His faith was even smaller than a mustard seed, the smallest biblical seed. Sometimes our faith is also smaller than a mustard seed but in the excerpt of the second letter to Timothy, today’s second reading, Timothy was reminded to fan into a flame the gift of priesthood he received at Ordination by St. Paul’s hands,
I remind you to stir into a flame the
gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not
give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.
So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord…(2 Tim 1:6-8)
The great sin of the Old Testament was forgetting the exodus during times of crisis. Let us remember that God is with us in our deepest pit.
For God did not give us a spirit of
but rather of power and love and self-control. (2 Tim 1:7)
If you have faith the size of a
You would say to this mulberry tree,
‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. (Luke 17:6)
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013
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October - Respect Life Month