Book Review: With God in America

With God in America, The Spiritual Legacy of an Unlikely Jesuit, Walter J. Ciszek, S.J., Compiled and edited by John M. DeJak and Marc Lindeijer, S.J.

When Fr. Walter Ciszek came back to the United States after 23 years captivity in the Soviet Union, he spent the final 20 years of his life tirelessly ministering to the spiritual needs of countless men and women.

This skillfully organized and edited book is a collection of reminiscences; narratives; transcriptions of Fr. Ciszek’s oral commentaries, homilies, and retreat talks; and miscellaneous writings by Fr. Ciszek himself that provides great insights into the character, spirituality, and good works of this fascinating man.

Like so many others, I am full of admiration and wonder thinking about how Fr. Ciszek not only survived, but grew in his faith while enduring so many years of unimaginable physical, mental, and spiritual torment.

Here are a few excerpts I found particularly moving.

“Working for God will often put you in difficult situations because this is the will of God. If you want to be faithful to God and his will, you must take the risk of not being afraid of the consequences, knowing that God is with you and that the hardships and sacrifice needed to promote God’s cause are a part of God’s plan. They must be received with the same disposition as success. In the final run, we are just instruments in God’s hands to be used as he wills, not as we will. The strong and sincerely devoted will prove themselves faithful in his service. The selfish will shun difficulties, put their own reasons before those of God, and will impede, by this, the work intended by God.”

“It’s time we took a good look at our lives and stopped measuring them with the yardstick of the world, the yardstick of material, tangible success. We are the chosen ones of God, and we are a success only if the Son of God shines brilliantly in our daily lives, in our daily work. The children of the fourth grade or the young woman of the four-year college will little remember what you teach about arithmetic or about atomic fission, but they will remember all the days of their lives how much of Christ they saw in you. And your hospital patients will settle remember the efficiency with which you ran your hospital, but they will never forget the face of the smiling Christ they saw as you walked into their suffering lives.”

“The sin of pride entered man and made him feel as if he were self-sufficient and independent. To counterbalance man’s proud and arrogant attitude, Christ taught his disciples the virtue and value of humility, making it something basic and essential in the new Covenant he was entering into with mankind. He washed their feet and commanded them to wash one another’s feet — to serve and not to be served; for only in humility can true love flourish.”

One might thing from these excerpts that Fr. Ciszek was a rather stern and stoic fellow. This is not the case at all: invariably, he is remembered for his warmth, willingness to help anyone at any time with any problem, and for his simple, trusting faith.

He still has much to teach that all of us need to learn.

Further reading: