"Christ Jesus, of his own free will, gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant... He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death -- his death on the cross." (Philippians 2:7-8)
Walter Ciszek was born of Polish immigrants in a mining area of Pennsylvania -- but spent much of his life in Soviet prisons. He survived the tortures of interrogation at Lubianka, and the prison camps of arctic Siberia.
Here is a profile of his life in 'Crisis' magazine from a couple years ago.
In the late 1920s, Ciszek studied at the Jesuit seminary in Poughkeepsie, New York.
[Called St. Andrew's-on-the-Hudson, this is where Pierre Teilhard de Chardin would be laid to rest several decades later. The campus was purchased in 1970 by a fancy culinary school.]
Repatriated to the U.S. in 1963, he died six years after the Polish cardinal of Krakow was elevated to the papacy. It would have been fascinating to witness Fr. Ciszek's reaction to that stunning bit of news from Rome!
Some excerpts from his memoir He Leadeth Me:
"Many a time, as I folded up the handkerchief on which the body of our Lord had lain, and dried the glass or tin cup used as a chalice, the feeling of having performed something tremendously valuable for the people of this Godless country was overpowering."
"I marveled often at the ways of divine providence and the mysterious workings of grace in perserving the faith in Russia, despite the full might and power of an atheistic system determined to stamp out religion, despite even the all too human failings of the churches themselves."
One of the best chapters of this small book is on humility; he says it is "nothing more or less than knowing our place before God." Christ's perfect act of humility "reached its crest on the cross, where he died humiliated and deprived of everything." Father Ciszek says that most of us find it incredibly hard to be humble when we're humiliated: "We constantly need to remind ourselves of the humble Christ, the Christ who did always the will of the Father..."
"Then, as the years go by, difficulties increase and there is a constant need for more sacrifice and a renewal of spirit in the initial promise or vow taken. And then it is that the test of one's humility -- the realization of one's place before God -- really begins."
"No matter how badly the humble man fails, he will reckon his accounts with God and start over again, for his humility tells him of his total dependence on God."
"That's what humility means -- learning to accept disappointments and even defeat as God-sent, learning to persevere and carry on with peace of heart and confidence in God... And just as surely as we begin to fail in humility, we begin to lose sight of God and his grace, to exclude him to some extent from our lives.
Be thankful then, I thought to myself, that God in his loving care sends humiliations your way. Be thankful for the KGB... You haven't done anything yet in the Soviet Union except by God's grace and his will..."
Father Ciszek (pictured below during his imprisonment): "Faith, then, is the basis for love; it is in the insight of faith that we understand the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of all men. Love, St. John writes repeatedly, is the one thing that fulfills all the commandments and the law. But prior to love, and bolstering it at the core, is faith; we must have faith before we can love, or we will surely end up loving the wrong thing... To increase our love, to love properly, we must strive always to increase our faith, and we do this by means of prayer and the sacraments."
"Don't do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves." (Philippians 2:3)