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A Saint for Our Times

A Saint for Our Times

 
By:  Izabella Nagle October 18, 2020
#AmazingNation, #Courage, #Faith, #Hope, #Leadership, #Suffering

“It seems to me that in the history of the Catholic Church there are very many examples that speak to how far we have to go, how much we have to do, to what end we need to defend the truth. Simply, to the very end. Jesus Christ gave His life for proclaiming the truth. Same with the Apostles. From those examples we should draw conclusions for our own selves.”  
-Bl. Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko



Fr. Jerzy
On October 19, 1984 Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko was abducted and subsequently tortured and brutally murdered by three military men acting on the orders of the Polish Communist Government. The men, assigned to follow and intimidate Fr. Jerzy for the work he did with the Solidarity Movement and the words he spoke during his homilies, got fed up with how ineffective their methods were in scaring Fr. Jerzy into silence. Frustrated by the priest’s lack of fear and compliance, with the permission of their superiors, they sought to take measures that would put the fear of the Communist government into the hearts of all priests and all Polish faithful. They hoped the savaged body of this young priest would silence those speaking the truth of God’s love, human dignity and sacredness of conscience, hunting down the lies of the Communists. The effect of Fr. Jerzy’s death was not at all what they expected.

Gathered Around the Cross…
I remember the day Fr. Jerzy’s remains were found. I was a tween living in a large metropolis, focused on things tween girls are focused on, and blissfully unaware of the Communist realities my parents had to contend with. Don’t get me wrong – I had to stand in countless lines, for countless hours for most basic things, which were rationed by means of coupons. 1 coupon per year for shoes, 1 coupon per month per family for 2 pounds of meat (if you could find a store that had some), butter, notebooks, you name it – there was a coupon for it and a line to stand in for almost everything (vodka was the exception, but that’s not surprising, since people who are addicted are people easily led). None of that was especially traumatizing for me because I didn’t know any different. My family and extended family was amazing, loving and faithful and what else does a child need, really? In any case, on the day Fr. Jerzy’s body was finally discovered, I was shaken out of my ignorance. I saw people in hundreds, thousands, walking out of their homes, out of their apartments, into the streets. It was as though someone poked a stick into an ant hill and for me it was incredibly scary. As far as my eye could see, there were people…soon their milling about became purposeful. Every hill or larger opening would be crowned with a makeshift cross, lumber would be nailed together, other things would be re-purposed to make large crosses, that would then be propped up and stuck in the ground. Around each cross, people dropped to their knees and began singing and praying together. It was all very spontaneous, there must’ve been priests in the crowd but I don’t remember seeing them, there were no “leaders” of this, just people needing to pray in community to assuage their suffering and sorrow.

“Let us pray that we may be freed from fear and intimidation, but above all, from the desire for revenge and violence.”
– Fr. Jerzy’s last recorded words, spoken on the day he was kidnapped.

 

"I Forgive...."
The lack of violence was a bit of a disappointment for the authorities. They needed an excuse to unleash their “justified peace methods”. Visuals are important in a regime but it’s hard to put a violent spin on people on their knees, sobbing, in prayer. Sure, the desire for revenge and violence was there but those who knew Fr. Jerzy and heard his preaching resisted those impulses and helped others to do the same. One of the most powerful witnesses for forgiveness was Fr. Jerzy’s mother. She was praying at her son’s parish, St. Stanislaw Kostka, awaiting news with hundreds of other faithful, when the priest who was leading people in prayer paused, heard the news of Fr. Jerzy’s death whispered to him and then shared it with all those present. He tried to calm the ensuing cries and intoned the prayer taught to us by Jesus…when he got to the words, “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”, he stopped and said, “Again! Say it with me again!” He did so twice more. After the third recitation of this part of Our Father, Fr. Jerzy’s mother stood up, turned around, faced the congregants and mouthed, “I forgive…”

“Someone who has failed to win hearts and minds tries to prevail by violence. Every manifestation of violence is proof of moral inferiority…An idea that needs weapons in order to exist dies of itself.” – Fr. Jerzy

 

Truth and Love

I’m no pacifist. Apparent injustice infuriates me. I don’t know how I would’ve reacted to all that happened in Poland if I was of an age to act. The path between justified anger and action demands clarity that I seem to loose once fury takes hold of my heart. Fr. Jerzy’s words and example make me realize that I cannot understand justice without understanding the truth. He said, “To live in the truth is a basic minimum of human dignity, even if the price to defend the truth could be costly.” It strikes me that in this country, in our times, we have lost that most basic ability. Daily images, stories, philosophies assault my mind and pull on my heartstrings in a way that obfuscates, confuses, and befuddles me. A rollercoaster of emotions engages my thoughts, takes me for a ride, and leaves a bad feeling in my mouth afterwards. Recently, I spoke with a friend who told me she no longer knows what truth is. “Quid est veritas?” (John 18-38) is Pilate’s question with the Truth standing in front of him. How did we get to that same point where we once again cannot see what is apparent? Another friend, Fr. Louis, CFR, was over for dinner. My husband and I were helping out with a local youth group and had a presentation coming up that made us, actually mostly me, uncomfortable, so I wanted to run a couple of ideas by Fr. Louis. Mainly, I wanted his guidance on how to be gentler or more relatable in approaching the topic of death and final judgement with these teen boys. Fr. Louis has a special gift with the sharing of truth. He leads men’s retreats and his words travel straight to the hearts of those listening, transforming their lives and orienting them towards God. It’s rather beautiful to witness and I wanted to emulate him. It seems I fell far from the mark… After hearing my explanations of how and what I intended, Fr. Louis thundered at me, “Don’t you dare dilute the Gospel!! You have to tell them the Truth!” I thought about this quite a bit.

“Truth, like justice, is connected to love, and love requires sacrifice. Authentic love is sacrificial, so truth also must have a cost.” – Fr. Jerzy


So, here is a bit of truth – to speak and live the truth, I have to sacrifice my pride, my love of self and my conviction that I know better. I have to surrender my self-righteousness, get on my knees and recognize the Truth, the Way, and the Life in front of me. Peace is found not in being right but in being with Him who is crucified and suffers for our sins, trusting in His providence, surrendering to His love, praying for our brothers and sisters and hoping for mercy on us all. Authentically loving others means sharing the truth, not as a weapon, but as a hand stretched out to lead them, accompany them, out of fear and darkness into the light of Truth. Let me end with Fr. Jerzy’s words and may they become a beacon for you as they have for me:


“For centuries there has been an uninterrupted battle against truth. The truth, however, is immortal, whereas falsehood dies a quick death(…) We must learn to discern between falsehood and truth. It is not easy in the age in which we live…The Christian’s duty is to remain in the truth, even if it costs dearly. For truth is worth it; only junk is worthless: sometimes you pay very dearly for the grain of wheat of the truth.” – Fr. Jerzy in his reflections of the Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning with Thorns, on the day he was kidnapped.


Photo Credits:
"Praise" by EL@Seattle is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 Reytan /
Public domain Andrzej Iwanski / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
Original: Andrzej IwanskiDerivative work:
TharonXX / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)


About the Author Izabella NagleIzabella Nagle grew up in Poland. She now lives in Connecticut with her Ironman husband, two amazing daughters, and a knucklehead Swiss Mountain Dog names Zhuko. She is a published writer, philosopher, and translator. 


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