Many years ago my brother entered the Jesuit Novitiate. Our family made the long trip to Wernersville, Pa. to visit him several times a year. Always sitting out on the front porch to greet visitors was very elderly Fr. Mac. He was quite jolly and talkative and we got to know him through these visits. We all sensed that he was a truly holy man. On every visit as our family was leaving Fr. Mac would plead for us to pray for his “perseverance”. To me his request was perplexing if not actually funny. My other brothers and I often remarked this. How could such a seemingly holy and happy priest, who was close in years to his eternal reward, have any fears about following Christ to the end? Fr. Mac passed on a few decades ago and I presume with little doubt that he is in the presence of God.
Now after adding many more decades to my life and having observed the journey of others, I realize that our attempts to follow Christ are not always in straight lines pointing upward.
Arid dark times can follow periods when our prayer and relationship with God were consoling and strong. A period of enthusiasm may be followed by periods when prayer is dry, interest in the journey is wanting and “other things” seem so much more interesting. Some of the greatest saints have spoken of long periods when God seemed so absent and almost non-existent. Even when faith is strong, dryness and restlessness can be the prevailing felt experience. The soil is not always watered regularly. These periods require the gift of perseverance, and they become the days that test our faithfulness to God. Jesus speaks of some seeds falling into nourishing soil and others into choking environments as a metaphor for how humans respond to the good news. But our lifespan of growing spiritually seems to include several replanting of our seed into various environments to test their faithfulness and endurance.
In my visit to the Jesuit center in Wernersville just a few years ago I walked past the cemetery. In the midst of 40 or 50 tombstones was that of Fr. Walter Ciszek. He had spent 20 years in Soviet prison camps never knowing if each day was his last. What faith and testing of perseverance were needed to endure such a trial.
Embrace the gift of faith with a generous and persevering heart and you will yield much fruit.
Fr. Patrick Geinzer, C.P.
St. Paul’s Monastery and retreat Center