“Are you suffering a great deal? Don’t lose heart. I will never forsake you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge, and the way that will lead you to God.”
There is immense power in that promise, and for someone who has lost everything, it is like a lifeboat at sea. There is sometimes nothing else to cling to. Even when I feel that my faith dangles from a thread – which is often, in prison – I cling to that promise.
I don’t know where the bookmark came from. Like most of the things I cling to for spiritual support, it just sort of showed up one day. I like to think it was handed down to me – in the way important things are handed down by brothers – by Maximilian Kolbe whose reverence for the Immaculate Heart of Mary guided him through life, and death, at Auschwitz.
Even when my faith is so diminished and darkened by the prison around me that I believe in little, I believe that promise. Sometimes I can only believe that Maximilian believed – with the very fabric of his life.
It’s often hard to pray in prison. It’s not just the noise, the harshness, the lack of privacy, the relentless obstacles. It’s just hard to raise my mind and heart beyond these stone walls at times. In that, at least, I am not alone.
Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan wrote that there were long periods during his years in prison when he was unable to pray. I guess any Catholic who ever looks inward has a dark night of the soul. If not, why would the Blessed Mother ever ask such a question in her appearance at Fatima? It’s not the usual question a mother would ask when she comes a long way for a brief visit.
Are you suffering a great deal? When Saint Maximilian’s life was finally snuffed out after days of starvation chained to the corpses of those who could not endure, he was heard gasping a hymn of praise. I wish I had his heart! I don’t, but I wish I did. I have to learn how to suffer, and I am a slow learner.
In his Encyclical on Christian Hope, our Holy Father Pope Benedict wrote the most masterful prose on suffering that I have ever read. I cling to it like I do my bookmark with Our Lady of Fatima’s Promise:
“Christ descended into ‘Hell,’ and is therefore close to those cast into it, transforming their darkness into light. Suffering and torment is still terrible and well-nigh unbearable. Yet the star of hope has risen – the anchor of the heart reaches the very throne of God. Instead of evil being unleashed within man, the light shines victorious: suffering – without ceasing to be suffering – becomes, despite everything, a hymn of praise.” (Spe Salvi, pp 37)
Brilliant! Simply brilliant! There’s something hopeful in that, and I should listen.
The sculpture of Our Lady comforting Maximilian in his cell was created by Timothy Schmalz . He named it “Martyr of Charity – St. Maximilian Kolbe”
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