Posted by: Fr Chris | May 4, 2020

A Message to Grads in a Difficult Time

Having gone into the former Communist countries I can say that Mr. Dreher really hits the mark. The people of faith weathered the dictatorships and the rocky transitions to democracy the best. Their faith carried them through 50 years or more of constant, unrelenting, grim times, and in the end they are here, and the dictatorships are gone. I encourage you to share this, especially with high school and college graduates who are nervous about the years ahead.

COURAGE IN THE DARKNESS

by Rod Dreher of the Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2020

A young man once confided to a religious elder his anxiety over the hard times in which he was living. This is natural, said the elder, but such things are beyond our control: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

In fact, the anxious youngster was no man, but a hobbit, Frodo Baggins; the religious elder was the wizard Gandalf, to whom Frodo disclosed his fear on the road to the evil realm of Mordor. These heroes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” saga came up in a conversation I had two years ago in Prague with Kamila Bendova, a key figure among Czech anticommunist dissidents.

Kamila Bendova

Despite constant pressure from the secret police, Ms. Bendova and her late husband Vaclav Benda had raised their children under totalitarianism, teaching them all to be faithful Catholics. How had they done it? She talked about the many books she read to the kids. Tolkien was a particular treasure. Why Tolkien? I asked. “Because we knew that Mordor was real,” she replied.

The Mordor into which you all are now graduating has no doomed mountains or political prisons, no orcs or secret police. But thanks to the pandemic, it is still a frightening place. You did not ask to live in these times—but here you are. What to do?

The courage and vision of ordinary people who faced down Soviet communism can light the way forward through the darkness. Traveling last year in countries once under the Soviet yoke, I met many people who lived in defiance of their dark age. None of these heroes expected communism to collapse in their lifetime. They resisted in part because their Christian faith taught them to receive suffering as an opportunity to demonstrate love for God and others.

The late Silvester Krcmery was a Slovak physician who helped to organize the underground Catholic Church in his country. Thrown into prison in 1951 and tortured, Krcmery resolved never to pity himself but to help others and offer his suffering for God’s glory.

As a college student in the 1980s, the Slovak historian Jan Simulcik was inspired by the heroism of Krcmery’s generation to join a Catholic resistance cell. Standing inside what was once a samizdat printing room in Bratislava, accessible only by a secret passage under a house, Mr. Simulcik told me, “When you see someone acting courageously, you will act courageously as well.”

He felt the miracle of God's warm embrace in a frozen gulag | God Reports
Alexander Ogorodnikov

In Moscow in the 1970s, Alexander Ogorodnikov scandalized his communist parents by converting to Orthodox Christianity and becoming a youth leader. He too was imprisoned and tortured. When I met him last fall, the aging dissident told me that he believed God had a mission for him which gave him the inner resources to endure horrific persecution.

In our interview in Warsaw, Solidarity trade union activist Zofia Romaszewska, 79, exhorted young people today to fight despair and oppression by forming strong small communities and discovering the joy of, well, solidarity. “What you must never do is surrender!” she said.

Your mission is not their mission, exactly. But the Class of 2020, believers and nonbelievers alike, does have a mission. It is to be a source of light in a world suddenly shrouded by the pandemic’s darkness, a source of warmth in a world struck cold by the hand of fear. So ask yourself a radical question called forth by these Christian dissidents’ labors of love: What if the trying times you have been given are not a curse but a blessing—indeed, a severe mercy?


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