When we look at the past, at the cradle of Church history, we frequently wonder with reason how such a weak Church left by Christ in the hands of uneducated village fishermen was able to withstand the storms of two millenia, when during the same time, many more clever, more talented, much more powerful empires created by human beings — kingdoms, states, various parties and organizations — crumbled and disappeared without leaving even a trace.
We will not be wrong in affirming that the strength of the Catholic Church on earth — that mustard seed mentioned in the Gospel — is the saints, her sons and daughters who are able to be perfect instruments in the hands of God. This is why Christ left as the cornerstone of His Church not the powerful of that time, but the Apostles, weak in the eyes of the world, with whose names the world holy is inextricably bound up — the holy Apostle Peter, the holy Apostle Paul, etc. The unbroken continuity of the saints in the history of the Church did not end with the Apostles. It was and is still handed on from generation to generation and from nation to nation.
On the eve of the 600-Year Jubilee of the Baptism of Lithuania we look at the road travelled by the Catholic Church in our nation. Once again we ask, what has been the decisive factor in the Catholic Church's survival in Lithuania throughout six hundred years down to our tune when, with the support of powerful allies, Protestantism and Orthodox)' furiously tried to replace it, and today atheistic Communism tries?. . .
It is surprising how, under such conditions, the young and weak Catholicism of Lithuania — there was no theological seminary, there were not enough priests able to proclaim the word of God in a language understandable to the people — withstood the storm of Protestantism, when Protestantism was supported by the majority of the powerfulnobles of Lithuania. The Faith was preserved by the simple folk who did not even have the wherewithal to have a good grasp of the teachings of Christ, or the time to become suitably familiar with it.
From the vantage point of time, we can confidently say that the survival of Catholicism in 15th century Lithuania against the storm of Protestantism was made possible by the fact that the nation in its first century of Christianity had holy persons whose spiritual nobility and beauty were instinctively sensed by our morally sound people.
Msgr. K. Dulksnys of Panevėžys, exiled Bishop J. Steponavičius, Bishop R. Krikščiūnas and Bishop V. Sladkevičius of Kaišiadorys at the closing observance of the 500th anniversary since the death of St. Casimir, Lithuania's patron saint. The government militia were present in front of St. Peter and Paul's Church in Vilnius throughout the day on August 26, 1984.
Holiness does not age and fade, it belongs to eternity. The sands of time cannot cover it over with the dust of oblivion . . .
So it is no wonder today, when the attempt is being made to root out the Faith from our nation, replacing it by force with atheism, that it is the desire of the believing public to commemorate solemnly the 500-year jubilee of those honorable sons of our nation, Saint Casimir and Mykolas Giedraitis. Last year, they tried as much as they could to play down the celebration of the Jubilee of Saint Casimir, and even more this year, the commemoration of the 500-Year Jubilee of the death of Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis.
It is painful that the atheists succeed in misleading even some of the faithful. In connection with Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis, sometimes one hears the following complaint: "The wish to commemorate this religious is strange and baseless! The only possible justification might he that it is an archival curiosity! Perhaps he is great in the light of eternity (as if we did not know how to present him as an example to imitate). Let him rest there in Cracow, foreign to Lithuania and to us!"
It is suggested that we commemorate only those who distinguish themselves by great external activity: Bishop Merkelis Giedraitis, the founder of the first seminaries and one of the first Lithuanian literary lights who gathered young priests around him and urged them to write in Lithuanian; Bishop Motiejus Valančius, who sobered up Lithuania, organized the printing press in Tilžė (Tilsit), supported the book smugglers; Bishop Antanas Baranauskas, and others.
To these suggestions, one might reply in the words of the Gospel. "These you should have practiced without leaving the other undone". (Lk 11, 42) The example of those noble men of our nation is important for us today, but no less important is that of the humble Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis. Just why is this lame, sickly Augustinian Brother important to our Catholic Lithuania of the 2()th Century? Why is he a threat to the plans of the government atheists of this age?
Let us open the little book by Bishop Valančius, Giwenimai Szwentuju Diewa (Lives of the Saints of God), published in 1868 in Tilžė, under the difficult conditions of the ban of the Lithuanian press. Let us read the biography of Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis by this great bishop of ours, defender of the Catholic Faith, in the context of the plight of the Catholic Church in Lithuania today. When we have no possibility of erecting new churches, establishing new seminaries and presses so badly needed, organizing welfare societies; when our externally visible activities are limited by the atheists to freedom to pray, or to their way of thinking the recitation of prayers, there remains the most important item of all: according to the example of the saints to erect in our own hearts and the hearts of our countrymen, the indestructible living Church.
Does not the example of the life of Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis become, in those conditions, exceptionally dear and close to us? In his biography we find that during early childhood, having become an invalid for life as a result of serious illness, this little prince of ours, who had not yet studied any theology or Christian phlosophy, undaunted by the monastery, when contemporaries would jeer at his lameness, used to repeat, "I thank you, God for the illness and the weakness of body, by which you protected me from greater misfortune. Being a prince, I could have easily become vain, and could have become a spiritual invalid. But now you have saved me!"
By contrast, a certain woman oi our time who had lost the Faith, in a hook of atheistic propaganda aimed at the public, agitates as follows. "All my life, I believed so fervently. I constantly asked in prayer for one thing for my family, health. So why did this imaginary God not hear my prayer? Why did he take my children away from me: one in the bloom of youth and the other hardly having begun to live? How many ill and lame people there are, confined for whole years to their bed, asking God to send them death, but they suffer and go on living. Why is this so? Where is justice? Not a single religious picture remains in our home. God has disappeared from our home for all time. . ."
It is sad that we who are nourished by six hundred years of Christian tradition are sometimes not able to look at the painful events of today in as Christian a way as did Mykolas Giedraitis, who grew up in a province of 15th-Century East Lithuania, still redolent of paganism. With his deeply Christian wisdom,he is demolishing even today the allegations brought against our religion by the atheists.
Today in Lithuania, state-supported atheism can tolerate only a "brick and mortar ministry" — concerned only with the wooden or masonry church, while every priest or active layman daring to demonstrate any deeper concern for the living Church in the souls of people, especially in the hearts of young people and children, is labeled a religious extremist or state criminal hampering the development of "normal" relations between Church and state. This and similar attitudes being proffered to us by the atheists not infrequently find their way into circles of priests loyal to the atheistic government, while individuals who loyally foster the living Church are called "activists", dogs-in-the-manger, troublemakers and the like.
In this contemporary context, the words of the Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis bequeathed to us through the pen of Bishop Motiejus Valančius, ring especially true: "Fathers, live in unity and fear of God! Love the Lord and love one another. Keep the rules of the order; through your moving sermons lead people to goodness. May not a single hour slip by without working for the salvation of souls!"
The example of heroic humility left us by the Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis is especially practical in our circumstances. Being of noble descent, he becomes a humble brother in a monastery. Having completed higher studies with a baccalaureate, he remains the lowliest of church workers — a sacristan. When people, hearing about his wonderful supernatural gifts (prophecy and healing) flood him with requests, he calls himself a sinner and asks his admirers to pray that God would be merciful to him.
How necessary this virtue is for us, living as we do in an atheistic environment, where one who wishes to remain a loyal child of the Church must renounce all thought of higher position, or worldly career! You are unfit for even the most routine duties of a teacher, if you wish to be a Catholic openly practicing your faith.
What is used to tempt one onto the road of atheism? If your children faithfully go to church, participate actively in the services, they will ruin their future, there will be difficulties applying for higher studies, etc. The weak, those tempted by recognition and success, succumb.
Real Christian humility is needed if one wishes to resist incessant temptations of this nature. With those who have no taste for pride, self-love and high position, the atheists do not know how to carry out successfully their work of "atheistic expository and propaganda". There is no way to frighten humble people; for their Church and their Nation, they are willing to take up the cross — of oppression, persecution, shame and ridicule. . .
As in the last century, the Lithuanian village book smugglers, denying themselves, not seeking honors or high position and untempt-ed by the favor of the Czar's government, defended the Lithuanian Catholic press, so too today the future of the Catholic Church and of our Nation will be successfully defended by those who, imitating the humble Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis and our unknown hero book smugglers, do not ask how they will be rewarded on earth for their sacrifices and loyalty to God and country, but do whatever the conscience of a Catholic Lithuanian dictates. It is such people that the disseminators of atheism fear. Such people understand and follow the way of the Servant of God, Mykolas Giedraitis, and hold him in high esteem.
Giedraičiai (Molėtai Rayon)
May 2, 1985, was cold and rainy. Notwithstanding the unpleasant weather, people gathered in the church of Giedraičiai where the altar of Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis is.
Before the services, a large group of youths dressed in national costume and of girls wearing white dresses came into the church which was decorated with wreaths and flowers. They were all carrying flowers. The young people knelt at the church door, and praying, went on their knees to the altar of Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis. The young generation of Lithuania, gathered from various cities and towns, placed flowers on the altar of Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis as gifts of love and respect.
Thus did the faithful begin to celebrate the 500-year Jubilee of the death of Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis. Officially, celebration of the jubilee was discouraged.
Zealous priests delivered sermons urging the people to prepare for the jubilee. The faithful distributed pictures of Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis, and one after another, typewritten booklets appeared about the life of the blessed. An excerpt from the dissertation of the Polish priest Andreus Gerard us Dylys, about Mykolas Giedraitis, had reached Lithuania, followed later by the entire dissertation. Speedily, a prayer to the Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis proliferated, which many pledged themselves to recite daily throughout the jubilee year. For the moment, devotees gathered in his hometown (or not far from it, since his birthplace is not definitely known), praying with great enthusiasm to the blessed to intercede for Lithuania and its Church. Sermons were preached by Fathers Zenonas Naviekas, Rokas Puzonas and Ričardas Repšys.
After the services which lasted a long time, those who had come were reluctant to disperse: the youth recited at the altar the prayer to Mykolas Giedraitis, sang hymns and recited religious verse. That day the pastor, Father Vilius Cukuras, was celebrating the tenth anniversary of his priesthood and the faithful congratulated him.
When the celebration was over, government officials accosted Father Cukuras. Coming from as far away as Vilnius, they intimidated and threatened him. They blamed the pastor for planning the commemoration, and for allowing "reactionary" priests to deliver sermons; allegedly the young people had sung the old Lithuanian National Anthem. Nor were the officials pleased by Maironis' Lietuva brangi (Dear Lithuania) which has become the unofficial anthem of Lithuania. They demanded that no more such commemorations take place.
Prayer to the Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis
O Blessed Brother Mykolas,
humble flower of the Giedraitis line,
Which came to bloom at the foot of the Cross,
newly planted in the land of our fathers Obtain for us a firm and active Faith!
Humble and patient Brother, marked from childhood with the Cross of suffering and humiliation,
And having accepted it with sincere love as the greatest gift.
Teach us to love humility which is so lacking in the spirit of contemporary mankind.
O wise man of learning,
who remained a servant all your life, Obtain for us true wisdom, so that we might understand
that everything in the world is passing And the greatest honor is to seek in all things
God,our one eternal goal.
O miraculous healer of the sick.
cure the soxds of your fellow Lithuanians, And of all people, sick and burdened iwith impurity,
drunkenness, infidelity and other vices, So that they might not perish forever.
Respected prophet of the future,
look at the land of your birth, And obtain for Lithuania a bright,
truly Christian future!
Pray for us, Blessed Mykolas, that we might greet the 600-year Jubilee of the baptism of our nation
Newly reborn, and determined to follow in the footsteps of the saints.
Obtain more saints for Lithuania!
Five hundred years have been unable to cover over
with the dust of oblivion, Your virtues which have merited for you
the honor and brightness of the blessed.
Be a shining example for us, so that we too,
imitating your humility, patience, self-control,
Spirit of prayer and zeal,
might gain eternal happines.