Father Juozas Zdebskis, killed in a 1986 auto accident.
February 5 of this year (1988) marks two years since that zealous priest of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, who was once sentenced to Soviet labor camp for teaching children catechism, perished in an automobile accident. We print here an excerpt from a letter of Father Zdebskis, written in Soviet labor camp.
I wish to place my trust in the mercy of God, hoping that His grace will help me to collect my thoughts and to dwell on one point in your letter, regardless of the fact that they are talking and walking around me.
We have just returned from work. Today, we returned somewhat earlier. We did not accomplish too much, since it is raining. Everyone has crawled in wherever he can, and so to my great joy, I have been able to read a bit of the Brothers Karamazov, and now, I'm trying to reply to your letter.
The part of your letter about which I have thought much deals with something which is a great problem of all of us. The direction and dynamic of our lives depends, in one way or another, on how we solve it. You have probably thought about this idea many times. It is expressed by you in different words. Let me state it in mine.
We all know how great a power, what a source of life energy, is natural love, when one as the saying goes, falls in love ~ usually with a person of the opposite sex — or in the case of an aberration of nature, with someone of the same sex. This is clear to most of us - and part of our own experience.
But to many of us, that love about which Christ speaks and which He demands of all as the basic mark of His faithful followers, poses the greatest question. The question arises: Where, then, is love to draw its energy if it does not of itself blaze like a conflagration?
The basic reason, the basic source of energy for such wondrous love which the world admires even after many centuries, is an action of grace in the soul. There are not only scientific heroes and war heroes, but also heroes in the area of love. They are practical examples of how God can act in people, and how mankind can become like God, who is Love, just as on a fine morning, ordinary colorless drops of dew can blossom with the wonder of the sun.
One might ask whether that great Love on earth has any connection with God. Can it not manifest itself wondrously, even without God? Have there not been remarkable people on earth, moved by motives other than love? More precisely, not by motives of Christian, Divine Love?
First of all, in history, it is not so easy to enter into the depths of each great person's soul, and determine whether his actions exhibited only the desire for the good of others, and not common pride, or a feverish self-seeking. Is this important? It is very important. Pride, self-seeking, this is the clearest sign that this has nothing to do with the great Divine Love which is able to embrace many, not just one person.
It is very important, in order to orient oneself in this question, to pay attention to the voice of history. Every system which causes suffering is a historical proof that love is a monopoly which belongs only to Him who Himself is Love. And to the extent that it is missing in life, to that extent, man is not a brother to man, not a comrade, does not have equal rights.
Respect, more exactly subservience, in the naturalistic sense is ordinarily expressed according to physical, most often fiscal, power. There is just one conclusion from all this: for man to be able to love powerfully, he himself must be powerfully loved.
How to understand this? As an example of this, we have the experience of natural love. I am reminded of one man's ideas. He learned to enjoy flowers, and to notice them only when love entered his heart, when he felt it as a gift intended for him in another heart. Then, and only then, did he feel the powerful desire to do everyone good.
This is obvious to us. But how does this law express itself in that other great Love which the Master requires of us, toward others and in all circumstances? It is just here that the need arises for a man to have known God's love for us. Do you know that the only reason Christ had the right to give us His great law of love was because He Himself demonstrated it to us in a wonderful way?
Do you know when I would recall this thought somehow anew? It was during Holy Week when the prayer of meditation always turns to those events, especially Holy Thursday evening. The Master then gave everything he could give: "Love one another as I have loved you," "I give you a commandment, I give you a new commandment..."
"If your Lord and Master has done so (washed the feet of another -the highest expression of love and respect in Jewish custom), so you ought to do for one another."
"I no longer call you servants, but friends," - comrades.
Finally, the great gift of that evening of Love was His new form of being with us on earth, invented by His power - the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. Finally, He saw everything with the eyes of His soul on the Mount of Olives, and agreed to experience it, so that we might have the capability of avoiding those terrible results of Man's pride before God.
Lastly, there is the great miracle of His resurrection. This is an encouragement for us that our hopes might not be groundless, that we might be able to trust Him (Did you feel that on Easter morning?). And all this is not beautiful poetry, but historical fact, like all other historical events in the world. The mystery of Christ's Incarnation in the world, after all, was not a coincidence. It was God's love expressed for us in that way.
Can entering deeply into the mysteries of this feast really make the human heart so powerful? Meditating on it is an essential condition so that we might be granted the grace to love powerfully. Grace changes the heart's powers (If, for example, a beast were granted the gift of intellect, this would be an essential change in its nature.). It is possible to say that man becomes a Man of new capabilities, unrecognizeably unlike the man who manifests himself only by natural powers.
But in order for such a miracle of change to take place, everywhere (in the normal course of events), it is necessary to enter deeply into all those ways by which Divine Love manifests itself to us, since man can then no longer say that no one has loved him. And thanks to the action of grace, that power of love becomes capable of being perceived by the senses, similar to natural love.
And only when man is overcome by the wonder of the grace God has given him, does he feel himself indebted in love to everyone. Oh how much we lose because of the most common thoughtlessness. For whatever you take: physical strength, mental power, sight — all this is a gift!
For, coming into the world, we did not give ourselves anything. If people consciously understood this, if they remembered every morning, "Behold, Lord, I go to make use of your gifts (the mind, physical powers)," that would already be an expression of love and adoration, and at the same time, a sensing of His love. And if in the evening, he were to ask, "God, how did I use your gifts today?", if people would only remember this, this drop of love for the Creator would have reforming meaning for their lives.
Just thinking in such simple terms, man already experiences, senses, God's love for him. And this simple feeling of love already gives energy to love others, all the more thanks to meditative prayer. Deep is the feeling that everything that took place during Holy Week was real, and not just beautiful poetry. As real as a day I have experienced. A day ten years ago, etc.
So once again, let us pause before the thought: the events of life show that the rules of etiquette and friendship, love based only on words, is quickly choked by weeds, self-interest, unruly ambition, and pride. Only in the sight of God, as the source of all Love known and unknown to us, does every person we meet on the road of life attain a value.
Here is something of a parallel: If someone is dear to us, then of course that person's intimates are also dear to us. Take note -- even natural love activated by powerful forces of nature easily becomes distorted if one does not see his love in the view of Him who is the first cause of all Love. I think we all know examples of distorted love which hardly differs from the "love" of animals.
At the present time, Providence is letting me experience in a practical way that in truth, noble human love between two people, the kind all hearts long for, is really impossible solely on the basis of man's natural powers, without feeling God in one's own view and that of another, God Who is above me and above you.
Even in primitive religions which did not have the good fortune of knowing Divine Providence, a human being's feeling that he is in the sight of another being higher than man, has meaning. Not a single nation which has forgotten revelation becomes unbelieving. It is just that their religion becomes unnatural, since this understanding is inborn in man.
At the present time, I have the rare opportunity of comparing two dormitories: my schooldays are alive in my memory in detail, where also there were young men, and my present "dormitory". It would be very interesting to show in two films how infinite is the difference between two people who find themselves in the same life circumstances (e.g., eating and sleeping), but one of them senses himself and his friends in the Sight of God, and the other senses only himself!
Know that here are concentrated mostly people who have become materialistic. And when such an individual is not alone, but among others of the same ilk, their basic traits become unusually clear. You know that this practical comparison is for me, myself, one of the strongest and most obvious proofs of man's material and spiritual sides. I wonder whether you can imagine how poverty stricken is man without a shred of decoration, without beauty, if in his behavior, only attention to self is manifestested, to one's own pleasure, one's own convenience, one's own ambition; when there remains only one area of interest, only that which is connected with sexual feeling and this, too, caricatured in its very lowest meaning.
It seems that most of them are not themselves to blame, and yet, it is a sight... A few practical examples: How difficult it is to renounce useful work found for oneself, especially food, if only no one sees. How easy it is to blame another, just to curry favor with whomever it is necessary. There is a line for dinner. Right away, one or two show up ahead of the others, as though not seeing that behind him stand people whom he is pushing away. You see how obvious is interest in oneself alone. It is the wish to eat as soon as possible which he is unable to overcome, even though it is shameful in the sight of others to show that there is no will power.
Expressions used every other word (which there is no way of specifying), betray their area of interest. In detail, they brag about their "conquests" among women. And it is necessary to forget that a woman is a human being. They listen in amazement to talk about responsibility, consequences and comparison ~ if that were, for instance, your daughter, your sweetheart, your mother — and others acted so. They agree that this is impossible, but who thinks about that. They find a list of sophisms and nonsense to justify themselves. Truly, if he did not have the ability to think and speak, then how would man differ from the animals?
But do not think that there is not a shred of good in them. How much generosity and comradeship they are sometimes able to demonstrate. It is just that with them, everything is in disarray, neglected, like an untended garden. But if someone were to take care of it, tend it, this garden would also be fruitful. "Send workers to your harvest!"
Seeing them, one is prompted to say, "Lord, how much You have given me. Be merciful also to them."
Look what just came to my mind: This desire that they also should have what they do not have formulates itself only when you feel your own gift, in other words, when you feel loved.
I would like to tell you what contributed greatly to the evokation of these thoughts. The last time I received some Easter eggs, etc., it included an informational slip telling to whom I should be grateful for what things... Then taking the gifts in my hands, there arose before my eyes, not abstractly but concretely, the facial characteristics and generosity of the person who had remembered me. And in the sight of all this, you feel obliged to do something good for everyone you meet. May God reward them!
Before the eyes of your soul, let God arise who has revealed Himself in human form. Let the heart hear His mysterious request, "I have shown you so much love... you have been given to understand more than others. Represent my love, so that from your behavior, from your great wish to make everyone happy, they might gradually but truly recognize Me."