He Leadeth Me by Walter Ciszek with Daniel Flaherty
As the author explains in the prologue, he wrote With God In Russia (which came out in 1964) on his return to America, about the story of his adventures and sufferings on his Russian mission; but He Leadeth Me, coming some years later (in 1972), is actually “the book I wanted to write”, about the things he experienced and learnt on the inside, because of the circumstances, and by reflecting on them.
HLM retells the essentials of WGIR, so that it can be read as a standalone. On the other hand, having read WGIR first has the advantage that it provides background and colour to much that is related in HLM, so the reader gets a much fuller picture and can appreciate the contents of HLM more deeply.
Some readers felt that the title is not a good one. One has to bear in mind that it was written over 40 years ago, but for today’s readers the word “leadeth” can be opaque and off-putting, unless they recognise it as a quotation from Psalm 22, “The Lord is my Shepherd”. As a matter of fact, the title contains the essential message of the book – all the good that Ciszek drew from his appalling experiences, and all the good that he was able to do, were, he explains over and over again, because he “simply” followed God’s lead, and allowed God to act.
When reading the book it is notable how often the words from the Morning Offering prayer are quoted or referred to, just in passing, as though it was a permanent attitude in Ciszek that became second nature to him, offering everything in him and all that he did to God. In fact this book really is spiritual reading, a deep, even mystical book, but certainly accessible and easy to read for someone with Christian faith. Having read it, one is not surprised to hear that Ciszek’s cause of canonization has been opened: he is officially titled “Servant of God”.
Key points in the book – Ciszek makes several of these the central point of different chapters:
- His realization, and deepening understanding and acceptance, during his five years in Lubianka, that the Will of God is here and now, not somewhere else. The situations themselves are God’s Will for each person. His reaction to his failures is to abandon himself more fully in God, and results in a purifying of his spirit; this is followed immediately by a fresh testing (pp. 70ff.), followed by renewed and deeper abandonment (p. 76).
- He was led to reflect deeply on the nature of human work, and its true value, by being stripped of absolutely everything except the bare physical task itself. When God became man, he became a workman.
- Praying for others is not a matter of praying for them to help me or do what I want, but of praying for them for themselves.
- On freedom: that letting God work through me is the essence of freedom, however paradoxical it sounds.
Catholics should note that at the time Ciszek was in Russia, Church discipline required a person to fast from midnight before in order to receive Holy Communion. Ciszek, and other priests and faithful in the various labour camps, did this heroically when they were starving and in sub-zero temperatures (pp. 124, 126 and elsewhere).
Everyone agreed that this is a book to re-read, quite possibly on a yearly basis.