Today’s thoughts are inspired by a saint and a Russian author.
The saint, St. Faustina Kowalska (Faustyna in Polish), is the first canonized saint of the third millennium. Her story is briefly recounted in The End and the Beginning, George Weigel’s second book on Pope Saint John Paul II. St. Faustina’s mystic experiences provided the world with the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
The Russian author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, came to the United States in 1976. His story inspired many Americans to examine their freedom in light of the Soviet Union’s oppressive authoritarian denial of freedom for Russians and other countries under Soviet control. Solzhenitsyn’s commencement address at Harvard on June 8, 1978 provided insights and prophesies for the United States.
I’ll begin with Alexander Solzhenitsyn’ address. [Thanks to Timothy Bates, whose reply to Charles Murray Twitter post provided the link to the commencement address]
The author of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Gulag Archipelago opened his speech with an a warning and an apology:
“Harvard’s motto is “Veritas.” Many of you have already found out and others will find out in the course of their lives that truth eludes us if we do not concentrate with total attention on its pursuit. And even while it eludes us, the illusion still lingers of knowing it and leads to many misunderstandings. Also, truth is seldom pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter. There is some bitterness in my speech today, too. But I want to stress that it comes not from an adversary but from a friend.”
My alma mater’s motto is also Veritas. The pursuit of truth requires objectivity, compassion, and persistence. Alexander Solzhenitsyn exemplified these qualities by his life. As a result, his message requires deep reflection.
The first unpleasant truth offered by this speaker was the decline of civil courage in this nation’s political and intellectual leaders. “Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society.” (He actually includes “the West” but focuses on the U.S.) This lack of courage is reflected in weak and cowardly state policies discussed later in his speech.
He criticizes the loss of spiritual development at the expense of unconstrained material growth. This is a primary theme throughout the talk. The pursuit of happiness has been reduced to physical comfort and material wealth. He points out that socialism and its foundation on scientific rationalism have created a situation where “the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive.”
As the current cancel culture rages against this nation’s founding principles and praises socialism as a salvation, it would be helpful if everyone listened to Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s speech. (A transcript can be found at A World Split Apart). Pay particular attention to his message on the need for religious spiritual life. “We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life.”
It’s time to stop, listen/read, and reflect.
St. Faustina Kowalska
St. Maria Faustina Kowalska was born on August 25, 1905 in Glogowiec, Poland. She lived only 33 years (the same as Jesus Christ). Her spiritual life developed to a mystical level that most of us will never realize. The time period for the height of her spiritual growth was between World War I and World War II.
When St. Faustina died in 1938, she was at her convent at Krakow-Lagiewniki. As noted by George Weigel, “The Lagiewniki convent was close to the Solvay chemical factory where Karol Wojtyla worked from October 1941 until August 1944; the young robotnik would sometimes stop at the convent chapel to pray,…”. Archbishop Karol Wojtyla supported Sister Maria Faustina’s mystical life during the Second Vatican council. This support included a request for the Vatican to review her diary, which was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books under Pope John XXIII. The book was eventually removed from the list and, on April 18, 1993, Pope John Paul II beatified Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska. Then on April 30, 2000, she was canonized as Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, the first saint of the third millennium. [Note: Karol Wojtyla ( Pope John Paul II) and Pope John XIII have been canonized as saints also.]
The importance of spiritual growth to a nation is best evidenced by the power of faith in the people of Poland during the 20th century. Poland was occupied by Germany and the Soviet Union from 1939 through 1945 during WW II. From 1947 through 1952 it was the Republic of Poland and from 1952 to 1989 the Polish People’s Republic, an Eastern Bloc country, ruled by communist administrators. The Polish people remained devoutly Catholic even though the communists persecuted the Church. Saint Faustina and Saint John Paul II reflect the strength of Poland to persevere in faith and fight for freedom. (To appreciate the struggles, read Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II by George Weigel. The life of Poland during that time period is powerfully communicated through the life of Karol Wojtyla.)
The need for faith is essential to spiritual health. Without faith, the grace of God cannot assist us to embrace the Divine Mercy needed to overcome life’s challenges. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy is a powerful prayer revealed to St. Faustina during her mystical communications with Jesus Christ.
On Friday, March 12, 2021, Father Joseph Mary, MFVA gave a homily that reveals the need for faith in Jesus Christ in today’s world. His message echoes Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s call for a religious spiritual life. Take the time to listen and reflect.
Until my next Thinking Out Loud post, “Good night and good luck” (Edward R. Murrow).