Saturday, June 23, 2007

Just In Case Your Prayerlife Needs Pumping Up

My friend Frederica Matthews-Greene has posted a stunning testament to a priest friend of hers who was a living martyr of the Romanian Pitesti experiments. Very powerful stuff on torture and the devil. (Hat tip to the Great and Powerful Eve).

The piece had me wondering how I will act when the moment comes. And I think it is coming. Sorry to put a damper on your day, but my compulsion as a historian's daughter is to gaze fixedly at the horizon for the Signs of the Times. My prayer for several years has been for final perseverance.I remember an old nun telling me once that "Final perseverance is the one greatest grace that should be the object of all our striving."

Part of me - the schleppy pathetic part - hates that I am "competing" with the example of people like Fr. Roman in the annals of Church persecution. We are such wimps today, I think. How do we live up to the example of those who really suffered for Jesus? I think most of us will just give in fast under the assumption that God, after all, gets our basic orientation, and wouldn't really want us to suffer, right? I mean, who cares what you say in a pinch? That is, when you're, um, being pinched?

The unbelievable evil of the Pitesti thing is that they made the prisoners torture each other. Demonic. Honestly, when I hear Christopher Hitchens say he doesn't believe in God, I just want to hold him in the shoulders, look him in the eye and say, "Okay. But surely you have to believe in Satan? You can't be that cynical about human nature, seeing you share it. Can you?!"

Anyway, here's a snip of Frederica's piece.

The plan at the prison in the Romanian city of Pitesti was to take promising young men, 18 to 25 years old, and utterly break them down—then rebuild them into the ideal “Communist man.” In the book Christ is Calling You! (St. Herman Press, 1997) Fr. George explained to an interviewer that the Pitesti experiment involved several distinct steps.

Incoming prisoners would be handed over to a team of guards and experienced prisoners, who would beat them and kill one or two, whoever appeared to be a leader. Then the “unmaskings” began, in which prisoners were required under torture to renounce everything they believed. Fr. George recalled being compelled to say, for example, “I lied when I said ‘I believe in God.’ I lied when I said, ‘I love my mother and my father.’” This was extremely painful, as it was designed to be. The intention was to undermine the prisoner’s memory and personality, to infiltrate his consciousness with lies until he came to believe them.

A few months ago I was able to talk with another survivor of Pitesti, Fr. Roman Braga, when I visited the Michigan convent where he now is in residence. The Communists had arrested Fr. Roman on an inventive charge: he was accused of trying to overthrow the government by discussing the writings of St. Basil the Great, St. John Climacus, and St. Gregory of Nyssa. He spent his first year in solitary confinement, and in the dark, narrow cell could not tell one season from another, nor could he look out the small, high window and see a horizon. “You had to go somewhere; you had to find an inner perspective,” he said, “because otherwise you would truly go crazy.”

Fr. Roman told me that religious beliefs were particularly mocked. Tormenters would set obscene lyrics to the tunes of familiar hymns, and celebrate parody liturgies designed to break believers’ hearts. His sole clue that Christmas or Pascha (Easter) might be near would be the appearance of their themes in the torturers’ arsenal.

One way guards particularly taunted Christians was by telling them that Christ and Mary Magdalene had had a sexual relationship. Fr. Roman noted, laughing, that in Romania this constituted torture, but in America people line up to pay for it in movies and books (“Here in the land of so-called freedom—I am not so sure you are free.”)

Neither man would describe what they’d endured. “It is secret, intimate,” Fr. Roman said, “I saw saints fall, and I saw the simple rise and become saints.” Fr. George admitted that he gave way under torture. When a victim is out of his mind with pain, he doesn’t know what he is saying. Fr. George told his interviewer, “It was a spiritual fight, between good spirits and evil spirits. And we failed on the field of battle; we failed, many of us, because it was beyond our ability to resist … The limit of the human soul’s resistance was tried there by the devil.”

This emotional and spiritual damage was even worse than the physical pain. Fr. George went on, “When you were tortured, after one or two hours of suffering, the pain would not be so strong. But after denying God and knowing yourself to be a blasphemer—that was the pain that lasted … We forgive the torturers. But it is very difficult to forgive ourselves.” At night a wash of tears would come, and with it, returning prayer. “You knew very well that the next day you would again say something against God. But a few moments in the night, when you started to cry and to pray to God to forgive you and help you, was very good.”

Again, somebody tell me why we never see the stories of the Gulag on the big screen? Or the little screen?!

Rats. Go read the whole thing here

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