‘Praise to Jesus Christ – now and forever’. This is the English translation of the Catholic greeting in Russia. One more time: ‘Praise to Jesus Christ – now and forever’. Marvelous. Let’s be enthusiastic for Jesus.
My name is Fr. Michael Shields from Alaska. I have spent the last 25 years in Siberia Russia in a city called Magadan, a the former prison camp of Stalin. I felt called to live the spirituality of Blessed Charles De Foucauld there, after a 40 day retreat where I heard “go pray in the camps”. I knew it meant going there freely for the rest of my life.
I have been praying for the healing of families for these 25 years torn apart by atheistic communism that promoted abortion, denied the reality of God and attacked the Church. We need this prayer of healing today more than ever in our western culture that promotes abortion and has forgotten God.
I have preached the gospel of hope in this dark place of history that sent people to suffer and die because they believed in God. We are in a dark place and we need hope as we see attacks on the family, marriage, the sick, the elderly and on our religious freedom. We see culturally confusing teaching on human sexuality that denies the authority of God, His moral absolutes and the teaching of the Church. We need this gospel of hope more than ever today. What is the risk? Nothing less than the salvation of souls.
I have proclaimed the scandal of the cross in this place in Siberia Russia called the ‘Devils playground’. The scandal of the cross is God offering himself “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
1 Peter 2:24
We are in a time of scandals in the Church that need to be taken seriously to the scandal of the cross through deep prayer, repentance and asking and giving forgiveness. There is no way out of the scandal of sin other than through the Cross of Christ. ‘We adore you Christ and we praise you, because by your cross you have redeemed the world’.
Our world needs a humble Church, built on healing and hope with heads bowed and on our knees in repentance but our hearts soaring on eagles wings proclaiming Jesus Christ is Lord. It is amazing to me that so many have such a low expectation of their faith and their relationship with Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, is this the best that the death of Jesus Christ the Son of God the savior of the world can do for us? That we should just live in mediocrity, boredom, worldliness, and struggling with sinful habits and patterns, but seeing very little progress. Really? “By his wounds you have been healed.”
It is in Jesus that sin is put to death, that you really com alive, that sorrow, anxieties and fears give way to joy. Brothers and sisters the world needs Jesus. We need Jesus. A story of hope.
Ilita was 5 years old when she came to our Sunday mass by herself in the middle of winter at 40 below zero. She was so small she could barely see over the pew when she knelt. She had no faith background. And no catechetical formation. Her family was not religious. Yet there she was concentrating every Sunday with an undivided attention watching me as I prayed at the altar. She would come up for a blessing at communion time. Then one Sunday after she had attended Mass for a few month she was blessed and she did not move. And I blessed her again and again she remained. She frowned when I asked her to go back to her seat. I knew after mass I was going to get balled-out by a 5 year old but I didn’t know why. After Mass Ilita with a hurtful look asked me a question that changed the definition of my priesthood and defined the mission of the church. She asked, “Fr. Michael why didn’t you give me Jesus. I wanted Jesus. Why didn’t you give me Jesus.” A 5 year old heart discerned what the world is blind too. Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and this 5 year old heart wanted him. And you know the world wants and needs him.
At that moment I envisioned men and women “from all nations, races and times huge crowds behind Ilita with desperate and painful looks crying out to me as a priest and to us His church. “Why don’t you give us Jesus? We want Jesus.” We are the broken body of Christ that needs healing and hope. We need Jesus. Why? Because we can only give away what we have. The world will judge us if we give away too little. We can give away our brokenness or give away the one who was broken for us. Jesus. The savior of the world. Who died for our selfishness and sinfulness so we could be set free to love like Jesus. What does it mean to love like Jesus? Look of the cross.
A young man came to me quite poor and broken. He was obnoxious and ungrateful and I didn’t feel like I wanted to help him let alone love him. The Lord spoke to me these simple words as I prayed before the Blessed Sacrament “I died for him. Will you?” Love is the cross of Christ. My life for yours.
I have been 25 years in a former prison camp of Stalin. I have more hope than I can express. I have more joy in my heart that I can proclaim. Why? Because as St Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Phil. 3:8
Yes, broken body of Christ, my dear brothers and sisters in faith, lets give the world what it seeks – Jesus. Mary, dear mother lead us to your Son Jesus, so that the world can be saved. Now and forever.