Editor’s note: The following is from the witness talk Father Michael Shields gave in August during the World Meeting of Families in Ireland.
I have spent the last 25 years in Far East Siberia Russia in a city called Magadan in the former prison camps of Stalin.
I felt called to live the spirituality of Blessed Charles De Foucauld there after a 40-day Jesuit retreat where I heard God call me to “go pray in the camps.”
I knew it meant going there freely for the rest of my life to make an offering of myself in reparation for the evil experienced by so many. I have been praying for the healing of families for 25 years — families torn apart by atheistic communism that promoted abortion and denied the eternal.
We need this prayer of healing today more than ever. 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 today that denies the eternal, attacks family and marriage, promotes confusing teaching on human sexuality, denies the authority of God and his moral absolutes. We need this Gospel more than ever today. At risk is the salvation of souls.
I have proclaimed the scandal of the cross in a place in Far East Siberia. The scandal is that God offers himself to us, even unto death, as the redeeming power that takes sin upon himself so as to transform lives through forgiveness. Today the church is in a time of scandals that need to be taken to the cross through deep prayer, repentance and asking and giving forgiveness. We need the cross of Jesus Christ because there is no way out of the scandal of sin except through his cross, which has redeemed the world.
Prayer for healing and the Gospel of hope are bread and water to a starving and thirsty world. Our time needs a humble church built on healing and hope — a church with heads bowed, knees touching the earth and hearts soaring on eagle’s wings proclaiming that Jesus is Lord.
So many have such a low expectation of their faith and their relationship with Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters, is that the best that the death of Jesus Christ the Son of God can do for us — that we should just live in mediocrity, boredom, worldliness, and maybe just above average moral condition? We struggle with depression, sorrow and sinful habits — seeing very little progress. Really? Is that the best that the death of the Son of God can do for us?
Jesus died to give us a completely new life as new creatures. In Jesus sin is put to death and we come to life. In Jesus sorrows and fears give way to joy. This is the hunger of the world and the thirst of every human heart.
Ilita was five years old when she came to 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 kneeled. She had no faith background and her family was not religious, yet there she was concentrating on the altar with undivided attention. She would come up for a blessing at Communion time. Then one Sunday, after she had attended Mass for a few months, she came forward during Communion but stopped and did not move. She frowned when I asked her to go back to her seat. I knew after Mass I was going to get an ear full from a five-year-old. After Mass Ilita, deeply hurt, asked me a question that changed my priesthood. It was a Saint Paul moment as scales fell from my heart and I saw anew what the world sought from me and from the Catholic Church.
Ilita asked, “Father Michael why didn’t you give me Jesus? I wanted Jesus.” At that moment time seemed to stand still and I envisioned men and women crowding behind Ilita with heart-felt looks and also crying out to me as a priest and to us his church. They were from all nations, races and times but the cry was the same — “Why don’t you give us Jesus? We want Jesus.”
This is our mission to the world — nothing less. The world needs salvation and hope. We are the broken body of Christ that needs to pray for healing and proclaim hope.
Now many want mere relief — not real healing. Healing is found in the cross of Jesus Christ, but that demands laying down your life for another.
A young man came to me quite poor and abandoned. I knew the Lord was asking me to take him into my heart. The problem is that he was quite obnoxious and ungrateful. One night during prayer as I wrestled with how to care for him I heard the Lord saying, “I died for him. Will you?” What could I say? “Of course Lord I will die for him because you died for me.”
After 25 years in a former prison camp of Stalin I have more hope than I can express — more joy than can fill any heart. Why? Because like Saint Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.” (Phil. 3:8)
My dear brothers and sisters, even as a broken body of Christ we are to pray for healing, and proclaim hope.
Give the world Jesus.