From the editor: August 16, 2013

Movie: Messenger of the Truth
Jerzy Popieluszko: Messenger of Truth

Standing His Ground

Last night I had the privilege of viewing a new documentary film about the Polish priest-martyr Jerzy Popieluszko. Our local theater was packed, including some who had been present during the protests in Poland in the 1980s.

The documentary, using actual footage of the events, including interviews with Fr. Popieluszko, is deeply moving. The trailer begins with an interview in which he says, "The role of the priest is to proclaim the truth and suffer for the truth, and if necessary, even die for the truth."

The protests were powerfully peaceful. In some cases absolute silence was maintained by tens of thousands as they marched.

In one scene, Fr. Popieluszko prays before a massive crowd: "Let us ask Him to make us free from revenge and hatred, to give us freedom, which is the fruit of His love."

Harrassed, arrested, and interrogated, Fr. Jerzy stood his ground, not taking the opportunity to escape to Rome for "advanced studies." He felt as a shepherd he needed to stay by his flock. He paid with his life, murdered by agents of the secret police.

His peaceful and gentle example would have been appreciated by Evagrius of Pontus, a 4th-century Greek monk living in Egypt (today a nation in which Christians are suffering and dying as I write). Gabriel Bunge, in his excellent book, Despondency: The Spiritual Teaching of Evagrius Ponticus on Acedia, writes:

There is a safe criterion to distinguish real love of neighbor, which for Evagrius always manifests itself as meekness, from its counterfeit: its fruits. True love makes one lovable; by contrast, "charitable activism," born from despondency [created by anger and desire], renders one bitter and intolerant.

Such false activism for one's neighbor tends toward anger, sometimes becoming violent. Today's protests in Egypt couldn't be more different from those of Poland in the 1980s. Of course, "lovable" doesn't mean your enemies will love you.

The heart of Poland broke at the news of the murder of this beloved priest whose love the authorities could not break. Tears flowed in the theater last night. nearly 30 years later. They could break his body, but not the truth he bore in his heart, which still bears fruit.

One must stand one's ground, but not, as St. Paul wrote, as a noisy gong, even giving one's body to be burned, but with love, the love of Christ, who showed no anger even at his betrayer. Such love endures to the end.

—James M. Kushiner

© The Fellowship of St. James. 2015

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