In the spring of this year, there appeared two letters addressed to the Bishops and Administrators of Lithuania: One was anonymous, signed "Group of priests from the Archdiocese of Kaunas", the other signed by a priest from Vilnius. Both dealt with approximately the same matters affecting the situation of the Church in Lithuania and hold similar viewpoints. I wish to share here certain thoughts which arose after I read these letters.
The question of bishops. In my opinion, at present this is not the most important question.
Would the bishops, if every diocese had them, be able to change the situation of the Church which is the result of state laws?
A more important question is the person of the bishop. It distresses the faithful when a bishop or administrator is a blind tool in the hands of the atheists, rarely seen in his church and even more rarely in the pulpit, while meantime his articles appear in atheist newspapers. Such a bishop has no authority with the faithful. We need bishops like St. Paul and not like old-time nobles busy with parties and hunting.
A more painful question: the training of new priests and the seminary's requisite quality. The letters state grievances, but prescribe no solution. The situation will apparently not change as long as the seminary is administered not by the bishops but by the civil government.
The authors of the letter are opposed to "catacomb" priests. But they have nothing to do with the situation. Catacombs appear where there is repression.
They bemoan the fact that someone publicly lamented the un-suitability of certain seminarians. It would seem that silence in this instance would be most useful to those who seek to render the seminary useless to the Church. Society must be apprised of the outside forces which are currently reaching their tentacles into the Seminary.
The question of unity is addressed with pathos.
This is an eternal human problem, which is especially pronounced in the Church. There was no unity among the Apostles: Judas followed the path of betrayal.
Unity: on what basis and on what points? Some are interested in cognac, others in catechization and altar boys, some dream of Volgas, others are interested in liturgy . . .
Obedience: to whom and in what matters? When around 1870 the Czarist government sent chancery offices Russian Ritual Books— "Trebniks"—Bishop M. Valančius returned them to the governor without even unpacking them, while the administrator of Vilnius, Msgr. P. Žilinskas, sent them out to priests, most of whom did not accept this "gift" (only one sixth of them did). Do we have similar cases now?
The anonymous letter writes that "certain colleagues are overly anxious to teach and instruct everyone and always and under any circumstances, hold themselves up as examples to others." It seems that this time the anonymous writers also want "to teach and instruct" and "hold themselves up as examples to others." In fact, it is commendable that priests as well are showing some initiative; for the Church should concern everyone, since we are all responsible for her fate.
The anonymous letter asserts that the actions of these priests lack "noble goals", and that they "are not concerned about the Church and the good of souls." Who can look into another's heart? Was such an assertion dictated by "noble sentiments," is it not an unfounded assumption which an honorable person would not allow himself to make?!
The anonymous letter claims that these colleagues "want to wear the halo of "hero" or "martyr". . . I feel they simply want to be faithful to the Church. In the final analysis, even the anonymous writers can be "heroes" and martyrs", no one is stopping them.
Issue No. 12 of this year's Truth of the Communist Youth reported that 33 Catholic missionaries were murdered over six years of civil war in Southern Rhodesia, and on New Year's Eve two more missionaries vanished without a trace. Did these people want to gain fame, sport the halo of hero? They did not leave their posts, though the situation was very hostile, they did not seek death and did not risk their lives thoughtlessly: they were faithful to their calling, steadfast in their obligations and courageous. A high Southern Rhodesia. Clergymen affirmed this at this year's Conference of Bishops in Switzerland when he mentioned that to date unrest in that country had claimed the lives of 47 missionaries of various Christian denominations. One would think that a similar description would also fit the people who are being attacked by the anonymous letter.
The letters write about "artificially seeking confrontations with the government and atheists", about "lack of tact", about "cheap and dangerous popularity."
When evangelization is undertaken, conflicts are unavoidable: "If you were of the world, it would love you as its own" (John 15:16). It is not always honorable to live without confrontation: "If I wished to please everyone, I would not be a servant of Christ" (St. Paul). To live without conflict often means "to hide under a tree." Christ was not like that. He entered into conflict with the leaders of his nation.
Our letter writers would, no doubt, even accuse the Apostles of this same vice—seeking the halo of "hero" or "martyr"—they who replied when they were forbiddent to act: "We cannot remain silent." (Acts 4:20). The anonymous letter writers, would also find fault with St. Paul who, after being stoned, recovers and again seeks a new "Martyrdom" (Acts 14:20).
It appears that the anonymous writers would also accuse the martyr St. Stanislaus of "lack of tact and seeking cheap popularity" when he raised his voice against King Boleslaw II .. . But the people of that time did not support the King who was forced to flee the country and died in a foreign land, but supported the bishop who stood up against the cruel and immoral king who oppressed the people with huge taxes, conducted a plundering war in the Ukraine and trampled the rights of the Church. As we know, John Paul II honored St. Stanislaus, whom Boleslaw II murdered, as a defender of human rights .. .
The anonymous letter condemns the Chronicle as doing a disservice to the cause of the Church. It may be that not all the material it publishes is of equal importance, but we should remember that it is the cry of an oppressed people. Soviet laws allow occasional use of more force than necessary in defending oneself. This instinct of self-preservation is reflected in the Chronicle's tone. It would really be too cynical to forbid the oppressed to cry out. A robber who attacks someone in the street or the woods wants him to keep silent... In truth, there are forces which would find it more pleasant had the Chroniclenot been born. Apparently, our anonymous letter sides with them.
The letters bemoan the division into left and right. Unfortunately, such a division does exist. The people have labeled these groups af follows: the priests are either "freezers" or "heaters."
Mankind has never been united. Philosophers write about the bourgeois and the idealist in society. When they rate 19th-century Lithuanian clergy, historians (P. Vėbra) find three groups: 1. the passivists, adaptors, wheedlers; 2. activists, fighters; and 3. those holding the middle ground. There is yet another division when people, in their yearning to do good for the Church, seek new ways and methods. The "conservatives" should not condemn them for this. Perhaps more good will should be attributed to those who follow uncharted paths, their creative initiative should be lauded and it should be remembered that there are no easy roads for the Church. Germany could serve us as an example here. Those who followed the easier path, regretted it only later, as did Ludwig Muller whom Hitler named in 1935 to lead the Protestant Church. Neither the clergy nor the people liked this bishop. In 1945 he committed suicide. In truth, even those who survived the hell of the concentration camps had regrets: "We fought, directed by our faith . . . We do not regret this fight. We only regret we did not do so with sufficient earnestness in public."