Sermon of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas delivered at Šiluva:
(Probably in 1980 — Trans. Note)
"Glory to You, Lord, for the eternal path from earth's dust to the stars in the firmament, glory to you for the sun which rises each morning, and for the greatness of our little hearts . . ."
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I think that these words of the poet, Bernardas Brazdžionis, best expressed our feelings upon arriving at Šiluva. During these eight days, all Lithuania is streaming to Šiluva. The fame of Šiluva has reached beyond the borders of Lithuania. Faithful from Kazakh, Latvia, Estonia and Byelorussia are coming to Our Lady of Šiluva, and not in vain. No one is driving them to Šiluva by force, and if people come, it means that they feel a spiritual benefit, and receive many graces. Visiting Šiluva today are many priests and a bishop, whom we will soon meet, and a throng of the faithful.
To the feet of Mary we have brought the troubles, complaints and malaise of the Catholic Church in Lithuania. We have come here not to surrender, not to weep, but on the contrary, to ask that Our Lady of Šiluva bless our work and having strengthened our spirits, to return to the great struggle for the Church of God and religious rights in our country. I trust that all — priests and faithful— will pray with Saint Bernard, "O most holy Virgin Mary, never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection would be left unaided."
So let us hope that Mary will hear us, too, will understand, will present our every concern to her Son and will help us. Looking at the 600-year history of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, we see that the road of the Church in our fatherland was not smooth: it was strewn with great, painful difficulties. One of them was the oppression of the Reformation, when priests who had earlier become infected with the Reformation tried to force it on our people, and only the miracle of Šiluva, Our Lady of Šiluva, saved Lithuania.
The Church is experiencing similarly great difficulties at the present time, since the beginning of the post-war era, when government atheism, as it is called, is trying by force to destroy the Church and the Faith in our land. Much has already been accomplished along this line: Many of the churches have been converted into warehouses. Crosses have been cut down and the Faith has been uprooted from many people, especially the youth. But thank God, the atheists have not yet been able to do everything — the nation is still alive, and it will revive to a new and better life.
To encourage this rebirth, let us resolve on a further spiritual war. Last year, on August 15, the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights wrote a petition to all the bishops and priests of Lithuania, Lithuanians of good-will, our brethren overseas and Vatican Radio, asking that this year be proclaimed as the Year of Temperence. The Ordinaries of Lithuania, and the administrator of the Diocese of Telšiai much earlier, proclaimed this year in their letters as the Year of Temperence. And now, various exercises and recollections are going on to enable us to think over this mission better, and to carry it our successfully.
And I think that in the future, once a year, just as last year at Aušros Vartai (The Gates of Dawn), Kalvarija and now, at Šiluva, we
Vilnius Cathedral. The statues on the roof were torn down in 1952. It is now an art gallery.
priests will gather to pray together and consider practical problems'.
It is necessary to gather, since we have no press, we have no freedom of speech, we have only the Church left, and this audience we will use properly. It is always customary on the Wednesday of every festival at Žemaičiu Kalvarija and at Šiluva, for all the priests of Lithuania to gather at these Marian shrines ... It is our wish and intention that this Year of Temperence not be the end for us. and would not be just one more short-range program, but that it be a preparation for two great jubilees which we will soon be celebrating: In 1984, we will celebrate the 500 year jubilee of the death of our nation's patron, Saint Casimir, and in 1987, 600 years since the introduction of Christianity into Lithuania. The jubilee oi Saint Casimir will be celebrated by the Poles and by the pope. I'm sure that we Lithuanians also, will not lag behind. Our Ordinaries are already consulting on the jubilee program . . . We asked the Ordinaries of Lithuania that they go to the Soviet government, demanding the return of the Church of Saint Casimir, desecrated and turned into a museum of atheism.
In 1604 when they proclaimed Casimir a saint, the construction of this church began, and in four years, we would like to celebrate the jubilee of Saint Casimir in the Church of Saint Casimir. I trust that the Ordinaries will convey our wishes to the Soviet government.
So we have come to Šiluva to pray and to consider how to lift the spiritual face of the nation: our lives, works, thoughts and words — the entire image of Lithuania — before the aforesaid jubilees. By that time, we want to close all saloons. We want no more staggering drunks in the streets. We want the tears of women and children to diminish, harmony to reign again, and our brothers to find their way to the Church, especially those who on account of fear, on account of ambition, "For a speck of gold, a spoonful of tasty food . ..", have turned away from God — the Fount of Eternal happiness.
In the words of Saint Paul, we need "to renew all things in Christ". Let us try to think deeply over these words, and each try to put them into practice in our lives. If, by the 600th anniversary of the introduction of Christianity into Lithuania, we are able to renew ourselves suitably, who knows but that the Pope might not express a wish to come to Lithuania. Perhaps he will be able to kiss the soil of our fatherland. We need only to be worthy of this before God an the Apostolic See.
In order to rise, we must know the dangers which lurk about us, burden and torture us. First and foremost among these is drunkenness which has been sown in our land by atheism. Drunkenness is the result of atheism, and it is foolish to affirm that people drink only because of a high standard of living. The Americans live well, but among them, alcoholism is the fifth greatest problem, while among us, it is the first. The men drink, the women drink, the children drink, and we are about to drink ourselves into oblivion.
During this Year of Temperence, many parishes have made pledges of temperence or complete abstinence — to abstain from drinking altogether for a year, or to be very abstemious: e.g.. 100 grams of alcohol on the occasion of a feast day, a christening or a wedding and no more, and what is most important, not to urge or force anyone to drink. This practice has produced good results.
At the main Mass today also, cards will be distributed. When you get home, sign them, and indicate for how long you wish to take the pledge. When you have the opportunity, come back to your pastor with the card, so that he might know how many of his parishioners have joined the sobriety movement. . . Today we have no Bishop Valančius among us, no authority whom the entire nation would obey, but we have thousands of little Valančiuses, and all of you here are those little Valančiuses, so you must take the sobriety and abstinence movement to our nation. (Bishop Motiejus Valančius was a leading proponent of temperence in 19th Century Lithuania. — Trans. Note) I suggest that everyone participating in this religious festival of Our Lady of Šiluva abstain from all alcoholic beverages for at least a month. That will be the beginning of our resolve, a beautiful gift to Mary. Today, a half-hearted sacrifice is not enough. We need a sacrifice which is great, total, gigantic, and one would like to think that we would be able to make such a sacrifice. We priests look with hope and trust to all of you gathered here. I think that you will understand that this is needed by the Church, this is needed by Lithuania, this is needed for a better tomorrrow.
The second illness from which we often suffer is fear. If people before the War feared a black cat in their yard, they are now afraid of their neighbor's eye and their neighbor's ear. People are afraid of a great variety of things, they are afraid, afraid . . . and finally, they do not even know what they are afraid of — they just feel they have to be afraid. Fear is a demeaning emotion. Those especially who lead the people of God, who stand at the head of the people of God, should not have to be afraid. That honorable national martyr, Archbishop Teofilius Matulionis said, "I can see a priest trembling in the face of danger, but I cannot see him being afraid."
Thus each of us as a human being can tremble in the face of hardship and danger, but we do not have to be afraid. And still, the mania of fearing the polar bears, disseminated at sometime or other, lives on among us. Let us take, for example, our youth. On August 24, our young people arranged a religious procession from Tytuvėnai to Šiluva. Participating in this procession were two priests and about 1500 worshippers, most of them young people.
We have heard of high Soviet officials saying. "We have become a laughing-stock ... if people are praying, then why the fire engines? Why film them? Why not film the hooligans of whom the streets are full . . ." In reality, the atheists, afraid of prayer, often make themselves a laughing-stock. It appears that they really are very timid: They fear the Sign of the Cross and the rosary.
Seeing young people such as this, let us adults take care that we don't have to blush before them in the future. It seems that the youth, educated in Soviet schools, can separate the wheat from the chaff, the truth from a lie. They courageously walk the roads of Lithuania carrying the cross, the truth and love. We elders must not hang back, we have to go forward: to Sunday Mass, to making the Sign of the Cross at the table and to greeting our neighbor upon meeting him with, "Praise be to Jesus Christ!"
So let us conquer fear. If we are afraid, if we hide like mice under a broom, we as Catholics will be doomed to extinction. The incident from the Old Testament comes to mind, of Moses leading the Jewish people from Egypt. Travelling in the desert, they began to miss onions and garlic, and murmured against Moses. Then God said. "This nation shall not enter into the promised land . . ." For forty years they died in the desert; I fear lest the same thing happen to our older generation. Often they betray their religion out of fear, and do not provide good example to the younger generation . . .
The youth will really enter the promised land and see the complete triumph of the Church. Therefore, my brothers, away with fear! The only fear should be the fear of sin. The Christian fears sin alone and nothing else. Away with mediocrity! Long oppression under the Czar spawned an unworthy kind of Lithuanian. Such a person often wants to serve God and the world. He is often afraid, and kowtows to one group or to another. That is bad. The atheists see it and try to use it. Not long ago, the Minister of Cult, Petras Anilionis, went about the rectories summoning priests before executive committees, and telling them that they are not allowed to teach catechism to children, and children are forbidden to be at the the altar.... It's always "You're not allowed! You're not allowed!" You're not allowed even to preach on a catechetical theme!
The same commissioner summoned the pastor of Grinkiškis to the district center, and in the presence of the district chairwoman, he reprimanded him. According to the commissioner, a priest may open his mouth only to put a spoon into it! After scolding the priest, the commissioner pulled out a Catholic catechism on the spot and, giving it to the district chairwoman, said. "Take this and read what is says here!"
When the catechisms were printed, 3500 of them were stolen and sold by employees, while 1500 were sequestered for the Commissioner for Cult. People often wonder why there is so much theft of catechisms and prayerbooks from the print shop itself, and why they do not steal other books. It's simple. If an idea is alive, if it is effective, then everyone seizes on it. No one has any use for outmoded things . . .
This means that priests are not allowed to explain truths of the catechism, to preach catechetical sermons while district chairpersons are being trained for catechetical work, so that they might more effectively destroy the Church. We must obey the basic laws of the state and the Constitution, but not the webs woven by the atheists. We priests are obliged to catechize children well, according to a two or three-year program determined by the Ordinaries. Under the present circumstances, we must catechize the adults, too, every Sunday, for we did not receive many catechisms, ten per parish more or less. So it is imperative to give catechetical sermons, while the faithful, in order to see the truth and distinguish falsehood, must absorb well the truths they hear.
So priests must catechize the people of God, both the adults and children. It is especially necesssary to make two-day, or in some parishes, three-day Advent and Lenten retreats, to make them devoutly. All these things will truly bring us God's grace and courage, and then we will see who we are.
In conclusion, since the time is short, I wish to touch, if only briefly, on one more serious problem: namely, the problem of training priests. There were years when atheists allowed only four, six, eight or ten candidates to be accepted into the seminary. Now that priests and Ordinaries have begun to demand it repeatedly, for the past four years twenty candidates have been admitted to the seminary. During that time, some priests have died, and vacancies have appeared — a shortage of priests.
The atheists have become so emboldened that in fact they run the seminary. For instance this year, the seminary administration submitted to the Office of the Commissioner of Cult the applications of thirty-six candidates. Seventeen of them were weeded out by the atheists, and stricken from the list. They eliminated the very best. I think that the Ordinaries will see to it that those rejected prepare privately for the priesthood.
The time has come when the fitness of candidates for the seminary should be decided not by the commissioner, but by the leadership of the Church — bishops and administrators, priests and faithful. We can remain silent no longer! If we want to immolate ourselves spiritually, all we need do is keep quiet and we shall immolate ourselves. But history will record that by our silence and neglect we betrayed the Catholic Church of Lithuania.
Another example: Last Tuesday, a good seminarian was expelled from the fourth year of seminary. (Seminarian Aloyzas Volskis. See Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, Nos. 53, 55. — Trans. Note) When I inquired what he was expelled for, some said that it was because during the summer, he had met with reactionary priests, while others said that he had spent his summer vacation in Viduklė. Viduklė is the source of contagion where it is possible to contract the plague . . . (Father Svarinskas was the pastor of Viduklė at that time. — Trans. Note) These and similar events force us to think and to say. "Enough! We will not stand for this any longer. If the government wants to, let it shut down the seminary completely, but it must be administered only by Church leadership, and we will support such a seminary in every way."
Today our bishop is here, and he will have something appropriate to say. Let us spread what we hear throughout Lithuania, and put it into practice in our lives.
We priests of Lithuania are not striving for political goals. No! We merely accept that mission which God places upon our poor, weak shoulders. We will kneel often before Mary at Šiluva, Aušros Vartai and Žemaičių Kalvarija and pray for the strength to carry out this mission properly. We promise Mary that we will defend the Church to the last priest. We will defend it with our whole life: by our word, courage, the dissemination of truth, and then let us trust that with the help of God, by the time those two great jubilees come, we will have been successful in renewing the spiritual face of the nation. So, brothers, let our motto be, "To renew all things in Christ". Amen. (The language has been edited — Ed. Note)
Sermon of Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, on the Anniversary of the Death of Father Karolis Garuckas. Commemorated in Ceikiniai, April, 1980.
We stand at the grave of Father Karolis. Why have we come here? We have become accustomed to looking for great people in books, faraway in France or Italy, and often we do not notice them when those great people live right here in our midst, speak and work with us, create with us the future of the Church and the nation. One of those great people whom the Church and the nation will not forget was and still is Father Karolis. Who was he? If one of the faithful were to describe Father Karolis, he would say that Father Karolis was a 100% idealist. He was concerned about God and the Church. He was concerned for the fatherland. He was affected by the immortal souls of people, and their material well-being. If the question, "Who was Father Karolis?" were to be answered by a contemporary government atheist, he would say that Father Karolis was a damned Jesuit, and religious extremist.
Father Karolis Garuckas, SJ, on his deathbed, being visited by Father Alfonsas Svarinskas (center).
Why do government atheists call bishops, priests (including Father Karolis) and believers "extremists"—in other words, label them with whatever perjorative titles they can imagine? In order to answer this question, let us glance at least briefly at the present-day plight of our Church.
Today the Church in our country is walking the road to Golgatha. Today in our country it is being crucified. There is a desire to see the Church and the Faith buried, so that in our fatherland not a trace would be left of a single cross or a single church, in order that future generations would see only atheistic monuments, and no one would testify that here, beside the Baltic Sea, was a deeply believing nation which had loved God and Mary. For this crucifixion of the Church of Christ, everything is used. We can summarize those basic ways in which the Church is being crucified as follows:
First, for the crucifixion of the Church and for the war against religion, alcohol is being used. Consciously and subconsciously, by mass production of alcohol, the atheists are attacking religion and crucifying the Church by the very worst means. Remove alcohol from our nation today and our churches will see three times, and perhaps five times as many of the faithful. The person for whom alcohol becomes life's be-all and end-all forgets the way to church, and religion becomes for him a collection of superstitions. The Land of Mary today has been built full of saloons. Each year, Lithuanians sacrifice millions of rubles to this terrible idol, and everyone who thinks and is not blind sees that the greatest tragedy, THE GREATEST ENEMY OF THE NATION AND THE CHURCH IS NOTHING OTHER THAN ALCOHOLISM!
The second weapon, the second means used in the war against Christ's Church is intimidation. We feel the terrible claws of intimidation throughout the life of the Church. Every spring from the pulpit, we priests read to your faithful a document from the diocesan chancery in which the seminary invites young men to decide to work in the vineyard of Christ. We keep quiet about the fact that young men are often accompanied to the seminary, not by their pastors, but by government officials, whom we call security police and other names. A young man dedicating himself to the service of Christ cannot have free hands. He is intimidated into building, not the Church of Christ, but the house of Satan, intimidated to dissemble and to be a traitor.
We believers have no religious literature. We do not have our own newspaper. We do not have books. Those of you who, not long ago in March, watched a couple of television programs, heard how official persons stated that the believers of Lithuania have everything: They have the Scriptures and religious literature: liturgical books and calendars are published for them. In a word, they publish everything that we believers need!
Not so! We have nothing. Printing presses were taken away from us by force; by force they keep us off radio or television, and when the dregs of untruth and calumny are poured on the heads of priests and faithful, the priest is not allowed to stand up alongside the speaker to rebut. The hand of intimidation prevents priests from teaching children the truths of the Faith, and if today, priests continue to catechize children, daring not to succumb to this terrible intimidation, we honor them. We could mention many instances of this intimidation, but you all know them well. Today it takes an idiot or blind man not to see these instances of intimidation.
The third weapon which the government atheists use in their desire to crucify the Church of Christ is falsehood. Intimidation is in itself terrible and inhuman therefore, in order to hide it, lies are use . We hear these lies on radio and television, and we read them in newspapers and magazines. An attempt is being made to convince us priests and laity of Lithuania that the the rope which the atheists are placing about our necks is not a rope, but a beautiful necktie. So when the atheists try in various ways to strangle us, to bury us, those same atheists exert efforts to convince us that we have complete facilities to breathe, to live and to flourish.
This lie serves to camouflage the intimidation, and the same lie serves atheistic ideology. Today, when even atheists who are objective admit that Christ is a historical figure, that He lived on earth. He functioned and was crucified, the government atheists in their newspapers and textbooks still write that Christ was a myth, a story— a legend created by people. Such a despicable lie is still used today so that children, youth and all who are not so knowledgeable about the Faith would forget it, and turn away from the Catholic Church.
Such in short seems to be the plight of the Church today. Father Karolis saw all that. Wishing to serve God and people, to help immortal souls, he became a Jesuit, renounced everything, placed everything on the altar of sacrifice. Seeing the present difficult plight of the Church, seeing the intimidation, the children and youth being led astray, hearing the lie, he could not just pray, he could not just think about his own life and death. He was impatient, his heart was aflame, he looked for ways of doing something, of changing things.
When he found out that a Lithuanian Helsinki group was organizing in Lithuania (A small independent group to monitor implementation of the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Final Accords, signed by the Soviet Union in 1974. — Trans. Note), he became a charter member. This group was the first to go on record demanding that the Church in Lithuania have the same full freedom which the government atheists have today. If they are allotted tons of paper to publish atheistic pamphlets, then the same number of tons should be allotted to the Catholics. If the state supports the atheists, the state, considering believers as citizens, with equal rights, should support believers also, helping and allowing them to disseminate their ideas.
Today, we pay hommage to Father Karolis. At a time when many fearfully kept silent and bowed to intimidation, to falsehood, Father Karolis stood immovable as an oak, and told the truth. Most likely, deep in his heart, he too experienced fear and uncertainty, but he used to find in himself the power to resist that internal fear and uncertainty, to resist it and to stand tall, holding aloft the banner of
Christ. We stand at Father Karolis' grave . . . we have gathered not just to pray for him — not to weep but to think, so that in days to come, we might take the right position which every priest and layman in Lithuania should take.
First of all, today each of us must understand, become deeply aware, that our silence and passivity are a great offense against the nation and the Church at a time when all hell is set against the Catholic Church to demolish it, so that not one believer would be left in the land of Lithuania. If we remain silent and do nothing, we are cowards, deserters and criminals. The posture of the priest and of the believer today must be one of intense action. Today, it is too little just to pray, too little to think only of one's own life, death and eternal happiness. Today we must have a broader vision, encompassing in our hearts all our brothers and sisters in the nation and in the Church.
When a terrible alcoholism is destroying the nation and the Church, every priest, every lay person picking up a drink is a deserter and a criminal! It cannot be justified even if he does so without bad will, merely giving in to his weakness. Today, each one of us must struggle for a sober future for the nation, for only a sober nation can produce good citizens and good children of the Church.
Not everything today is in our power, but we can, by our protests in meetings, demand that the production of alcohol be cut back, that saloons would disappear from our environment. They are our misfortune, the graveyard of the Church and of the nation. It is the duty of all of us, bishops, priests and faithful, to demand that these poisons be removed from our nation, that the production of alcoholic beverages be cut back. When we see the intimidation and the falsehood, remaining passive, applauding the lies, opting for falsehood and disseminating it — being blind, unthinking instruments of intimidation — would be a crime.
The plight of the Church and the nation today demands that we struggle against this intimidation and falsehood. The present condition of the Church and the nation requires that we be strong and brave. Fear, retreat before adversity, bodes well neither for the Church nor for the nation. And regardless of what is said and thought by priests and faithful who try to be tactful and justify themselves, saying that sometimes it is wise to keep quiet—that by working quietly one can accomplish more— today we say unequivocally to everyone that is a terrible mistake!
From history we have many examples: The painful lesson of the Russian Orthodox Church is well known, where an attempt was also made to take the tactful way. We priests and faithful of Lithuania cannot allow this terrible and unforgiveable mistake to be repeated in our fatherland: otherwise, we shall be responsible before the divine tribunal, before the nation and before history.
We stand at the grave of Father Karolis ... at the grave of a soldier of Christ. All of us, whoever we are, clergy or laity, must resolve to carry Christ's banner bravely. Today, we must not be afraid of sacrifice. No threats, no labor camps, prisons or death can stop us. The Church has never suffered because its children languished in prison. The Church was never hurt when her children were scourged and crucified, but the Church suffered great losses when her children become cowards, traitors and betrayed the most sacred cause of Christ, for which He, Himself, died on the cross.
My brothers and sisters, let us leave the grave of Father Karolis with a prayer on our lips and great love in our hearts: let us carry forth that flame with which Father Karolis burned, and let us spread it throughout the nation. May the flame of truth, love and courage burn in the hearts of us all. Amen.
(The language has been edited. — Ed. Note)