I would like to tell you a story that dates back to my second year at the seminary when I was still in Riga.
Languages have always enchanted me, for they help people to build bridges of communication. I especially like English. I have enjoyed the beauty of the classics, such as the writings of Charlotte Bronte. It was a thrilling experience to read her novels and see how people expressed themselves in those days. How rich and poetic their language was! So I decided to work more on my own English and to go during summer vacation to England. It was a long and tiring trip, since I traveled all the way by bus. It took me about forty-six hours to arrive at my destination in England, a small town in Somerset named Langport. This would be more than a language course, because a religious community (le Chemin Neuf) ran the school. In Langport I learned how the Holy Spirit speaks through human words and guides us through each other.
We were all young people there from different countries: Poland, Italy, France, Romania, and yours truly from Latvia. The Poles, joined by a priest, seemed to constitute the majority. Besides classes and trips, we had common prayers in the morning and evening. From time to time we gathered in small groups, something typical in all charismatic communities.
The first sentence we had to learn by heart was from Matthew, Chapter 6: “So do not worry and say, 'What are we to eat?' ... Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” These words rang true on my way back home. But what particularly stayed in my memory were the words said by the Polish priest one evening. The theme of the discussion was: how I have experienced the Holy Spirit in my life. The five people in our group each had a turn to talk. I was quite surprised by the priest's words, which were very simple (although he had a PhD in Theology). He said, “When the Holy Spirit tells me stop, I have to stop; when he says go, I go.” What simple and yet such profound words! I would probably forget these words later on if I did not experience them to be true in real life on my way back home.
The weeks in Langport passed by very quickly. There are always sentimental feelings when you have to leave friends with whom you have shared your time, even briefly. This time, though, was devoted to the Lord, which made it special. After giving "serene" looks to each other and wishing God's help, we had to return home.
Again I embarked on a long trip back to Latvia. Everything seemed go smoothly, except that the bus arrived in Warsaw a few hours late. The connecting bus to Riga had already left and there were no more buses that day. What could I do? I did not have enough money left for a hotel room. I didn’t want to spend the night at the bus station, because I was really tired after the long trip from London. Besides, I thought, the bus station probably will close during the night and so at some point I will have to leave it and walk around the streets of Warsaw. What could I do? I decided to go to some parish and ask if they could possibly offer me some accommodation. (I was sure that I would find a place to lay my head, because a kind of unwritten law in Poland ensures that a priest will not refuse help to another priest or a seminarian if he only is able to offer it). I chose a random direction. As you can imagine, you do not have to walk very far in Warsaw to find a Catholic church. After walking about fifteen minutes, I was happy to see St. James’s Church around a corner.
After spending some time in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, I started to look around. A notice on the wall said that there would soon be a Mass. So I decided to stay and ask the priest afterwards if he could help me. I felt tired and hungry. Meanwhile I started to think that maybe this was not such a good idea after all. He might say no, and it would be somewhat humiliating to ask for help. I had my New Testament with me and as these doubts started to come upon me, I asked Jesus to tell me something through his Word. At random I opened the Scriptures. Guess which words I came upon as I started reading - the same words we learned when we started our language course in England: “So do not worry and say, 'What are we to eat?'” These words really struck me. But we humans always want some definite proof from God. I asked Jesus again, “Lord, if it is really your will that I stay here, then tell me again. So again I opened the Scriptures at random. I was amazed when I started reading, for I came upon words from Matthew, Chapter 21: “And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany, and there he spent the night.” I said, “OK, Lord, I am staying here for Mass and afterwards I will ask for help.” I guess our sinful nature nevertheless tries to find some better way than that which the Lord offers. After some time I started thinking, “Wait, I haven’t checked the trains. Are there any that go to Latvia this evening? I will stay here, but I need to check the trains first.” So I grabbed my rucksack and headed out of the church. I did not get any farther than about twenty steps when I was stopped by a street person who asked me something in Polish and would not let me go any farther. I turned around and walked back into the church. Now really ashamed, I asked the Lord for forgiveness and remained for Mass.
After Mass I went to see the priest. Fortunately, when I told him that I came from Latvia, he asked me if I knew a certain Latvian priest with whom he had studied. Of course I knew him, since he was the spiritual director at our seminary in Riga! I needed no further credentials. The priest then introduced me to one of the students serving Mass that evening. He had an extra bed in his room and that was all I needed. A recent graduate, the man was struggling to find a job. He told me that he would like to meet a woman and have a family, but because of his financial situation he could not yet do this. He also thought that maybe he was undergoing all this suffering because God wanted him to become a priest. Anyway, after that conversation he was so happy that he wanted to give me something as a sign of his gratitude. My words, it seems, had cleared his doubts. He had nothing to give me but a bar of soap, which I of course accepted.
Here I can finish my story, for the next morning I was on my way back home. I do not know why the good Lord wanted me to stay that night in Warsaw. Because I was very tired, hungry and needed rest? Because of the man at whose apartment I spent the night and who had his doubts cleared through conversation with me? I do not know why - the Lord only knows. But the priest's words proved to be true: when the Holy Spirit tells me stop, I have to stop; when the Spirit says go, I go.
Later on I found out a curious fact from a religious magazine. When Sister Faustina received a call to the consecrated life, she went to Warsaw. The first church she found at random was the same church I also found at random.
Ringolds Klimons, a seminarian from Latvia, studies at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. He has received a scholarship through the generosity of Catholics in the United States.