Thursday, September 22, 2005

A different retreat from Rita!

Very early in the morning, about the time Rita will start pounding the southern USA, I will board a jet for the East, then there will be a drive of several hours into a long valley.

Nestled in that valley as a true hidden place is a tiny village. Near there, on the banks of a river amongst the forested hills, is a community of consecrated souls from all over the world.

This community serves the Church across the globe, especially the poor, the lonely, the questioning.

Each year at this time we priests, both those who are full time members of the community and those of us who are part of the community but serve under our Bishops all over the world, gather for our annual retreat.

Jesus, as is shown often in the Holy Gospel, frequently withdrew either by Himself or with the Apostles, to a lonely place to rest in communion with the Father and to have the Apostles rest in communion with Him and each other.

This is the essence of a retreat. Retreat as in withdraw, with the purpose of being renewed so that you re-turn, first more deeply to Him and then, within that re-turn, refreshed and renewed returning to His vineyard, the apostolic duty of the moment.

So some priests will give us a daily formal instruction, and we will spend some time each day in holy conversation with one another. We will share meals with the Staff of the  place where we are gathering and those dedicated lay people will also re-treat us to their wisdom and encouragement.

Much time will be spent in prayer, in contemplation, often alone, sometimes gathered together, especially for the daily concelebrating of Holy Mass, the source and summit of our faith and the prime duty of a priest.
Indeed as one of our number who now celebrates with Christ in heaven often said: “Once I have celebrated Mass the day is perfect, the day is complete.”

The retreat will be over all too quickly and that most painful of asceticism for our little priestly band of brothers will take place, saying adieu [which literally means ‘to God’] until next year.

Obviously while on retreat no internet, no blogging!  

So until about the 6th of October, a-dieu and please pray for us that during the retreat we open wide the doors of our being to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit so that we may become holier priests, truly your servants.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

My eccletic adieu to Simon Wiesenthal

It has been a very tiring day. Nothing went as planned. Got real cranky with God. After all: Hurricane Rita !!!

What gives?

Listened today to a broken hearted woman who cannot conceive by any means, whose husband is filled with rage and booze.

Standing before some grief all a priest can do is listen and pray.

Yep got even crankier with God.

Then followed conversations with several priests and laity about wounds in the Church.

What gives Jesus?

Hardly any sleep last night Jesus, being in pain hearing the tears rising from the earth and now a day filled with such pain.

Are You listening Jesus? Of course you are because sometimes You too stand in our grief, weep with us, and pray.

You know we hate mysteries because we’re pretty smart down here on earth. We can make stuff! We can fill the skies, the oceans, the earth, our drinking water with our stuff. Why we can even send our stuff to other planets and leave our stuff there.

We can fix anything – except ourselves which is why we use so much of our stuff to make our hatreds and prejudices so violently real.

With our ability to make stuff there seems to be [ I think this would be a problem with our hearts ] a parallel inability to share our stuff so that everyone has something to eat, a place to raise a family, a generous portion of dignity, sufficiency of pure love.

By the way speaking about Katrina and Rita:  why is it always the poor ones, the simple kind hearted ones that get whacked with so-called natural disasters – but its YOUR creation!!!

Why is it that because people are deemed to be ‘not like us’ rivers of blood flow from the Shoah, in Sudan, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, and oceans of blood accumulate because even the little ones in the womb are constantly deemed to be ‘not like us’ ?

Who are they, those who determine which person or race or religion or unborn child is ‘not like us’?

Can’t You Jesus make them wear jackboots or something so we who are definitely ‘not like them’ could at least hear them coming?

After, no longer ranting at Jesus, I grabbed a coffee, turned on the BBC news and was shocked to hear that the living beacon of light, a living  reminder of the profound inner strength of our Jewish Brothers and Sisters, Simon Wiesenthal had breathed his last on earth.

Grief clamped upon my heart for a hero, a teacher, had been called home.

Simon my Elder Brother I shall join with Jewish brothers to participate in the Kaddish.

Then in the Divine Office of the Church shall pray Psalms for you.

It is not merely from the heart of King David the Psalms have life. It is that they have been prayed, often times wrenched from the hearts of suffering people across the millennia that they are a pray for all peoples, all times.

Prayed daily across the earth by our Elder Brothers and Sisters in faith the Jewish People to be sure – and we Christians pray them too.

My heart sings with joy everyday when I pray the prayer of the Church knowing I am praying in unison Psalm by Psalm with my Jewish Brothers and Sisters!

Sung, danced in hearts through melodic movement of those who pray, chanted in monasteries from the Great Desert to the Holy Mountain, across the centuries in every Holy Mass as our communal response to the word of God.

Even the very maw of the hell Simon understood was an aberration of humanity, even there in the incomprehensible evil of the Shoah the faith, trust, power of the Psalms showed, and show still there can never exist enough camps, enough chambers, enough ovens, not even enough terrorists in all the universe to ever silence faith, trust, truth, courage, life, love.

Neither the Nazis nor any other hatemonger; not a single bigot or predator, understands, least of all do terrorists understand: LOVE IS STRONGER!

As a seminarian, dear Elder Brother Simon, I was blessed to be taught by a good Rabbi and some elderly, but so beautiful in their humanity, survivors of the Shoah.

They taught me love is stronger. They honoured me by looking through my eyes into my soul and taught me love is stronger.

I honour you dear Elder Brother in Faith Simon, and them, with the Psalm of the humble, the confident, the human person who knows that defying gravity the tears of His Children rise up, pierce the clouds, even piercing through hatreds dank smoke, all the way to His Throne in heaven were He now embraces you my Brother:

Psalm 131 – A song of King David for all of us:

Lord, my heart is not proud,
My eyes are not haughty.
I don’t busy myself about great things,
Too sublime for me.
Rather, I have stilled my soul, hushed it like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap, so is my soul within me.

Israel, hope in the Lord, now and forever.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Almost a Pity-Party

Ever had one of those days when it seems God is deaf, everyone you love either can’t hear your pain or cancels expected visits, the world news is one horror after the other?

I’ve had such a day – but it is a minor bit of weariness compared to what our brothers and sisters are still enduring in the aftermath of Katrina, the possible onslaught of Rita, the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in Iraq and the innumerable abandoned, elderly, homeless, and so many others truly suffer.

There is a danger when certain disappointments or other tribulations afflict us of falling into the darkness of a pity-party or worse.

I suspect somehow we Christians, when we hear Him inviting us to take up our cross and follow Him, secretly expect we will be spared the emotional, spiritual, physical hardships and sufferings constitutive of the cross because we are being so ‘nice’ to follow Him in the first place!

Frankly this evening while preparing to celebrate Holy Mass the thought of a pity-party was momentarily inviting – but hearing the news about the continued suffering in the Southern States and what appears to be coming next – well lines from a psalm came to my heart. Through them I was graced to pull away from self-pity and embrace my own wee pain and turn to pray for others who suffer.

From Psalm 69, prayed not for myself primarily, but for all those who suffer, especially in the South:    Save me, God, for the waters have reached my neck. I have sunk into the mire of the deep, where I have gone down to the watery depths….I am weary with crying out…..I am afflicted and in pain; let Your saving help protect me, O God,….you who seek God, take heart! For the Lord hears the poor….

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Mountain Return

Returned from the mountains I have been attempting at prayer to stand still so that everything I experienced and learned might permeate my being before resuming this writing.

The two priests I was with are from a country in Africa which has been at war with itself for decades. In that war there is a complex series of alliances and broken alliances between tribes and religions.

It is one of those countries which is supplied by arms by characters and nations such as portrayed in the film “Lord of War”.

Indeed oil and blood-diamonds, depending on who has control of those, affects directly which group is in the ascendance in the latest round of terror.

The telling by  these two good men, good priests, of the miracle by which they escaped the horror, how they yearn after their post-graduate studies are completed to return to their homeland to serve their people, humbles this priest.

That we in the so-called developed world are so deaf to the tears of those who suffer should shame us.

It seemed, before I headed to the mountains, that in the aftermath of Katrina we at least began to stir from our stony overfed inability to hear, but since my return I have been struck by the exhausting vapid rhetoric of the blame-game.

Thanks be to God for a remarkable woman and writer I once had the joy of meeting, Margaret Visser, and her sheer joy at being human, alive, which permeates all her writing.

I have rediscovered her book “The Geometry of Love”, from which I give this little taste as it is germane to what else is on my heart since the return from the mountains:  “God’s loving light strikes down from above, illuminating all of life with its transcendent glory.”

She is writing here about the Cross of Christ, and much more.

This reaching down of the beloved is constant and personal.

Having breathed us into existence and gifting us with free will He does not, in a sense cannot, force us to love Him, or each other for that matter.

Hence there is a certain, albeit perverted, logic if you grew up in the horror and blood of that country of my brother priests, or were fleeing the dust clouds as the towers fell on 9/11, or clawed your way through an attic roof as the waters rose in New Orleans, to assume either there is no God, or if there is He appears to disdain us.

But, again as Margaret reminds us: “…God, becoming human, suffered the worst that human beings could devise. And through His submission and forgiveness, Christ transformed the instrument of pain and infamy into a revelation of love and hope.”

Standing at ground zero with a dear friend from the NYFD I recall realizing if in front of us I had not seen two remaining parts of steel beams in the form of a cross upon which a molten piece of steel had hardened like a draped piece of cloth, the sound of the tears of the thousands who had died there would have driven me insane.

There is no modernist logic to the cross.

There simply – from abortion to terrorism and every anti-person act in between – is so much human blood soaking the earth, so many human tears running like rivers of prayer cascading upwards in hopes of piercing the clouds to the very throne of God, we could not go on had not the Father given for us His only Son.

Standing on the summit of one of the mountains I watched my two brother priests, who’d never seen snow before in their lives play like little children.

Up on that mountain the air is pure, the silence sweet, light bathes you and colour itself is tender.
Up there the absence of war, violence, blood, hatreds allows you to suddenly discover a lightness of being.

I stood on the very edge of the mountain {safe because I was behind a huge rock which I assumed is securely part of the mountain face – maybe not! } and looked down and towards the mouth of the valley below at the small village filled with people and wondered how many of the diamonds in the village shop were blood-diamonds.

Did anyone care?

Sunlight bounced off the cross I wear and suddenly I was ashamed at my stony deafness:

“Father! Abba! Forgive them, they no not what they do!”[Lk.23:34]

Saturday, September 10, 2005

To the mountains!

A dear friend called asking if I would accompany him and two priests from Africa into the mountains for a few days.

I said sure, first for the joy of meeting brother priests from elsewhere in the world.

To listen and learn.

To pray with them.

Then, because deep in the mountains there is a special stillness and beauty.

A divine silence.

There is so much noise everywhere these days: traffic, piped in music, cell phones, tv, radio, mp3 players, unending information.

Noise disturbs.

External noise distracts and the inner noise of fear makes it very difficult for us to hear the tender, gentle, soft, urgent, merciful, loving, voice of our Father.

Not everyone can go deep into the mountains, into the desert, live as a hermit, to become externally and interiorly still to hear His voice.

But we can turn off the mp3 player, the computer, tv, radio, unplug the phone, turn off the cell – if only for a little while – and choose to be still.

The first few moments, maybe even times we do this, the sudden shock of lack of noise might feel odd, even fearful, lonely.

That’s normal.

Patience! He will soon fulfill His promise-invitation: “Be still and know that I am God.” [Psalm 46:10.]

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Katrina and God!

I am well aware as a beginning ‘blogger’ that many post daily and as well that it takes a long time to become a frequently visited blog.

That said I should also point out that as a priest-hermit the prime duty of the moment in my vocation is prayer.

So over these many days of the immense tragedy of Katrina and the aftermath prayer for the suffering people, for those seeking to save them and support them has occupied the bulk of my time.

At the same time something has been moving in my heart, forming itself into these reflections.

Some totally misguided persons of more than one religious tradition have tried to make this an active and punitive action of the All-loving and All-merciful God.

I am no scientist nor expert on disaster procedures and certainly aware God can, and in the past according to the Scriptures, and in more recent history through marvels such as the miracle of the sun at Fatima, order ‘nature’ to manifest His authority.

The Beloved Pope John Paul wrote in his encyclical CENTESIMUS ANNUS how we human beings do bear within us the wound of original sin and therefore because we are capable of evil we are in “constant need of redemption.”

In paragraph 31.1 he teaches:  “Man thinks that he can man arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though the earth did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray. Instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him.”

Once as Jesus tells us to we have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, [Mt. 25:35ff] and, as post 9/11, the necessary review of the entire tragedy takes place, I pray we look at not only “systems” but how we care for one another, or not, and how we treat the earth.

Obviously first and foremost we must rescue, care for, love our suffering brothers and sisters and help them rebuild their shattered lives.

I read a report today wherein the Archbishop of New Orleans speaks of the grace of purification which comes through suffering.

My heart agrees and believes the grace the entire world is being offered through the Divine Mercy of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is a grace through which we can re-discover the sacredness of all human life from conception to natural death.

Speaking about human suffering and the fear which grips human hearts because of catastrophes from terrorism to everything which causes us to be afraid, the Servant of God Catherine Doherty has reminds us that: “With fear comes doubt: look at all the destruction! How can I believe in a God who would permit such things? We forget that God is tender, compassionate, understanding, forgiving……We have a tendency to blame God….begotten, perhaps, by the fears and near-madness that surround us today.

Fear is also the child of hate and of ignorance and of prejudice. It cannot stand the light of love, of peace and of truth.

We belong to God who is perfect love.

Our first step should be to gather together in prayer…..” {from Pass It On #32 available at: ]