Sunday, October 30, 2005

For Seminarians

I was going to write today about the mystery and blessing, the incredible importance of Sunday.

However while chatting with the firstborn son of my heart, a truly extraordinary convert to the Catholic faith, who with his wife, is expecting their second child, he suggested: “Speak to seminarians. Tell them what they are getting into.”

So dear young and older men, seminarians, for whom I pray daily, from my heart:

Our brothers and sisters throughout the Church, our brothers and sisters throughout the entire world, whatever their religious beliefs or lack therefore, desperately need good and holy priests, father-servants who will pour themselves out in humble service.

In the seminary you experience all forms of pressure, some external, many internal.

Some of this pressure is anointed by the Holy Spirit.

It is the experience of His preparing you so on the day of your ordination you will indeed  be so configured to Christ that forever after you shall be in persona Christi!

So prayer, lots of prayer, hours with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is key; lectio, being immersed in Sacred Scripture, especially the Holy Gospels – not to figure them out but to be fed – is key.
Devotion to our Blessed Mother, actual consecration Totus Tuus is key.
Frequent, and truth-speaking, Holy Confession with clear magisterial-faithful spiritual direction is key.

Finally, of course, an open and obedient studiousness of intellect and heart, for all Holy Mother the Church offers you from her treasury of theology, liturgy etc., through the dedication of your professors.

Becoming a good and holy priest-father-servant to everyone is to be well formed intellectually, emotionally, spiritually.

Become a saint!

Once ordained the Holy Spirit will intensify His work within you. You will come face to face with your own wounds, fears, falsities on an ever deeper level as He seeks to sanctify you more and more.

Thus it is critical to maintain a full spiritual life, adoration, closeness to Mary, meditation on the Holy Gospels, frequent Confession, spiritual direction, throughout our lives as priests.

Fail to do so and we become parodies of what we are, reverting to worldly clich├ęs rather than divine wisdom when preaching or worse, seeking comfort in ways and places which destroy our very vocation and souls.

While it is true in a sense as priests we must be professional, priesthood is neither a career nor profession: it is who we are, 24/7.

Jesus must be our one true love and we must seek none other.

As a priest, day in and day out, in all sorts of circumstances, you will encounter among the people in this era of the culture of death, a degree of confusion and fear you cannot possibly imagine while in the seminary.

These, our brothers and sisters whom we are ordained to serve, they will look to you not so much for answers as for the power of your presence, Christ’s presence, with them.

Love them.

In reality all we have to give them, and in truth this is everything, is Christ.

Love them truly, passionately, generously, compassionately as Christ loves, for you are in persona Christi for them.

Little by little, in the school of Our Blessed Mother, as a priest, you will be brought ever deeper into the fullness of the loneliness of Christ, the suffering of Christ.

Go to the school of Mary daily. There is the best source of priestly wisdom and spirituality. Wrapped in the mantle of Her love we are best protected from satan, for whom we are a preferred target.

The weight of human sin in all its forms, of human loneliness, anger, hurt and all the rest will begin to be so present to you at times it will seem inescapable.

As a Roman Catholic Priest you will be subject at times to gossip, anger, even hatred as people transfer their hurts from God or Church or some priest or family or life itself or their own self-rejection onto you – and this is as it should be.

Be filled with joy when that happens for it means you are decreasing so Christ may increase.

Every accusation, every gossipy word, every drop of spittle, every slap, everything cast upon you by human beings or by satan crashed against Jesus first so that only a tiny little bit actually reaches you.

Do not be afraid!

Martyrdom through the daily nitty-gritty ending task before you will be real – and martyrdom by blood is becoming more and more probable for you.

Rejoice!

There is not greater joy and no greater love, day in and day out, than to lay down our lives for everyone else and it is in the daily self-gifting to others we are formed to be able, if asked by Him, to surrender to martyrdom of any kind, even of blood.

Every day my dear brothers there will be a time when you will find rest in Him, when the lightness of His yoke upon you and the sweetness of His burden shared with you will be so intense as to be indescribable to anyone but a brother priest.

Every day there will be a time when hope becomes a vast ocean, when mercy becomes an unending cascade of wonder and love.

Every day there will be a time when darkness flees before light, death is overcome, the truly hungry are really fed, a time when everything you must face, choose to face, have been ordained for is woven together in a tapestry of truth, life, love.

That time is when you approach the holy altar and celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and God becomes present with us!

I have a simple framed sheet of red rice paper on which is a name written in Chinese characters.
It is the name of a young priest ordained in China, his homeland.

The day after his first Mass he was arrested and put in solitary confinement where he languished for years and in which solitude he died, never having been able to vest and celebrate at an altar the way we priests over here take [sometimes too unreflectively] for granted.

But I tell you: priest forever he now celebrates with Christ in heaven what he only once was able to celebrate with Christ on earth.

This is the ultimate purpose and joy of priesthood: to celebrate Mass for the people.

In light of the extraordinary gift, mystery, love-life-giving joy of celebrating Holy Mass each day, which makes for the priest each day perfect and complete, whatever faces us, in formation as seminarians or in the nitty-gritty of daily priestly life, is worth it!

As the Servant of God, Catherine Doherty has said: “The heart of a priest is pierced, like Christ’s with the lance of love.”

My prayer is that at every Holy Communion during daily Mass in the seminary you will allow the lance of love to pierce your hearts ever more deeply until, emptied of all that is not of Christ, you will allow yourselves to have hearts so wide open the entire world may enter there to find rest and mercy in Him!

If I were to put what you will face as priests in a simple phrase I would say this, with all my heart:   You will face the sheer joy of the Cross and in that joyous suffering you will encounter and be one with the Beloved, Jesus Priest.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Yearning For Fire!

One of the ways I prepare for each “Little Easter”, the Lord’s Day, Sunday, is to drive across this city each Saturday morning slightly after five a:m to the Perpetual Adoration Chapel.

This time of year it means beginning by scraping either ice or snow off the car windows!

Usually the streets are fairly quiet. There is a rare stillness about the city at that hour, yet even then, as throughout the previous night, and will be throughout the coming day, ordinary people are in the chapel with Him, adoring Him, interceding for the entire world.

This morning with Him I was surprised by two movements in my heart. The first struck me as a joyous longing and the latter as a type of thirst.

The longing was to experience, tangibly, divine fire.

The thirst was to absorb the pain and loneliness of every human being.

Only later in the day would I come to understand my longing was to experience in a superficial way what is poured into us at Baptism.

As to the desire to absorb all the pain and loneliness of every human being, that is an impossibility and not what Jesus asks of us for He alone can endure such a burden, a burden He took lovingly upon Himself in the Garden and on the Cross.

What He does ask of us is to keep vigil with Him in the Garden, to stand, in the company of His Mother, our Mother, at the foot of the Cross.

This is no standing on some isolated hill – rather it is to stand with our brothers and sisters, the person with us in the moment, in the depths of their pain, loneliness, yearning, pleadings, joy – in a word it is to be present to the other as living icons of Christ.

Tragically, and in a way as a priest this is the heaviest burden to embrace, so much time, energy, is wasted by we Christians with assessments and attitudes which betray the Gospel.

For example how often have I had people who consider themselves true disciples of Christ articulate racist attitudes, look down upon those of a perceived lower social class or because of being different somehow; saying to me “Well Father sure Jesus says we have to love one another but He never said we had to like each other!”

I am well aware I am a mere beginner even after six decades of baptismal life as a disciple of Christ and still a mere beginner even after a near quarter century when it comes to being a good and holy priest.

Nonetheless I sure long for the day when, beginning of course with myself and my brother Bishops and priests, we will cease trying to compromise the Gospel to make it ‘fit’ into the world’s notion’s of truth [which is the scourge of relativism] and ‘my rights’[which tends to be the tragedy of first world greed and abortion ].

We have just come to the end of the designated Year of the Eucharist – yet every moment of our lives should be Eucharistic! Our beloved Holy Father Pope John Paul called for this year that we might rediscover the immense gift and presence with us of Jesus Christ.

Pope Benedict invited us during World Youth Day in Cologne to open our beings that we might continually be “surprised by Christ”!

The surprise is, in part, that what is impossible for us, to take all the pain and loneliness of our brothers and sisters and absorb it in our hearts, IS possible IF we do so in Christ, with Christ, and for Christ – for it is the suffering Jesus, the lonely Jesus we encounter in those who suffer.

I began this Blog sometime ago stating I would explain why the title: Fire, Salt and Light.

Please forgive the long time it has taken to continue to complete that promise.

However in the intervening weeks the title has been a source of interior questioning, examining, meditating and I have discovered it is a process which may well continue for a long time to come.

This morning, while seeking intently to be one with Him in the Garden and on the Cross, which is by the way also to be one with Him in the Manger and Risen, simultaneously that yearning to experience fire was as if our Blessed Mother was taking me, then and throughout the day until this very moment, to school – to her school, as Pope John Paul urged us.

As the sun was setting over the city this evening, and already frost alighting upon the ground, trees, buildings, the time for First Vespers of the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time approached.

Within that prayer it was as if the entire schooling of this day, from the first moment with Him in the Blessed Sacrament – or more accurately He staying with us – became clear!

Holy Mother the Church in her wisdom always places before our hearts and on our lips each Saturday evening the same Canticle from Philippians 2: 6-11 – the great hymn of the reality of the Incarnation, Life, Passion, Death, Resurrection of Christ, ending with the ultimate shout and song of faith: JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!

To pray that IS to taste divine fire!

Admittedly over the years, perhaps not unlike you, I have mistakenly thought I would ‘really’ believe Jesus is real IF I had actual [ code for sensory ] experiences such as that of St. Philip Neri who,  praying one eve of Pentecost was granted to see, indeed to swallow, a globe of fire that burned so intensely within him his chest swelled permanently.

In truth that very fire is poured into us, lavished upon us, first in Holy Baptism, when we receive the Fire of Divine Love, the Gift-Giver, the Holy Spirit and this fire, which is also the Fire of the Father’s Love for us, and is lavished upon us again and again every time we receive Jesus in Holy Communion.

It is the fulfillment within us of Jesus’ longing to ‘cast fire upon the earth’ [Lk.12:49] and the real earth upon which this fire is cast is our very person and the vessel, the oil lamp of our being if you will, ignited by that divine fire, is our heart.

Sacramental Confession is akin to oxygen for a fire which perhaps has dwindled, because we have sinned, to mere embers.

It is by the work of the Holy Spirit that this fire of love  purifies and sanctifies: purifying us so that everything which is not of Christ within us in burnt away; sanctifying us so that we radiate Christ.  Through virtue yes, but especially through humble loving service of one another; forgiving one another; being present to each other -  especially, like Our Blessed Mother at the foot of the Cross, when any other is suffering.

As St. Anthony Mary Claret teaches if we indeed truly burn with this fire then as children of she whom Popes John Paul and Benedict call the “Eucharistic Woman”, St. Anthony says we will “ work….to inflame..” that is to set ablaze all our brothers and sisters “..with the fire of God’s love.”

Mostly we don’t ‘get it’, that Jesus is within every one who suffers, that Jesus is within all our brothers and sisters. Indeed mostly we miss the reality of Matthew 25 and the “ I was…” statement of Jesus, because we have become, in the darkness and poison of the culture of death, blind.

We don’t see other as one like myself but rather indeed as ‘other’, different somehow.

By the end of Vespers the great yearning within my being was no longer for some ‘experience’ of that fire but a great cry: “Master, I want to see!” [Mk.10:51].

Well the Lord does answers honest cries and no sooner had that been wrung from my heart when I was moved to open at random one of my favourite books, which by the way has a lot in it about this divine fire.

The first words my eyes fell upon, or rather saw, were from Deuteronomy 4:24: “ On earth He let you see His great fire, and from the heart of the fire you heard His word.”

The heart of the fire is the Father’s heart and from the blazing heart afire with love for us He speaks His Word: Jesus, Incarnate, Crucified, Risen for us and “ Love is the fire the risen Lord pours into the hearts of all those who follow Him….”

[ The book by the way is CIRCLING THE SUN by Robert D. Pelton, published by The Pastoral Press.]

Friday, October 28, 2005

Everything!

Each day the sun sets sooner.
Within another week or so it will be dark by mid-afternoon.
Of course with the sun rising later each morning the amount of darkness in each 24 hour period is pretty extreme.
This is the flip side of summer when past midnight the sun barely dips below the horizon.

Not quite the 24 hours of daylight ‘North of 60’ but light filled summer days nonetheless.

Those trees whose leaves change colour each fall are already denuded, stiffening themselves for the onslaught of ice and snow which will repaint the streets, the alleys of this city from the colour of summer grime to the shimmering whiteness of glory and purity.

How has it come to pass that being pure, chaste, is looked upon, even by some priests, as an aberration, a denial of full self-expression?

Of late in the United States [anonymously], in Canada [on a tv show in person ], and in France [by authoring a book and giving interviews using his real name] at least three ‘gay’ priests have come out, spouting the usual self-serving jargon and assailing Holy Mother the Church in the very usual and wearying to listen to fashion.

We get it guys: you want your cake and able to eat it too!

Not going to happen!

No man can claim that upon entering the seminary in saying yes to the call to priesthood he was unaware of the demands and vows of this splendid vocation, which Pope John Paul II aptly denotes as “gift and mystery”.

It is a struggle to remain pure, a struggle which demands a disciplined prayer life, a life poured out in service, a life of basic emotional, intellectual and spiritual maturity.

It is to embrace the loneliness of Christ as our own, to forgo the particular comfort of marital intimacy with another, to accept the perpetual ache in arms and heart which will never hold a child issued from our own body and heart.

This priestly chastity and purity has a sacred sacrificial purpose: that we might be free as faithful ‘husband’, In Persona Christi, of our Spouse the Church, true fathers, with a tender a maternal dimension to our hearts as well, for every human being on the face of the earth, especially the poor and abandoned ones.

Nothing is being asked of us that is not asked of married persons: fidelity to what we have promised!

Pope John Paul II wrote in GIFT AND MYSTERY that in our priestly vocation we men offer our humanity to Christ, so that Christ may use us ‘ as an instrument of salvation ‘.

Towards the end of the book, this teaching from his own priestly heart, Pope John Paul urges us: “ Love your priesthood! Be faithful to the end! Learn to see in your priesthood the Gospel treasure for which it is worth giving up everything [cf. Mt.13:44].



Thursday, October 27, 2005

We sure need St. Francis!


It is said of that great friend of God and Desert Father, Abba Anthony, that he saw the future, perhaps our own era, and stated that a time was coming when human beings would go mad and that when they would see someone who was not insane like them they will attack.

Just when you think we could not possibly go more insane on this earth another rant is all over the media calling for the destruction of Israel.

Of the three monolithic religions on earth, Judaism, Christianity and Islam it is our Jewish brothers and sisters who are the first children of Abraham and therefore our elders in faith.

Every decent believer in the One True God should shudder in the depths of our being and raise our voices to condemn hate in all its forms, but most especially religious and racial hatred.

Christians in particular must be in the forefront of resistance to such evil.

Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Son of David – the very night He offers Himself up for us gives us the command: “ This is My commandment, love one another as I love you. “ [Jn.15:12]

The “one another” allows for no ‘except in the case of…’, indeed earlier Jesus made it very clear that we are to “ love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute “ us, precisely so that we may be children of our heavenly Father. [Mt.5:44.45]

The Vatican noted the other day that Pope Benedict ‘improvised’ at the end of his prepared text for the weekly General Audience, urging all of us to truly conform our attitudes, thinking, deciding, acting according to Christ Jesus – in a word to love one another in our attitude, thought, decisions, actions as Jesus loves us.

There is no wiggle room for a Christian standing before any of our brothers and sisters – either we love them or we are choosing not to love Jesus.

Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi the following peace-prayer I urge everyone to pray before our hatreds have us rushing blindly into a global conflagration of which hatred, as in the past century of blood, is always the igniting spark:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me bring love.

Where there is injury, let me bring pardon.

Where there is division, let me bring union.

Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.

Where there is lie, let me bring truth.

Where there is despair, let me bring hope.

Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.

Where there is darkness, let me bring light.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.

For it is in the giving that we receive. It is in the pardoning that we are pardoned and it is in the dying that we are born to eternal life.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Zenit is worth it!

One of the wonderful resources available via the internet comes as ZENIT and is available at www.zenit.org.

I have not connection with them other than as a recipient of their daily postings. They post important Church documents, Papal pronouncements and other information daily in various languages.

It is well worth subscribing too to keep informed about the Church and the world, and is an excellent resource for ‘good news’ about life in the Church and on this earth when so many other outlets focus on what is negative.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Knock, Knock!

The guidance, if you will, for the way I try and live faithfully each day the life of an urban hermit priest comes from first the example of Christ in the Desert, in the lonely places, in the Garden.

My second source of inspiration comes from the Desert Fathers and there is no better synthesis of all this wisdom, from the Gospel, from the Church East and West, to my mind at least, than in the classic work of the Servant of God, Catherine Doherty: POUSTINIA.

On page 52 of her classic the Servant of God stresses that: “ For a…hermit…Anyone at any time of day or night can knock at his door. Remember, he is in the poustinia not for himself but for others. “

For the modern urban hermit that ‘knock’ can be the phone ringing, the computer pinging an email has arrived or there can literally be a knock on the door.

Today such knocks involved encouraging a senior seminarian in another country who is going through a rough patch; a call from a priest in another part of this country who is simply exhausted; conversation with another ‘poustinik’ about a mutual friend who needs our prayers as he is very ill; visiting and helping at a local soup kitchen; visiting a dear elderly brother priest in the cardiac unit of one of the city hospitals.

This meant ‘my’ routine and plan of the day turned to dust, as well it should have.

I try, and beg your prayers I do better, to live each day the maxim of St. Gerard Magella:
“ Here the will of God is done, as God wills, and as long as God wills.”

The ‘here’ of course must be the present moment, for we should live only in the present moment, faithful to the duty of the present moment.

I believe when the disciples asked Jesus where He lived, and He said to come and see then immediately set off, He was leading them into ‘the moment’, the moment of His Father’s will, which is truly where Jesus ‘dwelt’ on earth.

So since I want to dwell with Him always while on earth there is not better place than in the reality, the grace, the duty of the present moment!

{ Poustinia is available at www.madonnahouse.org/publications }

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Lets be saints!

As the Year of the Most Holy Eucharist has drawn to a close, Pope Benedict canonized new saints from Chile, Italy and Poland.

Pope Benedict in his homily reminded the entire world that  the Saint is the man, woman, child “ who is so fascinated by the beauty of God and by His perfect truth to be progressively transformed by it.”


Reading the lives of the new saints one’s heart is struck by their shared absolute love of and devotion to Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist and how this devotion was expressed in humble loving service of others.

In a world so marked by the bloodlust ego of terrorist, and all the other afflictions which especially wounded the lives and dignity of the poor we sure need more saints – and not just the ones who make it to canonization:  we need – you and I need to be – saints among us: in the rectory, the pews, the family home, the office, factory, legislatures, media, on the farms, fishing boats, within the military and the ranks of first responders, everywhere!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Seductive voice...

Part of the brilliance of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is its absolutely clear language.

A case in point “…a seductive voice, opposed to God….” [# 391].

The Church is speaking of the devil, satan, the evil one, the father of lies, the discourager, and yes the one who seeks to devour us.

God who is Love as Father gives us His only Son for our redemption and the redeeming Son gives Himself to us as real Bread to eat.

Love gives.

Hate takes.

The media was all a flutter recently about the classes for Exorcists in Rome.

I don’t worry too much about the fluttering media.

Priests who ignore the reality of that seductive voice opposed to God – such priests worry me.

Walking about my neighbourhood today praying the Jesus Prayer and the Rosary I was acutely aware of how much violence, drug abuse, prostitution, etc., etc. takes place on these streets; the immense poverty, homelessness, despair in so many lives.

Sometimes I walk in so-called ‘better’ neighbourhoods, where evil spirits often roam in perhaps not always so blatant a manner as in the inner city, but roam and seduce souls in every income bracket, institution, religious house, rectory  “waging war against ..those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Christ.” [Rv.12:17].

My doctor says I must walk daily for my heath so I walk always praying for the health and salvation of souls, protection of everyone from that seductive voice.

If we priests don’t take the reality of evil spirits seriously it is akin to being one of those hired hands who flee or sleep while the flock is ravished.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

To Live It!

Angel of God my Guardian Dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.

I have known and prayed this prayer every night of my sixty plus years, save for the arrogant years when I was an atheist – yet in the first tentative steps of return to faith it was one that returned instantly to my heart!

Taught to me by my Mother when I was a wee one it is imbedded in my heart.

There are other prayers and invocations, some learnt in the heart of my family, some taught by the good Sisters in the parochial school such as, naturally for Catholics of my generation the Holy Rosary, the Angelus and others such as: “Jesus meek and humble of Heart make my heart like unto Thine own.”

Apparently in our very enlightened age – oddly dark though isn’t it – memorization has long been considered of a bygone era.

So is the former oft repeated  notion: “The family that prayers together, stays together.”

As with much traditional Catholic piety, even actual praxis, we seem to just walk away from it all.

Sad, really.

Perhaps we could begin to rediscover the treasures and truth ours is the religion of glory, joy, hope, communion and community, the family of believers, if we started with this prayer from the Servant of God Catherine Doherty: “ Lord, grant me the heart of a child and the awesome courage to live it out.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Suicide of Priests

Tonight as I write this my heart is heavy.

This morning I received word of the suicide of another priest.

Out of respect for his family, parishioners, friends, brother priests, I will not give any specifics here. Details are already in the local media where this tragedy occurred.

Priests committing suicide in recent years has become more and more common.

Some do so because of clinical depression,  of scandal about to break, or because they are crushed by the weight of actually being abusers of the innocent.

Others, though innocent of the accusation, in the current climate drown in fear.

To my knowledge no conference of Catholic Bishops, nor the Vatican, nor expert in the field of sociology or psychiatry has looked into this.

In yet another debt we owe to the great and holy Pope John Paul the Catechism of the Catholic Church forcefully reminds us in our shock and grief in face of suicide that: We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways know to Him alone God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives. [CCC # 2283]

When I first became aware of suicide among the ranks of the priestly brotherhood it seemed rare. However by the time I heard about the 9th priest I stopped counting.

My prayer is that if not called, especially here in North America, a serious, intelligent, prayerful conference of bishops and priests to openly discuss the heartache among priests, then perhaps the Vatican will do so.

Bishops, priests, laity – we should be aching in the core of our beings that one of our brothers, one who celebrated Holy Mass each day, one who dispensed Divine Mercy in the confessional, one who was so ardently a defender of the unborn was in such unrelenting pain, so without hope – whatever the root cause – came to believe there was no other way than suicide.

That this manner of death is no longer a rarity among priests must, please God, urge us to boldly, bluntly, compassionately begin to talk openly about every aspect of the ever deepening crisis in the priesthood, including the draconian application of so-called zero tolerance and the abusive application of Canon 223.

In spiritu humilitatis et in animo contrito suscipiamur a te, Domine.....Humbled in spirit and contrite of heart, may we find favour with You O Lord.  Such was the prayer before the invocation of the Holy Spirit in the Missale Romanum pre-Vatican II.

I believe our young brother priest in his pain undoubtedly in his own fashion was humbled and contrite and found favour with the Lord.

Will we, bishops and priests, be humble enough to face every aspect of pain in the priesthood today and ask the Lord to help us begin anew, in Him?


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Depression

Some weeks ago the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver humbly admitted he suffers from clinical depression. He then explained he would, in obedience to his doctor, take a leave from his duties to receive required treatment.

Years ago I went through a similar experience and certainly drugs and talk therapy, long walks, plenty of time in silent prayer with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament helped get through that seemingly endless, scary, grief filled, pitch dark swamp. Lately, being under extreme stress, I have had weeks of profound interior darkness and unavailed sadness.

When faced with suffering there are two extreme positions to be avoided, in particular by the baptized but also by the ordained:  seeking a cure through only ‘spiritual means’ or seeking a cure only through ‘medical’ means.

Here the example in each instance of the Archbishop is so important for he is seeking God’s saving grace through the right order of prayer and medicine as the Lord Himself tells us in Sirach 38:1-15: “..the doctor eases pain…the druggist prepares his medicines….God’s creative work continues…”  - and – “….when you are ill, delay not, but pray to God, who will heal you.”

This promise of the Lord to heal us if we come to Him in prayer follows His direction to us to avail ourselves of doctors and medicines.

This is the example of the Archbishop.

Perhaps no Psalm better describes the extreme darkness, pain, sadness, solitude of those who struggle with depression in any of its forms, than Psalm 69 which has such powerful cries as: “…I have sunk into the mire of the deep….I am weary with crying out….I looked for compassion, but there was none, for comforters, but found none….”

Yet even though line after line of this Psalm is filled with anguish at the same time over and over again the distressed and anguished soul continues to pray to God for help, continues to choose to make statements of faith such as: “…the Lord hears the poor, does not spurn those in bondage…”

Most rational human beings would rather suffer some nice, clean, visible, almost logical, physical injury, something that everyone can see as: yeah- that’s the source of the pain!, than endure the invisible crushing pain of depression.

Un-afflicted people seem more afraid of “mental” illness than even of cancer.


Thus very quickly the depressed person, not unlike the grieving person whose parent, spouse, child has just died, notices they are being avoided, that no one wants to hear how you ‘feel’, as if your being close will inevitably pull them into the dark swamp itself.

Given that the evil one preys on the weak when enduring depression it is extremely important to be on our guard against spiritually poisoned thinking, for it will feel as if God Himself has fled from us and the evil one will hiss-whisper that lie.

That we might not be alone even in the “mire of the deep” Jesus, true God and true man, entered the mire for us and indeed willingly is there with us.

Monsignor Romano Guardini, in his classic work “The Lord”, drawing on the accounts in the Holy Gospels of the Agony in the Garden reminds us: “..God permitted His Son to taste the human agony of rejection and plunge towards the abyss.”

Pope John Paul reminds us that: “Down through the centuries and generations is has been seen that in suffering there is concealed a particular power that draws a person interiorly close to Christ, a special grace……..It is He Himself who acts at the heart of human sufferings through His Spirit of truth, through the consoling Spirit. It is He who transforms, in a certain sense, the very substance of the spiritual life, indicating for the person who suffers a place close to Himself……..For suffering cannot be transformed and changed by grace from the outside, but from within. And Christ through His own salvific suffering is very much present in every human suffering, and can act from within that suffering by the powers of His Spirit of truth, His consoling Spirit. “ [see on the Vatican site, www.vatican.va Salvifici Doloris, available in English, by Pope John Paul II].

Do I feel in less mired in the swamp of sadness, darkness, depression, anxiety, aloneness, the absence of God having just articulated the above truth?

Nope!

To pretend otherwise would be a lie.

Sometimes we think, or hope, that by saying yes to suffering, to the cross, it’s the magical formula which will get God to say, okay no more pain or sorrow for you!

Actually, no matter what we feel, the only true yes to the Father, the real united with Christ prayer, the actual strengthening by the Holy Spirit is when we make these words of Jesus our own by a free will act even when our emotions are screaming in agony, indeed perhaps in that very moment we are closest to Jesus:

“Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but Yours be done.” [Lk.22:42]


Friday, October 14, 2005

What is weak....

One of the wonderful things to watch as the Bishops meet in Synod in Rome, their main focus on the truth and gift of Jesus in the Eucharist, is how many areas of Church life are discussed, all connected to Eucharist.

A case in point is the matter of priestly celibacy: the chaste priest.

In the document of the Second Vatican Council on the Priesthood the section on “Special Spiritual Requirements in the Life of the Priest”  begins by reflecting first on humility!

The Council quotes 1 Cor. 1:27: “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”

As priests we are ordained, by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, in persona Christi, in the person of Christ who invites us to learn from Him for He is “meek and humble of heart.” [Mt.11:29]

This holy tradition in the Latin Rite of the Universal Church is no mere law. It is so deeply part of the gift and mystery of priesthood I would argue that any man not willing in the deep yearning of his heart to embrace the cross and joy of chastity is unlikely to have an authentic vocation to priesthood.

Where there is error and great tragedy in the priesthood today, with the result of unchaste priests, is in a mindset that assumes something pseudo-automatic, both in seminaries and rectories, and yes among the laity, about priestly chastity.

Chastity, like the self-gifting of spouses in holy marriage, requires a willingness to take up our cross, the cross of our very humanity, each day and follow Jesus.

A major reality of Jesus’ own chastity was not just the unique aloneness of being the only Incarnate one, but the very real limitations on human intimacy, obviously physical but also emotional and spiritual, which those called to oneness with Him in the gift and mystery of priesthood must also accept, with joy.

My heart believes the frequent references in the Gospel to Jesus withdrawing by Himself to a lonely place to pray contain this example of humility which knows the direct connection between chastity and communion of love with the Father.

Indeed in the Vatican Council’s teaching on priestly chastity the Council urges priests to “demand” the grace necessary to be faithful.

I know of no other instance in all the documents of the Council, where such a definitive word is used regarding prayer.

However it is not just priests who should be “demanding” this of the Holy Trinity. The laity, and here I would ask every person of faith of every religion to join in this universal petition of God, should demand for we priests fullness of the virtue of holy chastity.

I pray to God things are better now than when I was in the seminary because when I was a seminarian two things were never stressed: 1] be it chastity, humility, obedience, poverty, etc., etc. no true teaching on virtue and holiness, much less the ordinary means of prayer, vigils, fasting, consecration to Jesus through Mary, daily Holy Hour, etc., was ever mentioned let alone encouraged, much less ‘demanded’ of us.
                                                                         2] neither were we taught about a thirst for the salvation of souls and hence what it actually means to be in persona Christi: total gift of self to the humble service of others, participation completely in Christ’s own loneliness and passion.

When all of the experts have finished discussing the psychological, formation or lack thereof, administrative, etc., etc. reasons for priestly impurity, be it through sins against the innocent, unholy relations with other adults, or self, etc., there still will be no infallible litmus test to prevent priestly impurity or further scandal and harm.

The only way to ensure a completely sinless priesthood would be to demand God ordain only Angels.

So we need to understand that quotation by the Council from First Corinthians is telling us a simple truth: it pleases the Incarnate, Suffering Servant to chose mere men to be configured by the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Orders to be priest.

Because we are human beings we have a history from conception to ordination marked by all those elements which mark every human being.

But equally, if not more importantly, we have access to grace, actual grace offered in every moment of our lives. A key way of assuring we cooperate with all grace, actual and sanctifying, is through consecration Totus Tuus to Our Blessed Mother Mary, Mother of Priests.

Each day too we have access to sanctifying grace offered most especially through the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion.

No priest can nor will remain pure unless he is strengthened by regular, preferably weekly, honest and humble sacramental confession, authentic spiritual direction from a truly holy and wise brother priest and most foundationally through the daily celebration of Holy Mass renewing his self-gift and receiving the Pure Priest Himself in daily Holy Communion so that the priest’s entire physical, emotional, spiritual being is permeated by the self-gift and purity of Christ Priest.

For spouses to remain physically, emotionally, spiritually faithful is a moment by moment daily choice to love.

For priests to remain physically, emotionally, spiritually faithful moment by moment each day demands the same choice, and the foundational root of our choice must be, like Jesus, to spend much time in communion of love with the Father.

Because of the horror of abuse we priests must live in a climate of incredible hostility, suspicion, wherein our very sense of worth and being is under constant assault by a cacophony of voices: some crying out from legitimate pain and frustration because they are victims;  some who simply hate and dishonour victims of abuse by using their pain as the justification for hatred of priests.

Looming large in this hatred is the secular media. But they are, sadly, not alone.

The abuse scandal has caused priests to be at war with one another, for these days it seems many priests have forgotten the Gospel of compassion and mercy, forgotten that in reality the Church IS the church of second chance: need I mention Matthew, Magdalene, Augustine, de Foucauld etc. etc.?

The resulting climate of daily stress and pain exacerbates the ordinary loneliness constitutive of the chaste life.

Perhaps never before in history, save during periods of persecution by blood, have we priests had such a wonderful opportunity to truly lay down our lives for our friends, that is for every human being.

Perhaps never before have we had such an opportunity to be one with the lonely Christ, the accused Christ, Christ in the garden and on the cross.

Hence we actually have a unique opportunity to profoundly open wide the doors of our being to joy!



Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Satan's Chariot

I was reading a passage from St. Isaac the Syrian today and it triggered some memories and reflections.

One of the memories is of an encounter in the cafeteria one night with a group of rookies discussing the dangers of being police officers. They seemed bemused by a veteran officer who told them he most feared the unpredictability of domestic-violence calls.

After several of them quipped little mockeries or bold remarks from inexperience, I told them about my cousin, by then an Inspector, whose only injury to date had happened during a ‘domestic’ call when the very battered, bloodied wife he was trying to protect whacked HIM with an iron frying pan.

She was simply protecting her husband, even though he had assaulted her moments before.

The other memory is of listening to the anxious heart of a young priest last time I was in New York. Because of the climate of fear resulting from the abuse scandal and other sins within the Church this young priest was afraid to be near children, afraid of the leftists because he is pro-life, afraid of the conservative crowd because trusts the teachings of Vatican II, afraid of his brother priests because he feels uncertain about their loyalty should any accusation ever come his way, etc., etc. etc.

It would be too easy to dismiss this young priest as neurotic were it not for the solid and objective foundation of his fears.

Part of the un-sufficiently discussed quagmire resulting from the sins of priests is the climate of abandonment and fear created primarily by, frankly, weak bishops.

Rather than insist on the Gospel teachings of forgiveness, love of our enemies, doing good to those who persecute us, rather than admit their own responsibility, and accepting the consequences, the Bishops have opted fundamentally to hide in the shadows cast by aggressive lawyers and insurance agents.

Certainly victims of the horrific evil of abuse should be compensated in every way they need, no matter the cost; certainly priest-predators should be dealt with according to law.

The climate of fear and confusion, of a lack of complete healing for victims, a lack of true repentance and conversion among bishops and priests alike, comes from seeing the Gospel as second source/resource in the face of evil and division as opposed to secular solutions as being the way to go.

Bishops and priests should be gathering, publicly, on a regular basis, in simple adoration, intercession and atonement before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, be seen publicly availing themselves at the same time of regular recourse to Sacramental Confession, be seen, Bishop with his priest-sons, priests with their brother priests, concelebrating a Holy Mass for a healing of this climate of sin and fear, followed by praying the Holy Rosary together and re-consecrating themselves, Totus Tuus as Pope John Paul exemplified for us, to Jesus through Mary.

That young priest will only overcome his fear when he knows he is son to his Bishop and brother among brothers.

We will only effectively prevent further abuse of the innocent when all priests are holy.

We will only become holy priests when we are, bishop and priests as one, humble students in the school of Mary.

That quote from St. Isaac the Syrian? Here it is: Confusion should be called the chariot of the devil, because satan is ever wont to mount upon it as a charioteer, and bearing with him the throng of the passions, he invades the ..soul and plunges her into the pit of confusion.

There is no greater confusion than when bishops and priests become ‘of the world’ rather than aflame with the Holy Gospel.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Shame!

A few days ago an Ecumenical group in Canada, called KAIROS issued a pastoral letter urging Canadians to get behind a campaign to safeguard the nation’s water supply and noted as well both the assertion that in access of a billion of our brothers and sisters worldwide lack safe drinking water.

They then state that “Every 14 seconds, someone dies from diseases caused by contaminated water.”

There are, by the way, 31, 556, 926 seconds in a year. Divided by 14 it would mean about 2, 254, 066 of our brothers and sisters die from contaminated water causes yearly.

As horrible as that number is how come these same leading clergy and their constituents don’t calculate the number of our brothers and sisters, even by the most conservative estimates I assure you would prove to be a number tens of times higher than 2, 000, 000 plus, who never get to taste water of any kind because they are slaughtered in the womb before ever seeing the light of day.

It is all well and good, indeed critical, that Christians be aware and raise our voices about the issues which affect human life.

However it seems to me too many Christian leaders have the priority of issues backwards.

It is may be somewhat a rallying of the troops to cry out, as this group does: “Water: Life before Profit!”

I wonder why they never simply cry LIFE before profit.

Connect the dots guys!

So long as we are lacking in boldness in proclaiming unceasingly in the face of the culture of death the sacredness of every human life, from the womb to the tomb, profiteers will dominate all aspects of human existence.

It is the mentality which sees our brothers and sisters as disposable which opens the dark abyss gateway  to profiteering from what is a basic human right such as potable water.

Defend and protect the most vulnerable of human beings, our pre-born brothers and sisters first.

Or way beyond anything Rachel Carson every imagined the day will come of a complete and universal “silent spring.”

In The Night

Here in the heart of the city it is middle of the night.

The nearby inner city airport is quiet, while the sounds from the even closer freight-yard as long trains are assembled with containers from across the globe echo along the alleyways of the neighbourhood.

For once the sound of sirens is absent. That means, for now at least, no fires, medical emergencies or violence.

For a city that amounts to stillness!

Usually I am up and at prayer by 5 in the morning but this night awoke at 2, moved to pray especially for this city.

Frequently in the Holy Gospel we are told Jesus would spend the night in prayer, in communion with the Father.

Since the very beginning of the life of the Church after Pentecost this tradition of  men and women, young and old, priest, monks, nuns, keeping vigil has grown.

Countless are those who quietly enter chapels of Perpetual Adoration throughout the night around the world to be with Him, adoring Jesus, joining their prayer to the Father with His.

While it is night here elsewhere in the world a new day has dawned, in some countries it is the middle of the day.

To keep vigil is to love one another, to be a voice for each other.

These hours before the daily arrival of email or snail mail or phone calls are a time of peace and silence, a time to be with Him in simple dialogue, listening, adoring, worshipping, interceding.

Indeed it is to be faithful to the first duty of a priest which is to pray for all our brothers and sisters.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Rivers of blood, oceans of tears

Not to sure which emotion is prevailing today: a type of frustrated anger or deep grief!

Certainly I confess to You O Lord I sure wish You’d do something about the rivers of blood from earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, war, terrorism, abortion, murder, domestic violence, abuse of children, the tragedies in places like Dafur where women and children are victims of so-called men who actually are cowardly persons who have abandoned the prime reality of authentic manhood: protector.

Your whole world, all of Your human children, we’ve gone completely nuts.

I just don’t get why You don’t staunch the rivers of blood, which surely cry out to You louder even than that of Abel, or why You don’t dry the oceans of tears, there being more thousands of mothers weeping louder than Rachel ever did over her children, for she was one voice, they are a chorus of thousands upon thousands.


We read in Wisdom the question which confronts the limitations of mere creatures standing before You: For what man knows God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?  {Ws. 9:13}


Isaiah too poses a similar question, a challenge really to our need to “know”: Who has directed the spirit of the Lord or has instructed Him as His counsellor? {Is.40:13}


Yes I confess I often forget true wisdom when I see what appears cruel and incomprehensible.

I can grant that abortion, murder, terrorism, abuse, addictions, domestic violence, hatred, war – these are things we human beings deliberately and evilly do to one another.

It is a betrayal and abuse of Your gift to us of free will.

[However having said that even as a priest I confess it is more difficult to accept abuse of an innocent child than a couple of drug dealers whacking each other.]

It’s when so-called ‘natural’ disasters happen I really get cranky with You because I admit there is a blindness within me and a hatred of the questions people ask of clergy when their baby dies or thousands die, the “Why would God….” questions.

My answers seem always unconvincing and that is the problem, attempting to answer comprehensively the mysterious!

St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians attempts to convey true wisdom in chapter 2 and, frankly, it does not easily satisfy unless I take seriously his closing statement that:  we have the mind of Christ.

Do I?

Yes – but do I make us of it at times like this or drown in my own emotional frustration that I don’t have more control over the universe…well more control over You if I be honest.

And that is because I forget in a whirlpool of emotions what it truly means to be ordained: in persona Christi!

It is to be in the person of Christ and therefore to stand at the altar and celebrate Holy Mass and be the tears, the voice of every human being, commingled with Christ’s as plea to the Father.

Doesn’t satisfy the emotions much but opens the heart to think and love, to pray and serve, to weep and love as Christ does.

Critical in the face of human suffering is to get past emotional reactions and all the variations of the “why God” questions and, as Pope Benedict urged yesterday, to spend our energy in love’s action of feeding, clothing, caring for our suffering brothers and sisters, burying the dead, comforting the wounded, protecting the pre-born children.

It is to accept His imperative invitation, or we shall fall into despair or unbelief being overwhelmed by human suffering: Come to Me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden light.  [Mt.11:28-30]

Unafraid to allow Him to comfort us, unafraid to share in His yoke and burden [which contains all the suffering mentioned above] we will recall, love, trust, and obey, the truth that Christ is our Priest of whom it is written: …we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. {Hb.4:14-16}

Friday, October 07, 2005

Back from retreat

Today in the Roman Catholic Church we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary.
This feast harkens back to an earlier time when there was, as today, the horror of war between peoples of differing faith and culture.

What is it with we human beings that we resist so much simply seeing each other as persons, loving one another, caring for one another?

We are one family on one planet in the midst of a vast universe – each and everyone of us created by God who is love to be His beloved little ones.

Each day  I pray the Holy Rosary and meditate upon the mysteries of Joy – which take us into the mystery of His becoming a man, a human being that we might have hope. Or the Sorrowful mysteries which take us into the cost of redemption from sin, paid by Him because He loves us.
There are the mysteries of Light which take us into the depths of His tender presence among us and  the Glorious mysteries which take us into the reality of the eternity of love for which we have been created and where He invites us.

The older I get and meditate upon the mysteries of the Holy Rosary each day, the less I understand why we human beings fail to love one another.

Having just returned from the retreat with my brother priests I can tell you we prayed daily for the whole human family that we might love one another.

Now that I am back and resuming the daily routine as an urban priest-hermit my heart  turns in particular to the Holy Mother of God pleading for her intercession that we stop hating and begin loving one another, stop being so greedy and learn to serve one another.

I urge all Catholics to rediscover, contemplate the mysteries of, pray, the Holy Rosary that we His children might love one another.