Friday, December 22, 2006

Tears in the Straw

My heart realizes, as I begin this annual Christmas reflection, it is not what I had been meditating on for several days.

I had just finished answering several letters, and cleaning this place in preparation for His birth when I thought of taking a mid-afternoon break.

I flipped on the Discovery Channel.

There was a replay of the 2000 documentary “North Korea- Children of the Secret State.” [ It can be viewed on Google just by typing in the title – the secretly filmed excerpts from Ahn Chol are extremely powerful and not for the faint of heart.]

Suddenly I found myself contemplating the Holy Child in the manger.

Not the Child of bright eyes and smile we all know from countless works of sacred art. Rather suddenly I was hearing the cries, seeing the tears of a newborn – hearing in His voice the cry of every suffering child, every suffering human being.

My heart was also aware His tears are both sweet and bitter.

The sweetness is of being born, seeing love in the eyes of His Mother, the love-protective presence of St. Joseph.

The bitterness, a foretaste of the gall which He would be given upon the Cross.

Cross.

Manger.

Cave of Bethlehem.

Cave of His tomb and Resurrection!

As His Mother lifts Him from the manger, to place Him in our arms we not only hold Love Himself, we hold the one lifted up on the Cross for us, raised up in Resurrection, in His Ascending to the Father.

He IS the one lifted up by every priest in Holy Mass, lifted from the paten and placed in our being in Holy Communion!


A dear brother priest, in his annual Christmas letter, reminds us, quoting Pascal, that we search for Him because: “You would not be seeking Me if you had not already found Me.”

Countless of our brothers and sisters, in some mysterious way, have found Him even without knowing Him – because they struggle to be real persons under even the most horrific conditions, such as the courage shown by those trapped in oppressive societies who, like Ahn Chol, risk their lives to be a voice for their brothers and sisters.

In his book: “ Circling the Sun – Meditations on Christ in Liturgy and Time”, Robert D. Pelton stresses that: “ The smile of the Infant holds the secret of everlasting life.” [p. 24].

He then proceeds to tell the story of a conversation between a Crusader and his Muslim jailer about their differing understanding of God and when the Crusader shows a carving of the Holy Child in the arms of His Mother the reaction is one of astonishment to say the least!


Fr. Pelton then teaches: “ There it is: the scandal of the Gospel…..The Infant’s smile scandalizes for the same reason that the cry of anguish torn from the full-grown and crucified Jesus, swaddled this time in pain and blood and loneliness, scandalizes.” [pp.25/26]

I volunteer at least one day, frequently several days a week, at a soup kitchen here in the city.

Often Jesus arrives in the arms of a mother, or in a stroller.

Sometimes He cries, sometimes He smiles…sometimes He comes in as a teenager, battered by a life of heartache, as an adult worn out with mental illness or addiction, or as one of the working poor or lonely elderly.…in a word, the great chance to truly see Him is where He tells us, in Matthew 25:35ff, He can be found, touched, seen:

“ I was thirsty…a stranger…naked…ill…in prison….”

A woman who was in my life a great teacher about the Child was the Servant of God Catherine Doherty, Foundress of the Madonna House Lay Apostolate.

Catherine was a nurse on the Russian front in WWI, was wounded when the revolution occurred, almost died of starvation during that same period, and there were other times when she suffered assaults and heartache, such as when she would challenge racist-Christians to meet Christ in their black brothers and sisters.
Yet not once in all the years I knew her did I ever hear her speak of those who tried to kill her. Rather, Catherine truly loved and forgave her enemies, and indeed anyone who hurt her.

This is perhaps the most scandalous thing this Holy Child ever did!

He neither used His power to prevent evil the way WE would expect God to, nor did He use His power to destroy evil doers, the way WE often wish He would!

“ Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34).” [ Pope Benedict, encyclical “God is Love.”]

There it is!

This beating Heart of the Little Child in the manger, lying there with tears in the straw, will grow and beat until on the Cross His Heart will stop beating, for a time, so that in stillness, surrendered, vulnerable, It may be opened wide, wider even than the entrance to the cave through which the Mother beckons us: “Come, see Him smile upon you!”.

The wound in His Heart, the very Heart beating in the Child in the manger, lanced open, is the portal from which cascades the merciful love of God for every human being!

Indeed in his Apostolic Letter for the Year 2000 Pope John Paul teaches us that in Jesus not only is God speaking to us but is searching for us: “The Incarnation of the Son of God attests that God goes in search of man….It is a search that begins in the heart of God and culminates in the Incarnation of the Word.”

My prayer, for the suffering children in North Korea and around the world, for the protection of all children in the womb, for the homeless we serve in the soup kitchen, for those extraordinarily courageous, generous men and women who put their lives on the line each day for our protection and well-being: in the military; those who as first responders rescue us in emergencies; those almost invisible men and women without whose fidelity to their tasks we would be shivering, hungry, in the dark, like millions of our brothers and sisters in so many countries – yes my prayer for every human being is that we will see and contemplate the Holy Face of the Child, of the Crucified and Risen One, receive the gift of His tears of joy, tears shed in anguish and understand how truly beloved we are!

Christ IS born! Christ has died. Christ IS risen!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Back!

A PRAYER FROM CARDINAL NEWMAN

{ Yes Dear Readers it has been a long time since a post. First there was the retreat at the end of September [ more about that later today ], then a typical, but serious strep infection, along with other usual northern winter illnesses, severe colds & flu among them, followed by another bout of depression as the struggle for vindication and restoration continues in my life and the lives of thousands of falsely accused priests.
There also has been the deaths of two very dear friends, one of whom was a dedicated Lay Apostle who prayed this prayer of Newman’s daily and, it seems to my heart, a good way to resume this Blog.}

Dear Jesus, help me to spread Thy fragrance everywhere. Fill my soul with Thy spirit and Thy life, Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may be only a radiance of Thine. Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with my feel Thy presence in my soul. May they look up and see no longer me but only You my Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Benedicam Domino

Every year at this time comes a period which I look forward too with immense need and gratitude: the annual retreat.

It is the fraternity among brother priests from around the world to be sure. However more even than that blessing is the opportunity, away from all other demands and distractions, to step deeply into the school of Our Blessed Mother, to be drawn aside, as He did with the Apostles, by Jesus, to rest, to be renewed, to commune with the Holy Spirit, be renewed for fidelity to the Holy Will of the Father throughout the coming year.

Pope John Paul urged priests to be converted anew everyday – certainly a retreat is critical to sustaining such a graced process throughout each day of the year.

So I will not be blogging again until the beginning of October and ask your prayer for all of us on retreat.

Here, before leaving in a few hours, I share my pre-retreat meditation based upon Psalm 34, with words from the Psalm in quotation marks:

Benedicam Domino


"I will bless the Lord at all times", even if my emotions might be doing otherwise, or my mouth less than joyful, let every heartbeat, every breath be a continual act of praise.

Let nothing appear upon my face other than the Light of Your love nor any word flow from my mouth but that it be an affirming word, a truth word "so that the poor may hear and rejoice."

So every star in the heavens, planets, sun, moon, every cloud and raindrop, all you snowflakes and morning mists, winds, running streams, oceans and all who live within you or travel upon you, birds of the air and all who travel by air, every creature upon the earth, each blade of grass, leaf, tree – every human being who dwells in forests or jungles, on mountains or in valleys, within the canyons of cities, in palaces or hovels, cardboard boxes or under bridges, no matter our condition or hunger, sorrow or joy, hope or struggle "let us exalt His Name together!"

Deep in the swamp of darkness, lost in the shadows of loneliness, warmed in the midst of love, believing or seemingly without hope, rejoicing or struggling with addiction, honoured or rejected, in prison or seeming to be powerful – knowing I am choosing to do so or another through prayer doing so for me – everyone who breathes seeks and I testify the seeking is worth it "for I sought the Lord and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears" and it is true, even if we seem crushed down so far we are as a blind one, so lost we are as one who cannot hear, so hurting it is as if we have no voice it is true that "those who look to Him are radiant and their faces shall never be ashamed."

What more can I say? That everything will instantly change, all will be well, no more sorrow or grief, no more sin or wounds, loneliness will vanish and addiction dissipate, hatred, war, terrorism, extremism, abortion ended?

No – mostly none of that will happen – though absolutely we can choose to build a civilization of love and ALL of that will become reality.

No – weep, we must, tears of repentance, intercession, supplication, for the world is in pain, babies are being murdered in the womb – children abused, women battered, nations in the grips of war and terror, the streets are filled with the homeless and by far there is too much anger, hatred, degradation through pornography, assault on the sanctity of marriage and family life – and the Priesthood is wounded, terribly, priests are suffering, ceaselessly and Peter, Our Holy Father Benedict attacked, because he has the truth-speaking heart of a child and the compassionate heart of a father.

As priest I am voice for everyone, especially during Holy Mass, in persona Christi, the Suffering Servant, the Poor Man who, for all of us did, does "cry out and the Lord heard Him and saved Him out of all His troubles" as the Father hears us through Jesus who saves us, redeems us, and blessed are we if we take "refuge in Him!"

Jews and Protestants, Buddhists and Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox, peoples of any belief and of none at all, knowing or not that we have but one Father who is Love, brothers and sisters, "Come, O children, listen to me….turn away from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it….the Lord is near the brokenhearted and saves the crushed spirit."

Benedicam Domino!

Monday, September 18, 2006

"Dies academicus" - Pope Benedict

Towards the end of my seminary studies I spent six months learning from an Imam, a man of sincere faith, open hearted, a man of prayer, the tradition of prayer and mysticism within the traditions of Islam.

This in no way makes of me an expert, rather simply a student of another faith tradition besides my own.

I also studied with an equally sincere of faith and open hearted Rabbi and various Christian clergy, besides my own required studies as a Roman Catholic seminarian.

Thus, today as a priest who still loves to study, I do get , upon a meditative reading of the entire text of Pope Benedict’s lecture, the Holy Father’s challenge for everyone to dialogue about love and reason, rather than remaining mired as a human family in the insanity of impulsive hatred and irrational violence.

There is a real glimpse into the tender heart and intellectual brilliance of the Holy Father when he begins with joy by stating: “ It is a moving experience for me to stand and give a lecture…”.
A glimpse into another heart of sincere faith and openness.

The lecture clearly is within the context of what the Holy Father refers to as his experience decades ago as a professor of the “dies academicus” – thus I can understand that whomever has not experienced such “dies” would perhaps not grasp precisely what such an exchange of ideas is all about.

We seem to have lost, globally, the tradition of intellectual, respectful, discourse, the exchange of ideas, the openness NOT to overpower other with argument but together to search for truth – reasonable, understandable, objective truth.

Globally we seem to have become a human family [ and here I lay much of the responsibility for this at the feet of the 30 second sound bite media AND at the feet of extremists, be they religious or secular ones ] which reacts impulsively, all too frequently irrationally, to tiny bits and pieces of “information” – or rather of “news” received filtered through media or “leaders” of all stripes with agendas.

The Holy Father’s lecture is academically clear but much more than a 30 second sound bite, whereas the one brief passage which is being used – and NOT just by our brothers and sisters of Islam – to “justify” extremism has been turned into a disingenuous aberration in the furtherance of hatred and violence, which puts the entire human family at risk that the “we’s” will in turn overreact in kind to the “thems”.

History is filled with the use of violence to push forward a seemingly endless parade of cultures, religions, policies of one sort or another – hardly a religious tradition from the Jewish faith to Christianity to Islam, nor a national or political sector anywhere on earth – can claim to have bloodless hands.

However it IS Christianity which is mandated by Christ Himself to love one another, to love our enemies, to do good to those who persecute us.
[cf. Mt. 5:11; 5:23ff; 5:43ff; Jn. 13:34ff]

If we strive to live out this mandate of love then at least in our hearts everyone becomes a “we”!

One of my favourite authors is Tolstoy and I visited a site today looking for his essay on why he could not remain silent and discovered other treasures there too.

The site is:  http://san.beck.org/GPJ18-Tolstoy.html

There I found the following quotes from Tolstoy’s “The Law of Love and the Law of Violence”:

“…I, who am on the edge of the grave, cannot be silent…..It is the law of love and its recognition as a rule of conduct in all our relations with friends, enemies and offenders which must inevitably bring about the complete transformation of the existing order of things, not only among Christian nations, but among all the peoples of the globe.”

Clearly, irrespective of the religious or national tradition, after tens of thousands of years of virtually unbridled use of violence to change people’s minds and hearts
-{ oh sure there have been debatably “successful” subjugations of peoples to the aggressors politic or religion: but true conversion of hearts? I think not.] - have we not spilled enough blood, fuelled enough hatred?

It  is time for true love of one another to prevail – not the 60’s version of “free love”, which was no true love at all – but the love which originates in and from God who is love, the love which Christ asks us to have for one another.

This is how Pope Benedict loves.

This is his challenge to every human being.

  

Sunday, September 17, 2006

HOPE!

This is from a holy card sent to me by a friend. The only source for what follows is a notation the card is from “Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters”.


                                                         HOPE

HOPE is the springtime of the soul.

HOPE is the prayer of the heart.

HOPE is the pillow of every sorrow.

HOPE is the mercy of eternity.

HOPE is the melody of infinity.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Pray everyone be converted!

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:


So many people are speaking with me of late with a combination of fearful-confusion and a type of fatigue of heart and soul that my heart was moved in prayer today to write this letter.

With the various wars in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, all of the terrorism, the horrors in Sudan and elsewhere in Africa, seeming countless reports of severe weather, earthquakes etc., many are understandably stressed.

Add to that those who [ rather presumptively in my opinion ] opine on news channels about the end of the world and that "Israel is God's land and He will protect them." - we can be left wondering what kind of a God is it who only looks after certain people!

A dear friend, a New York firefighter was at Ground Zero on 9/11 and he phoned me from there on 9/12 while taking a break amidst the chaos. When I asked him if there was anything I could do he instantly said: "Pray for the conversion of my country." [A year later we were both at Ground Zero and prayed there together.]

The evening of 9/11 itself I was visiting my spiritual director.

As my Spiritual Father and I were  about to concelebrate Holy Mass I asked for a moment to look into the eyes of Christ, there before us in the Pantocrator Icon, to beg Jesus to forgive the anger in my heart towards those who had perpetrated that murderous horror.

Suddenly I heard my Spiritual Father likewise begging mercy.

We then proceeded to celebrate the Mass for times of War and Civil Disturbance.

The opening prayer of the Mass is one of two options. I don't remember which one we prayed so offer both here:

1] God of power and mercy, You destroy war and put down earthly pride.
Banish violence from our midst and wipe away our tears that we may all deserve to be called Your sons and daughters. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

2] God our Father, maker and lover of peace, to know You is to live, and to serve You is to reign. All our faith is in Your saving help; protect us from men of violence and keep us safe from weapons of hate. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

From the above prayers, worthy of frequent utterance and meditation, what I find very powerful is: " keep us safe from weapons of hate."

Hatred begins within poisoned thinking, emotional disorder, and seeps like acid into the heart from whence it darkens the will into the active choice of aggressive sinful acts towards another human being thus becoming real 'earthly pride', which is that arrogance which seeks to usurp what is God's
alone: creating and lovingly giving the gift of life.

We can never usurp what is God's alone by positive action for we are incapable of creating an immortal soul, hence we can never GIVE life - we can only attempt to usurp what is God's alone by the negative, that is, by murder, seeking to destroy a living human being.

However we cannot be self-satisfied, just because we have not ever personally aborted a baby, blown up a plane, bombed a market, that we are innocent of the blood of our brothers and sisters: IF we have remained silent in the face of ANY assault on a human person from the womb to the tomb; by any means including abortion, euthanasia, assault on holy marriage, the family, hatred of immigrants, etc. etc. ;or  being na├»ve about the prime duty of the state, which is the protection of the citizens of the nation, by outrageous statements and attitudes towards those men and women who lay down their lives to protect us from terrorists or criminals in our midst.

Most especially we are NOT innocent bystanders if we fail to love one another, truly, to love our enemies, do good to those who persecute us in anyway, fail to pray and fast for the conversion of our respective nations, for the whole world, for peace.

When people, as someone just did a few moments ago, tell me they believe the world is coming to an end, or when, as yesterday, a Jewish friend states thus and so about 'them' and an Arab Muslim friend stated thus and so about 'them', become irritated with me because I refuse to take sides but plead we must love one another, and people often walk away apparently dismayed I just don't "get it!" - I am peaceful I have at least, by holding onto the hand of our Blessed Mother and being strengthened by her, witnessed to Christ's command we love one another as He loves us.

Yes these are dangerous days, yes it seems all creation is in some kind of groaning disturbance, yes terrorism is real and must be defeated, BUT so long as we who claim to be disciples of Christ murder the unborn, seek to dismantle holy marriage, assault the reality of family life, carry any form of hatred in our hearts, how dare we be so arrogant as to believe lifting up hands dripping with the blood  of the unborn, the elderly, or clutching some misguided ballot in favour of those who oppose holy marriage and family will appease the heart of our Heavenly Father?

FIRST  and foremost, it is the 'weapons of hatred' in my own heart which must be expunged if my prayer is to be heard: the weapons of compromise, hesitancy, self-centeredness, pride, greed, discrimination, hatred, anger, even the most tiny flicker of 'get them!' - it is Christ's admonishment to leave my gift at the altar and FIRST go and be reconciled with my brother.

So, pray I be converted and together let us pray everyone and all things be restored to Christ before we all drown in the blood and tears which are soaking the earth.






Friday, June 30, 2006

Between Friends!

I am deeply moved by the all words of support in comments and emails and will, by early next week, reply to each of you.

It is a joy to be able, in some small way, through sharing personal pilgrimage, to help others.

I leave very early in the morning for a pilgrimage to a lake revered by all the relatives of Blessed Kateri, and many other peoples as well, so won’t be posting for a few days, NOT, because of being back in that swamp of darkness, but because I am on a pilgrimage of thanksgiving.

The area we are headed to has since 1889, been a place of pilgrimage and  is dedicated to St. Anne, Mother of Mary, Grandmother of Jesus.

While the main pilgrimage each year centres around the feast of St. Anne, this one is centered around family life and I will be a guest of, and traveling, with John and Lucille, who are for me, as Martha, Mary and Lazarus were for Jesus, a true Bethany!

During the long weekend, besides conferences, Holy Mass, family time, there is also perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament – so I will be spending time in prayer specifically for the two great nations, cousins truly, who celebrate our national days at the very beginning of the month dedicated to His Most Precious Blood – I speak, of course, of Canada [ July 1 ] and the United States [ July 4 ].

May I say – between friends:    in both nations we enjoy the greatest amount of freedom on the face of the earth,  though for many of our brothers and sisters poverty, illness, addictions, imprisonment, loneliness and other burdens mean  they suffer immensely.

Yet there is, rooted in our shared Christian tradition especially, a true compassion not only for our own but for those who suffer around the world.

Of this generosity towards the world’s poor, this generosity of blood of both our people’s to defend the oppressed, the speed at which we respond to disasters around the globe, of this and much more we should be truly proud, filled with joy, and give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for all the blessings we enjoy.

It is too easy to be critical of the weaknesses in our countries, or even disagreements between us or within each nation.

Granted free speech, dissent around government policy, etc., these form an essential part of our freedom.

However, at least on our national days – let us make an effort – at least for the day, honouring our ancestors who forged our nations and those who defend us at home and abroad, smile for each other: across the longest undefended border in the world;  smile with the person beside us; the people we meet throughout the day – maybe even say thank-you!

Thank-you: to every shop keeper, police officer, medic, parks service person, lifeguard; those who keep us safe, fed, protected, enable us to travel; and for every military person, clergy,  indeed with everyone we meet.

Yes I do believe,  if for one day every American and Canadian rejoiced in the presence and gift in our lives of our fellow citizens; if every Canadian and American blessed to meet on either side of the border over these holidays thanked each other’s nation for our friendship…. – well I believe  such a witness of true love among and between our people’s  would put a major dent in the agenda of the terrorists who hate us because we are, quite simply, good, free, people.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Out of the Swamp of Darkness: 3

It came as a real surprise!

A mountain trip!

It truly refreshed me physically, emotionally, spiritually.

I have Lucille to thank [ their blog is:            http://catholiclovedotcom.blogspot.com/  ]
for allowing John take the time to bring me into the mountains.

The mountains are a few hours away from my urban hermitage. The drive itself  was healing as we drove through ever changing beauty of farmland, villages, and this far north, even between cities on busy routes, we are still spared the plethora of roadside signage and countless gas station-restaurant-rest stops, so common elsewhere in the country.

Thus even from a great distance first the foothills, then the mountains themselves, come into clear view in all their majestic reflection of His glorious creation.

Among the many adventures was our hike 7,000 feet up one mountain, with a stroll out onto a glacier where we picked up and chewed refreshing pieces of ice which sparkled in the sunlight, even though it was past 10 in the evening.

That is another wonder of living this far north! At this time of year, just below the actual land of the midnight sun, sunset comes around 11 in the evening, while the sky never goes fully dark in the couple of hours before the first hint of dawn appears.

I mention the above because there is a gap between the struggle described in these recent posts and now actually emerging out of the swamp of darkness – granted just emerging  now,  yet far enough that I, especially after the hike 7, 000 feet up, know the grace of ascent has been granted.

So while I continued therapy I also needed to, and did, re-avail myself of all the resources the Spirit offers us through the ministry of Holy Mother the Church, in the Sacraments and sacramentals.

Thus, in the struggle out of the swamp of darkness, frequent reception of Divine Mercy through sacramental confession, daily fidelity to the celebration of Holy Mass, with Christ communicating Himself to me in the Holy Eucharist,  receiving from time to time over the months the Sacrament of Healing of the Sick, the blessing each day of my hermitage with Holy Water, are among the various resources of which I take full use.

Because he is such a coward the evil one, no matter how he might package it, has only one thing to offer: rupture of our relationship with the Giver of all good gifts.

Satan prefers to hound those wounded, exhausted, ill, weakened in some way, for he avoids those strong in Christ, only assaulting them when they let their guard down.

His preferred mode of assault is primarily with his deceptions and discouragement, then when the soul becomes exhausted by these he switches to various temptations of ill-temper, lust, self-comforting, etc., etc.

Now the great illusion herein is that satan somehow pays primary attention to us, even cares somehow. In truth, because he is anti-love, he is incapable of caring for anyone. He can only hate. Indeed  his one and only obsession is his spiritually insane hatred of Christ.

Satan attacks us in a vain attempt to reach Christ within us – Christ already victorious.  However unless we cling to Christ who has already overcome the evil one and death, we will be vulnerable to the wiles of the evil one.

As the first pope teaches, and in the intensity of 21st century spiritual warfare we should all heed: Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion seeking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith. [ 1 Pt. 5:8-9 ]

It is especially, then, when we are already weakened by some other factor, such as being deeply mired in the swamp of darkness, emotional or physical ill health, grief, stress of various kinds, loneliness etc., etc., that we must beg for the grace of prudent discernment to avoid two serious misjudgements.

The first is to presume something which requires proper medical/therapeutic intervention is ‘merely’ a spiritual struggle and the second is the mirror image of the former, namely, to assume something is ‘merely’ a physical/emotional issue and negate its spiritual dimension.

For every immortal soul everything in our lives has a spiritual dimension to it, from the work of our hands to the work of the Holy Spirit within us.

Indeed the ultimate purpose of work is worship. The ultimate purpose of our worship, especially in the summit event of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is union, spiritual marriage, with the Word.

Such completeness in love with love Himself is truly to receive the fullness of life’s breath!

We need therefore, since anti-love satan does everything possible to interfere with this pilgrimage of work to worship to union, always to be aware that greater than any attempt by the evil one to disconcert, deceive or discourage us – and unless we surrender our wills to him the evil one is only able to attack from outside our being – is the  reality, the truth, that the Holy Spirit Himself dwells within we the baptized, His living temple.  

Without ever diminishing our free-will freedom, the Holy Spirit is unceasingly at work within us: If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through His Spirit that dwells in you. [ Rm.8:11 ]

This gift of life’s breath is not only the promise of resurrection but is the gift of true life, fullness of life, in time and history.

Christ’s life within us.

So we should not be surprised, nor stressed out by the fact that everything we experience in this life is ultimately an occasion for grace, can be a dimension of spiritual warfare, of the cross, but always is a matter of love.

Love involves often times pain, struggle, but also mostly joy.

True,  when deep in the swamp of darkness we can forget this and become engulfed in a ‘woe-is-me’ attitude which lies to self that we are the ONLY one all sorts of bad stuff happens to, when in truth struggle, battle, suffering are part of being a real witness of Christ: The dragon grew angry…and went…to wage war with…[those]…who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus. [Rv. 12:17 ]

So when we are in the swamp of darkness it is critical to be sure we discern what requires proper medical/therapeutic assistance, and get such help, without ever forgetting the spiritual aspects of life, availing ourselves of all the instruments of grace: especially staying close to Our Blessed Mother, being always in her school, for it is she who reminds us constantly, in the depths of suffering: We know everything works for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. [ Rm. 8.28 ]





Sunday, June 25, 2006

Out of the Swamp of Darkness: 2


“Your presence Father!”

As mentioned in the previous post the two crashes and all the other stress had slammed into me with such impact I was lost and sinking ever deeper in the mire of the swamp of darkness.

Those simple words: “Your presence Father!”, called me out of myself, reminding me of the luminous truth of who I am and they shook me up.

Not in a negatively disturbing way but rather as if being urgently shaken awake.

Thus, as part of the baby steps towards the path, if not yet quite stepping onto the path out of the swamp, I began seriously to -  through silent listening, meditation in Sacred Scripture, spiritual reading on the priesthood by various authors such as Pope John Paul and the Servant of God Catherine Doherty, and most important of all spending  time with my face on the ground before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament - seeking the grace to embrace my powerlessness and trust Him!

I confess that, in the depths of the swamp of darkness, I had begun to question the point of keeping on, keeping on!

Thankfully, by the grace of God, I was protected from that desperate pit of grief wherein the pain is so complete, the hopelessness so absolute, that increasingly appears to be the hopelessness which leads priests who so suffer to commit suicide.

Certainly the multi-year stress, humiliation, frustration, impediment to public ministry, to even dress according to my consecrated state in life; the persistent refusal of my own bishop even to speak with me; the snail’s pace of the appeal process to Rome by which the Holy See compounds the suffering of priests – all of this had me seething with frustration and bent over with discouragement, to the point of seriously considering walking away from the priesthood and turning to the civil courts to attack my accuser, my bishop, my diocese and sue the lot of them into oblivion in the glare of the media, in hopes this would face slap the institutional church into rendering Gospel charity and true justice to priests.

Of course the soul-corrosive sub-text of such disordered thinking, of such writhing in frustration and fury, becomes questioning the very point of any form of loyalty to Christ, the Gospel, the Church, priesthood, vows.

Thus the mire sinking accelerates to the point where the question can indeed become that which leads some priests to take their own lives: Why bother living? Why not end the pain now?

By the lavishness of Divine Mercy I was granted not so much effective personal prayer but grace surely the result of the prayers of others – life’s breath must be asked of the Holy Spirit, along with the grace to open the doors of our being in receptive willingness to cooperate with grace.

Hope is needed, hope indeed is necessary for every human being – hope encourages awakening in the morning, risking asking a beloved’s hand in marriage and with them risking conceiving a child with no guarantees as to how that child’s life will unfold.

Hope enables men to enter the seminary, accept ordination.

Hope allows us, at the time chosen by God, to accept the great step of faith: death.

{ Now here is something which just came to my heart: I don’t doubt that the millions of Catholics who had faithfully pray the “Fatima Prayer” after each decade of the Rosary, with simplicity of heart, do two things: 1] truly trust that the prayer is always answered and 2] assume it is especially for souls at the point of death.

Well I have always understood the prayer as primarily for each of us, for  everyone is “most” in need of mercy – sometimes perhaps more urgently than we realize.

At any rate I believe much grace was given me because others were praying the prayer with such generosity: O my Jesus forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of Your Mercy.

It is a simple prayer but one – given the immense suffering in our world – we should all pray.}

Next post I will share some about the next step in the struggle: taking in the wisdom of friends and spiritual writers.

Out of the Swamp of Darkness: 2


“Your presence Father!”

As mentioned in the previous post the two crashes and all the other stress had slammed into me with such impact I was lost and sinking ever deeper in the mire of the swamp of darkness.

Those simple words: “Your presence Father!”, called me out of myself, reminding me of the luminous truth of who I am and they shook me up.

Not in a negatively disturbing way but rather as if being urgently shaken awake.

Thus, as part of the baby steps towards the path, if not yet quite stepping onto the path out of the swamp, I began seriously to -  through silent listening, meditation in Sacred Scripture, spiritual reading on the priesthood by various authors such as Pope John Paul and the Servant of God Catherine Doherty, and most important of all spending  time with my face on the ground before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament - seeking the grace to embrace my powerlessness and trust Him!

I confess that, in the depths of the swamp of darkness, I had begun to question the point of keeping on, keeping on!

Thankfully, by the grace of God, I was protected from that desperate pit of grief wherein the pain is so complete, the hopelessness so absolute, that increasingly appears to be the hopelessness which leads priests who so suffer to commit suicide.

Certainly the multi-year stress, humiliation, frustration, impediment to public ministry, to even dress according to my consecrated state in life; the persistent refusal of my own bishop even to speak with me; the snail’s pace of the appeal process to Rome by which the Holy See compounds the suffering of priests – all of this had me seething with frustration and bent over with discouragement, to the point of seriously considering walking away from the priesthood and turning to the civil courts to attack my accuser, my bishop, my diocese and sue the lot of them into oblivion in the glare of the media, in hopes this would face slap the institutional church into rendering Gospel charity and true justice to priests.

Of course the soul-corrosive sub-text of such disordered thinking, of such writhing in frustration and fury, becomes questioning the very point of any form of loyalty to Christ, the Gospel, the Church, priesthood, vows.

Thus the mire sinking accelerates to the point where the question can indeed become that which leads some priests to take their own lives: Why bother living? Why not end the pain now?

By the lavishness of Divine Mercy I was granted not so much effective personal prayer but grace surely the result of the prayers of others – life’s breath must be asked of the Holy Spirit, along with the grace to open the doors of our being in receptive willingness to cooperate with grace.

Hope is needed, hope indeed is necessary for every human being – hope encourages awakening in the morning, risking asking a beloved’s hand in marriage and with them risking conceiving a child with no guarantees as to how that child’s life will unfold.

Hope enables men to enter the seminary, accept ordination.

Hope allows us, at the time chosen by God, to accept the great step of faith: death.

{ Now here is something which just came to my heart: I don’t doubt that the millions of Catholics who had faithfully pray the “Fatima Prayer” after each decade of the Rosary, with simplicity of heart, do two things: 1] truly trust that the prayer is always answered and 2] assume it is especially for souls at the point of death.

Well I have always understood the prayer as primarily for each of us, for  everyone is “most” in need of mercy – sometimes perhaps more urgently than we realize.

At any rate I believe much grace was given me because others were praying the prayer with such generosity: O my Jesus forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of Your Mercy.

It is a simple prayer but one – given the immense suffering in our world – we should all pray.}

Next post I will share some about the next step in the struggle: taking in the wisdom of friends and spiritual writers.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Thanks Penitens

http://penitens.blogspot.com/atom.xml

It may seem odd to start a post with a link but the word from Penitens in reply to my recent post was the one which truly struck my heart, especially: Keep your eyes fixed on Christ.

I have been doing that all day and tomorrow I must travel to ‘oil town’ for the day and then will spend some time in the mountains writing Part 2 of Out of the Swamp of Darkness.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Out of the Swamp of Darkness: 1

In his volume of commentary on the Holy Gospel, according to St. Matthew: Fire of Mercy Heart of the Word, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis writes about the First Beatitude – blessed are the poor in spirit: “ We may translate more graphically: ‘How fortunate those who beg for their life’s very breath.’”

Anyone who has experienced any form of inner darkness, any sense of unrelenting grief, spiritual or emotional frustration, clinical or just ordinary depression/dark days, or gone through a critical period of seeming deafness of the divine to persistent prayer, knows exactly  what Leiva-Merikakis means  about begging for ‘life’s very breath’!

It came to my heart, preparing for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, it was time to resume this, indeed all my abandoned writing – that sense of such coming to my heart was/is, in reality, a merciful gift of grace.

More it is, albeit in some moments a tentative one, little step by step response to grace’s invitation to emerge from the swamp of darkness.

Trust is extremely difficult when in any part of the swamp.

Rescuers well know the phenomena of people lost in deep bush who actually flee away from the sound of those searching for them calling out their name!

Lost long enough in the bush, with all its shadows by day, darkness and cold by night, sounds which while perhaps formerly familiar now appear menacing, all leads to the onset of panic, while, if lost long enough, exhaustion, from the relentless futility of constantly trying to find a path out, and the experience of being suddenly so small, vulnerable, powerless in such a seemingly unending immensity, even hearing one’s name called triggers the flight instinct.

Therefore the first step in the struggle OUT of the swamp of darkness is to plead for the ultimate life’s breath gift of faith, faith enough to believe we will be granted the graced strength to trust the sound of someone calling our name.

Depending on how far into, how deeply we have sunk in the mire of, the swamp of darkness we may need only hear our name from the lips of a family member or friend to, as it were, ‘snap out of it!’

In deep enough and we will need to call our own name into a willingness to cooperate with grace from the One who alone knows our true name and seek out professional help – and be humbly willing to cooperate with that help.

For me it was indeed a friend who noted how far into the swamp I had wandered and he contacted a friend of his, a therapist, who phoned me. When I heard my name, by grace, this time I did not flee but acknowledged I was indeed lost in the swamp and the rescue effort began.

In a word, I had to begin to walk towards the sound of the one calling – their voice being the means by which I would experience anew pure life’s breath.

Lovingly Christ does come to us in the swamp of darkness – but often in ways we may not always expect or be open to because, as Pope Benedict reminded us at Pentecost: “ The roots of our being and of our action are in the wise and provident silence of God.”

The path out of the swamp entails a willingness to withdraw from the noises in the swamp, the noise of our disordered emotions, and all other noise and to listen to this life-rooting, life-activating holy silence of God.

According to my therapist [ an excellent doctor, a good and joyous Christian – the only authentic kind! ] the trigger for my becoming lost, plunged into, miss-stepping into, the swamp of darkness, was the impact of not one, but two car crashes in succession.
Both by the way the result of drivers running red lights and slamming first into the car I was driving and then the next time into the car in which I was a passenger.

Most likely it was the second incident which proved to be the proverbial camel’s back-breaking straw!

The constant stress of being falsely accused of abuse; suspended without due process by my bishop who to this day has never bothered to speak with me; the glacial pace at which the Holy See [ anywhere from an average of 3 to as long as 22 years to resolve appeals ] responds to the cries of the Church’s Priest-Sons; the enormity of the financial burden to appeal against a bishop, who can spend scads of offertory plate money to fight their own priests, while we must beg for funds or incur massive debts; health problems, financial debt laden stress, spiritual struggle because how could God let any of it happen to the children who are abused; [ and how could so many of us find ourselves falsely accused]; the, albeit chosen, burden of trying to comfort hundreds of co-accused, in many, many, many cases, falsely; grieving, again and again, when yet another brother priest, some very young, commits suicide – all of that suddenly engulfed me with the force of a tsunami and dumped me far from the seashore when He stands in His Risen Glory and left me, deep, deep, in the swamp of darkness.

While I constantly, and do so again here, urge everyone to pray for the healing of all victims of abuse, and quick and just settlements of their claims, the complete conversion of all predators so the horror of abuse ends – at the same time I urge prayer for truth, justice, restoration of falsely accused priests and the conversion of bishops who seem in bondage to an odd fear.

My sharing of this struggle out of the swamp of darkness, and revealing the causes of being thrust into the swamp, are not revealed to illicit sympathy, rather to urge everyone who is lost in the swamp to seek and trust professional therapeutic and spiritual help and to not ever give up hope!

Also, while priority must be given to the innocents who have been abused no baptized person, certainly no shepherd in the Church, has the right to refuse forgiveness – and certainly no shepherd in the Church should sleep easy at night if he is sacrificing falsely accused priests to the gods of anger, hatred, vengeance, insurance companies or lawyers.

Christ is emphatic about love, forgiveness – even of our enemies.

Now is not the time to debate the abusive evil of a disordered application of the Dallas protocols or similar ones of other Bishops’ councils around the world, much less the arrogant abuse of certain Canons such as 223 which grant a power to bishops the Church never tolerates in the hands of civil authorities.

Here I am sharing what happens to so many of falsely accused priests: sinking in the swamp of darkness – and some clues as to how to find the path out of the swamp.

For myself I am just at the opening edge of the path, have taken only the first tentative steps, though with each passing day at a more confident and enlightened pace.

There is a sense, finally, of some solid footing, of little shafts of light.

It is a beginning!

Gratitude is a wellspring of growing joy as the journey continues.

First and foremost I am filled with gratitude to my Spiritual Director, the friend and father of my soul, whose love, wisdom, prayer, encouragement – like the proverbial cup of sweet water to the thirsty man – enabled me to accept the graced offer of my friend whose efforts put me in touch with my therapist.

I am grateful to this  good Doctor’s wisdom, professionalism, faith, and infectious joy, is turning bitter tears of frustration into weeping’s healing balm and enables me to turn from being darkly bent towards self once more into the brilliant warm light- and right order - of putting God first, other second, self third.

I thank my family whose patience and truth-speaking-love keeps me on the path, with the same blessing from you John as Simon of Cyrene brought to Jesus when He was burdened for us, and from you Lucille the same comforting coolness to my heart as Veronica with her veil likewise gave to Jesus in His suffering.

Your children, most beloved and treasured John and Lucille, with their unabashed joy every time I visit, remind me, and this I believe is an essential prayer for anyone struggling in the swamp of darkness, to constantly pray as the Servant of God Catherine Doherty taught me: “ God, grant me the heart of a child and the awesome courage to live it out.”

I am filled with gratitude not only to the Staff and Volunteers at the soup kitchen where I help from time to time, but to the homeless we serve.

Christ disguised as the poor, the Poor who bless me with the opportunity to stand unbent and other centered.

Each of my co-suffering brother priests, whose prayers and encouragement are always lavished with true fraternal solidarity, even in the midst of their own constant pain, how I thank-you too and I am honoured to be among you.  

What initially blew me away, but now echoes in my heart as another of the treasured words of the Servant of God: “In God every moment is the moment of beginning again.”, was when one day when things were especially dark and the crushing weight of being suspended from normal priestly ministry was particularly raw, the acting Director of the soup kitchen asked if I could start coming on a regular basis because: “We need your presence, Father.”

YOUR PRESENCE FATHER!

Those words, as far as I know, were originally spoken by the Servant of God Catherine Doherty to a priest who was my confessor for years when he found himself in a place where he had ‘nothing to do’, and he asked Catherine for something to do, a job and she replied with words that encapsulate the critical reality of priesthood: “Your presence Father!”

Priest is who I am, whom all priests are,  NOT what I [ or any priest ] does!

We are in persona Christi.

Knowing full well my situation just this past Sunday the organizer of a major conference asked me to attend, to be PRESENT.

Bishops may suspend without justice, charity or process and impede our ‘doing’ anything – they CANNOT stop our being!

In the next post I will share what that reminder of priestly presence led me, by grace, to rediscover as the next step on the path out of the swamp of darkness.



Monday, May 08, 2006

With the dawn!

People, rightly so, have asked for clarification about: accedie.

There are two particular dangers to be avoided in our daily lives of seeking to open wide the door of our being to the Holy Spirit: deception and presumption, which are both tricks we can play on ourselves and tricks of the great deceiver, the evil one.

Because accedie has within it the emotional components akin to clinical depression, it is crucial spiritual directors be discerning enough, and frankly humble enough, to know when it is NOT a matter of a spiritual trial permitted by the Holy Spirit –  as temptation to be struggled through as purification – and when it IS either a chosen sin, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1866 lists as one of the capital sins – OR clinical depression which needs appropriate medical intervention.

It is as dangerous to deny the spiritual component of experiences in our pilgrimage of faith as it is to deny medical conditions requiring professional intervention.

We do well to heed the word of the Lord Himself: Hold the physician in honour, for he is essential to you, and God it was who established his profession…..My son, when you are ill, delay not, but pray to God who will heal you….cleanse your heart of every sin….Then give the doctor his place…he too beseeches God that his diagnosis may be correct and his treatment bring about a cure. [ see Sirach 38:1-15]

The Catechism also notes, # 2733,  accedie results from presumption – for example presuming WE are solely or primarily responsible for our virtue, it is an ego thing –  and that this leads to the experience of accedie in all is heaviness, but adds a hopeful note in pointing out this experience is “ the reverse of presumption” and that if we are humble then this experience of distress will lead us “ to trust more, to hold fast to constancy”.

One of my treasured books, referred to constantly for meditation, is The Virtue of Trust by the Jesuit Fr. Paul De Jaegher. Mine is the 1932 edition.

Fr. De Jaegher, in chapter XIX of that edition, describes the early stages of the spiritual life where “ Grace breaks sweetly upon us, bringing to delightful blossom the flowers of God’s virtues.”

However Fr. De Jaegher notes further on that God, knowing how we tend to become attached more to gifts than to the Giver, must move to purify the soul, detach the soul, because “..the soul falls into self-illusion. It imagines itself strong and established in itself.”

This is when presumption begins to take hold,  so Fr. De Jaegher points out the necessity of the soul being brought to an awareness of its weakness, its true and absolute need of God.

It is told of the great Abba Anthony, the Friend of God, that he suffered accedie and that when He pleaded with God for help the Lord showed him a humble monk who alternated his labour [ what Catherine Doherty calls “the duty of the moment” ] and getting up to pray.

This is precisely what the Catechism means when it refers to holding fast in constancy.

Searching through the Desert Fathers, the Fathers of the Church, the Great Theologians [ like St. Thomas Aquinas who notes accedie, which he discusses as apathy, most afflicts us during ‘the heat of noon’ ] it is clear all see both great danger in the sin of accedie, that is choosing against love of the goodness of God, and that if struggled against it can be a means by which the Holy Spirit purifies us.

Though not specifically addressing the issue of accedie, frankly the clearest and wisest teaching on what I have struggled with for weeks is a letter written to the members of her apostolate by the Servant of God Catherine Doherty in the collection titled: DEARLY BELOVED – LETTERS TO THE CHILDREN OF MY SPIRIT.

{ The brief quotation to follow comes from Volume Two of the series which is available from Madonna House at:  
http://www.madonnahouse.org/publications/index.html

In that volume Catherine has a letter titled: Paradoxes of the Spirit. }

Catherine is commenting on the Gospel passage: …whoever wishes to save his life will lose it…..[Mk.8:35]

It is one of her most brilliant assessments and insights into how we are purified by the Holy Spirit, but not just purified but taken up into this tremendous love affair with the Holy Trinity for which we have been created.

The passage I will quote may seem a bit odd at first, but then we are talking paradox here when we discuss accedie, the paradox that what is experienced with all the aspects of clinical depression is not that but what is described by the Psalmist: Do not let the floodwaters overwhelm me, nor the deep swallow me, nor the mouth of the pit close over me.  [ Ps. 69:16]

Catherine writes: Don’t wonder; with God, never wonder. Just stand still; just let the storms rage and the tops spin and everything just go. It isn’t easy; but it is essential to the inner struggle.

Now as mentioned at the beginning my intent here was not to write a complete essay on accedie and also to urge everyone feeling despondent, apathetic, depressed, down, lazy, sad, dark, - whatever term applies – NOT to presume it is the Holy Spirit permitted aspect of accedie which humbles, purifies, urges greater trust and surrender to Him – BUT – with proper discernment with one’s spiritual director/therapist/doctor – make sure this is neither the sin of accedie nor the clinical illness of depression.

I do this anytime I go through the experience, never presuming something is ‘spiritual’ that may in fact be either psychological or physical – or the weight of sin.

Once my doctor assured me some weeks ago this was not medical then it became a matter of embracing [rather poorly because I tend to complain a lot to God like Abba Anthony, but unlike him not so quick to accept God’s answer] the suffering until, in His time, the Spirit would grant relief – at least for a while!

Well He did that, literally today as the Psalmist rejoices: at dawn there is rejoicing.

In some small way I hope this helps people understand my use of the term accedie but that everyone will be prudent and check out exactly what it is that is being experienced and not presume anything!

Discernment of spirits, as the great St. Ignatius stresses in his Spiritual Exercises,  as do the Fathers of the Desert, and all the great spiritual writers such as St. John of the Cross, is essential if we are to be humble and trusting in the spiritual life, like St. Paul, never presuming on our strength, but crying out in our struggle, yet taking the Lord at His word: …that I might not become too proud, a thorn in the flesh was given to me….I begged the Lord about this…He said…My grace is sufficient for you…[ 2 Cor. 12:8ff. ]

This sufficiency of grace we will experience in the acceptance of the actual grace of a discerning spiritual director, therapist, doctor.

Of course I pray everyone be spared the affliction of depression, flee the sin of apathy – and not fear the purification of accedie and please pray for me.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Walking Psalm 23!

Psalm 23 has been – I almost wrote ‘on my heart’ of late -  but the truth is it has been bugging me for a couple of weeks now!

Even since the double car accidents, the suicide of five priests I have been asked to pray for,  and battling a prolonged period of accidie, that evil spirit of discouragement so well known, and battled against by the Fathers of the Desert, - this Psalm 23, -  suggested as meditation with true joy on his face when he did so, by my Doctor -  has followed me around, stuck in my mind like some tune you hear and can’t shake.

Yes it bugs me, hassles me, even dazzles me!

For many Christians it is the favourite and most consoling of Psalms, and is used frequently when coping with grief, especially at the mourning of a deceased loved one.

So finally a little while ago I caved into it!

I went and put my face on the ground before my Icon wall.

Suddenly it was if I started walking and  kept going, like being led somewhere, in my heart rather than my mind and when the journey was over I wrote down what follows:

When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…..

It begins, I am astounded, not with a declaration of You as caring Shepherd but with an odd journey through the valley of death, the dark, shadow valley which seems to cover more of the earth than the Light of Your Risen Self!

It is an immense valley. A valley of many places, as it were.

Sometimes it is the valley of a woman’s womb, where a smiling Little One tries so hard to be beloved, but their little heart pounds with fear.

Death is approaching.

That approach confuses the innocent Little One, who does not understand what they have done to merit execution before they see the eyes of their mother or are held in her arms, or those of their father.

What, I wonder, can I possibly tell this child?

This is the darkest part of the valley to walk, to be in.

The most heart wrenching.

It is so completely anti-person, anti-life,  anti-love, anti-You.

I am priest!

You have led me  to walk these shadow valleys of death and so my heart must seek to understand the mother of this child, the culture of death which urges her to war against her own child, against her very self, against You, that, somehow, I might proclaim hope, mercy, be light against this darkness.

“Love is stronger!”, echoes in my heart from the voice of the great Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, and so I bend low to the ear of the not-to-be-born-child and proclaim DEUS CARITAS EST! and plead with the heart of the Mother: Love IS stronger.

Then it is as if I am walking in blazing sunlight and swirling clouds of dust yet  here too lurks the shadow of death.

“Lord, save us!” rises up, when they see You, though the blood and tears of an immense crowd, mainly of terrified women and children in this desert of Darfur.

I seek in vain, or so it feels in my being with a tremendous ache,  for Your rod and Your staff  to give them courage.

“Love them!”

At first the words shake me until I understand You are asking all of us to BE for them Your rod and staff by protecting, feeding, respecting, loving – ah Sweet Jesus I see Your Face, their pain is Yours, and we, the rest of the world, could so easily comfort You in them if we would but choose to do so – and my heart takes time to pray for the conversion of all governments and peoples that we might truly, and very practically, love one another.

So much violence, so much violation of women and children, such anger and hatred across the world of armies and militias,  of those with ‘religious’ agendas, all claiming to be doing what You want!!!

That is the darkest, vilest lie of death – that You want harm to anyone.

I almost choke, I am so shaking against the death swirl of anger trying to silence my voice, but here too all I have to offer is the cry: DEUS CARITAS EST! LOVE IS STRONGER!

How unending the valley seems, stretching through the streets and alleys of Baghdad running with the blood of the innocent; through the poppy fields of Afghanistan, were death comes under the guise of a blood red flower which becomes a poison spreading the shadow of death throughout Europe, North America – indeed across the entire globe – and in the alleys of the great cities, where the young and not so young lay dying a living death of illusion, into the innards of great office towers where greed, manipulation of the goods of the earth oozes forth, the swill of callous disregard for human beings.

I cry out with passion, compassion,  yet it almost sounds like the howl of a wounded animal, and we are wounded, we Your children, but is the proclamation of truth: DEUS CARITAS EST! LOVE IS STRONGER!

By then I am wearied and in my weakness cry out: ENOUGH LORD! Enough please, I do not want to see anymore, walk any further!

Do You not remember in the ‘60’s we declared you dead? In the 70’s we refashioned You into our own image and likeness? In the 80’s we declared Your Commandments mere suggestions? In the 90’s, even though You had the audacity to remind us through Pope John Paul that You are the Splendour of Truth, Truth Itself, we chose that everything should be ‘relative’, declaring insanely that it should be held to be true that there is no actual truth!

It seems, we human beings, mostly want to  stay in the valley, undisturbed by the cries from Darfur, ignoring the violation and exploitation of children, seeking relentlessly to feed our appetites by consuming everything, and everyone, we can lay our hands on.

I think my reluctance to walk further in the valley,  is because of my own complicity in the merchandizing of death when I give into anger, refuse forgiveness, forgo trust in Divine Providence, choose to doubt Our Father has given us the greatest of gifts: You our Redeemer.

You keeping walking, and little by little I begin to understand that only by following You can anyone make this journey, which is really the pilgrimage of life even when we must, occasionally, encounter the valley of death or temptation,  without harm, for You are at my side…..

In my ears echoes the cry of the Angel of Fatima to the visionaries: Penance! Penance! Penance!

It happens as suddenly as it began.

The journey ends.

The valley itself, which seemed so unending, is indeed limited – because by Your ‘love-is-stronger’ passion, death and Holy Resurrection, You have conquered sin and death.

You are greater than the valley. Your Light greater than the darkness!

My heart now understands: You have not merely been showing me the reality of the immense suffering of my brothers and sisters, the many places in the valley of the shadow of death where they are forced by other human beings, or their own sins, to dwell – no!

You have been teaching me indeed:

The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

It is when I allow anger, frustration, self-pity, doubt, greed, any number of things or persons of a toxic nature, to ‘lead’ that I forget who indeed IS the Shepherd, You!

You the Lord of history, You who are love!

What is this thing that shall become the no-thing I shall never lack?

How often I fall into the mistake-trap of thinking it to be stuff of some kind: food, clothing, shelter, relationship with another.

In truth we have been created for none of that.

They are mere means to sustain us [ if not abused, otherwise they are lethal ] enough in this life that we might receive the one-thing, the every-thing, for which we have been created – which is not some-thing, but someone, You!

Deus Caritas Est and You, Love, are stronger, greater, more complete than all else.

The green pastures, the quiet waters, these places of light, life, to which You yearn to take us my heart finally understands  ‘where’ this is – it is no place outside of my being – rather it is the garden enclosed of my soul where, in stillness, if I but wait upon Your timing, listen for Your Heartbeat indeed I shall experience, again and again and again, You who are the very restoration of my soul, my strength.

Fear populates the dark valley.

Fear can only scare me if I choose to forget, or doubt Your Divine Mercy promise I am with You always until the end of the age.  

That is Your protecting from evil.

The prayer of others, my prayer for those whom You have shown to my heart,  pleases You and You graciously allow that our prayer, and penance, on behalf of others,  - for an end to death, abortion, terrorism, hatred, poverty, all sin – becomes  part of Your protective and comforting rod and staff – when it is selfless prayer in union with You and the true rod and staff: Your All-Powerful Cross!

You have anointed my head with oil, literally on the day of my Baptism and Confirmation,  in a way every time I have been filled to overflowing in the cup of my being with Divine Mercy in Sacramental Confession.

Lavishly for me and all priests too You anoint us the day of our ordination with the gift and mystery of Your own Priesthood!

All of this,  all creation, all of Your Incarnation, Life, Passion, Death, Your Glorious and Holy Resurrection,  has been, and in a real way continues to be  preparation and fulfillment of the table set before me in the presence of my enemies: the banquet of the Most Holy Eucharist, Yourself, true sacred food and drink!

Who are these enemies, truly?

Not the human agents I think are my enemies, though they may act us such, not the abortionists, terrorists, hate mongers, as cruel and death-dealing as they are.

Mine and everyone’s true enemies are evil spirits, whom we must be wary of, all the while fearless, for our protection is Your Risen Pierced Heart Self, You, the goodness and kindness which will follow me all the days of my life – and Your gift of life forever  IS Your Love, Your Mercy, Your grace.

All-Loving Shepherd I am grateful for where You have led this day, grateful for Your patience and mercy, grateful that within the mysterious gift of Baptism, having become a member of Your Mystical Body the Church, in truth I already dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  

DEUS CARITAS EST!

LOVE IS STRONGER!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Please! Hear the cry of the poor!

These remain unusually busy days for me. Not a complaint, rather a simple explanation of why these posts have been infrequent of late.

Again yesterday the Staff of the soup kitchen where I volunteer whenever I can, called needing help.

[ Before I forget, for those who have been so supportive of and visit www.hopeforpriests.com – the site, as they say, is down for ‘maintenance and repairs’, a process delayed because the company which donates the webmaster bit is moving to new office space. I will keep you posted here about when the site will be back up again. Thanks for your patience and understanding. ]

When I first was assigned on a staffing rotation some 36 years ago to the soup kitchen, as a lay apostle,  long before I was ordained, virtually everyone who was hungry and homeless in those days was male, aged mid-forties and up, primarily addicted to alcohol.

Over the years the average age has dropped dramatically, the prime addiction is drugs.

Teenagers, women, children, the so-called working poor and pensioners have joined their ranks.

The hungry Christ, the homeless Christ – Christ the urban refugee.

While I love and love serving anyone who comes to the soup kitchen, and frankly am in awe of the dedicated consecrated lay people and the volunteers who serve there all the time, my heart aches especially for the women and children, the mothers with literally babes in arms and toddlers.

These women impress me with their humble, quiet dignity, all the while living in circumstances, within one of the richest countries on earth, that are akin to the worst of Third World conditions.

That there is not universal outrage, that we seem both sinfully unwilling and unable to overcome the crime of poverty is, to me, incomprehensible.

As much as I love encountering the Madonna and Child during contemplation with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament,  I am absolutely thrilled when I encounter them in the poor and am able to serve, for above all else the priest, as Jesus so formed us in the Upper Room, is servant.

To be, as a priest, on our knees in prayer is a joy, a necessity, and a duty, for the duty to pray for others is a prime one for priests.

To kneel before Christ in the poor and wash feet [ even if normally the ‘kneeling’ is walking about filling His cup with juice or water, or standing at the door handing Him a sandwich ] is, next to being at the altar consecrating bread and wine into Him as food and drink for all, the best place for a priest to ‘kneel’.

Yesterday I had the excellent grace of literally serving the hungry Christ Child on my knees!

So that one of the mother’s might tend to her toddler, I offered to help by feeding the  baby daughter  her bottle.

Since the baby was in a stroller to do so I had to get down on the concrete floor, on my knees – it was to be before the Child Himself in the manger!
Christ Child,  poor, unwashed and smelly.
Christ wide-eyed and beautiful,  hungry.
Christ who with one tiny hand grabbed hold of the cross I wear and played with it.

Calvary and Bethlehem, cave and tomb, Eucharistic adoration, kneeling to feed a hungry, homeless baby – mystery of faith!

It’s okay to dream of going to Africa or some other place to help the refugees in Darfur or the dying on the streets of Calcutta, and it’s okay to walk up and down in front of abortion clinics are pray for the protection of the unborn – indeed all of that is more than okay, it is REALLY important.

However if any of that blinds us to the plight of the already born, of the urban refugees in our midst, of the dying on our own streets, then perhaps, bishops, priests, religious, laity, we need, in the Light of the Risen Christ, to re-visit the Parable of the Good Samaritan…..