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:

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.  



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 – 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…..