Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Living in the Catholic Gitmo: 2 - A Three Day Reflection

Among my very first prayers each morning is a request of St. Joseph that he help me throughout the day to live only in the present moment, faithful to the duty of the moment.

Later I sketch out what I assume are those things needing doing on any given day, including blogging!

Well Dear Friends you know how rarely that happens!

This is not because of lack of caring, rather, as the Servant of God, Catherine Doherty teaches: “I am third!”

The full teaching is: “God first. My neighbour second. I am third.”

Thus, most days, God reveals through the ever-changing duty of the moment how He longs to be first in my heart, attention, energy, through phone calls and emails from suffering priests or laity; through requests from the soup kitchen I volunteer at for help – and the help is needed a lot these days when most regular volunteers are off on vacation and the number of homeless keeps increasing.

Then there is the loved necessity, which is actually such a joy, to be faithful to the Divine Office, Holy Mass.

It seems since June time has flown by day after day!

Since things like my writing the blog are not as urgent as, for example answering the call to serve the hungry, the blog has been dormant, but never are any of you far from my heart and prayer.

Today I am grateful that things seem to be slowing down somewhat [ okay so my cell just went and someone asked if I was busy because so and so needs to talk….God is calling, Jesus needing to be comforted…so I go!].


It is mid-afternoon now on the feast of St. Clare, passionate believer and lover of God, and in a couple of hours through the Divine Office of Vespers we will cross the threshold into another Little Easter, the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

Our brothers and sisters in much of the lower 48 of the United States suffer an extreme heat wave; here in the north of my country the weather has been autumnal for several days now; while deep in the earth of Utah, as of this writing, six of our brothers await, Lazarus-like, to be called out of the darkness into the light; monsoons cause unspeakable suffering to countless other brothers and sisters; still others suffer war, famine, terror, and numerous others suffer the horror of abortion, abuse, human slavery and other forms of death, pain, - indeed the evil our egocentric sinfulness inflicts upon others seem unbearably vast.

Thus when the man I was asked to open my heart for, and listen to, last night shifted back and forth from his pained anger over the cancer gnawing away at his father to all the above and other evils and asked the very anguished human question of God: “WHY?”, none of my words, truth-speaking though I was, seemed for a long, long time, to make any sense.

But when I kept repeating the words of Pope John Paul: “Love is stronger!”, little by little he allowed his pain to become grief and his grief to become acceptance and to understand energy wasted on anger was time taken away from being fully present as a son to his dieing father.

I mentioned in my last post that: “….we have within the Church our own Gitmo.”, and I asserted that the number of priests forced into this Gitmo numbered in the thousands.

Since then I have seen a report that there are currently an estimated 5,000 cases before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith alone; the public broadcaster in Canada ran a radio show about the bullying of priests by their bishops and people, and similar bullying being inflicted upon clergy of other denominations as well; yet another priest wrote to me about his pain at the suicide of yet another priest –accused but not charged: in this Catholic Gitmo accusation, real or false, means the inevitable imprisonment in a dark place ‘outside’ where there is only the pain and heartache of abandonment and injustice.

Another priest phoned me from yet another country in immense pain.

He is in pain because his Bishop, who has targeted several priests based on dubious information and not a one of them has been charged criminally with anything, anyway his Bishop publicly bragged about how many priests “…I have gotten rid of!”

What has become of the time when a Bishop’s joy was over the number of men he had ordained, not over the number he has crushed and abandoned?

Of course there is an immense and very serious spiritual danger for “chartered priests”, ……………..


Well I got that far when another villager knocked on the door!

I should explain!

In her classic work POUSTINIA, wherein the Servant of God Catherine Doherty teaches the Russian Orthodox dimensions of the hermitical life, we read on page 32 that the poustinik, i.e. the desert, forest or even urban-hermit, “…must always be available.”

This deeply connects to the tradition of God first, neighbour second and I am third.

Thus Saturday when I had gotten as far as “Of course there….” , someone literally came by, knocked on the door, needed help moving.
By the time that was done it was late in the evening, time to return to the poustinia and with Vespers enter into the blessing of the Little Resurrection. Sunday!

I live in a city not far below the 60th parallel and so when I went for a walk Sunday afternoon, in the autumnal air, fully aware of the extreme suffering in the lower 48 from the heat, the miners trapped so far below ground in the dark and the cold in Utah, of their suffering families, those working so hard to free them, of our brothers and sisters in Asia suffering the monsoons, I prayed the Jesus Prayer and the Holy Rosary for those and so many other intentions – chuckling at the countless frothing over climate change as I marvelled at the fact here instead of the three digit highs blanketing the south daytime now is in the low 40’s and at night drops to just above freezing, while the leaves on the trees have already begun their yearly change from shades of green to a myriad of yellows and reds!

It was a restful, renewing Sunday.

Throughout the day, into the evening, into sleep and throughout yesterday, Monday, my heart kept contemplating “Where your heart is, there is your treasure.” , from Sunday’s Holy Gospel.

Yesterday was my regular day each week serving in the soup kitchen. The numbers of our suffering, homeless, addicted, battered, damaged Brothers and Sisters remain very high.
Yesterday too, for the first time in a long time, the tension level was very high and there were a few situations which required our intervening to prevent violence.

There was one woman who asked me to pray over her for she is facing surgery for a brain tumour and for someone from the streets that is daunting for whom do they have to be with them?
Another man was stealing from the supply room and when I confronted him he got rather violent, shoving me but we settled him down – we never resort to violence – with the Angels, soft but firm words and lots of prayer!

These men, women, youth, children, experience far too much violence in their daily lives so we try to handle things with love.

In the midst of all this a woman who comes daily to the soup kitchen saw me.
She is one of His anawim and has been beaten, often. She pilgrims seemingly broken and alone, battered and poor, covered in the grit of living on the streets.

She is beautiful in my eyes.

Humble of faith, she, always it seems on those days when I am most exhausted because of the sheer numbers and needs, called out: “O Father! I love you!” , took my hands and kissed them with the same reverence one kisses the crucifix.

There comes a time each day when we have to close and most days that goes off without a hitch but yesterday a young man, clearly having a psychotic break, and believing as he explained alternately with screams and tears or softly with tears, he was possessed, refused to leave.
Suffice to say it was an effort to get him outside, settled enough to get him to agree to going to the hospital.
The ambulance was called but in that part of the city it can take some time because so many accidents, beating, shootings, etc., can occur – so by the time the paramedics did arrive our Brother was out of control and the police had to be called as the paramedics [ who made the call] felt they were at risk.

Eventually the police came – waiting for them the paramedics, myself and one of our Staff did our best to communicate with our suffering Brother and, without having to use force, kept him and bystanders safe.

The police came and with great patience and compassion handcuffed him gently, and between the six of us, gently, we got him into the ambulance and he was taken to get the help needed.

Christ comes to us, seeking to be comforted, to be loved, in many disguises.


It is Tuesday now, the feast of the great martyr St. Maximilian Kolbe, vigil of the Assumption of Our Blessed Mother, and so far today no villagers have come knocking so perhaps today is the day I shall actually complete these reflections and get them posted!


Already today, among the snail and email I have gotten, there is more of the pain within the Church post-Dallas: an elderly couple write from elsewhere in this country, where the Bishop is money obsessed and has raised Mass stipends so high they can’t afford them, not to mention participation in Sunday Mass has dwindled immensely. I was once assigned to that parish and in those days we were three priests there and every Mass was packed and daily Mass drew close to one hundred people; a priest writes from another country in his pain and anger over the suicide of a falsely accused brother banished without due process who couldn’t handle the strain – the letter describes the death as the action of the local Bishop.

Deep is pain in the lives of priests.

So I am brought back to what I had begun to reflect upon last Saturday: “ What has become of the time when a Bishop’s joy was over the number of men he had ordained, not over the number he has crushed and abandoned?”

Here I must urge everyone that we pray and beg our Heavenly Father to take these Bishops in hand.

I then had started to write the conclusion of the reflection which I will do here and get this posted before this week is out too!

There is an immense and very serious danger, in particular for ‘chartered priests’, especially all those denied due process and I suspect it is particularly a challenge for the falsely accused, namely becoming, deliberately or unintentionally because of high emotion, non-Christ-like.

As evil, stressful, unjust, etc. as the current situation post-Dallas is, as widespread as the despair and overall suffering of countless priests is, as painful and exhausting the abandonment and rejection by our bishops and brother priests, if we still love the Holy Trinity, Mary the Holy Mother of Priests, the Church, the Priesthood, still care for the restoration and sanctification of the priesthood and the salvation of souls, still believe we are priests called to be truth-speaking advocates of the sanctity of life, for justice, especially for the poor, then we must beg for the grace to truly be Christ-like, not just, as it were, by default because we are ordained in persona Christi, but by cooperation with the Holy Spirit who beckons us to preach the Gospel, in season and out, in pain and joy, even stripped of our name and dignity, preaching with our lives without compromise – indeed recalling the words spoken over us and promised when we held the Holy Gospels at our diaconal ordination: BELIEVE WHAT YOU READ, PREACH WHAT YOU BELIEVE, LIVE WHAT YOU PREACH!

Thus no matter what any bishop, vicar-general, roman bureaucrat, real or false accuser does to us or says, no matter what satan has seduced us into doing, but by grace has been repented – no matter what – in every moment of every day we can begin anew in Him IF we but open the door of our being to Him.

Yes I understand the pain of the priest who believes rather than his brother having ‘taken’ his own life that the bishop, by his cruelty ‘murdered’……but no baptized Christian, no Priest, can go there: “ … to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” [Lk.6:27,28]

We Priests, ordained with gift and mystery, have been entrusted with ‘talent’ beyond measure and so must heed deep in the core of our heart and soul: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” [Lk.12:48]

I mentioned carrying Lk.12:34 in my heart throughout the day and night Sunday and it applies here.

If my heart is given over to pain, anger, a hunger to settle accounts, for vengeance, spending countless amounts of energy venting against accusers, bishops, etc., { which does not mean pulling back from pointing out what needs to be converted in the Church, episcopate, priesthood, society in general, but this can and must be done with charity }, then my heart will be in some dark and dangerous place, not resting in Christ and living and moving in His Light.

Yes advocating for justice for my brother priests, comforting my suffering brothers, serving the poor, being in poustinia, writing, form my treasure – but only, by grace and the protection of Our Blessed Mother – in Him, with Him, through Him.

My prayer for everyone, and the prayer I beg you for my own poor self, is never to forget that “Where [my] treasure is, there [my] heart is.”, and to have no other real treasure but Him!

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