Sunday, December 30, 2007

Living in the Catholic Gitmo: 4- A Post for Suffering Priests

Rome tends to send bad news to priests through their bishops around the time of major feasts, such as Christmas or Easter.
Rome hardly ever communicates with priests directly, so often times after the multi-year appeals process a terse one or two lines will come from the bishop and since Rome virtually never rules in favor of priests those terse lines cause another upheavel of pain in the life of the priests and those who love him, family, friends, former parishoners.

So many emails, posts on other blogs, reflections in secured chat spaces for priests, so much snail mail has come my way over this Holy Season - so very much pain in so many priestly lives that I wrote what follows today for one group of priests and post it here - without names of course - so perhaps others may reach out to Christ who these days is being re-crucified in His Priests:

My Dear Brothers,

I have just returned, before the early winter darkness this far north
engulfs the city mid afternoon, from my daily prayer walk around the
neighburhood, past people, young and old, shoveling the sidewalks;
past the, quiet at this time of year, huge garage for the forest fire
crews; past one of the city bus barns, always so busy with buses
being repaired, cleaned, fueled up for another run; past too the
homeless, the hustle and bustle of street life, past families
returning from church or shopping or playing in the snow.

These walks are more physically demanding each day as, after the news
from Rome I mentioned the other day, my doctors examined me and are
concerned about the condition of my chest { I started smoking as a
street kid at age 10 - 54 years ago! } and other bits and pieces of
Brother Ass, to borrow from St. Francis, that may be hosting cancer.

As I was praying I was carrying each of you in my heart, reflecting
on today's posts and was stunned by the Scipture passage which kept
coming to my heart from St. Luke - so the walk turned into as much of
a meditation as prayer to the Holy Spirit for the right words for
this post!

I felt my own heart challenged by Father's words and asked myself how
do I really see our exchange of letters?
As the old monastic chapters of faults? No way!
As an variation on AA style meetings? Not hardly!
As some type of sharing circle where we all tell each other how great
we are, all will be well and let's praise Jesus? Doubt it!

So, how do I really see us, see myself?

Well let's start with the least important first: moi!

This will be long enough without covering the entire near 65 years of
my life so to keep it simple {now let's see if that miracle occurs
while I write!} I see myself truly - no matter what Rome says but
because Jesus said it and the Holy Spirit indelibly made it so - I
see myself as a REAL priest.

A real priest, like Jesus, is one who, like Jesus, becomes the object
of universal hatred, becomes the accused one, the brutalized one, the
suffering one, the wounded one, the crucified one.

Ultimately it matters NOT if we have become so as a result of the
repercussions of some hidden sin we committed, or some exposed sin
committed, or been exposed as it were to being like Jesus through
false accusation - what does matter is are we willing to BE PRIEST or

Ultimately in my heart and soul it matters not if Rome or some
Bishop does let us or not in the public area function or "do" priest, but
in reality, in our hearts, prayer, following Christ - will we choose
in each and every moment to BE priest - even if we are crushed by
whatever, even if we are covered by the spittle of things unresolved
in whatever form those things take, even if we are in such pain,
fear, darkness we cannot seem to satisfy ourselves that we are
priests, let alone always get it right when we reach out to our
Brothers and perhaps feel we are being confronted when exhausted,
challenged when hurting immensely - even then will we choose to BE
what we are PRIEST?

I admit readily I live in an almost perpetual state, certainly
enhanced with the news from Rome and my doctors, in an emotional
state that is filled with fear, doubt, anger, confusion, tears, and a
horrendous struggle to pray and as regards trust - well forget it

Our Brother X states clearly the stark, unjust, frustration-anger
inducing reality that we are caught up in the ceaseless vortex of a
dark and evil whirlwind rattling within the institutional church,
pulling us in, thrashing us about, spitting us out, battered, broken,
and sometimes 'offically' stripped of priesthood - but we must never
forget God is NOT bound by edicts from any institutional functionary,
even the ordained ones - He is bound only by His love for us!

He also reminds us to avoid the torture of what they do.

What precisely is that torture?

I would suggest my Brothers it is the chosen abandonment of
compassion and so the challenge for me, being priest, is to strive
with my will and heart, no matter what my emotions are doing, to BE
compassion, understanding, love.

The Scripture which kept running through my heart and which I
meditated upon to the sound of my laboured breathing, boots crunching
on the snow, the scrap of shovels against cement, the spinning of
tires as cars tried to get going again once lights turned green {this
far north no salt on the roads and not much plowing either} is from
St. Luke 9:62: Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand on the
plow and then looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

In my teenage years I used to work fields with horses and, unlike
plowing with tractors where you do have to look behind you,
experieced the folly of looking back because the horses would start
wandering away from the furrows to flatter ground and you'd have to
Worse if you were weeding vegetable fields and looked back then the
wandering horses would pull the harrows through the rows of
vegetables, uprooting everything and that late in the season you
could not replant.

So I asked the Holy Spirit what the dickens this has to do with me
and all my suffering brothers and suddenly I realized - now Brothers
I apply this only to me but offer it here because writing to you
helps me see things clearly - anyway I am being asked, profoundly to
leave the past in His hands, to keep me eyes on Him - on the 8th Day
as one of you always reminds me about.

To live not with my heart anywhere else but where HE is in this very moment - and my heart said YES! - it means to contemplate Him who is all-merciful, to trust as the Thief did - our
brother crucified alongside the High Priest in whose Person we are ordained.

This is the mystery we live: we are on the Cross as Christ Priest and
on the Cross as one needing His mercy!

Now my dear Brothers I know I am neurotic, verbose, lacking in real
faith, have very little trust, struggle with anger, confusion,
faliure to love and forgive my enemies, have REAL problems with
certain persons with power in the Church - but - and this confuses
the hell out of me {literally I pray such a complete purging occur
before death!} but these years of horror have been - are - in my
heart the most joyful of my entire life, especially my priestsly
life, and I believe have been, are, the most fruitful.

I certainly could not, would not, struggle to leave behind what must be left behind in His
hands, - for the challenge is to walk forward, following Him in His footsteps, wherever He leads, - no!, I could not, do that alone, indeed I am only able to do this following Him while holding onto the hand of Our Lady walking forward.

Indeed too without your fraternal affection and prayer, my Brothers and that of so many of the Laity, I might well let go of the hand of the Mother of Priests and then truly would fall - from grace, proably, from life off a bridge or some such possibly, for we all know this is too much, way too much suffering for any person - but NOT too much for Him and He is our faith, HE is our trust, HE is our courage and HE is the reason for our ad sum!, spoken not some yesterday of ordination but in the now of every moment in Him, which is always the graced moment of begining again!

Thanks my Brothers for following in His footsteps because following
you following Him makes this mysterious pilgrimage of the suffering
priesthood a possible one.

May the New Year of Grace bring to each, from the hands of Our Blessed Mother, hope, peace, joy, light, love.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Reply to a friend's question!


This is the Icon of the Humiliated One – this IS Jesus, after He was arrested under cover of darkness, falsely accused by perjured testimony in an illegal, night time trial, forbidden by the very Law He was accused of violating - and those who were in judgement of Him had already met in secret, in darkness and predetermined the outcome – he was dishonoured, despised, and condemned as guilty by those with religious power over Him – and they were supposed to shepherd the flock, protect the weak, grant justice and further, because they had no power to fulfill their desire of His absolute destruction they turned Him over to the secular power – which in the person of Pilate proved itself as equally corrupt and cowardly – so this Innocent One was subjected to further suffering – in plain words before His execution He was tortured physically, spat upon, lashed, crowned with thorns and mocked – then – believing that they had succeeded in stealing from Him His dignity and personhood they executed Him between two common criminals so as to prove they were right in their false accusations, placing Him in person among the guilty, there could then be no doubt about His guilt – and they murdered Him and to guarantee He was dead they took a lance and ripped open the Heart of the Humiliated One.
As Scripture says: …one soldier thrust his lance into His side, and immediately blood and water flowed out. [ Jn. 19:34]
Yet that very river of blood and water gushing forth from the pierced Heart of the Humiliated One , as the Church teaches, is the source of the origin and growth of the Church…For it was from the side of Christ as He slept the sleep of death upon the Cross that there came forth the “wondrous sacrament of the whole Church.” [ CCC#766]
Most especially the Church sees in the flow of blood and water the gateway sacrament of Baptism and the source and summit of sacramental reality the Most Holy Eucharist.
In the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter 11: 28-30, is the very specific revelation by Christ Himself of His Heart and – as difficult as this may be to accept – I believe it is also His revelation of the ‘heart-state’ of being of all those who would come to Him – but come to Him not just to ‘feel’ better but to become what we are [ once all the clutter of the false selves we have created or the false labels that have been put upon us are cleared away by Him ] real Beloveds – beloved of and by Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit – for only when the heart knows its own belovedness can the person emerge, free, dignified, selfless, able to love and serve others without ever counting the cost.
So this Heart, which began beating within the womb of Mary in anticipation – I would say with a full fire passionate anticipation of the day It would cease beating and be ripped open to flood the world with love’s fire, beats as the Awaiting One – waiting, of course, for us: you, me, every human being.
This Heart knows, even more true than we can ever imagine, the pure lines, the pure objective story of our lives from the moment our hearts first began to beat until the very moment when, wherever and in whatever condition we are, we hear His Heart call out the invitation to approach, be beloved, become: “Come to Me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give You rest.”
We are, especially in this time in history with all the reasons for fear, with all the immense labour it takes just to survive from one moment to the next, we are burdened more than we even imagine much less understand – so burdened that faith, or at least the risk of believing, looms over many of us like the proverbial straw which, should it add itself to our burden would not only crush us but – fear of all fears – would annihilate us ---- so -----satan, the culture of death, the merchants of what can be consumed, persons totally bent towards themselves acting as agents of our destruction, confusion, fear, for these do not want us to hear the Heart speaking so they too beckon us, they too promise rest – but they, liars all, never reveal the cost of their promised rest, which is no rest at all: stupor, sometimes; dark uneasiness, always; and perpetual fear.
Only the Heart does: “Take My yoke upon You and learn from Me….”
What’s going on here? What’s the catch?
Our weak faith, raw emotions, our addictions, wounds, fears, guilt, not to mention the cackling of the liar himself, causes many to pull away – after all most of us are already ‘yoked’ to something or someone to a disordered degree that has us burdened, labouring to exhaustion in the first place – but those yokes [ for their name is legion] are at least familiar and give us, as illusory as it may be, a sense of security, identity, etc. – so it is understandable so many are unsure when this Heart is asking us to – more accurately inviting us – to take on His yoke!
That is my point: wherever confusion is, satan is.
Wherever the stark simplicity of a truly free invitation is, Christ is!
Here is a moment when we really do need to step away from the cacophony of what we think we know, step away from the whirlwind of what we think we are doing in our lives, step beyond whomever and whatever has yoked us into bondage, brokenness, fear and, standing still, listen with whatever little corner of our hearts has not become stone but is still flesh and suddenly our ears, our hearts, will realize this is a marriage proposal, an invitation to intimacy, to being beloved for His Yoke is at one and the same time His Incarnation, Transfiguration, Suffering, Death, Resurrection – but also at one and the same time His loving-service, His intimacy with the Father and the Holy Spirit – in a word His yoke is His Heart and He is saying: Freely, freely accept My Gift, My Proposal, My Heart, My Truth, My Life, My Light, My Love.
The learning unfolds in the accepting and the reason He gives for learning from Him within this love-yoked-intimacy is because: “I am meek and humble of Heart;”
Only a meek and humble heart can suffer as Christ’s suffers: not for self but for other.
Only a meek and humble heart, yoked to the Heart which is ALL meek and humble, the Suffering Servant’s Heart, can truly be one with Christ and love and forgive as He loves and forgives.
The world since the Ascension of the Meek and Humble Pierced Heart has been awash in Popes, Bishops, Priests, Religious, Christians – but not so awash in Saints!
G.K. Chesterton once remarked on what he saw as the fundamental problem of Christianity was to be found not in its failure to succeed in its mission of restoration of all of human life and history to Christ, but rather that Christianity has never seriously been tried.
I believe the root of that can be found in the way we somehow only half-heartedly open when we listen to the Heart – it seems we just don’t stop and really wait to truly hear and fully understand and then live it out.
Meekness, of course, is that immense inner strength and exterior courage which has the silent fortitude of the Humiliated One before His false accusers, cruel torturers and even more darkly cruel religious leaders and civil authority who callously sought to destroy the One of Meek and Humble Heart for the sole reason they arrogantly assumed this was all about: eliminating the sole interference with their own agenda, which can be summarized as: “We have the power to say how God wants things done/We have the power to say how Caesar wants things done!”
Of course there is no indication, around the death of Jesus, either of those bent-toward-selves persons checked with either God or Caesar!

Jesus twins the free acceptance of His espousal yoke and the willingness to learn that our hearts might be real hearts – like His – with the double promise that in the unfolding of yoking and learning: “…you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden light.”
No longer then shall we be yoked to those crushing burdens, bondages, fears, addictions, places, persons which so exhaust us, and no longer shall we be bent over towards ourselves by burdens whose carrying has no real destination or purpose other than the relentless continuation of their heaviness and destructive journey to no place.
Forever yoked to Jesus as we learn from Him less and less in our lives will two hearts be beating – for He will bring about a oneness of our hearts with Him and with each other, with every human being – for me this is the ultimate gift of His prayer to the Father: “…that they may all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me….that the love with which You loved Me may be in them and I in them.” [ Jn.17: 20-26]
That way into this intimacy with the Most Holy Trinity is through the opened Heart of Christ – this ripping open of His Heart is the eternal open door policy of the Holy Trinity, as it were – every open door is invitation, every open door bespeaks the freedom of movement to and fro and every open door, especially to a home, announces someone within is waiting for us – the open Heart of Christ announces Love is waiting for us.
We seem always to presume we are waiting for God and so we sit, like sulky children, outside the open door, blind to the open invitation, waiting to have our burdens lifted, to have life make sense, to be less afraid, to hear our name, to be affirmed, loved, to…………………but we will never, way beyond mere experience but actually knowing sweetness of yoke, lightness of labour, joy of suffering, fullness of belovedness, our real name, if we do not arise, go and enter!
Fr. Robert Pelton reflecting on abiding in God’s heart [ which is a chapter in his book CIRCLING THE SUN] notes that one day he realized something about Jesus, and us, a simple reality: Jesus, the heart-beat of the living God, the pulse of my own true heart.
ONLY if a priest stands with fullness of intellect, heart, soul, constantly day and night in the beauty and invitation, the metanoia [ conversion of heart], the kenosis [ being emptied of all that which is not of Christ we cling to] will the priest ever achieve the fullness of the sobornost [ absolute oneness] with Christ Priest – a gift and mystery sealed into his being by the Holy Spirit at the moment of Ordination, but like all grace I must moment by moment cooperate, freely, with this constant action of the Spirit within me.
The Servant of God, Catherine Doherty, describes the heart of the priest as:
1] pierced like Christ’s with the lance of love.
2] is open, like Christ’s for the whole world to walk through.
3] is a vessel of compassion…a chalice of love…the trysting place of human and divine love.
Now the question asked of me was why can’t a priest close his heart?
The lance of love which rips open the heart of the priest IS itself Divine Mercy BUT the lancer often is a human being who may be seeking to pierce the heart of a priest with false accusation, lie, temptation, addiction, money – whatever – but the mystery is IF the priest accepts the original invitation from His Heart to come to Him then what reaches the heart of the priest IS the lance of love.
So – the priest cannot close his heart once ripped open anymore than Christ can.
Nations may place soldiers at their borders to allow in only those who meet certain standards; groups, religions, families, individuals can by various means restrict who may or may not enter wherever and most doors once open remain capable of being closed and indeed locked.
A real priest must NEVER exercise any such option but – being meek and humble of heart as Christ, in whose person he is by ordination, must always keep his heart open for, literally “ the whole world to walk through”……enemies, dislikeable personalities, whomever – for the priest’s heart is NOT the place of destination but a passageway, a floor, a bridge – to Christ – thus the priest must NEVER seek to keep any passerby in his heart as his ‘own’ – Christ alone is the priest’s Lover-Beloved relationship.
The priest, certainly, as a human being must have personal relationships – but never possessive ones for once he goes down that road he IS closing his heart, therefore he has begun to forget who he really is!
Finally IF the priest closes his heart then it is to fill the “chalice of love” with that which is not love and when the thirsty for Love Himself come to drink they will leave with only grit, or worse, in their hearts and “the trysting place of human and divine love” will be no oasis, no banquet, but a burning desert, a wasteland, a swamp devoid of the Bread of Life.
For myself as a priest I know in the core of my personhood, in the depths of my soul, that if I ever closed my priestly heart my physical heart would arrest instantly and irreversibly – which is why no matter how hard any human or spirit force might try to humiliate, hurt, whatever to achieve the closure of my heart I know, before I would ever close my heart or it be forced shut I would be seized by Jesus and Mary and either snatched away from such a definitive danger by an infusion of illuminating grace, the love intervention of family/friends – or – if the danger of my heart not being open was THAT extreme then I know Jesus and Mary will seize my soul right out of my body – and then, well, I would truly be in His rest!
© 2007
Arthur Joseph