Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Joy and Light Filled Christmas to All!

Today Christ is born: Today the Saviour of the world has appeared!

Dear Family, Brother Priests, Friends:
The other day I was in the soup kitchen where I volunteer. It was a day when the extreme and prolonged cold spell could be seen in its harshness on the faces of the men, women and children for whom the streets are the depths of the poverty within which the Holy Child is born.
Within the dining room hot stew, but especially the warm hearts of the Staff and Volunteers, gave comfort and shelter to each of our homeless Brothers and Sisters personally, and to Christ within them.
Usually in a letter such as this I would insert an image of the Holy Child in the manger or of the Holy Family – but this year because of an encounter with the Holy Child and His cut finger in the person of a homeless man I found myself spending the last week contemplating the image of Christ in the Breadline, contemplating Christ Himself within the poor.
Actually this particular emphasis in mediating upon the oneness of Christ with the poor [and before Him everyone is poor, that is in absolute need of Him but I was moved to contemplate Him in the poorest of the poor, the homeless] started while reflecting on the words of Pope Benedict spoken recently in a General Audience at the Vatican:
“A Eucharist without solidarity with others
is an abuse of the Eucharist.”
For the entire month of December, even today as I write this, the temperature has hovered between minus 20 and a windchill approaching 39 – at those temperatures exposed skin freezes quickly. Life itself is at risk.
Under such conditions something which for the rest of us might be a minor irritant, such as a cut, even a severe one tended to by a doctor, becomes a major problem, great suffering, for as raw as exposed skin becomes in the deep cold, an open wound is even more painful.
I was asked to tend to such a wound on the hand of one of our Brothers and, with the help of a Volunteer did so, cleaning the wound, applying salve and a bandage.
Because the man was sitting it was easier for me to tend to his wound kneeling.
At one point I looked up into his eyes and was struck by the light, the kindness, as looking into the eyes of Christ.
In that moment I truly understood the specific use by Pope Benedict of the word “solidarity”, a word made globally familiar in another time when the working poor struggled to throw off the yoke of oppression.
Christ was born historically at a time of great unemployment in His native country, a country and people under the yoke of oppression. He was born poor amongst the poor.
Oppression, poverty, fear, war, we can all list the sufferings of others and our own and it may seem Christ is born yet again today more into the constancy of suffering than into any ‘real’ change from over two millennia ago.
Of course the real change IS that Christ IS born, that God Himself has entered the fullness of solidarity with every human being, with all history.
Love Himself IS our solidarity with each other.
The Child born today is born to reveal the name of God is Abba! Father!
The Child born today is born to wash away our sins in His own blood, to conquer sin, darkness, death.
The Child born today is born to become and IS the very Eucharist wherein we are gifted again and again with life, light, love, hope, resurrection, as Pope Benedict also teaches:
“.....the solemn liturgy is the centre of everything,
because there takes place in it what we are unable
to accomplish and of which, however, we are always
in expectation. He is present. He enters into our
midst. Heaven is rent, and this makes the earth glow.”

Yes, Christ in the Breadline is not the usual Christmas image – yet look closely and see the glow!
Christ IS in our midst!
Christ IS born!
In the words of the Servant of God Catherine Doherty: “ Let this Christmas be for us a turning point....Let us become small enough to kneel at the crib and big enough just to reach the level of the Baby’s eyes. Let us look into them – and catch sight of Love Incarnate! Then we shall be made whole again, and our hunger will be filled.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


A dear friend, and from the ancient Russian Orthodox monastic tradition I borrow and apply to him the term “co-struggler”, is a carpenter, a true artist when it comes to working with wood.
He came to me a few weeks ago, somewhat stressed, because in order to make a template for a new design, rather than use precious wood to see what it would look it like, what effort it would entail, he decided to make a model with clay.
Never having worked with clay before, it became an ordeal.
He asked for prayer and, at the same time, asked how my writing has been going!
Suddenly I had to face a few things, like flight from the effort, wasting time over excessive researching, worrying about readership.
My clay had become quicksand!
He promised prayer for me and I for him and suddenly I was resuming writing, first for the site { the latest can be found at }, and little by little the whole site will be refreshed and blogging will be more regular.
So here I am, thanks to grace from his and others’ prayer, finally at least on the threshold of, if not yet surrendered to the Holy Spirit enough, to cross into the full mystery of dwelling in the thin place, which is no-place geographically but is, I believe, the place Christ led His disciples’ to, when they asked Him where He lived.
His simple reply was/is invitation to follow Him and see for ourselves! [cf. Jn.1:38]
The great Doctor of the Church and writer on matters mystical, which frankly means to write about the fullness of the normal pilgrimage of the baptized, reminds us that it is Jesus Christ Himself who is both the way to the door and the door itself which we are seeking.
In this life, of course, we seek the doorway to the thin place, that non-geographical place where there is at least a modicum of sense to life, a degree of meaning, joy, peace, faith – but we recoil at the actual threshold, for St. Bonaventure also refers to Christ as the staircase and this ‘staircase’ leads to the Cross as well as heaven, Bonaventure continues in that vein until stressing that we will pass “through the branches of the Cross “. [another threshold!] eventually entering the desert , which he describes as a place of resting with Christ in the tomb, and a type of experiencing living with Christ already in paradise, as much as that can be possible for one still living this side of death!
The whole of St. Bonaventure’s classic work: “The Journey of the Mind to God”, is not about flight away from the questions, sufferings, of our brothers and sisters, but, as Pope Benedict recently noted it is communion with God which is the ultimate goal of all our activities – and we know that when Jesus speaks of this union He says: “I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was in prison, etc., and you fed Me, gave Me to drink, visited Me” – and His challenge to the unconverted St. Paul: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
Union-communion with God who is Love means solidarity with the entire human family.
So crossing the threshold into the thin place must not, cannot, be egocentric, flight from others, avoidance of suffering, an attempt to escape the cross!
Crossing the threshold into the thin place and dwelling there is to become immersed in Divine Fire and Union so that in the deepest moments of contemplation we are the voice of those crying out to God in their pain, keeping in mind that Jesus the doorway, or as He describes Himself ‘the gate’, is Himself the threshold to be crossed in both directions.
We enter the thin place not to physically be there for the rest of our earthly lives, but rather to be ever more completely surrendering to a seeming paradox of being in two places at once: the thin place which is no-place of union-communion with Love Himself and the other place of immersion in communion of love which is the humble-loving-service thin place found wherever the will of God invites in the duty of the moment to live out in practice the Gospel of Love, of Life, of Mercy! {cf. Jn. 10 & Mt.25 and the excerpt from St. Bonaventure’s writing in the Office of Readings for his feast day.}
Having thus crossed the threshold of the thin place, which in many ways is the school of Mary as well as the school of the Holy Spirit, if we truly are still within the thin place then our hearts will be transformed by Divine Fire.
Yes the fire of suffering , of the Cross, the centre point of the thin place, the deepest point within the fire.
Therein, we will begin to share the passion of St. Francis of Assisi, know the fire which filled the heart of St. Philip Neri, live the solidarity with the poorest of the poor of Bl. Mother Theresa, because we will find ever growing within us a wonderful freeing self-forgetting urgency, a graced imperative to embrace the “we must” cry of the Servant of God Catherine Doherty: “ We MUST open the doors of our hearts. We MUST open the doors of our homes. We MUST accept people as they are. We MUST serve them, and we MUST show them the wounds of our love. Love is always wounded because love and pain are inseparable.....there is no love without pain.” [ see Catherine’s book The Gospel Without Compromise]
The thin place is no Shangri-La, it is Golgotha.
The thin place is no idyllic South Seas Island, it is Gethsemane.
The thin place is no navel gazing- how-do-I-feel-better-about-myself clinic, it is the place with Jesus in the desert, it is the place kneeling beside Him and with Him washing feet.
Yes the thin place is the place which is no-place yet every place except any place where He is not.
It is the place of absolute communion with Him and the place of absolute service to others.
It is rendezvous and experience of absence; it is brilliant light and total darkness; it is the intimacy of His presence and fire, the pain of His absence, which is why as one crosses the threshold into the thin place it is advisable to bring along, seared in our hearts, the hide and seek love affair from the Song of Songs!
I will confess here that normally I am careful when doing research to note from whence I take a particular quote, which is easily done sitting quietly in the poustinia. However I always have a book with me in case there is quiet time when serving the homeless in the soup kitchen, or waiting in a doctor’s office, and that’s when I make notes on scraps of paper and sometimes forget to record the source.
Such happened with the following, which is an important quote for these reflections on being at the threshold of the thin place, even if I cannot give the citation, from the notes on the scrap of paper I was reading somewhere, about the sufferings endured by Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan during his years of imprisonment, which I understand meant almost a decade of solitary confinement.
How he managed to procure the necessary for celebrating Holy Mass is a mystery, but his passionate devotion to this central act and prayer, this absolute primary place for the priest, as well as his living out what St. Bonaventure and Pope Benedict teach, is clear from Cardinal Francis’ own words: “ Each time I celebrated Mass, I had the opportunity to extend my hands and nail myself to the cross with Jesus, to drink with Him the bitter chalice.”
The threshold to the thin place for the priest is the entrance to the sanctuary to celebrate Holy Mass, for the baptised it is to enter the church for Holy Mass.
For both the threshold is the moment of Holy Communion.
For both the threshold is to re-cross the threshold in the seeming opposite direction to bring Christ within our own beings to those who need to be loved.
Actually, and this is the paradox, the second crossing of the threshold is a deeper entering through it into the thin place!
Now I am fully aware through these essays I have already, and will be yet, taking from Philip Sheldrake’s classic work: LIVING BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, place and journey in celtic spirituality: Cowley Publications ISBN: 1-56101-103-7, interpretations of the traditions and wisdoms he gathered which may go far beyond the point of his work.
His is a stand alone, well written and researched work which, first referenced for me by a brother priest in a homily, has been for me a reference work, stimulating ever deeper meditation on the whole mystery of life, baptismal life, beauty and suffering, light and darkness, sin and virtue, the intimacy of the Divine Lover and His frequent disappearances which we all feel as deep darkness, emptiness, unbearable aloneness.
We begin life as human beings within a thin membrane of a place safely surrounded by the solid thickness of our mother’s heart and body which, normally, dwells within that so thin a mysterious reality as love between a man and a woman, a husband and wife.
When born the breathe of life breathed into us by God at the moment of our conception is augmented outside the womb by the thin oxygen in the very air we must now breathe and yet this air is kept in place by the very spinning mass of the solid earth on which the very thin membrane of the soles of our feet will one day make imprint when we walk!
So likewise did God Himself, Jesus Christ, enter the threshold of life into this place so heavy with darkness, so thick with sin, to transform the earth itself into a threshold, or more accurately life lived on this earth is the ultimate threshold to the thin place which is the infinite place, the eternal embrace we all seek, love’s embrace.
Not just any love or lover’s embrace; Love’s embrace, the Holy Trinity’s embrace.
All our Christian ancestors, particularly the martyrs above all, the desert dwellers, the builders of great cathedrals, , until the notions of certain scientists and philosophers began not only to weigh down and confuse society but to poison the minds and hearts of Christians and even priests with their materialist-limited appreciation for life, yes until then our ancestors knew and treasured that in reality it is a very thin membrane indeed which separates the world we tend to believe is really real and the reality of what seems intangible but is in fact the real permanent!
We need to become humble, free, and joyful again, and at least begin by begging the grace to recognize the threshold and yearn for the thin place!
Next time: Stepping Across!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

700 Billion Bailout: a Father's Letter

{With the passage of the bailout in the USA and elections looming both in the USA and Canada I share here a letter from a father to his son – perhaps it will inspire/comfort other fathers and sons. – Fr. Arthur Joseph}
Beloved Son,
First even though you are well into adulthood as a Catholic man, husband, and father – and holding your newborn third child, your second son I was once more amazed that Our Heavenly Father sent Jesus to us first as a Child – you are still my Little One and I want to quickly answer your concerns expressed today about the current economic crisis and the stress you are under trying to care for your family.
It is true the US economy is so huge the global impact of the crisis there is felt around the world, even in our own country.
It is true too this crisis is rooted in some very basic human weaknesses: greed and fear.
Politicians in both our countries seem either unwilling or incapable of truth-speaking or courage in this current generation because, I believe, while many, of various religious backgrounds but in particular those who claim to be Christian, talk the talk they seem too weak to walk the walk.
Real men are humble yet courageous, truth speaking servants of their wives, children, and community.
Real men are not perfect but strive to be good and holy, to become saints and the real tragedy which is destroying nations is the failure of men to be saints.
Real women too are humble yet courageous, truth speaking servants of their husbands and children, striving to be saints and to raise saints with their husbands, a critical way of caring for the whole global community.
As a single parent Son this is what I have striven and strive to teach you: Love is greater than fear. Love is God, our Father. Love is God our Saviour Jesus Christ. Love is God the Life-Giving, Sanctifying Holy Spirit.
Love as you know Son is our prime baptismal vocation from which flows all other dimensions of being faithful to the gift of life.
Fear is all the evil one has to offer: fear coated with lies, wrapped in deception, a death-dealing idea which if followed leads to chaos, division, hatred, abortion, war.
Yes Son you are under enormous stress in the midst of the culture of death and greed, a culture whose adherents from the poor to the workers to the stock manipulators to the politicians and even a lot of bishops and priests, religious leaders of all faiths, constantly scream: “What’s in it for me?” . Indeed it can seem only a small remnant of human beings asks: “What can I do for you?”
Nowhere in the Holy Gospel can I find a single occasion where Jesus asked: “What’s in it for me?” but numerous are the passages where one way or another He asks what someone else wants/needs. Indeed most of the time because He is Love we see Him anticipating who needs love, forgiveness, bread, water until the ultimate gift of Himself is given to us without our even asking: Himself in the Holy Eucharist, Himself as the oblation for our redemption!
Yes Son you are under enormous stress with wife and three children to feed and clothe, but especially to love when it seems you have no reserves left, and yes the covenant-sacrament companion of your life, your beloved wife, daughter of my heart, shares this stress with you and sometimes, I am sure, once the children are asleep you both may often be too tired to replenish each other the way you did before children were gifted to you.
So Little One as your Dad I have to love and respect you enough to bear your burden with you but without pretending I or anyone has a quick solution to the global crisis nor your own situation.
Certainly because I am your Father I will continue to love and support you in any way I can but I know from your letter you are not asking for a bailout – you are thankfully not part of the greedy crew from Wall Street or elsewhere – but you are asking for reassurance and hope that all will be well.
I believe for those men and women, those families, who know and trust the gift of life, all will be well – not necessarily easy nor without suffering through some very hard times, even frightening times, to come, but all will be well.
Because love is stronger than anything.
When in my youth I served as a community worker among the rural poor in the great Northern Forest, we would visit homes among the hills and valleys where there was no running water, no plumbing, no electricity, no phones, any doctor was usually hundreds of miles away and even if he had been closer before universal medical care in this country the poor could not have afforded a doctor anyway.
Some of the poor were seriously mentally ill over generations, some were alcoholics over generations, some were violent and abusive, some were just plain angry.
But – and this is crucial – the majority were, [ even in the most horrific of shacks where whole families lived in just one or two rooms ], filled with solid Catholic faith, truly loved and cared for each other as best they could.
Their ingenuity at crafting both things needed and gifts for each other for Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, shows that part of love’s strength is love’s imagination.
It is amazing, for example, what the Grandfathers could do crafting a doll out of straw, how the Grandmother’s could make doll’s clothes from a flour sack, how Fathers could paint doll faces and Mother’s find a way to use old paper bags and leftover ribbons to wrap the doll so a child had a wonderful birthday.
You see Son none of those adults was asking: “What’s in it for me?”, they worked as a family to bring joy to the child.
Indeed when the Child was born first and foremost it was the poor who came to Him that night and brought Him joy!
When the ordinary American and Canadian starts asking the right question of self, when we start insisting our leaders be truly holy men and women, when as a culture we return to enhancing and protecting life rather than allowing abortion, when we rediscover life is a gift to be embraced and not a problem to be solved, when my Son we return to spending more time on our knees before God with heads bowed in humble, loving, trust and gratitude, rather than standing tense, angry, frightened looking up towards some stock-ticker or even more idolatrously towards some politician as messiah, then we will return things to their proper order: God first, my neighbour {the most proximate of whom are spouse and children} second and myself coming last.
There is no greater love as Jesus tells us than when we lay down our lives for the other.
This we too often and too narrowly hear as some heroic gesture of self-sacrifice where we embrace a type of martyr’s death to save someone’s life.
We Christians mouth the laying down of one’s life far too easily while avoiding the hard choices which REALLY entail laying down my life: putting God and neighbour first.
I tell you Son all will be well because love has clear vision, love can see both near and far, love can always find away to give bread to the person next to me and get seed to the person far away.
Love of course is absent in a culture which slaughters its unborn because the darkness is so deep blindness is hard as rock.
So, especially during these election periods, we must pray and fast the Light Himself, Love Himself, will shatter the darkness and enlighten our whole world.
Yes Son all will be well because in Pope Benedict we have the voice and guidance to rediscover God who is love, the voice and guidance to re-enact hope; all will be well because you and your wife are the generation formed by Pope John Paul the Great, you are the generation of right order, the generation of the Gospel of Life; all will be well Son because the vast majority of ordinary citizens of our two great nations are rediscovering the Gospel, are rediscovering their voice, are rediscovering life is gift and love is our reason for being alive!
All will be well Son because you are a real Catholic Man, a light of life shining in the darkness of the culture of death.
I love you Son.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

In the palm of my hand!

The call came just before dawn.
I was pastor of a country parish, the church in a village so small there were only seven houses in the village.
The rest of the vast area was made up of farms, forests, lakes.
The parents were young, newly married. This was their first child.
He had been born so pre-mature, before the days of modern specialized ICUs for newborns, he would have surely died.
Could I come to the city and baptize him?
Of course I said yes, gathered stole, holy water, ritual and rushed to my car.
On the three and a half hour drive to the city I prayed the Rosary, asking Our Lady to grant strength and long life to the child or at least to keep him alive until he could be baptized.
Once at the ICU, because this Little Man was in an incubator with tubes sending oxygen and other essentials into his tiny being, it was a delicate task to arrange access to him – but the nurses managed and suddenly here was a human being, literally in the palm of my hand as I used my little finger to gather drops of water.
Today that Little Man is a full grown adult, Deo Gratias and thanks to Our Lady.
Today in my own family we are waiting the birth of a child – the Little One is truly due, awaited with love, the parents reasonably peaceful, though the Dad [ this is their third child ] has that restlessness so common to expectant fathers who are, by God’s design, in a sense one step removed until the birthing begins and even then are more in the role of coach than player!
It is a salient lesson for fathers, the experience of powerlessness in such moments, like the father of the newborn child mentioned above, to remind them, indeed all males, that real power and authority originates not within us but as gift from our Abba, Father of us all.
Those of us who have reached the elder stage of life { I detest the word ‘elderly’ as it sounds more like a sickness than a wisdom-graced state of being which IS the vocation of elders, something our Aboriginal Brothers and Sisters and many of our Asian Brothers and Sisters have understood for millennia. } – how should we support the young parents, the new parents?
Well women clearly do a better job around expectancy and birthing with each other than men because we men are always trying to fix something!
What the expectant father needs from we elders, priests and laymen alike, is patient, loving, understanding – indeed an actual standing with – because NOTHING IS BROKEN!
There IS LIFE happening!
Today the Church remembers another man who had a challenging birth and life known traditionally as Blessed Herman Contractus, translated bluntly as: Blessed Herman the Cripple.
Now given the fact he was born in mid-winter in the 11th century [ a. d. 1013 ], born with spina bifida, a cleft palate and cerebral palsy, the first miracle is that his parents obviously loved him and cared for him so well it was only when he was seven for unknown reasons – other than perhaps the obviously serious medical ones – his parents found themselves unable to continue to care for Herman at home and confided him to the care of the Benedictine monks of the Reichenau abbey.
So the second miracle, and this continues today within the Church among those priests, religious, lay apostle communities, as well as some secular medical facilities and caring places – and most wonderfully among those who work to protect life from conception to a natural death { hence the critical importance of these Forty Days to November 2nd of prayer and fasting for the Gospel of Life, for life itself } – is that Herman was received by the monks with such loving care he not only grew, matured, he became a brilliant person, expert in various scientific, literary, spiritual fields – indeed some historians attribute such traditional hymns as the Salve Regina to his authorship.
Herman’s union with the suffering Christ entered a final stage of surrender and trust before his death when he went blind, returning to the Father the gift of physical sight but undoubtedly this expanded the vision of his heart.
In 1054 a. d. Herman was welcomed forever into the arms of the Heavenly Father, into the eternal glory of Jesus, into the everlasting fire-love of the Holy Spirit.
When the culture of death screams about quality of life being in doubt before a human being is born that is arrogant evil to the extreme. It is a destructive and selfish presumption assuming intimate knowledge of the future life of a human being – something we simply cannot know.
Even more dark and evil is the assumption expectant parents are incapable of loving their child unless the new person meets criteria of supposed perfection of potential intelligence etc., criteria which themselves are dubiously arrogant and hostile to the sacredness of the human person, as witnessed by the Little Man I baptized and by Blessed Herman.
My own Father’s generation within the ranks not just of the Allied Forces but within the ranks of ordinary men and women of all faiths and no faith, across the occupied countries of Europe and Asia, paid a horrendous price to put an end to the selective and death imposing actions of the Axis powers.
We dishonour the sacrifice of those men and women, indeed we spit upon the graves of the victims of those Axis atrocities, when, under whatever twisted philosophy it is rooted in, we claim abortion, euthanasia or assisted suicide as either a right or something good, rather than precisely what each of those acts are: the deliberate murder of a person, a human being given life by the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, by Love Himself.
We are NOT the originators of life.
We ARE recipients of the ultimate gift.
It is not economic chaos or climate change or terrorism which will destroy us.
It is our arrogance.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Hard Lesson About Vigilance!

The other day I finally completed the notes for the promised post on “The Thin Place” when something happened which threw me off track, the brutal murder of a young homeless man at the gates of the soup kitchen.
While coping with that, emails began arriving from priests and laity alike worried about the extreme turbulence in the financial markets.
The same day I got a phone call about the sudden death of a dear brother priest, which threw me for another loop!
Then, of course these past weeks and days have seen horrendous acts of terrorism in India, Pakistan, Spain, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, peoples devastated by hurricanes, typhoons, floods, the outbreaks with widespread illness and death from tainted meat in Canada and poisoned milk in China.
Increasingly, with the often times harsh political campaigns in Canada and the US currently underway, the uncertainty about the political situation in Israel, North Korea, to mention just a few, the seemingly unending news stories about droughts and famine, melting Arctic sea ice, climate change – well is it any wonder many of us get unsolicited mailings or emails from those who advocate the world is coming to an end, preceded many of them claim, and frankly seem to wish for, some catastrophe on the order of global punishment!
Yesterday I made a serious communication gaffe with my family and received several emails in response – what made matters very confusing has been a series of unusual computer glitches, and today, on a walk with an old friend we both noted a huge increase in the number of drug addicts, wrecked cars, garbage, graffiti in the area and he remarked how the city is deteriorating.
Indeed for the past several days the usual cacophony of jets and prop planes and helicopters from the airport a few blocks away, the constant banging of steel upon steel from the shunting section of the freight-yard, also just a few blocks away, has been added to by the constant wail of police, ambulance and fire engine sirens.
Stressed I became slack and inattentive and this morning, before coffee, before real brain functioning, before spending time with my face on the ground in prayer for true love, charity, discernment, vigilance, I answered those family emails in draft form, a sort of get the harrumph out before deleting and writing a real, loving, understanding reply.
Image my total embarrassment when I on email auto-pilot hit send rather than delete!
I was even more astonished when instantly I heard in my heart those powerful words from the first pope, St. Peter not only urging us to stay sober, alert, that is truly vigilant, because of the devouring nature of the evil one, but also encouraging solidarity in suffering, patient endurance for Christ Himself strengthens us. [ 1 Pt. 5:8-11 ].
Even more so if we reflect on the paragraph which precedes that admonition about vigilance we see the call to humility and to trust in Christ. [ 1 Pt. 5: 5-7 ].
Suddenly my heart understood in these critical times on the universal level I have been attentive to pray for the restoration of the whole world to Christ, so satan rarely tricks me into getting one-sided about politics or other things of the world – BUT where I had failed to be vigilant, for the evil one is not only the great deceiver but the great disturber, was on a more personal and family level and he tried very hard to wreck things.
He did manage to do some damage but Our Lady has taken me by the hand and led me to ask forgiveness and her help to be more vigilant.
So this morning I went first to prayer for tender words and then, to be honest had a strong brain starter cup of coffee {!}, after which was composed and sent to my family the email which they merit simply because they are family and we love each other and no matter the gaffes or miscommunications or outright failures towards each other love IS stronger – all that is needed is humility, that is to put them before self, to grant understanding and compassion, to admit when I am wrong – the latter I confess with my ego is tough to do.
Saying I’m sorry in and of itself often times is giving a little – begging forgiveness with a determination to change the offending behaviour, yeah that is giving a lot.
Accepting personal powerlessness in spiritual warfare and relying in all things on the strength of Christ and the help of Our Lady is to giving everything.
Yes we can fret ourselves into true fear these days of so much darkness and death around the world, so much suffering; yes we can get caught in the snares of doom and gloom and forget Christ is Risen; yes we undoubtedly, or most likely I will, have relationship problems from time to time, priests with each other or their bishop or parishioners, spouses with one another, parents with their children, yes even on the larger scale between adherents of one political party or another, nation with nation – however I cannot directly solve any of the larger problems.
I can, among my brother priests, within my own family, serving the poor, in all relationships begin again to be and remain vigilant.
The best way I know how to do that is by, even when it means admitting I am wrong and begging forgiveness, living out what the Servant of God Catherine Doherty taught: I AM THIRD. [ God first, my brother/sister next, I am third!]
Catherine also taught, and frankly this has been hard to do today for it means admitting my frailty and absolute need of Him, even in the seemingly small things like being more attentive to what another is going through, that: “In God every moment is the moment of beginning again.”
So, in this moment, in particular with family, also with the vigilance St. Peter urges!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Living in the Catholic Gitmo: 6 - Crawling Towards the Thin Place

There is a wonderful prayer to the Infant of Prague I pray daily: O Miraculous Infant Jesus, prostrate before Your sacred image, we beseech You to cast a mercifully look on our troubled hearts. Let Your tender Heart so inclined to pity be softened by our prayers, and grant us that grace which we ardently implore.
Take from us all affliction and despair, all trials and misfortunes with which we are laden. For Your sacred infancy’s sake hear our prayers and send us consolation and aid, that we may praise You, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.
We all know that true love is inseparable from pain – and if this be so between human beings, how much more is it between a human being, an immortal soul, and God who IS love – as the Incarnate One embraced ultimate pain for us His beloved.
The problem, I find, with most of the pain constitutive of this love affair with the Holy Trinity, [ which imperatively on our part MUST be expressed in loving and serving, as our act of love of God, Holy Mother the Church, my Bishop – all Bishops, brother priests, family, indeed everyone ] is simply that the ‘pain’ is NEVER of the kind I expect – more frankly of the kind I might find palatable!
There is something to be said, however, for unsought after external pain: a broken limb, for example, as most people are not threatened by your cast, indeed people utter both verbally, with smiley faces and the like on your cast their sympathy – even if the ‘external’ pain is not so visible, such as lung cancer, for the most part people will not shy away nor feel unduly threatened.
True inner suffering, emotional suffering, spiritual suffering really does seem to panic most of those around us, perhaps because it reveals how truly small and fragile we human beings are.
Christ, in His Passion, embraced physical, emotional, spiritual, external and interior suffering, to the absolute max, so under no circumstances, no matter how we come to be suffering, would any pain, tear, fear be endured by us to the max – for He has already taken the greater portion into Himself.
Thus when He offers Himself, His life, in the Most Holy Eucharist and assures us that consuming Holy Eucharist means communion, love’s union, with Him, He also assures us of His indwelling within us and we in Him.
Even more He assures us that within Eucharistic eating we draw life from Him – which means to draw from Him into ourselves His very communion of love with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
However – and perhaps this disappoints on some level – just as acceptance of pain is no magic trick to get the pain to go away, neither is His Precious Body and Blood some magic elixir, the consumption of which suddenly heals all affliction, all neurosis, all sin.
The life we draw from Him we must choose to live in Him, with Him, for Him by choosing to live only in the present moment [whatever that moment may entail] and by being faithful to the present moment [ whatever that moment may exact from us].
We had a sudden turn in the weather and today was wet, cold.
On my daily prayer walk through the neighbourhood [ this poor area where more garbage than when I moved here, more crime, more homeless, more dumpster divers seem to have arrived over the past winter] I passed a bus shelter and prayed for the three homeless people crowded in there with their shopping carts.
For all the cruelty foisted upon many priests in this current crisis within the priesthood, whatever pain priests must endure in our love of God, Church, everyone, including our enemies, most of us are not homeless, not constantly hungry.
Christ comes to us fully glorious, compassionate, in the Eucharist, virtually begging us to follow Him. He also comes to us disguised as every human being from pope to pauper, from confrere to enemy, from family member to His own silent absence { just ask Bl. Mother Theresa about that!] – so I gazed upon those homeless in the bus shelter and asked for eyes that I might see!
Returning here to my urban hermitage apartment I kept seeing before the eyes of my heart the woman in the Gospel whose years of bleeding woundedness, decades really, meant a life of constant suffering, rejection, isolation, apparent deafness of God to her pleas for healing – a life reduced to crawling!
But what strength, what courage, what faith, what trust, indeed what humility kept her crawling across the years until she could stretch her hand out far enough to touch the hem of His cloak!
Can I, will any suffering priest, will you, stop crawling just because Jesus seems, as yet, some distance away?
Love and pain ARE inseparable and when the woman’s pain encountered Love Himself all was made well, all was made new again.
I think we get discouraged when we focus on the last few words of that encounter and forget the many years and long distance travelled and so when God does not heal us instantaneously, that is BEFORE we have arrived at the place He has chosen for us, He and we to encounter each other, we turn away or towards ourselves and begin to drown in our own pain.
Decades ago I was in New York one night, in fact after Mass in that section known as Hell’s Kitchen, for the very same feast we celebrate today as I write this: Corpus Christi.
As the Broadway Theatres were emptying out I noted in front of one of them, on the bottom step, was a homeless man trying to re-bandage, with a filthy piece of cloth, his ulcerated leg.
I was stunned to watch as those coming out nonchalantly stepped over him as if he did not even exist.
To this day I pray not to ever step over, walk past nor block the progress of any human being seeking to touch and be touched by Christ – for I am His touch for everyone.
A few years prior to that event, indeed some forty years now we have known each other, I met a priest to whom I took an instant liking – indeed that has grown over the decades into a tremendous love, trust, respect.
His own ‘crawling’ towards Christ has brought him to life as a hermit priest, and as a writer.
It is his book which came to me truly as a miraculous touching of the hem of Christ’s garment.
NO! There has been no complete healing, no removal from the Cross, no restoration of what has been stolen, I writhe still in my blood and pain – yet a miracle is operative: hope!
Father’s book has a title: I LIVE NOW, NOT I, with the sub-title: Life as it is now becomes the mystery of Love in Christ.
This is from the Forward: ......Christ desires, with the passion of a Heart that is “sacred”, to bring us into the fullness of this “priesthood of the baptized,” where we will finally understand that nothing in our life is wasted, not our past sins or our present woundedness. Because through Baptism “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me”!
Finally came into my hands and heart a book about the mystery of being in love-pain, in pain-love, the reality of being in pain-love, love-pain, of union with that “Heart which is sacred” that allows you to see in the darkness, crawl in the abyss, to live!
In the chapter entitled: Heart to Heart we are told what every crucifix reveals but which we often, especially when we are crawling, bleeding in the abyss, fail to “see”, much less to “hear”: In His tremendous love for us He has turned our pain into His!
Father reveals to us in that same chapter the inseparableness of living within the above truth by ourselves literally imitating Him, that is our pain must become the chalice into which we gather the pain of others, and like Christ drink the chalice to the dregs: ....the key...go directly to His pain through my pain and then talk to Him about them, and not me......
I am struggling, to be honest, against putting too much from the book here because I believe it is a book which is no-book but a gift of illumination and each person, in the school of Our Blessed Mother, should go, read, learn, become.
In the reading from Deuteronomy today we miss the point if we “hear” merely a repeating of what the Holy Trinity did in the past for the Chosen People, for the word of God is always in and for the present moment – so I have been led [ well in my case He has necessarily to prod a lot ] into a wilderness not of my own choosing.
Clearly as Father illumines in his book it is that I might, as is said in Deuteronomy, be humbled, tested, because God who is love wants so to know my innermost heart – to know me.
I am His beloved and He yearns to be mine!
Guess I have barely begun to crawl!
True it seems sometimes as I get a quick glance at the hem of His garment He is walking away, other times it seems as if ‘others’ are pushing me away, blocking my crawl-path – but, truly, that’s okay because of Baptism and Holy Eucharist, the One I seek has already found me, the One I crawl towards to touch has me already in His arms!
Next; the Thin Place itself.
For the book I urge you to immerse yourself in and to give to everyone you know, go to:
Look under books/authors for: I live now, not I

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Living in the Catholic Gitmo: 5 - Towards the Thin Place

Over the past four months, since I last wrote anything here, I have been asked repeatedly why I have not been writing.
My heart knew the answer but I could not, truthfully, explain it to anyone – until today when finally, admittedly alone with my face on the ground before my Icon wall, I wept out the truth: FEAR!
Why has writing terrified me?
Simply: because it means facing the enormity of betrayal, the silence of God and an aloneness that no human person can alleviate.
Until recently I could not understand why, as happens so frequently these days, priests, young and old, could take their own lives – yet the more I hear from priests, the guilty and those accused but abandoned by Church, Bishops, brother priests, family, friends, parishioners – even it often seems by God Himself – and the more I face my own situation, falsely accused, denied due process, never even interviewed by anyone about the accusation, spurned by my own Bishop and denied due process by the Vatican – yes now I do understand why so many priests simply give up and end their pain on earth through self-inflicted death.
Oddly so long as, for five years actually, I fought for due process brother priests, friends, former parishioners, community, family stayed in close and supportive contact.
Once Rome denied my appeal for due process, and even further banned me from all but celebrating Mass alone, and my own Bishop telling me if I exercised my right to appeal that order I would be removed from the priesthood and reduced to the lay state, one by one all those priests and laity have ceased being in touch except for my Spiritual Director, two other priests and less than a dozen lay people.
I said writing for months has terrified me because of the enormity of betrayal, the silence of God and an aloneness that no human person can alleviate.
Until today!
It is not that as I write I feel any less terrified, less betrayed, that God is suddenly no longer silent or that I feel no longer alone.
The truth is I understand more deeply than ever – with a sense of true solidarity – both the enormity of the evil caused by those priests who have committed the horrific crime and sin of abuse and also as a paradox, even though they brought this about and continue to mishandle it, the absolute self-preservation primacy bishops are motivated by in their decisions – which is why, consistently, accused priests are denied due process and why no priest is protected from false accusation and its permanent aftermath.
Those of us falsely accused, as well as the guilty, live in the Catholic Gitmo.
We are, at the hands of our bishops living, murdered persons – as a holy priest wrote about my own self it is: “…as if the Church and not the Nazis had murdered St. Maxmillian Kolbe!”
You find yourself suddenly plunged into a dark abyss of anger which eventually becomes a type of hopelessness where to utter words of prayer is like having a mouth full of shards of glass and what words do come out echo mockingly back at you like the echo of your own voice bounding off mountain walls – but you are in no lush valley, just a bottomless dark abyss.
Eventually the anger and hopelessness, if you keep getting up in the morning, if you keep forcing yourself to pray, to stand at the altar until the trembling stops and you can struggle your way through Holy Mass, becomes a type of absolute worn-out state, almost a numbness but weighing so much it is as if you are crushed inside a vacuum.
Now putting your face on the ground and crying out for mercy seems to invite diabolical cackling and even more oppressive darkness and when you move among people it is clear that – as with lepers of old or people with AIDS when that plague first hit – yes it is clear people, friends and even family, would much prefer you were not around.
Other things happen, little by little like grains of salt pressed one by one into the gaping wound you have become: you get less snail and email, phone calls go unanswered, invitations to dinner or a movie, with brother priests, laity, even family, dwindle.
Everyone has their reasons, some of them even true, but mostly – and who can blame them – your pain and darkness are simply too much for them to endure.
To be honest I never thought I would fall into that pit of overwhelming pain and grief nor become a ‘thing’ to be avoided – after all my brother priests, my friends, my family were different!
How little did I understand what absolute betrayal, what a false accusation and the betrayal of your own sacramental father, your bishop, and your baptismal mother, the Church, does to a living human being!
To a priest!
Once that realization permeates your being the parameters of the abyss must change – or rather you must change by asked for grace.
The only alternative is that which so many priests have, and do choose: you will be engulfed or seduced by the illusion of escape from the abyss through self-inflicted death.
Being utterly powerless then only grace can bring about the necessary change and since it feels as if God has gone away or become deaf your own prayer will not suffice – because the pain has you bent towards self – so you have to risk being absolutely vulnerable to the power of others to say yea or nay when you ask them to pray for you.
But ASK you must!
{Indeed never in my life have I so understood the critical importance for souls, mine among them, of the prayer at the end of each decade of the Holy Rosary: 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.
Most likely none more than priests living abandoned in the Catholic Gitmo are so in need!}
What must change?
1] Resistance to being in persona the accused, abandoned, betrayed Christ on the Cross: that is any attempt, even desire, to stop plunging ever deeper into the abyss – which is why Christ Himself stepped into in the Garden and surrendered to the will of the Father – so that no human being would ever be, in the darkness of the abyss at the edge of nowhere, alone!
Christ’s surrender must become our surrender, His acceptance, of all pain, darkness, abandonment, His cry to the Father must become ours – His fiat our FIAT!
The suffering priest must choose to accept that he can, in, with, through Christ with the help of Our Blessed Mother, step from the bottomless abyss into the Garden and his new place of being: face on the ground beside, with, in the agonizing Christ.
2] Human comfort as solace especially when the weight of pain is greatest: any and all desire, even dream, of any degree of human compassion, understanding, truth or justice from those with power in the Church must be let go of and become, in, with, through, for Christ absolute surrender to the permanent loss of good name, ministry and even to a significant degree any sense of being beloved.
The suffering priest must turn his own pain into oblation and intercession by becoming as it were the pain of every other human being. He must, like Christ the truly Innocent Betrayed One, remember that he is still priest, therefore he lives to be servant of others, suffers for the salvation of souls, seeking like St. Francis not so much to be loved as to love. Remembering and rejoicing to be, as the Servant of God Catherine Doherty said: third! {God first, my brother/sister next and I am third.}
3] Avoidance of Grief : to grieve, to weep, is to be truly powerless, truly poor, but priests, being men, do not grieve easily, if at all, because we are supposed to be able to fix, to defend, to endure and grief means admitting something is NOT fixable, that, at least for a time, it will be as if the enemy has prevailed, as if God does NOT care or is NOT stronger than evil, and, to grieve can be experienced as a type of giving-up.
This confusion over grief as giving-up rather than understanding grief as an openness to our tears being co-mingled with the tears of Christ as contrition for our sins and the sins of the whole world, as a healing balm, prevents true surrender to the Holy Will of the Father, delays, if not denies, a complete fiat to oneness with Christ in His Suffering and Death.
So – by what miracle did I begin to grieve, to weep, to continue to grieve and weep, thus allowing the Holy Spirit and Our Blessed Mother to change the contours of the darkness of the abyss at the edge of nowhere into the thin place near His Risen Glory?
That I shall speak of in the next post, but I will give you a hint. Just click on this link:

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pray for this Retreat, please!

{ A priest friend asked for input as he prepares a retreat for suspended priests. I publish the letter here asking prayers for the retreat. The references to “Catherine” are to the Servant of God Catherine Doherty: }

Dear Father,

I have been praying deeply about the retreat ever since we chatted last fall and more and more this is what is very clear in my heart:

Every morning the first part of my prayer each day is to beg the grace of oneness with Jesus in the Desert, in the Garden and on the Cross and that He pour His Precious Blood upon myself and all priests that we be good and holy. In fact, ever since the very evening of my ordination and concelebration with the Bishop, the four priests ordained with me and all the other priests there, at the elevation of the chalice at the consecration I have prayed that same prayer. I still do in every Mass I celebrate.

In some very mysterious and yes profound way suspended priests who, like all priests are ordained in this immense gift and mystery of Christ our Priest, - well it just seems to my heart we are asked to enter profoundly into that suffering of Christ, or rather that aspect of His Wounded Heart, connected to the experience of the “absence” of any support from the Father, such as in the Garden and on the Cross, every dimension of rejection on the “human” level and a type of solitude in spiritual warfare such as Jesus experienced in the desert, the garden and on the Cross.

True this suffering does have an emotional component but I am struggling to articulate here the profound suffering in the depths of the heart and soul of priests being invited to be one with Christ in His own suffering.

It seems to my heart that this oneness means embracing a depth of powerlessness and poverty very hard to explain in words other than, perhaps, to suggest that we priests who are in this agony, and I don’t believe there is much difference in the pain for those suspended because of actual guilt or those suspended yet innocent, have been given an extraordinary gift, if we say fiat: absolute oneness with the rejected, lonely, suffering Jesus – to truly, beyond anything we can perhaps even grasp fully, be oblation with Him.

So I believe the following will comfort and strengthen our suffering brothers: a] oneness with Jesus in this mystery of suffering contains a willingness to embrace the gift of hiddenness, hence as Catherine always stressed we must go to Nazareth; b] oneness with Jesus in the desert is to focus not on self but on intercession and atonement, struggling against evil spirits in, with, Jesus for the salvation of souls and all other “intentions” we carry in our hearts or we are asked to pray for; c] oneness with Jesus in the garden is to embrace the joy of suffering with Him, to comfort Him to be sure but also in a humble state [without introspection] of personal repentance and atonement and for all priests, the Church, for souls – it is also to embrace the same not knowing/understanding/darkness, as Jesus did, with the help as in all things of Our Blessed Mother, to willingly embrace whatever depths of agony we are invited into that we might also cry out sincerely with Jesus the truth if possible we’d prefer not to have this ‘chalice’ but because we are beloved of the Father and love the Father we surrender to His Most Holy, Tender, Will; d] oneness with Jesus on the cross, for me, is rooted in the love, hope, trust, joy Catherine presents to us, as well as the pain, in her meditations on the stations of the Cross, in particular the 3rd, where she presents words from Jesus to encourage us and the 10th where she reminds us of His absolute embrace of poverty, of being stripped of everything as part of His self-gift offering for our salvation.

I don’t doubt that embracing the blessing of the 10th station [ which for we suffering priests means a profound letting go of innumerable ‘human’ expectations regarding justice, compassion, dignity, etc., etc.] is the toughest ‘place’ to truly have union of hearts, the wounded Heart of Christ and our own broken hearts – but – I believe, for I do remember your powerfully teaching the truth Christ IS risen, we will only ‘taste’ the resurrection joy of suffering IF we struggle to have oneness with His Heart in His absolute poverty and powerlessness, such as shown in the light of the 3rd and 10th stations.

You know the immense emotional stress and devastation I have and do experience yet I do sincerely, strongly, stress this mystery of joy – I can’t explain it and it is not granted to me 24/7, only very rarely, as oddly in this moment while I write to you, but I tell you Father truthfully it is a tremendous blessing and joy, even though the way I have come to this is not of my own choosing. To be a priest freed from anything and everything other than simply being oblation with Him, freed from administration, freed from clerical gossip and intrigue, freed from all the burdens of being an active pastor to spend my life, or rather pour my life out, in oneness with Him in the desert, garden, on the cross, ultimately this is an incredible gift! It is joy!

So that is what I would address: dear brothers step beyond the suspension and how it came about, step beyond the hurt etc., step beyond self and into the depths of His Sacred Heart, His Priesthood, being one, by grace and the help of our Blessed Mother, with Him, in the hiddenness of Nazareth, in the desert, in the garden, on the cross – this is love and pain, pain and joy, intercession and atonement – this is living in Him, with Him, through Him for Him.

Catherine gave me, quoting Col. 3:11, as word for my priesthood: Christ is everything.
Sure I ‘believed’ that and referred to it constantly, but only now am I beginning to live it, because ‘all’ else has been taken away!

My final word then is I pray somehow you can help our brothers to see what a grace this suffering is and that they will say fiat!