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: