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:

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