Sunday, November 22, 2009

Surgical Tears – 2

In the classic work PENTHOS, Fr. Hausherr, S.J., relates a story from the Desert Fathers wherein one seeks persistently to know where another, Abba Poemen, ‘was in the depths of ecstasy’, until the old Abba finally relented and said: “ My thought was with St. Mary, the Mother of God, as she wept by the cross of the Saviour. I wish I could always weep like that.”
Pope John Paul II again and again referred to the necessity of going to the ‘school of Mary’, almost as much as he used the expression, derived from Christ’s own directive to the Apostles, about going “duc in altum”, that is, “into the deep.”
If we ask to enter the school of Our Blessed Mother then Mary will, in reality, take us by the hand and lead us into not only the depths of the Holy Gospel, of Liturgy, but ultimately into the depths of surrender to the purifying and sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit, hence into both ‘intimate confidence’ in, and union with, Christ the Divine Bridegroom.
We will also experience ever more, with less and less resistance, the penetrating into the depths of our being of the ‘living and effective’ word of God [cf. Hb. 4:12ff] and will unhesitatingly, necessarily for our own salvation but also as intercessors for every human being, ‘confidently approach’ Divine Mercy for all grace needed.
Likewise we will discover the graced suffering and purification, the ineffable joy of, going ‘into the deep’ within the second Beatitude and discover, as Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis notes in his classic FIRE OF MERCY, pp.188-9, that, prayed and struggled to be lived, the Beatitudes by the action of the Holy Spirit will place and deepen within us ‘...the fundamental attitude of self-forgetfulness....receiving in an open and fruitful heart the grace of reconciliation with God...”
While it is true that in the first instance the blessedness of mourning relates to the grief over the death of someone and that the comfort is found after death because of the Resurrection, nonetheless we should also be open to the reality that ‘death’ has many forms.
I believe it is within the blessedness of accepting the pain, and purification of these other experiences of death we will experience in life the Holy Spirit’s gift of joy, which is ultimate comfort.
So when, commenting on Mt. 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn....” Erasmo states the “...heroic heroism...” of willingly feeling “...profound pain of the death of another.”, he connects this to, because of the Resurrection of Jesus and therefore Jesus’ obtaining resurrection for us, the virtue of hope.
Here, however without discounting the blessedness of such mourning, and constitutive tears, I am suggesting another dimension to the Beatitude, an apostolic, intercessory dimension, indeed a going into the deep of Christ-like solidarity with the entire human family, indeed with all creation itself.
We all know that the false self, so intensely woven from the experiences of early life, and some subsequent ones, is NOT the real “I” created by God, rather the false self is the flesh, the old man, of which St. Paul speaks, and which must die if we are to achieve that point of fullness of baptized personhood wherein, again as St. Paul stresses, the false I is so completely deceased that “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” [Gal. 2.20]
We also know Christ’s teachings about the grain of wheat which must fall into the ground and die if there is to be fruitfulness [Jn.12:24] as well as Jesus’ urging us to embrace full discipleship while cautioning us about not clinging to our life, which is also, if we contemplate Him and His word, the promised reward of following Him through death into resurrection [Mt. 10:16-40].
We fear death in all its forms.
Not merely the cessation of life on earth but of the so intricately constructed notion of self, indeed the equally ferociously clung too preconceptions we have of God, Church, other people, etc., etc..
We are so fearful if we lose them, if those illusions are shattered, die, we shall be terribly alone.
Pope Benedict, in his wonderful book, JESUS OF NAZARETH, itself an experience of the school of Mary and going into the deep, stresses the tender gaze of Christ upon us [cf. Pp. 71ff] when He pronounces the Beatitudes over us.
Pope Benedict also teaches that the Beatitudes are our actual condition as disciples for as true disciples we “...are poor, hungry, weeping....hated and persecuted...”
Lest we become discouraged and overwhelmed, the Holy Father reminds us that, “Jesus brings joy in the midst of affliction.”
Further on [cf. Pp. 86ff.], reflecting specifically on the second Beatitude the Holy Father takes us deeper, when he teaches that “...there is also the mourning occasioned by the shattering encounter with truth, which resist evil...heals, because it hope and love again...”
Pope Benedict, like Abba Poemen, looks to another “...image of mourning that brings salvation: Mary standing under the Cross.”
I learned very early in life never to show weakness, never to shed a tear.
So deeply constructed was this particular aspect of the false self, so virtually impregnable, that I was well past fifty years of age when my Spiritual Director noted with amazement that he knew I had never wept and then stressed how critical it was that I should pray for the gift of tears.
Pope John Paul in his first Letter to Priests of Holy Thursday 1979 calls priests to go very deep into the mystery of priestly chastity and stresses that “...The priest, by renouncing this fatherhood proper to married men, seeks another fatherhood and, as it were, even another motherhood, recalling the words of the Apostle about the children whom he begets in suffering.”
Briefly through a series of encounters and with the blessing of my superiors I became a foster-father to John Everett who himself would be blessed with, to quote him and fully agreeing, ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’, Lucille as wife.
[ cf.]
Eventually I ended up living as I am now in exile as an urban hermit and thanks to Lucille’s closeness to Our Blessed Mother, who inspired Lucille to encourage John to have me come and live near them, once their first child was born I became a grandfather.
Six years ago, still not surrendering to actual tears though by then I was constantly begging for the grace to weep but was terrified at the same time, one evening Lucille asked if I would babysit the then three month old Little One.
Lucille gave me all the usual maternal guidelines and noted that I should put the Little One to bed at such and such a time and “ Don’t go into her when she cries. She’s at that stage and eventually she will just go to sleep.”
Now pre-sleep crying I assumed meant some sort of near silent whimpering.
Man was I wrong!!!!!
At the appointed time, having given her bottle, made sure the diaper was dry, the little pj’s on, blessed her as she lay there and smiled angelically, I turned off the light and left the room and headed down the stairs wondering why Lucille had cautioned me.
I got barely three steps down when a wail beyond any heart-wrenching, ear splitting, cry-scream-groan-moan of cosmic proportions ripped through the air.
That such a tiny, angelic being could at such a pitch, so seemingly unceasingly wail like that was beyond anything I had ever experienced in my life and my entire adult-male-protective-rescuer being wanted to turn, rip that door from its hinges, grab the Little One and simultaneously comfort her out of such distress and beg forgiveness of the obvious hardhearted cruelty which had allowed me to abandon her!
Instantly however, frozen to the stairs, by now sitting hunched over I heard in my heart Lucille’s voice and another woman, the Woman, and this latter was telling me most tenderly that “This is not about you. Stay. If you go it is not about her. Stay. Listen to the silence of God.”
I stayed.
With some effort [indeed later I realized I had not been aware at whatever moment the Little One had stopped wailing and fallen asleep as Lucille said she would] I struggled to be still, to listen to the silence of God.
Suddenly I was hearing not the wailing of the Little One but the cries of every endangered child in the womb knowing abortion was afoot, of every hungry, homeless, rejected, abused child; I heard the cries of every battered woman and man, of every youth selling themselves on the streets, of the addict in withdrawal, the person suffering mental collapse, the human being they strive to break day by day in the labour camps.
It was if I was seeing in the silence of God all human suffering, feeling the weight of evil.
I wept, and wept and wept until I became aware the interior silence was also exterior and suddenly it was the Child Jesus of whom I was aware, and aware too of Jesus who ‘looked at him and loved him’, Jesus with Magdalene washing His feet with her tears, Jesus gazing upon Peter, Jesus appearing, risen, saying not to be afraid.
Penthos tears became tears of joy.
“The mourning of which the Lord speaks is nonconformity with evil....those who mourn suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness....standing under the protection of God’s power, secure in His love – that is true comfort.”
“The converse is also true. The sufferer is not truly comforted, his tears are not completely wiped away, until he and the powerless of this world are no longer threatened........true comfort only appears when the ‘last enemy,’ death...and all its accomplices have been stripped of their power.....” [cf. Pope Benedict, op. Cit. Pp. 87-88]
Interior peace and joy, the Spirit’s gift, comes if we willingly contemplate, as Pope Benedict says, “...what consolation the Lord holds in store for all those who mourn and suffer in this world.”

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Surgical Tears – Part 1

I have been researching to write more about the Holy Spirit’s gift of tears, Penthos, as the Fathers say, the ‘second Baptism.’
St. Francis, no doubt tongue in cheek because of his clear love of all creation and life, referred to demands of our physical being as ‘Brother Ass’ – the French, referring to the oftentimes tumultuous emotional components of our imagination use an expression best translated into English colloquial expression as: “the crazy living in the attic!”
I come from a highly emotional race, not muted by a generation living in this country, and those of more sanguine cultures don’t get that the spikes of anger, hurt, for example, are just that, momentary spikes, whereas the common emotions are love, joy, and passion for life.
Since I last posted here my emotions have run the gambit from pure, that is untainted by being bent towards self, grief to the apprehensive state I am in at the moment, from pure penthos tears to vinegar ones of self pity!
While I appreciate having a PC, a laptop, cell phone to text with, I write often, as I am in this moment, with pen and ink on paper.
The pencil and pen where the first writing instruments of my childhood, the ‘straight-nipped’ pen and inkwell with the unique scratch-sound on paper preceding my first fountain pen, a Confirmation gift.
There is something uniquely human about writing and it witnesses to the wonderful parenting of Mary and Joseph that Jesus is recorded as writing, albeit in the sand.
He, of course, is Himself the great Word of the Father to us, indeed if I might be so bold, Jesus is the ultimate love-tender letter/word of Our Abba to each of us His Beloved Children.
Writing in her book DEAR FAMILY, the Servant of God Catherine Doherty notes that the family is ‘a little church’, and is likewise the ‘primary indissoluble unit of society.’
Indeed the entire human race is but one family with one Abba/ Father, one redeeming Brother-Saviour, one animating, illuminating Holy Spirit.
One way or another every human being is born in family, at least the universal family – but not everyone grows and develops within the heart of a family of love and holiness.
We shed a lot of tears, if we be honest, because of the lacunae’s of family life, and for some because of the damage done by extremes of poverty, abuse, ravages of war, parental addictions and thus child neglect, or the impact of flight, like Jesus, Mary and Joseph into Egypt, because of the dangers of death squads or other pursuers.
As I get older there come unexpected tears, sometimes of regret about people no longer present in my life, for the older we get the more familiar a visitor is death. However the tears of missing quickly become tears of joyful memory.
At the moment I pen these lines in the waiting room of my dentist where, again the age thing and the body wearing out, something Pope John Paul refers to in his encyclical on human labour as a good thing, for it is right our labours should wear us out, so while spared so far major surgeries today is the first of a series of dental surgeries.
Growing up in the days of slow-speed, un-cooled drills, before novocaine and the like, also in a neighbourhood of such poverty the dentist, who operated out of his basement, was, to be kind, rather gruff and rough, figured boys should learn to endure pain. So to this very day all dental stuff unnerves me, big time!
Any delusions I may have about being a strong, tough or courageous male – well I am completely disabused of them any time I am in such an apprehensive state as at the moment awaiting the dreaded drill and lance!
This, irrespective of reality, i.e., novocaine, high speed and well cooled drills, lasers and the like.
Yes irrespective of the great reality with this particular dentist, no matter the procedure, I have never experienced pain – so surgical tears for me [obviously wept interiorly where no one can see what a wimp I am!] are, frankly, bitter, impure, rooted in the emotional spikes of the crazy character which, in moments such as these, inhabits my imagination!
So I return to earlier points about grief, death, family.
As I sit here I have a choice to make about the apprehension, my wild imagination, the inner vinegar tears.
Will I wallow in this and allow it to go to waste or will I take hold of the pro-offered hand of Our Blessed Mother, allow her to open the mantle of my wounded, yes neurotic, being as she opened the cloak of Bl. Juan Diego to arrange the roses within?
Granted she will find a bouquet of less than roses, but Our Blessed Mother has a way of transforming poverty into generosity, vinegar tears into penthos, if we let her.
Thus my heart is suddenly aware of the women and children in Darfur, of men, women, and children in North Korean labour camps, scouring the garbage dumps outside Cairo or Lima, the child soldiers brutalized until they become brutal, of...........
A common mistake well intentioned Christians make is to believe that somehow I have to get something all together BEFORE I can, for example, weep pure penthos tears – or – be truly loving and forgiving.
The yearning to pray is itself prayer and the ultimate degree of prayer we seek will come the more we yearn to pray and struggle to pray – most especially when we are distracted or tired.
Prayer is everything I am and do, not just formulas said, as important as they are, but everything.
Indeed the great St. Theresa of Avila complained to the Lord for not sparing her distractions in prayer and the Lord responded by stating it was precisely when she was most distracted that her prayer pleased Him because of her fidelity to prayer.
If we wait until we ‘know’ we are kind to be kind; patience to be patient; have enough money to be generous, etc., etc., we will forever be selfish, cranky, and miserly.
A soft smile to a bus driver at rush hour becomes the smile of Christ upon a tired soul; stepping aside for one moment so a woman pushing a stroller can get ahead in line eases the weight of her life; in a word everything is connected to the iconic lesson of the Widow and her one penny as Jesus underscores for us in the Gospel.
Of course, it may be, when it comes to such little things, tears are little droplets, we fear the other aspect of surgical tears.
That we be in Part 2 as, shudder, the dentist has just summoned me!

Friday, November 06, 2009


During prayer this morning it came into my heart to note briefly why the particular links on the mid-left-hand side of this Blog.
A Penitent Blogger impresses in particular because of their reflections on the Scriptural Readings, Saints of the day.
Adoro Te Devote because this faithful woman writes from the heart, has a great love of the Priesthood, of priests.
Catholic Love Blog because, frankly the Everetts are members of my own family and I am very proud of them, but also because of their wisdom about marriage and family life.
Fr. Arthur’s Web Site, rather un-humbly, admittedly, self evident!
MPECS Inc. Blog I note first this is NOT any form of paid advertisement but they do freely supply all hard and software needed to keep this Blog and the Hope For Priest’s website going, plus this husband and wife business is run on solid Catholic principles and, while most of the postings deal with technical matters from time to time there are posts, well studied, about ethical business practices.
Plot Line and Sinker is from a Catholic wife, mother, writer and with her husband a strenuous advocate of all life issues and holy marriage questions.
Saint Blogs Parish is informative since I cannot link to every site I visit nor evaluate here the orthodoxy of all sites this is a helpful place to check things out.
These Stone Walls may be controversial or even painful for some to read but I am touched by the courage and openness of the writer.
Whispers In The Loggia is the classic site for those who feel a need to be ‘in the know’ regarding who’s who and what’s what in the institutional Church!
World Priest, visit their home page and you will quickly see why this site is, I believe, a must for priests and those who love, support, pray for priests.
While I appreciate when people send site suggestions I cannot link to all but I do check all of them out and if one particularly touches my heart then mostly likely it will eventually be linked here.

Monday, November 02, 2009


It is the time each day when, normally, having just prayed the Office of Compline, Night Prayer, I would go to bed.
After all, in union with the whole Church, I have just prayed the blessing: “May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death.”
Yet, this late evening of All Souls, some in particular are on my heart, for whom, at least to external appearances, death would appear to have not come peacefully.
The first death I witnessed when I was barely five years old.
To this day I do not know if the baby was a boy or girl for when I heard the breaking glass of the tenement window, saw the mother throw her baby through the window from so high up, watched the child crash onto the roof of the coal shed below, I was too far away, likely too shocked as well, to realize much other than the horrific vulnerability of being little.
Decades later, working always that shift, rightly in many ways, called the “graveyard’ shift, as a child protection officer, in the middle of one shift the homicide detectives put out a call for those familiar with a particular part of the inner city to stop by the morgue and see if we could identify a body.
This was in the days before DNA and given the body had been in the river for several days, that the deceased had been tortured, mutilated in a manner to make identification near impossible, and murdered, executed to be blunt, the detectives were desperate for help.
It was near three in the morning before I had a chance between calls to stop by the morgue.
In those days I was a true atheist so my attitude approaching a dead body was akin to finding an empty shell on a beach.
The horrific method by which death had apparently devoured the young man was the antithesis of peaceful.
You can well imagine how stunned I was as I stood there unable to identify him, yet suddenly sensing this was someone’s child, brother, perhaps husband, father, when I distinctly heard: “You will remember him at your first Mass!”
Nearly fifteen years later, concelebrating with my newly ordained confreres, other priests and our Bishop, I did so, and do every year on this day.
One day I was called to emergency, not unusual for a priest, and when I arrived an elderly woman approached me and said she was the younger sister of the woman I had been called to anoint.
She explained to me they were from another part of the country and named the city.
It was the city of my childhood.
She further explained the her sister had been for years a member of the Sisters of.....but one day had simply quit, without ever getting dispensation from her vows, and had also left the Church.
This gentle woman also told me that her sister had not asked for a priest and at that moment grief replaced words with tears.
Holding her hands I asked her to tell me her sister’s name and her name in religious life.
When she told me the latter I smiled and said: “Ah, yes! I remember her. She was my teacher in the parish school of St....”.
I approached the dying woman who was still conscious, bending close to her ear and calling her by her religious name said: “Dear Sister when you taught us the Hail Mary you were so emphatic that we should trust Our Lady would be with us at the hour of our death. Be at peace for Our Lady has brought a child you taught to you to fulfill her Motherly love for you.”
In the memorial of the Fourth Canon we pray for “...those whose faith is known to You alone.”
Ultimately it is neither the time nor manner of our death which determines if it is peaceful or not, all external appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.
It is, and mostly this is invisible to our bodily eyes, but the heart often sees, the outstretched hand of Jesus, of Mary, catching a falling child, cradling the youth sinking into the blackness of frigid river water, caressing the fevered brow of an elderly nun as they say: “Do not be afraid.”
Yes O Jesus, You who have conquered death, grant us a restful night and a peaceful death.