Friday, August 20, 2010

A REAL PANIC ROOM

{Students may experience terror when summoned to the principal’s office; workers when summoned by the boss; others who awaiting the result of a serious medical test, when summoned by the doctor – in a word most people experience panic at some time in life, others either from childhood trauma, or returning military persons from a prolonged time in battle may suffer post-traumatic stress for years, perhaps the rest of their lives. I pray this may speak to everyone who experiences the high anxiety of being vulnerable or powerless.}


Some years ago a movie came out in which a terrorized family sought refuge in a panic room, a supposedly secure place of protection until the danger would pass.

The premise of the movie seems to be the place of danger, of panic, is outside and so fleeing to an interior space of thick walls and thicker doors means safety, that is, no need to panic, you are safe, rescue is coming.

But what if there is no such place of safety, because the terror, the danger is experienced inside your very being?

One of my priest heroes, ordained at the outset of the Second World War worked tirelessly as a young parish priest, teacher, chaplain for various groups until one day he collapsed and was sent to a small northern community where he was able to rest, be cared for, and eventually, was assigned as their chaplain, a role of loving and wise service he gave for the next near forty years of his life.

I first met him when I joined the community. At first I was very uncomfortable in his presence because he obviously suffered from constant panic attacks, something I had endured, with absolutely no understanding of why or from what trigger, my entire life.

Obviously I expected him to be a tower of strength and stability, which mostly he was, but not on the really bad days when I would serve his morning Mass throughout which he would be shaking severely. Sometimes Mass took barely ten minutes. After Mass he would literally run to his room.

Eventually a new medication helped ease the worst part of the attacks. We became closer. He grew in my heart and respect as I began to see the real man, the true priest of great wisdom, holiness, compassion, and charity.

Suddenly one day, the constant panic was gone and the last three years of his long life, were filled with inner peace.

I mention the above because in my own life I would be in my mid-fifties before another priest, actually my Spiritual Father, who also is prone to the impact of stress from his many responsibilities asked in spiritual direction one evening if I was on any medication to help and I explained how no doctor had been able to treat me even though I had consulted many physicians and psychiatrists and even a herbalist.

He immediately recommended a doctor he knew who was also a married Deacon and a therapist.

By the second session this good doctor, we always started with prayer, made the connection between being born during the war, the home life, etc., etc., in a word he got to the probable roots of this chronic panic state and how imbedded it had become over fifty years in my whole way of coping with life, and so through therapy, mild medication, suddenly life, and priesthood especially, became something to live with joy.

I was like Peter sinking beneath the waves yet now through my Spiritual Father and this good Doctor I was experiencing the hand of Christ rescuing me from the prolonged process of drowning, inner waterboarding if you will, and of touching the hem of His garment, thus the decades of emotional bleeding was stilled.

So for a few years all was well – and then came a huge setback with the false accusation, denial of due process, being sent into exile.

One of the origins of the original state of panic is rooted in whenever I was summoned as a child to the basement it meant being punished with a beating; whenever I was summoned as a child to the principal’s office it meant being punished with a beating with the strap; whenever I was summoned to the local dentist, who worked out of his basement, such a room already a real place of panic for me, he would do his work on my teeth without using anything to reduce the pain, even when doing extractions.

My life growing up was filled with places of sheer terror.

The Bishop’s room in the Chancery used to be a place of joyful encounter with my Shepherd, until that fateful day when that room too became a place of panic.

Bishop’s these days, because of the actual sins and crimes of a few priests, treat all accused priests swiftly, firmly, with an obvious lack of tenderness, or understanding.

After that multi-year process of trying to get someone to listen to the truth, to at least have due process which the Church brags about but rarely grants, I was suspended from public life as a priest and entered the hermitical life.

I now live a hidden life, serving the poor, spending my days in prayer and because of the trauma of being falsely accused have been diagnosed with post-traumatic-disorder.

The local bishop knows all this, and yet without warning or explanation, [ my own bishop has not spoken to me in over seven years and this local bishop not in two], had his secretary call me with a summons to his office: immediately!

I asked why, what about and she said she did not know. I said well in that case I will only come with a witness, so ask the Bishop if I need bring only a friend or a Canon Lawyer.

A couple of hours later, without an answer to that, and without explanation, because according to her the bishop is not comfortable talking over the phone, the summons was cancelled, “until we call you sometime next week.”

Now I am in a REAL panic room, interiorly in my emotions, struggling to do the duty of the moment, to trust Jesus, a tough row to hoe I must admit.

It does seem our bishops have lost common sense, or compassion, harsh as that may sound, because if you know someone has already suffered, already is nervous about sudden orders to appear before you, why not pick-up the phone and be forthright: is this just for a chat to see how I am doing – or – is this something serious where I should have someone there both to protect my rights and as a witness?

Common sense in the current climate between bishops and priests means doing the very simple things needed to have everything in the Light of Christ.

Jesus says He did not come to break the bruised reed or quench the flickering flame.

2 comments:

Adoro said...

Dear Father,

I will keep you especially in prayer until this is resolved.

I am working on an icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, and right now I am going to write your name and place it underneath it, for as you know, in the Eastern Tradition an icon becomes an Altar.

It will remind me to pray for you with every brush stroke, every color, every moment I work on it.

Tomorrow when I go to my regular Adoration hour I will also remember you especially in prayer.

I have been considering studying Canon Law; it is one of the "doors" that may be open to me (which you read on my blog). Your own story reminds me of how desperately the Church needs Canon Lawyers. (As you know, my other door is religious life, and we also know how desperately the Church needs Vocations!)

So...I guess what I'm saying is that you'll remain in my prayers. You have my respect, my hope for your good, and I see you also as perhaps a special Spiritual Father and hope we may meet one day.

From one broken soul to another...trust in God. He wills all for an eternal good; all suffering, all anxiety, all that we are, have ever been and will ever be....for an eternal good.

So it is with this situation.

Prayers coming mightily!

G said...

Dear Brother, you may know that I have no Internet access in my present locale, but our dear friend, Charlene, sent me this post from your site and I felt compelled to call her to assist me with a comment. I was sickened by this post because it made me aware once again of how the men who are supposed to be our shepherds and fathers have become our accusers and prosecutors. I remember coming to my rectory office some 25 years ago on a Friday afternoon to see a message to call my bishop first thing Monday morning. I thought nothing of it. It was simply a change in the Confirmation schedule.
Today such a message would throw me into the same panic you wrote of in this post.

I know how uncomfortable and distressing anxiety can be. I hope you understand however that yours is an appropriate response to a very disturbing milieu. The problem is not in you, it is in the thoughtless, heartless bureaucrat who is pretending to be your shepherd. I do pray for you and I hope for a benign outcome to your waiting.

With blessings,
Fr. Gordon MacRae (These Stone Walls)