Sunday, January 23, 2011


Experienced as a very personal, raw emotion, which left unchecked, that is if we remain bereft of friendship and purpose in life, loneliness can lead down a road of various means of self-comforting, which may become addictive, ultimately leading to chaos, even serious depression.

Most of us, I suspect, tend to view loneliness primarily from a personal perspective: I am lonely.

Yet loneliness, the great and universal pain of the human family, has many faces, many circumstances.

What follows I do not claim to be the complete list, but these are some which came to my heart as I reflected upon what I wanted to say in this essay on loneliness, for I believe when we pray for the lonely we should endeavour to be aware of them as real persons, thus it does not hurt to take time to image them in our hearts: Think of the loneliness of the child soldier, torn from family and village, abused, drugged, forced to kill or be killed; the child labourer, the child orphaned by AIDS and having to somehow protect and feed younger siblings; what of the extreme and terrifying loneliness of the child in the grips of an abuser, a battering parent, a schoolyard bully?

The men and women in vast buildings, alone at night: security guards, office cleaners; police on patrol, alone; military personnel in distant outposts; the elderly, in nursing homes or even in their own home, rarely visited, rarely having another to chat with; the homeless person who while they may in the line at the soup kitchen be surrounded by people, nonetheless carry within such a huge solitary burden of how they have come to this place, that is raw loneliness indeed.

The prisoner in solitary confinement, the battered woman home alone – waiting; what of the severely mentally ill dwelling in the dark loneliness of wounded minds or of the Alzheimer or Autistic person alone behind a wall which disallows normal communication; priests abandoned by their bishops and confreres because of accusation – numerous are the lonely men, women, children of this earth, so numerous we might even say it is the great, common human affliction.

Some country roads are described as ‘lonely’ roads, and that is because hardly any human being frequents such roads.

A house in the middle of a vast area, frequently which we name as being ‘in the middle of nowhere’ is described as a lonely place.

Our very use of language, such as ‘the middle of nowhere’, shows that our sense of place even depends upon the presence of human beings!

At the root of most disordered relationships between people is a deeply felt urgency to connect in the expectation that a passionate embrace will take away the awful loneliness.

But in the end, outside of Holy Marriage, all such pairings have within them the seeds of their own disappointment.

How many men and women after having sought and found the elixir, return to their own empty abode?

Granted we can have a non-lonely life because we have intimacy, communication, affirmation, conversation, shared pain, worries, tears, joys, laughter with family, friends, co-workers, but deep within most human beings is an acute awareness of the vulnerability of it all: something triggers a break in the family unit; friends move or marry or whatever; we get laid off and are without the daily routine, companionship.

Suddenly we find, by illness or old age, by unemployment or divorce, by some form of radical change in the tapestry of our lives, we are alone.

While we may feel we are in a place, a state of aloneness, because we feel the intensity of loneliness, in truth we are actually standing on and in a threshold of choice.

We can choose to bend towards ourselves – or – journey outward through the journey inward.

To bend towards myself is to be enthralled by my own predicament and pain.

It is to drown.

To journey inward, that I might journey outward, is to love myself the way Jesus loves me that I might love my neighbour.

Un-chosen loneliness can make it extremely difficult to turn from self towards other, after all we are the hurt one, the lonely one and turning to other means choosing to put their needs before my own!

Thus the first step on the journey inward is to look at Christ Jesus, He who chose to embrace being alone, He who went looking for a lonely place time and again, to commune with the Father that returning amongst people Jesus could love and assuage all loneliness.

Of course if we have been thrust into extreme and persistent loneliness because of any experience of devastating rejection or abandonment there will be all sorts of emotional turmoil and looped thinking to struggle through – real emotional upheaval!

That makes the depth and acuteness of the loneliness all the more raw and the temptation to bend towards ourselves in a quagmire of ‘woe is me, nobody likes, wants, loves me’ a most dangerous one.

We must beg Our Lady of Hope to intervene and help us resist, or if we are already sinking into the muck, to come and pull us out!

There is, of course, a diamond in the rough, as it were, deep within each human heart, a diamond which through the ebb and flow of life is polished into the splendour of complete communion of love with the Holy Trinity, and that rough, uncut diamond is itself loneliness.

This loneliness is not because of some pain of rejection or abandonment, rather the complete opposite: it is because we have breath of life within us!

Since infinite of infinite Love Himself has created us for communion of love, ultimately the only love which can assuage this intrinsic loneliness is Love Himself: God who is love.

The external dimension of Love having created us for love, and therefore neither for loneliness nor aloneness but for completion, fulfillment, is that aspect of it not being good for a person to be alone and so the hunger for relationship with another human being unfolds in the gift of marriage and parenthood.

Thus the various ways in which married and family life, that is the sacred bond of a man and a woman who have children, is being torn to shreds in our culture, irrespective of the loudly proclaimed yet specious arguments proffered to justify the attempted dismantling of God’s order, such efforts have resulted in the cancerous spread of extreme loneliness and attendant ever more cruel and widespread acts of rejection, abandonment.

The more we, the Christians of this world, defend life, marriage, family, the more the scourge of global loneliness will be overcome.

Every time I hear the ‘sky is falling’ global warming or food shortage or over population alarmists shriek their mantras I pray we will understand: only the desperate lonely seeking comfort devours stuff to try and ease their solitary pain.

Where authentic community of love exists, no one is greedy, thus no more than is needed of the treasure of the earth, sea, air is consumed.

Want to heal the ecology, heal the human heart!

If then, in the depths of real loneliness, I want out! – I must turn away from myself and toward other, beginning with Jesus and His example, and so in a sense I must turn inward and pray.

If I turn inward, attentive to the Holy Spirit, in the solitude of the lonely place where Jesus Himself communed with the Father [that lonely place may be manifested in my life in silence with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, a walk in a park, or the silent solitude of my room with the door closed wherein such secrecy our Father sees, hears, takes note, answers] one of the first experiences will be the encounter with my own emotional self!

That is the encounter with my own wounds, fears, neediness – the very things which may well cause people to feel I suck all the oxygen out of a room when I enter; I will encounter all sorts of things about myself that make it difficult for me to put the needs of others before my own; those old real or imagined hurts, rejections, not-being-heard memories I just can’t seem to let go of, etc., etc., etc. until, finally with the help of grace I will seek to ask Jesus to help me forget all that, get up, dust myself off, accept whatever loneliness I have and turn towards others, leaving my room, leaving the lonely place, going forth to wash the feet of my lonely brothers and sisters with a listening heart, a smile, a helping hand.

For Jesus this reaching out to the lonely, to everyone, ultimately led to His immersing Himself in the extreme aloneness and loneliness of the Garden of His Agony, and of the Cross – death for everyone is the ultimate alone moment, and finally Jesus willingly embraced the loneliness of death and of the tomb.

Because there is an innate fear within most rational human beings of being alone, left alone, of being lonely, we often recoil from those who don’t have the decency to keep their own loneliness well hidden but let it spill out all over the place when we are near them with a desperate look in their eyes pleading for attention, acceptance, love even.

No doubt many in the crowds crushing to get closer to Jesus were the truly lonely.

Amongst them, to them, with us, to us, Jesus invites us, with our burdens and weariness to come to Him, for He indeed is our rest.

We come to Him, and indeed discover loneliness is lifted, our hearts become filled, when we go out of ourselves to others, fearing not how lonely or needy they are, not pulling away from them because we feel demanded of – for it is a terrible thing to pull away from Jesus.

To welcome the lonely person is to welcome the stranger.

It is in fact Jesus whom we are welcoming and comforting.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Anyone who suffers to any degree post-traumatic-disorder or syndrome will tell you what seems to most people as logically being a little thing, a slight word, a minor event, can be the trigger for a major spike of emotional turmoil and discouragement.

What to non-sufferers would be experienced as a mere pin prick, for those with PTSD, it is a major gash.

What most people, when told to ‘suck it up’ or ‘forget it, it’s no big deal’, are able to hear and follow through on, for PTSD sufferers is akin to being dismissed, rejected.

Of course flowing from what is experienced as serious rejection is deep and painful loneliness, which itself spawns severe doubt about one’s own self-worth, about how other[s] feel towards us, about God – a trifecta of pain!

In this reflection I will focus on the first of the three: rejection. Later on the loneliness and doubt which spread from rejection.

To be honest I’d rather not give a personal example, as it is rather hard on the ego and should not be misunderstood in the telling as some act of humility: it is brutally a deep hurt some of which is rooted in my ego and overly sensitive nature and some lays at the feet of my protagonist!

Like most falsely-accused, condemned, punished - all without due process - priests in this utter poisoned climate in the Church caused by the actual vile sins and crimes of a few, numerous are the priests engulfed by the relentless whirlwind – thus we tend to find trust extremely difficult, tend to be hyper-sensitive, and, for our experience indicates it to be so, believe we are unheard, certainly by those with power over us, often even by family, sometimes even by God.

There is another reality I struggle with, am confused about, as a man – acceptance of how my age may play a part in how others relate to me.

This being ‘older’, though I don’t see myself as old, seems to determine some people’s approach.

I do remember being shocked when I turned 50 and could no longer carry a bale of hay in each hand and fling them up onto the top of the hay wagon. My body was betraying my heart and over the next few years I went from being one of the men in the field picking up and tossing the bales to the old guy driving the tractor hauling the wagon.

Not my choice, my assignment!

Yep, that part of the aging process experienced as rejection still bugs me, I still complain to the Lord about it, am still somewhat shocked, not by what I perceived at the time as rejection, but that I still am in denial about the normal impact of aging on the body, while in heart and mind, in determination, I do not believe I am old! – well some may argue I am simply in denial!

I mention the above haying experience because perhaps, with love and respect, in the background it was/is a factor in the event I will now describe before reflecting on the matter of rejection.

In our little family my adopted Son is, rightly, with his wife whom I love as a Daughter, in their sacramental union as spouses and parents, the ones with the grace of state to make the myriad of decisions and choices which are the nitty-gritty of Catholic family life.

So no matter the pain which I may experience from decisions they make I do trust that in the main they are selfless and loving.

Truth and reality, of course, are not always internalized by the recipient as intended by the dispenser of a particular truth or reality, hence be it within a particular family or within Church or world community, misunderstandings, hurt, anger, even war results.

No wonder Jesus urges us to love one another, treat one another as we would yearn to be treated.

If we all really did that what a wonderful world the sun and the Son would shine upon!

Briefly then, given the huge amounts of snow which have fallen, and it snows again as I write this, I asked my Son if he had cleared the roof of the family home.

Snowflakes are tricky little devils, falling so lightly, uniquely, one by one, but they have this herd compulsion and so pile up on the ground, huddle together in tree branches, cling to hydro wires, and camp out on rooftops.

Put together their original lightness of being becomes communally ever expanding weight until roofs and sometimes entire buildings collapse – not with the giggling of children who deliberately collapse some snow house at play - what is crushed by this snowpack is dangerous, expensive and sometimes people die.

Serving in northern parishes I have no little experience about the consequences of the weight of snow on structures, the urgency and methodology to safely remove the snow, and shared all this with my Son and I also reached out to one of the Uncles who has expertise in the loadbearing capacity of roofs.

When the time came to do the job Uncle was called upon, I was pointedly told to stay away, not needed, and for good measure the Uncle was told not to bring me.

Given the struggle with PTSD this apparent rejection snapped something inside of me and as yet, days later, am still drowning in confusion and pain, fear and discouragement – all the classic symptoms!

With my face on the ground before the Icon wall here in the hermitage I have struggled not to flee the pain, not to assess blame, rather to understand the sequence of events, my reaction, and to pose to His Most Sacred Heart the question: How in this can I be of meek and humble heart like Yourself?

First I became aware of a pattern, the pain of which mostly suppressed because my loving Son simply, for reasons unknown to me, doesn’t get it – or perhaps he fears my aging and eventual death as abandonment – either way, not untypical between men, between fathers and sons, nowadays between bishops and priests, to borrow a famous movie line: what we have here is a failure to communicate.

Second the male ego thing was faced: the “guys” were doing a guy thing and this guy, for more than four years now, has been shut out – good for babysitting or covering the business when someone needs to be there for deliveries – but not for much else, not the hockey games or the movies or clearing away snow…………….yep no longer feeling acceptance as a man among/with other men.

That hurts deeply my pride I admit, but also has my sense of self-worth/worth to the family, in shreds.

What I have failed to communicate, granted that is subjective because, though I have long since stopped trying, I have spoken of the need to be treated as a complete person, the need to be, as it were, one of the guys, the need to…..well you get the point….but those spoken to obviously do not get it and so I feel as if wormwood has become my portion.

Rejection slams into us when someone, usually someone we love or of authority over us clearly either blatantly or by habit, refuse to show us the active and expected kindness, love, respect we need – or – rejection slams into us when, perhaps without proof but at least it is how things seem, internally we feel unloved, unwanted.

The former may be a minor, passing event, soon forgotten by the actor because it was not their intention to reject – however the latter, because it is interiorized, can linger and grow like a cancer, especially if there is no experience from the original actor of some form of reassurance.

Rejection hurts as if acid had been poured into our beings, an acid which has tentacles that seem to drag us into a dank, dark place of an evil creature slithering about within our consciousness, our very thoughts, bumping up against our souls in a relentless litany of memories and words, dredging up every experience of rejection from the first to this latest.

It is a place which, should we attempt to turn around and see from whence we came here, what lies behind is shrouded in mist; should we seek to look around and see the parameters of where we are: nothing but impenetrable darkness seemingly without limit.

In this isolation and turmoil, thoughts and emotions swirling like biting dust in a storm, understanding the how and why of rejection is illusive.

Intellectually we cannot even articulate the specifics of what rejection is, but in our souls, hearts, guts we sure can feel its lash, taste its bitterness, be crushed by its weight.

There is something similar within the impact of rejection, the dark hopelessness of depression and the scary dankness of un-availed grief.

Crawling around in the vast darkness of rejection, hounded by the slithering liars who abide there, we are baptized, some of us ordained, in a word as these sacraments are always operative a flicker of light, a spark really, is offered.

From where, from whom?

The spark becomes a flame, the flicker a steady light revealing there is a limit to the darkness, there is a way out, but this light, this way is offered, is gift, is invitation.

Dare we, dare I, accept it, follow it beyond the darkness, for as the veil of darkness thins, and the slithering ones who cannot abide light withdraw, I begin to see the outline of a garden – not a flower festooned garden in bright sunlight, more a grove-garden, an olive garden – and even with the full moon, it is still night in this garden!

For we who believe in Christ, trust Him even when it seems He is asleep in the boat or somehow inattentive to our cries, the choice always is to be where He is – or where He is not!

Nowhere in the Gospel accounts of Jesus in the Garden of Agony is it recorded that He tried to understand how, or when or why, of His own being rejected, not only by those whom He had come to redeem, to reveal the Father to them, that is the crowds He spoke with, neither did He analyze the blatant rejection by His friends, the Apostles, who turned from His Agony and went to sleep!

Rather Jesus, alone in the depths of rejection: taking on all human rejection, that from Adam and Eve to our own selves rejecting God in anyway, every experience of one person rejected by another, the sin of the one doing the rejecting, indeed all the weight and repercussions of all human sin since the beginning until the end of time – yes Jesus, alone, took all this pain and mess, darkness, took it all on and cried to His Father it was all too much!

The chalice was way too full and really, best it passed by BUT ah, His love for the Father, for us, so much greater than His pain and agony, His terror, love overcomes all and how tenderly, definitively He says to the Father: “Not My will….”, yes not what I want or what would help Me feel better, not what would spare Me…..”Your will be done.”

Will we, will I, follow Him into the Garden, refrain from rejecting Him but rather offering my own pain as a wee comfort for Him?

There is no promise, if I do follow Him into the Garden, of rejection being any more understandable, less painful, nor that those who reject will ease up.

No promises.

No guarantees.

Just being: with Him!

I am not there yet.

I stand on the threshold where the darkness is halted by the light, where the choice must be made to step into the Garden or staying put like one in bondage, hesitant, untrusting, or huddled some distance away in fitful sleep, hoping if I close my eyes like when I was a child the boggy man will go away because if my eyes are closed he can’t see me!

There is no spiritualizing or denial of real pain or struggle in this, for that would be disordered.

There is drawing on grace to see, to think, to respond as a disciple of Jesus should.

There is freedom too, for as mentioned Jesus offers, invites, does not impose.

Rejection is imposed.

Satan insists.

And steals, more than perhaps we realize.

I do want to enter the Garden, to be with Him, accept the gift of participatory pain as means of being closer to Him because once I hear His beating Heart I will know a depth of acceptance and affirmation, a lavishness of love and joy beyond imagining.

But I hurt so much and I know that the entrance into the Garden is a real saying “Your will be done Father.” – Translation: once Jesus heals this pain down the road there will be another one and another and……

Yes He will each time strengthen, touch, heal, give love, joy, grace but the distance between the moments of all that is filled with pitfalls and pain and slithering creatures and I am easily scared of the dark.

So, Mother Mary, take my hand please, help me to walk into the Garden because I am way too little to get there on my own!

Thursday, January 13, 2011


There is first the cry, the admission: “There is an inertia in our nature that makes us dull; and in our attempt to penetrate Your truth we are held within the bounds of ignorance by the weakness of our minds.” Then the assertion of trust in grace: “Yet we do comprehend divine ideas by earnest attention to Your teaching and by obedience to the faith which carries us beyond mere human apprehension.”

Those words are from St. Hilary, Bishop and Doctor of the Church.

Praying for and seeking, some capacity to grasp, not the horrible evil event which took lives, wounded others, last Saturday in Tucson, but rather to try and comprehend the stream of disconnect from the US President in his remarks at the memorial service, to the various pundits and others who have been flooding the airways with their musings, here are some of my own!

For days I have hesitated to add my own voice, until I meditated on those words from St. Hilary, part of today’s Divine Office.

My intent in what follows is not to assign blame, argue about political discourse, the issue of guns or the lack of mental health services, rather it is to pose some broad questions about the disconnect between what is presented as the ideal of contemporary culture, faith attitudes, and the stark reality which confronts us but has become the third rail of common discourse in these days of rights trumping responsibility, political correctness trumping respectful, but clear, truth-speaking.

So I pose a few questions first.

More than one news outlet reported with some awe that the assassinated judge went to “daily” Mass – what has happened to lived Catholic faith that such praxis has become remarkable?

The President spent a significant end portion of his remarks lauding the nine year old child who also was assassinated, and mourning - yet where is the national angst in face of the millions of aborted children, abused children, children living in extreme poverty?

The national reaction to this particular horror causes me to wonder, why are we not so horrified by the tens of thousands of our brothers and sisters being murdered in Mexico, our sisters being raped, daily, in the camps in Haiti, Darfur?

We seem to cherry pick which horror horrifies us, as if we have lost both the capacity and the willingness to see, relate to, embrace every human being from the child in the womb to the persons we live, work, pray with, to the people of another race, religion, as truly one like myself, of the same flesh and blood, created by the loving God as I am in His image and likeness.

The definitive us of the word ‘we’ in times such as these when a whole nation is in shock and mourning, in reality, is a parsed word: do ‘I’ truly live and breathe ‘we’, that is ‘us’, or does ‘we’ only apply when ‘I’ feel vulnerable?

In the book: The Light of the World, Pope Benedict teaches: “You see, man strives for eternal joy; he would like pleasure in the extreme, would like what is eternal.”

Is not part of the global reaction to this most recent horror a shock response, that is, we are confronted by the stark reality that, as the Pope teaches: “…when there is no God, it is not granted to him, and it cannot be. Then he himself must now create something that is fictitious, a false eternity.”

What could be more fictitious than that we mere humans can declare to be true that male and female, as created by God, are mere suggestions and that ‘sexuality’ is a matter of personal choice or that we mere humans are the definers of who shall be born, who shall not?

The Holy Father continues: “This is a sign of the times that should be an urgent challenge to us, especially as Christians. We have to show – and live accordingly – that the eternity man needs can only come from God. That God is the first thing in order to be able to withstand the afflictions of this time. That we must mobilize, so to speak, all the powers of the soul and of the good so that a genuine coin can stand up against a false coin – and in this way the cycle of evil can be broken and stopped.”

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


John and Lucille Everett [ see: ], as is normal so soon after the death of their son Dominic, are still in the fullness of grief.

Love and the deepest regions of the heart IS where we experience the sting of death. [cf. 1 Corinthians 15:55].

So when John writes: “Dominic’s absence this Christmas was very much a parallel to God’s apparent absence of late. It is time for me, it seems, to hang on the Cross with Our Lord and share in His “My God, my God why have you forsaken me!?!”: every one of us who has experienced the sting of grief, death’s sting, gets it!

Those who love anyone who is grieving finds within ourselves an extreme and frustrating powerlessness for no matter how intently we pray, no matter how we offer presence and support to those who grieve we cannot lift an iota of their pain.

Grief is a process which must unfold, it is a dark and painful and ultimately an extremely lonely journey, no matter how real our faith in the resurrection, our trust that our beloved who has died IS in the eternal love-embrace of the Father, the journey must unfold, each person who grieves must, morning after morning, day after day, night after night, put one seemingly leaden foot in front of the other.

My first experience of the power and sudden finality of death was at five years of age when my Grandmother collapsed and died in front of me.

Added to that trauma was the fact minutes before we had argued because I was, frankly, being obnoxious and disobedient.

It would be some forty years later when, in spiritual direction, suddenly a question was asked. A seemingly simple question: Why have you never grieved?

My Spiritual Father was not asking about any specific loss or pain, rather in general why had I never allowed myself to grieve over anything or anyone, never shed a tear?

Suddenly the memory of my Grandmother and this tightly held in guilt that somehow my behaviour had triggered her death literally exploded from within me, first in extremely angry, hateful words about the cruel God who had abandoned a five year old then even more vitriolic words about my own self, finally, exhausted, the anger leached out, the pain, the inevitable ‘sting’ of death pierced my heart and I wept.

HOWEVER, in spite of the compassionate presence, the wisdom of my Spiritual Father, almost immediately I shut down the tears, interiorly fled, and it would be another ten years before I would open my heart, and now while I admit I hate grief, yes as foster-father of John and thus Grandfather of Dominic, I hate the sting, hate the powerlessness, hate the fact I cannot usurp John and Lucille’s grief by laying my own upon them, yes am somewhat, Lord have mercy, rather cranky with God, I do recognize these words from Fr. Henri Nouwen, from his book: The Return of the Prodigal Son, p. 53:

“One of the greatest challenges of the spiritual life is to receive God’s forgiveness. There is something in us humans that keeps us clinging to our sins and prevents us from letting God erase our past and offer us a completely new beginning.”

A lesson I have had to, and most likely will have to, learn over and over every time the ‘sting’ of death – the actual death of a loved one, the death of my own will, the prolonged death of the false self – so every time I experience the sting of death what I truly hate is this confrontation with God the Father, this challenge to admit grief is not only a response to immediate loss but also opens old wounds, unresolved stuff, like between me and my Grandmother.

There was no actual sin connection between her death and a five year old.

Satan however, vile hyena that he is, takes advantage of any pain we experience to whisper all kinds of deprecating lies and given the turmoil of emotions one who grieves experiences, we are like a wounded fawn, easy prey.

While essentially the Apostle’s words in 1 Corinthians 15: 54-57 are a proclamation of the triumph of the Cross, of Jesus’ Holy Resurrection, in the full throes of grief they can be difficult to really embrace, in the emotions and the constant thinking which forms part of grief, but by grace, and as John expressed with eloquent confidence, staying close to Our Lady of Sorrows, who is also known as Our Lady JOY of all who Sorrow, for she herself embraced the grief of the death of a son, I find the last line of the passage is the one which gives me hope:

“Never give in then, my dear brothers, never admit defeat; keep on working at the Lord’s work always, knowing that, in the Lord, you cannot be labouring in vain.” [v.58].