11 – Five Decades of Sepraration

SOUTHERN CITY heat and humidity have a peculiar languidness about them which these past few days have made it strangely difficult to motivate myself to resume this writing.

Yet this is the reason why the Bishop and my Spiritual Father granted me a sabbatical, why my Spiritual Father chose this southern city with The Community’s house nearby this little apartment as the best place for me to live and do this writing!

The sun has set now, though the sidewalks shimmer still with end of summer heat. People sit outside their apartment blocks, the inner sanctums being broilers unfit for human sleep.

Other people spill out onto the sidewalk from the many bars in this neighbourhood while sirens roar, fights and shouts break the constant hum of traffic, many cars with vacant eyed men at the wheel circling the block seeking the ‘ working girls ‘.

Children, some barely old enough to walk, and most wearing only underwear in this heat, scamper about barefooted, within careful eyesight of elderly Grandparents, while the parents are either in the bars, or a few blocks over sweating away at various parts of the line in the huge, restless, auto plant.

There’s not even a bare whiff of breeze to tease the garbage in the gutters and alleys into a dusty dance-swirl.

Ancient fans whirl with attitude from the walls of the seemingly countless greasy spoons of ethnic-dish delights, pouring into the stale gas-beer-garbage streaked air of the street, the added aroma of fast-fried food and lavishly mounded powdered sugar treats.

Jesus mingled among the crowds of the ordinary people, smelled their sweat and dreams, heard their laughter and anger, ate their food and from the abyss of their…and if we be honest truly we are all ordinary….so of our human restlessness, heard our cry of hungry heart and made Himself the one true and necessary Food for Life!

Without false compassion or blind eye I nonetheless move about, look upon, listen to, smell these all my brothers and sisters with such passionate love at times I feel my heart will break unless I cry out: JESUS IS REAL!

But,  for these months,  that is not what the Spirit wants me to do as I move about the sidewalks and alleys.

Sure as I take my daily walks I can within my heart love, pray, bless….and frankly…and here the canonists and theologians, should such ever read this may find fodder for many a debate, even outrage……sometimes in my heart I will gaze upon a whole neighbourhood or upon one person and declare: I ABSOLVE YOU!

It is strange to walk about in secular dress. It feels as if my skin is missing.

But I am to be, in the main these months of prayer and writing, hidden.

Imagine my joy when I found out the house in which I am to live, which should be ready in a month, with a layman friend and co-struggler, is on the edge of this very poor area in which the little apartment we are now in is located.

To celebrate Holy Mass behind the closed blinds each day, bringing Him among them….the blinds a veil, the apartment a tabernacle….is akin to being a priest in the worst days under Henry VIII or the Nazis or the Communists or Nero, for the hiddenness, not the danger.

The people of these streets mostly do not know they are truly loved, nor even that He is faithfully in their midst, yet each time Holy Mass is celebrated in this little apartment more and more of the words spoken through the prophet Zephaniah grow as graced seed here, for Zephaniah assures us of the joy which is God among us, how He gathers the anawim, all pointing to the One who does this, Christ our Lord. [cf. Zep. 3:17-20]

Looking back over five decades of separation from them, to the streets and manner of living of my troubled youth none, even less so I, would have ever believed that the darkness child of those years would this very day have celebrated Holy Mass as a priest of He who is Light from Light!

AS I CAME to the end of my final year of junior school and the start of high school, I was becoming increasingly reckless, desperate, in my various addictions.Paradoxically the more my sexual adventuring increased so did the variety and intensity of the penitential mortifications I was performing in imitation of what I read in my Lives of the Saints book.Sin or virtue, I practiced neither with moderation. My life was lived at extremes, like the ball in the pinball machines I loved: I bounced and ricocheted between light and darkness.Restless, always filled with anxiety, I classically dreaded the morning and was afraid of night, yet could resist the siren call of neither.Any true drug addict will tell you that their life is as much about the hunt for the fix as it is the momentary elixir of the fix itself.This is definitively constitutive of promiscuity itself.

 Even more so than the sexual acts the hunt is the turn on, because during the hunt for a new encounter the addicted imagination can conjure up the ultimate in affirmation of being, all the while, of course, suppressing any attempt by the conscience to advise the intellect and will of the raw truth that it is all an illusion.

In order to be successful both the hunter and the hunted must de facto agree upon a mutual conspiracy of lie, namely, that instant gratification will fulfill the authentic need for affirmation of being.This lie about what is so desperately sought originates, of course, with the father of lies himself whose goal always is to seduce us into seeking affirmation of being from any source other than the Supreme Being, God our Father.Most tragically and dangerously, since the necessary lie which facilitates the sexual expression of desperate need for affirmation of being inevitably fails, as does the act itself, to produce the longed for affirmation, the process must be repeated with urgent frequency. The limited illusory gratification affect of a simulacrum of affirmation endures for ever briefer moments, while the subsequent emotional crash becomes more rapid and devastating.It is akin to the rush of taste-bud desire for puff pastry which, seemingly due to its shape, colour, smell, promises fulfillment, once bitten into reveals itself to be hollow, a taste illusion, all promise, empty of substance.The satisfaction is immediate, but momentary, and can never satisfy a true hunger for substantial food.Thus I, during the period of my life I speak about here, became more and more reckless in my desperate pursuit of affirmation, of love, and hence anxiously sought new partners like a chaser of the horizon, never admitting that the faster I ran towards the very horizon over whose edges I lied to myself the goal lay, the faster the horizon itself, and its over the edge illusory promise-goal, fled before me.Now all this promiscuous activity necessarily had to occur out of sight and knowledge of the one to whom I already was in bondage.Eventually he would find out about my activity because I would transfer all my desperation onto one person, and at that time the price I would have to pay would be horrific.

THE RINGING phone brought me back from those years of my troubled youth to the present moment.

A friend, a hermit of some years, called to confirm the progress of preparations on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Mary deeply participant in the Sufferings of Christ, for his perpetual vows as a consecrated virgin.

Afterwards he asked how this first week of the sabbatical is going, how with the writing.

I am humbled by how important this book already is to so many people, yet it is not even fully written.

 I have no idea if it will ever see the light of day….but I trust it is being written under Your guidance, in Your light.

UNKNOWN to me at the time, indeed something I would not face until near thirty years later, I was rapidly developing a tolerance to the effects, both physiological and emotional, of my addiction.Indeed I admit this was somehow occurring, at least on the emotional level, in the realm of my religious practice as well. In fact, unbeknownst to me at the time, I had crossed over from the authentic practice of religion into the neurotic stage of religiosity.Now it was taking more and more time before the Blessed Sacrament, because of my inner turmoil, more and more elaborate confession strategies…you know the kind where you become vague about the actual sin…more rosaries, more bargaining with God, to produce the temporary lessening of the inner turmoil.As regards my physical mortifications, for example, by now I was walking around with so many pebbles in my shoes when they spilled onto the floor one night as I got ready for bed my brothers burst into peals of laughter figuring I’d been playing in some gravel pit and was too dumb to have emptied out my shoes before coming home.

 Tolerance is the phenomenon of always wanting or needing more of the addictive behaviour or the object of attachment in order to feel satisfied. What one has or does is never quite enough. Subjectively, the feeling might be something like, “If only I could get some more, everything would be fine.”

I would alternate between two opposing types of binges: chastity, which was actually a type of forced denial of what was happening in my life, and, promiscuity, which was actually a variation of denial.On the edge between the former and the latter, so distorted was my sense of sin and of self, I would actually engage in a kind of ‘prayer’ to God that if He would only let me score one more time then I would give up my way of living and turn to Him alone.

 TWO types of withdrawal symptoms are experienced when an addictive behaviour is curtailed. The first is a stress reaction. When the body is deprived of something is has become accustomed to, it responds with danger signals, as if something is wrong.

Again I was too young, had no one I trusted, so at the time which I am writing about, of course, I did not even have the word addiction in my vocabulary, let alone could I have connected my increasingly terrifying anxiety-panic attacks with any symptoms of withdrawal. For me it was all part and parcel of the horror and confusion of my very sad and desperate daily life.Looking back now though it is clear that when I was on the ‘chastity’ binge my moodiness, angry outbursts, grief, sleeplessness, deteriorating school work, hours with tv, etc. were the classic symptoms of someone in withdrawal.In those days I took on more and more activity, volunteering to serve early morning Mass in the prison for girls in the old neighbourhood, a paper route, extra projects at school. I’d drive my bike all over the city for hours on end, make endless visits to different parish churches and pray, very fast indeed, countless rosaries and novena prayers and then suddenly I’d sort of burst inside and of an evening as darkness fell would prowl again or, if that failed, submit to the older lad who had me in bondage and soon repeat the whole cycle again..again..again.All the while the self-loathing, a type of trying almost physically to escape from my own skin, grew and grew.

IF I am addicted to gaining other people’s approval in order to feel good about myself, and if I have become accustomed to established ways of pleasing others, I will experience considerable stress in response to outright rejection. I will also experience a rebound of feeling especially bad about myself.

Obviously all this could not forever be kept from detection by my parents, teachers, or other adults in my life.However I was pretty skilled, though ultimately not completely so, at fending off attempts to get me to reveal exactly what was the problem.I am reminded  of a fable, allegedly of ancient Buddhist origin, about the young Buddhist monk who, frustrated with his failure to progress on the inner path, finally goes to visit the revered old master and asks of him: “ Master, what must I do to be free? “ The old master replies: “Who has you in bondage? “

ADDICTION and its associated mind tricks inevitably kidnap and distort our attention, profoundly hindering our capacity for love. Attention and love are intimate partners; for love to be actualized, attention must be free…..

In the great spiritual traditions of the world, attachments are seen as any concerns that usurp our desire for love, anything that becomes more important to us than God…….

No matter how religious we may think we are, our addictions are always capable of usurping our concern for God……

Another word for it is idolatry. Whether we are conscious of it or not, for however long a particular addiction controls our attention, it has become a god for us….

We are called to grow toward that point at which nothing other than God will be our god.

Given I had no idea of the fact I was addicted per se I naturally had even less notion I was caught up in idolatry, nor that ultimately the battle waging within me was taking place in my soul, for I was in spiritual warfare.In truth I was, interiorly of course, like any child caught up in war, with much of the same devastation to my personhood.By now several of my chums were either in juvenile hall, dead, some by their own hand, had run away or, most of them, fully into the unique world of high school life.God, who is never out done in generosity, clearly was pouring His mercy upon the troubled youth that I was for later in the year two people would enter my life.One, a wise and compassionate young priest, I would respond to and he would be a great help to me.      The other, well I would not say what occurred between us was because he was a gift from     God.       To be accurate he would simply be a lesser evil than the one who had me in bondage.In a not actually healthy way, but nonetheless in some way, he would be a help because, due to him, I would at least withdraw from multiple promiscuity.Ultimately, even in the midst of the neurotic chaos and sinfulness of my life, I was seeking not the ‘what’ of affirmation of my being but the “Who”: God. Granted much of my seeking was akin to a blind man tracing the origin of light in a darkened room.The real seeking was being done by the One sought:

 GOD IS first and foremost the Beloved, the Bridegroom who sues for the love of His bride: us…..in the first place, it should be known that if a person is seeking God, his beloved is seeking him much more. This Incomprehensible One takes the first initiative, He is the hunter, the Hound of Heaven who pursues us out of love. He longs to take His own inner riches and pour His whole-Self into our created capacities for Him, into bottomless caverns of our intellect and will and memory, faculties made for Him.

THE PHONE just went as I finished the above.

A call, from the other side of the world.

From a soul struggling with the very matters under discussion here, with the issue of becoming, or not, a Roman Catholic.

 Again the question of how this work is coming.

What are You telling me, without my ego suggesting anything, O Jesus about this work?


I hear the Lord saying the very words spoken in Jeremiah 6:16!