THE UNPACKING of basic material to continue this writing, including the binders with my original notes, has gone well.
The heat wave, and we are just a couple of weeks away from autumn, continues unabated.
It is the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time and celebrating Holy Mass this morning I was struck by the strange silence.
It was like I was a child from decades ago expecting to hear the various churches of the city ringing their bells, calling the Christian faithful to worship.
Instead all I could hear were the constant sounds of traffic, shouts of people going about doing Sunday shopping, any activity other than worship of Him.
My Mass – His Mass – was then celebrated for this city and the world.
Now it is late afternoon.
The sun broils this city.
Even this tiny apartment is stifling.
I review the notes from years’ past attempts at this writing and find I can do no better than include them as written:
TONIGHT, as I write, it is extremely cold.The wind rises with each passing hour, pulling us towards a new winter storm.It is not the electric lights, which have pushed the darkness out of the window where it belongs, by which I read and write that comfort me during these late night hours.The blue vigil light before the Icon of Mary, red before the Icon of Christ Pantocrator, these comfort me.This writing is serious for my soul.I must witness vulnerably, truthfully, to things which drew me ever deeper into greater stages of sin and darkness, if in the proper stage of this telling the immensity, the lavishness, of His Mercy is to be told with even greater eloquence and as source of confident hope for those who someday may read this.
MOST of the moral and mental and even religious complexities of our time go back to our desperate fear that we are not and can ever be really loved by anyone.
While by now tv was more and more replacing radio, radio still had some strengths, such as quiz shows where schools competed.That year my school was competing on one such show and the nuns made sure those of us not smart enough to compete would be there in the studio audience to cheer our classmates on.I should admit here that in my desperate search for the ultimate male-on-male relationship which would fill my longing for an older brother/father male in my life, and indeed affirm my own being as a male, I had by then my eye on the older of two brothers. The younger was my classmate.In my desperate and vivid imagination the older brother was the living reality of what I sought. However I figured, since he was always in the company of the most beautiful of girls in the high school, he would never notice me.A friend from the tenements next door, who was also in my class, went with me to the radio station for the show.The two brothers were there and I found myself desperate in the extreme in my desire to be noticed, but it appeared not.Once the show was over, our school having won, everyone fled the studio to the nearest greasy spoon to celebrate.My friend and I got some cokes and fries and squeezed into a booth with classmates.The din of shouting teenagers, yelling waitresses and short-order cooks, the blast of rock ‘n’ roll from the various booth players, barely distracted me from my prime preoccupation, wanting to be noticed.At some point my friend jabbed me in the rib and pointed towards the older brother who had gotten his attention and my friend told me: “ He wants to talk to you.”I began to shake so violently inside of myself I was sure it would spill outwards and people would notice.It did somewhat but no one said anything.I elbowed my way through the crowd and the older brother asked if I could ditch my friend and walk home with him.I pushed my way back through the crowd to my friend and told him and he said sure, he’d see me later.It is only with this writing that ‘later’ has truly come to pass as I lift the friend of my youth up in prayer. I was too broken at the time to have ever noticed that he embodied most of what I was looking for. He never did anything violent or sexual to me, even though he came from the most brutal home in the neighbourhood.I know I have been forgiven for two sins committed that night, perhaps the greater being I abandoned my friend.
… a man’s intellect, clouded by the appetites becomes dark and impedes the sun of either natural reason or supernatural wisdom from shining within and completely illumining it….my iniquities surrounded me and I was unable to see…because of the darkening of the intellect, the will becomes weak and the memory dull and disordered in its proper operation. Since these faculties depend upon the intellect in their operations, they are manifestly disordered and troubled when the intellect is hindered…..
my soul is exceedingly troubled…this is like saying the faculties of my soul are disordered…appetite blinds and darkens the soul because the appetite as such is blind….
every time a man’s appetite leads him, he is blinded….
the man who feeds on his appetites is comparable to a fish dazzled by a light that so darkens it that it cannot see the fisherman’s snares.
THE wind whines stronger now.
The snow has arrived and swirls against the windows.
The wall of this old wooden dormitory, for priests, creaks and snaps in the cold.
Down below in the basement, gorging itself on countless chunks of wood, the furnace bellows hot, dry air into the churning blower and most rooms, save mine with the slightly ajar window, are sleep-comfort warm.
I love the cold!
I stretch from this writing which, in deference to my sleeping brothers, in these deep hours of the night I do the old way, with pen and ink.
Only my ears hear the scratch of nib against paper, whereas a typewriter would thunder its clicks and clacks in the night!
The peace of this evening’s prayer in chapel still seeps out from these walls.
It seemed to my heart’s eye that the sanctuary lamp danced especially with joy tonight as my brother priests and I chanted Night Prayer, hovering with the wings of our sacramental priesthood in sacred care over this house, this community, the whole human family, all creation.
AS WE walked away from the greasy spoon I sensed quickly that, for whatever reasons which were his own, this older of the brothers was making a move towards me.There was within me violent anticipation and confusion.How could I have known at that age it was my soul writhing in fear of the darkness into which I was about to plunge myself?He shared his smokes with me and began talking in a hesitant manner but his purpose was clear.After a few blocks, as fog dampened the night’s darkness, we came to the area of the fish market, the old part of the city where some side streets still were cobblestone; cut past the barns where the horses of the police mounted division were kept and, strangely, I had a little corner of my heart at that moment which hoped some cop would come out and yell at us and maybe whatever spell I was coming under…handing myself over to…would be broken.It was not to be.We cut across the tracks and came to the wrought iron fence of a military cemetery, over which we climbed and there, deep in the darkness among the rows of the dead young men I crossed over from any semblance of normal boyhood into a whirlpool of confusion it would take decades for me to be extricated from.I willingly, but not comfortably as is right, admit at this juncture of my life the Lord could rightly admonish me as He did the People of the Covenant [cf. Ez.16:15], but in my hardness of heart I would not have heard, or if I did hear, would not have listened! Within days I was so totally committed to this new bondage….yes I know advocates of this disorder would claim it was love, but that is a darkened illusion…I had begun to refuse any contact with the original and violent lad who had me in bondage.This new situation seemed to be one of affirmation of my being, though of course I was ignorant of its true cost.Eventually a weekend came when my new companion was away and the original lad caught me alone near the freight yard, tied me in that isolated area to a telephone pole, partially stripped me and beat me, but I would not forego what had now become important to me.He left me there for what seemed a very long time, but returned and cut me loose and said I was free.Another lie.However I never saw him again in my life.Decades later, with my Spiritual Father, I would make a total act of forgiveness towards him and I now as a priest pray for his salvation.
ONCE upon a time, God, after having been very angry with the Jewish people, in His mercy and kindness stopped being angry and said, ‘ Come, let us talk things over. ‘ ( Is.1 ). A very strange part of the Old Testament, this so-called anger of God and this invitation to sit down and talk things over. If only it could happen now!
It would happen to me that same summer not long after the beating and God would come to sit down with me and talk to me in the person of one of the most compassionate and holy priests I have ever met in my life.He was an academic, a professor at the seminary not too far from my home, past the tenements, down an alley, across one of the inner city main streets.I never did find out how my parents came into contact with him or what made them introduce us, but he did take me on, as a priest and in a most fatherly manner.The presenting reason for almost daily contact with him was that, given the seminarians were gone on summer break; he needed an altar boy for his daily Mass.He paid me five bucks a week, plus a breakfast of bacon and eggs, toast, coffee, prepared by the Sisters who looked after such things at the seminary.It was during those breakfast chats that it seemed to me he could read my heart, yet he never condemned, only expressed concern, tried to get me to open up.Though I was never able to fully break through my inability to trust anyone but my own skill at survival, little by little I did heed his urgent advice that if I could not change my ways while in the city, perhaps I needed to ask God to help me escape the city.
BUT, of course, in order for it to happen, several things are necessary.
First, people must believe in God; otherwise how can they ‘ sit down with Him and talk things over ?’ Secondly, those who still do believe must stop being angry against God. For in our days there is less anger of God toward His beloved people than there is anger in the heart of man against God.
WELL of all the notes I have re-written so far for this work those have been the toughest.
Not too many years after that summer, when I was well and truly out of the city, I got a letter one day from my mother informing me that young priest had been killed in a car accident.
Decades later I felt his loss acutely the day of my First Mass, yet his presence also.
Did he know when he was befriending that troubled teenager one day we would be priests forever together?
On my ordination vacation I returned to the city and the old neighbourhood of my youth, where so much was changed.
I went to where the seminary had been.
It was gone.
In its place: a mall.