5 – The World Beyond The Curb’s Safety


A 100 degree heat and humidity Sunday!

It is mid-afternoon, the Masses have been celebrated, confessions heard, the remnants of yesterday’s parish youth group car wash put away, the collection counted, the debris from last night’s severe thunderstorms cleaned up, with no one killed or injured thanks be to God.

A brother priest calls from another city far away where, through a circuitous route, a letter has come to him from a lifer, seeking help to break the bondage of his ancestry. He’d approached the prison chaplain who proved unwilling to even consider a connection between ancestry and evil in the present generation.

Praying for that prisoner I was struck by the mystery of the Divine willingness to wait, as it were, for us who, sometimes perhaps because of the chaos of our lives unawares, wait for Him.

This mutual awaiting/seeking is articulated profoundly through Sacred Scripture, such as in Lamentations 3: 25-27!

My brother priest asked if I would be willing to help through letters to and from the lifer.

I said I would.

Part of this afternoon has been spent culling files in preparation for the sabbatical. This is actually a graced moment in my life to unload some of the burden of stuff!

Our culture, looked at dispassionately, has developed an entire cradle to grave system whereby we are formed to compulsively want stuff and become educated in a manner which will enhance our earning ability to acquire stuff.

 Stuff ,which we cling to in a way of such profound self-investment that it becomes a constant idolatrous state.

Only God and the things of God should so occupy a culture, an individual.

Priests appear not immune to this cultural quagmire, in spite of the clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council:



By it they become more clearly conformed to Christ and more ready to devote themselves to their sacred ministry. For Christ being rich became poor for our sakes, that through His poverty we might be rich. The apostles by their example gave testimony that the free gift of God was to be given freely. They knew both how to abound and to suffer need. Even some kind of use of property in common, like the community of goods which is extolled in the history of the primitive Church, provides an excellent opening for pastoral charity. By this way of life priests can laudably reduce to practice the spirit of poverty commended by Christ.

Guided then by the Spirit of the Lord, who anointed the Saviour and sent Him to preach the Gospel to the poor, priests and bishops alike are to avoid everything that might in any way antagonize the poor. More than the rest of Christ’s disciples they are to put aside all appearance of vanity in their surroundings. They are to arrange their house in such a way that it never appears unapproachable to anyone and that nobody, even the humblest, is ever afraid to visit. [d]


This was dramatically brought home to me last night when I was called to the hospital for an emergency. After I had anointed the dying person, and comforted the family, one of the men followed me out into the dimly lit corridor.

With gentle humility, yet also with an assumptive air from wherever the little family originates, he asked: “What do I owe you Father?”

I was stunned like I’d been slapped.

Not by him.

He was, as mentioned, humble and gentle.

I’ve had such things happen before.

They always shock me.

It is a burden to have to have stuff, books, computer, etc. in order to be able…at least so I must convince myself because I am too cowardly to be truly impoverished…to fulfill my vocation of loving, truth-speaking servant.

But to ask, much less expect, payment for serving as a priest my dying brother or sister…..

I must confess my own origins in a lower working class strata of the social order where most lived a mere pay check away from destitution, or the orphanage for the kids, makes it even more difficult for me not to seek security in the material world and so it is true what most irritates us in others is what is the greatest hidden, or so we hope, flaw in ourselves.

{ The clunking sound you hear is my beam banging into the doorway! {cf. Mt. 7:3ff.}

Yes, it can be dangerous to write reflectively!

Before I dare write anymore I must go and pray for forgiveness at being so bold to even think I can detect splinters.


A FREIGHT train rumbles across the street halfway down the block, rattling the louder as it crosses the old bridge which spans the canal. At the other end of the neighbourhood workers swelter away in the huge cereal factory.

The evening sun is red, still broiling the city this end of July summer’s evening.

IN THE QUIET of this evening, after praying Vespers, I thumb through the original notes and have time to write once more the mystery of how a human being, a man-person of the twentieth century can, even when he knew not, or knowing struggled against, be guided bythe Holy Spirit to the ineffable reality of being priest, In Persona Christi.

There is, of course, the necessary editing which any writer must engage in. It is basically the same process as a sculpture who, having done the gross chipping away of stone or wood, must then more patiently, with more delicate tools and indeed a type of tenderness, finely shape what was rough into sheer beauty.

There are two dangers in editing.

The first is to edit out what might be a cause of shame, whereas it would be better for one’s soul to edit out what might be a cause of pride.

The second is to edit with an eye towards sales, to be blunt, which, of course, is another form of pride.

An artist in wood, stone, cloth, music- scale, word, must craft not for sale nor for admiration but for beauty and in the case of a baptized artist for the glory of God.

Sometimes the best way an artist, especially one crafting through autobiography, can give glory to God is to embrace the bold courage of both Zaccheus [Lk.19:1-10] and Bartimaeus [Mk.10:46-52] and the truth-speaking confidence of the Publican at the back of the Temple [Lk.18:9-15] so that not only for the one writing, but for those who read, what ultimately transpires is a willingness to open the doors of our being to the encounter with Jesus such as the Samaritan Woman had, for in the end it must be always Jesus, and none other, not even ourselves, who will tell us, indeed is the only One who can speak to us the truth of our lives [Jn.4:29]. Then at the end of this telling we can then go and give witness, testify about the All-Loving and Merciful One, and once we have been heard those who have listened will go to meet Him and once more the encounter and belief become intimate [Jn. 4:42]!

If that little child, later the youth and adult, so screwed up, bent, wounded, head­-living, angry, struggling against life and God, would one day be converted it is because throughout the Catholic world ordinary people, children and the elderly, the sick and the suffering in particular, are faithful to their prayers, especially the Rosary and with generosity pray as the Angel taught the children at Fatima: “O my Jesus forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell and lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of Your Mercy.”

For St. Monica, mother of the great St. Augustine, it took thirty years of prayer for her son’s conversion…being no Augustine in my case it would take over forty years of prayer and still I would not claim to be fully converted!

Eventually for myself and my peers the world which seemed to end at the edge of the curb, or at least at the end of the neighbourhood, was suddenly to expand and in what lay beyond the limited horizon of factories and childhood imaginations there was to begin a process of expansion, a relentlessness of change none of us could have suspected the first fall of school.

School meant parochial school for me, while for some of my friends it meant public school.

 That alone was an indication of change.

Except for Sundays we could mostly ignore the differences in denomination or even religion.

Now each morning as we headed off to school the whole harsh reality of difference would be reinforced day after day.

Difference would be something I would come to hate, become ever more filled with rage over, for I seemed powerless to do anything about it, yet I could see all around me, and more intently the older I got, the horrific sufferings of those considered different because they were, Black or Asian or Jewish or Protestant…of course sometimes I, we, suffered because we were Catholic.

All I remember about my first day at school besides the compassion of the good Nuns towards rather upset children was how terrified I was in a place which seemed immense. Surrounded by strangers, I was determined to escape as soon as possible!

Surrounded by all those people, my peers and the adult teachers, the Nuns, and the lay women, I was utterly filled with loneliness.

I had become more fully conscious than, had I been offered a choice, I would have wished.

Within my inner being I could almost feel myself split apart.

Paradoxically with starting school, and thus formal catechism classes, I had begun the journey towards my First Confession, prelude to the real goal, First Communion, but at the same time I was becoming split off from or, more accurately, splitting myself off from God.

Little by little losing awareness of my true self the disconnect was occurring.

I was more and more engaged in the elaborate development of a false self which necessarily entailed the establishment of ever more complex self -defences and their concomitant self-survival skills.

Because we are gifted with free-will God Himself will not arbitrarily possess us, enter into us, unless we invite Him.

He can, does as long as the soul remains in the body, call to us, as He did of old [ 1 Sam. 3: 4,6,7] and persistently knocks upon the door of our being, asking….imagine God asking of His creature!!!…..leave to enter [ Rev, 3: 20].

      However He will not force us either to answer, I am here, nor to open.

Contrary to current mythology the evil one, satan, the devil, cannot enter by force either: in some fashion he also must be given leave to enter.

How then does it come to pass that seemingly so many of us choose death over life, the death of our intimate relationship with the Father, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, for the chaotic existence of non-relationship with self and the illusion of a relationship with the evil one?

Mostly, I believe, we begin by being aware we are lonely, which we confuse as meaning we are alone.

We then, from an extraordinarily early age in most cases, begin to discover and devise ways and means of what we presume will be a filling up of that aloneness but which in fact merely aggravates the loneliness.

What is often dismissed as, for example, promiscuity as sexual indulgence, in point of fact is a desperate attempt to experience existence, that is, if I can compel you to pay attention to me, perhaps even to in some fashion utter my name, then I exist.

It is to seek from another mere human being what only God can give: BEING!

It is within that gap between the true self and the false self that satan enters and is given entry because we begin to choose things that come from the place of darkness rather than from the Kingdom of Light…..our failure to say in openness of our being here I am, to Christ, becomes silent ascent to evil.

One incident from my early life as a school-child illustrates the point.

Given that the parish school was some distance from the neighbourhood and that certainly for the beginning weeks I could easily become lost, not to mention the normal hazards of city streets, my Mother arranged for one of the teenage girls from the tenement next door to walk me to school.

My Mother had at that time my sickly Grandfather and my two younger sisters to care for and my Father, of course, was off with the navy in some war or other for months at a time.

I recall the girl was kind, pretty, and I trusted her.

What I most remember is she had a boyfriend from further up the street, a tough kid who didn’t seem to spend much time in school and who was always fixing various cars in front of his place near the bottling plant up the street.

This adolescent male, to my eyes tall, strong, handsome, the missing father and non-existent older brother I yearned for, captivated my being.

When he was around, when he carried me on his shoulders, let me hand him greasy tools as he tore apart another engine, paid attention to me, then I was some- one.

Was I already at that age confusing various emotions, even sexual drives, with the transference of being a son and brother, a person, onto this young man?

Did he know what a godlike being he was to me?

Certainly he never acted towards me in any way but that of an older brother.

He never lost his temper, never struck me, in fact other than picking me up to carry on his shoulders when walking with the girl and myself to or from school I have no memory of his touch, though I used to dream he was my father and played street-hockey with me and all the rest of father-son stuff.

Of course it was all an illusion within my own being.

He was neither my father nor my brother and undoubtedly had his girlfriend not been taking me to school that adolescent and I would never have met and, of course, no one outside of my own imagination knew of how much of my sense of being had come to depend on that boy being in my life.

He was my idol.

One day, it may have been a Saturday when there was no school, I was walking towards him.

I was some distance away but could see he was bent over under the hood of yet another car hard at work.

Suddenly a prowl car stopped beside where he was working.

A couple of cops got out.

There was a brief struggle.

He was billy-whipped, cuffed, shoved into the car.

I began to run towards that scene utterly terrified.

The prowl car pulled away quickly and rounded the corner.

By the time I got to the corner the car was starting to turn the next corner.

 All I saw was the sad and scared face of the young man staring at me from the back window.

Monday I walked to school by myself.

I was never to see him again.

Once again God had let me be robbed of someone I loved.

Once again the person I cared about had abandoned me.

Once again, more deeply, I withdrew into self.

What was wrong with me that no one would stick with me?

Anger, grief I would not weep out, darkness, seeped into my being and I became more and more fearful.

For in spite of all the witness of creation and of the salvific economy inherent in it, the spirit of darkness is capable of showing God AS AN ENEMY of His own creature, and in the first place as an enemy of man, AS A SOURCE OF DANGER AND A THREAT TO MAN. In this way SATAN manages to sow in man’s soul the seed of opposition to the One who “ from the beginning “ would be considered as man’s enemy — and not as Father. Man is challenged to become the adversary of God!

The analysis of sin in its original dimension indicates that, through the influence of the “ father of lies “, THROUGHOUT THE HISTORY OF HUMANITY THERE WILL BE A CONSTANT PRESSURE ON MAN TO REJECT GOD, even to the point of hating Him: “ LOVE OF SELF TO THE POINT OF CONTEMPT FOR GOD, “ as St. Augustine puts it. Man will be inclined to see in God primarily a limitation of himself, and not the source of his own freedom and the fullness of good. [f]

Of course while I suppose I knew that young man was my idol in the sense of hero only now do I understand that he was my idol in the more accurate sense of false­ god, because I was drawing my sense of being from him and NOT from the One and only God who alone is our True Father.


Even less so did I have any possible understanding that by permitting me to lose my idol the Father was offering me the same gift-promise spoken in His Name by the prophet Ezekiel, [Ez.36:25], though by grace I sure understand and give thanks today for such mercy.