CHRISTMAS EVE 1999 and I sit in the tv room of the house of priests.
We have gathered because of the live broadcast from Rome of the Opening of the Holy Doors in St. Peter’s, the Proclamation of the Holy Year, the Great Jubilee 2000 by Pope John Paul II.
Even now as I write these words several days later my heart is still seeing so brightly the person of Pope John Paul, now called in my heart: The Great!
The image which most shines in my heart is the moment when this elderly man, priest, bishop, Vicar of Christ, Peter in the flesh, was kneeling on the threshold of the Holy Doors which he had just pushed open.
At first the camera was behind him, showing the interior of St. Peter’s still in darkness for the Pope had not yet walked through the doors carrying the Holy Gospels — Christ our Light had not yet entered and torn asunder the darkness.
Then suddenly there was a camera view of the Pope from within the basilica, which showed him bathed in light!
There he was, aged, kneeling, vested in a brilliantly coloured, cope which shimmered in the light coming from behind him.
The Pope knelt very still, head bowed.
Suddenly my heart was transported back across the decades and I beheld the younger man, the forced-labourer in the Solvay chemical factory under the Nazi occupation:
Fellow workers also remember Karol Wojtyla praying on his knees at the Borek Falecki plant, unafraid of ridicule and seemingly able to tune out the racket around him to concentrate on his conversation with God. [bq]
It snows now as I resume these notes.
It is a storm worthy of the majestic ones in Mark Helprin’s “A Winter’s Tale “!
Perhaps it comes from the long winters where I grew up, the joy of being all dressed in white, more so bathed in the purity of grace at my First Holy Communion. Maybe the connection placed in my heart by Our Lady of the Snows between the onset of winter and the wonder of His Incarnation — whatever the originating blessing, I love winter!
It is for me the season of tranquility, contemplation, journey inward, vast expanse of the great liturgical feasts, one expectant stillness after another, prelude to the spring explosion of Easter joy!
Lavishness of snow.
Lavishness of grace!
From this Lent’s extra spiritual reading, an apt description of how I came to be, for more than a decade, mired in the ever deepening chaos of sexual depravity, emotional confusion, all under the guise of modern personal, individual freedom.
It was, of course, in truth, a living in the constant state of mortal sin.
The mind that is the prisoner of conventional ideas, and the will that is captive of its own desire cannot accept the seeds of an unfamiliar truth and a supernatural desire. For how can I receive the seeds of freedom if I am in love with slavery and how can I cherish the desire of God if I am filled with another and opposite desire? God cannot plant His liberty in me because I am a prisoner and I do not even desire to be free. I love my captivity and I imprison myself in the desire for things I hate, and I have hardened my heart against true love. I must learn therefore to let go of the familiar and the usual and consent to what is new and unknown to me. I must learn to ‘ leave myself ‘ in order to find myself by yielding to the love of God. If I were looking for God, every event and every moment would sow, in my will, grains of His life that would spring up one day in a tremendous harvest. [br]
It would be years, and take a complete exhaustion of my physical and emotional resources, before I would lose my love of my own captivity.
It would take the death of Pope Paul VI before I would begin to accept in my own being the sowing of His grains of life and more, only by His grace, surrender to their taking root.
In those days the man I lived with, and thought I was in love with, [though in reality it was desperately needed affirmation from him rather than love], he and I, kept getting promotions in our different professions.
This made it possible to eventually move from our small apartment into a much better one, in a more upscale area of town.
The point of work, for us, was to have money for indulgence.
The point of indulgence was to relieve the inner fear and desperation for affirmation which was a constant of my existence.
Those were the days before aids; hence any deleterious impact by the prevailing std’s could be dealt with by antibiotics.
Emotional strain was dealt with more by cover-up than facing reality.
Perhaps as a society, certainly as individuals, and I was guilty of this at that time myself, we were overly adept at denial.
Cross-culturally internationally we are still in denial over even the most blatant costs of hedonism, which is destructive and sinful, so far-reaching in its inevitable, tragic consequences.
What of the souls lost?
Those were also the days of what I have come to call, among otherwise well intentioned priests, religious sisters, even significant numbers of non-catholic Christians, the bondage of relevance.
Everyone, it seemed, experienced an urgent need to make the Church relevant to the modern world, according to the so-called ‘spirit’ of Vatican II.
Most of those who wandered into the subculture of hedonism, anger towards God and Church, found themselves subsumed.
Recalling those years and begging God’s mercy not only for my participation in those sins, but for my time as an advocate for legal and theological change to accommodate the culture of self-centered hedonism, my heart cannot refrain, since I would suggest as we enter the 21st Century, the 3rd Christian millennium things are still grossly disordered, from posing the question, first to my own heart, but as priest necessarily to all: WHAT WILL SAVE US FROM THE WRATH OF GOD IF WE DO NOT SOON REPENT? begging of the Holy Spirit that He penetrate the depths of our souls with this truth, a truth which is hope-filled, which calls to true conversion of heart: 1 Peter 2 :24.
The other day I was in a local parish church. The pastor needed a time away to rest and recover from severe bronchitis and I was asked by the Bishop to cover for the priest.
One afternoon, I was sitting in the confessional, the curtain slightly ajar that I might see clearly the tabernacle to contemplate He who dwells there.
In those quiet moments I could also observe the people, mostly elderly women, who slipped quietly into the Church, knelling before Him in silent prayer.
Often they prayed their rosary beads.
I found myself reflecting what a powerhouse of prayer they are, radiating as only another woman can, utter confidence in the maternal intercession of the woman who is the Mother of God, our Mother Mary.
I often think, when those good women add the prayer of the Angel of Fatima, given to the three Fatima children, and through them to the whole Church, therein is to be found the prayerful intercession of thousands of ordinary Catholics throughout the century, praying for souls like my own, even in those days when I was an atheist-hedonist: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy.
Of course my heart clearly knows, and accepts, the truth that I am that sinner most in need in the first rank. Nonetheless I am also confident when I pray the rosary that Jesus accepts the plea for whichever soul He chooses.
Each day as a priest I lift up with gratitude all those, as yet unknown to me, faithful people of prayer, living and dead.
Such prayer-warriors, such uplifting assistants, trace their mission back through the ages to Moses at prayer on the hill: Exodus 17: 11-14.
The most dramatic grace I experienced in the period of which I write here was due, I truly believe, to the intercession of such prayers as those of people faithful to the rosary, being offered even in this moment all over the world.
This prayer is particularly efficacious because Christ suffered for us and is therefore our perfect prayer Himself to the Father.
All prayer comes to the Father only through Christ, which grace then was to come into my being after the robbery.
It was a Friday evening and I had the weekend off from my duties.
My roommate happened to return to the apartment at the same time I did.
He noted the door was ajar and at first thought he or I had left it opened when the splintered wood around the lock made a different scenario obvious.
We stepped into the foyer and it was bare.
Even the carpet was gone.
Indeed the whole apartment, save for a near dead geranium tossed with its now broken clay pot into the kitchen sink, was all that remained of the furnishings, carpets, dishes, cabinets.
Though our personal papers were left scattered on the study floor, the filing cabinets in which they had been contained were gone.
Subsequent investigation by the police revealed neighbours had seen a moving van and assumed we were moving out.
Those thieves were never caught, our possessions never recovered.
But then, the truth be told, another thief had long before stolen what alone was of value from the depth of my inner being.
It was simply that now the apartment resembled my soul. [cf. Mt. 6: 19-21]
Standing in that cleaned-out apartment there had been a flicker of light somewhere deep in my being. In the true self, my soul.
That could have been a moment of metanoia had I simply said: Yes!
I preferred my captivity.
My heart recalls as I write that a line from a poem:
For sin’s so sweet, As minds ill bent
Rarely repent, Until they meet
Their punishment. [bs]