IN THESE EARLY DAYS OF THE GREAT JUBILEE I am profoundly conscious that it is the Jubilee wherein grace is intensely Eucharistic.
Catching up on my reading over the recent feasts of the Christmas season my heart leapt with joy as my eyes fell upon these words of Pope John Paul II:
The Eucharist constitutes the culminating moment in which Jesus, in His Body given for us and in His Blood poured out for our salvation, reveals the mystery of His identity and indicates the sense of the vocation of every believer. In fact, the meaning of human life is totally contained in that Body and in that Blood, since from them life and salvation have come to us. In some ways, the very existence of the human person must be identified with them, so that this existence is fulfilled in so far as it can, in its turn, make of itself a gift for others. [bt]
I resume the telling of this story of Divine Mercy and Divine Persistence in the life of one soul, one sinner — but a Mercy and Persistence lavished upon every soul, every sinner — writing during this night of the Eighth Day, His Holy Resurrection.
When I arrived here in The Community yesterday, Easter Sunday, at noon, I was told my dear Father Confessor of so many years, and whom while I lived here I had the honour to serve and watch over while he was in the main infirmary, had just entered his final sanctifying agony.
For the next twelve hours I kept vigil, praying over him the ancient prayers for the dying, giving him the Apostolic Blessing, and, as I prepared to leave in the early hours of yesterday morning, I bent down and kissed his feet in honour, his hands in gratitude, his forehead in love.
Early in the morning, just before dawn, like Jesus who at that hour would arise and go off to a lonely place to pray, this holy priest, who had faithfully served in persona Christi for sixty-one years, showed himself faithful to the end, as he arose and took the hand of the Risen One and Our Lady and was taken up into heaven.
Today I write in late afternoon.
These past couple of days the men have dug through the frozen earth in the new cemetery by the iced shut river, so that the body of this holy priest might be placed in the earth beside the much younger priest we buried just a few weeks ago.
Brother priests, local people, Community members from far and wide, we all gathered for the sacred ritual of human grief and the sacred mysteries of the heavenly liturgy of hope.
Prayers, holy water, incense, tears — all were lavished with love.
Then, so quickly it seemed I was standing at the mouth of the grave, a shovel full of earth in my hands, my stole gently dancing on the wind as I spilled the earth down and upon his simple wooden casket and the business of burial was done.
I walked off by myself then across the snow covered field, among the birch and pine to the river’s edge.
How many spring, summer, fall days had I worked this area, cutting trees, hauling rocks, smoothing soil, to prepare this final resting place for my brothers and sisters, without truly appreciating in the depths of my being that it would be indeed, brothers and sisters, beloved ones who would be laid to rest here.
How often it is in life we do things without truly understanding what it is we do until there is a moment such as when I stood by the river, when the full impact of what we have done, what we are about, sears across our mind, imagination, heart.
It is a moment of sacred illumination when we come to understand, at least a bit, that true reality is more invisible than visible.
All is grace.
It is thousands of miles between that frozen river’s edges, that moment of profound grief and gratitude, perhaps somehow though not such a great distance in the heart, and Mexico!
All is grace.
So dear confessor, dear priest, dear brother, dear friend, dear Father, who came to know the secret depths of my utter need of Divine Mercy, and through the sacraments of your priestly ordination and dispensing of mercy in confession, you too of the poetic pen, who showed me, taught me, formed me to be a compassionate confessor myself, encouraged my writing, told me constantly to trust I am a child of the Father, who always spoke so trustingly of Our Blessed Mother — adieu: to God!
AN intense winter rain pours down this afternoon as I write these notes from so many years ago.
It is the same time of year as the Mexico blessing.
Almost thirty years since that mysterious encounter with Our Blessed Mother and as I re-read the notes and write them up in a readable form my entire being is struck once again by the immense lavishness of Divine Mercy!
In the center of every human heart, the depths of the soul, the garden enclosed where the Triune God and the real I, the true self, are alone in intimacy, God Himself is there, seeking always to invite, engage, the soul in a dialogue of such profound intimacy we discover there the essence of actual relationship: creature to Creator, child to Father, sinner to Redeemer, beloved to Lover.
It is here, in this sacred solitary aloneness where no other being, no catastrophe may enter, where the soul is most purely free to ascent or refuse Divine Intimacy, that the Holy Spirit Himself, the Sanctifier, the Purifier, may, if only the sinner will cry out for mercy, enact the holy activity of repentance and conversion, quickening the soul deadened by the crushing weight of sin, back to real life — the life of sanctifying grace, the life of participating in the life of the Blessed Trinity, a restoration of being child of the Father, disciple of Christ, responder to the action of the Holy Spirit.
Evangelicals have a notion of this in their concept of ‘being born again ‘, Roman Catholics experience this every time we avail ourselves of sacramental confession, every human being, not yet baptized, enters into this splendour the moment they open their being to the invitation to accept Christ as Saviour and fulfill the necessary steps for preparation for, and then receive Baptism.
No soul is, in a sense, immune to this Triune Divine urgency which is a continual action of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to awaken in each soul a response.
Every soul, because this same God has so generously endowed each of us with free will, is free to refuse to respond.
Horrifically such a refusal, if persisted in until death has overtaken us, results in the eternal damnation of the soul, for such persistence is a refusal of Divine Mercy and only those souls who have given their ascent to their need of mercy can receive mercy.
This is the essential experience of the God-given endowment of what is referred to as the conscience, which is NOT some self-generated moral compass but rather is the very voice of the Holy Spirit within us.
At its most basic it is the very Law of God inscribed upon our hearts at our creation.
Baptism and Confirmation enhance this actual grace of conscience into the sanctifying grace of dialogue with the Holy Spirit.
The essence of such dialogue is that we have a listening heart.
Thus, as a man created in the image and likeness of God, possessed of an immortal soul within which is the garden enclosed, the place of encounter and intimate converse, and further as a baptized and confirmed man, one who had frequently in his younger years been bathed anew in grace through sacramental confession, nourished and sustained by the Very Person of Christ Himself in Holy Communion, when I boarded the jet, making use of leftover funds from the insurance claims after the robbery, for the sojourn in Mexico with my companion, it was as one still being sought by my Father, still being sought by the Good Shepherd, still being called to by the Holy Spirit.
No salutary purpose would be served by detailing anything about that sojourn other than the key event.
God has so lavished Himself upon us at our creation, which is itself a true experience of ex nihilo, for while it is true that He has ordained a human mother and father must be the providers of the physical material, collaborators in the creation of a new human person, He Himself creates each soul, therefore each person, breathing His self into us. So we come to be. In this Divine Love-Lavishness He makes it so that no matter what surface agitations of mind, will, imagination there may be, deep within the garden enclosed is a calm clarity.
We are free to choose to open wide our being to the clarity, to open wide our being to what the Spirit speaks in the intimate dialogue in the garden enclosed, or not.
If we heed, we co-operate with grace.
If we do not heed, He will speak again and again, so long as we live on this earth.
The emphasis, in the truth that with God every moment is the moment of beginning again, must be on God!
He, as it were, begins anew in every moment of our existence, calling us into relationship with Himself.
It is the hallmark of Divine Mercy that He never ceases, as long as we live on this earth, to invite us into relationship with Him.
I cannot emphasize this too much because, as must be apparent already in this story of one sinner in need of mercy, my unheeding, my resistance, my fleeing from Him, my constant dissipating of my inheritance from my Father, seems never ending.
What, I pray, is more graphic, more obvious, most consistent, is the consistency of graced-moments of opportunity to begin again.
All from Him.
All from His love.
All from His lavishness of mercy!
Some twenty-years before this trip, one summer’s afternoon when the elderly man, later in this life to become himself a priest, who was my teacher and mentor as a writer, was showing me how to make an article tauter, he spoke to me of his own conversion experience and the importance in his life of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Indeed at the end he stated in a way which I never forgot, and which exploded anew in my heart as the jet came over those mountains and strenuously dipped towards the Mexico City airport, “ If you are ever in Mexico go to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and open your heart to her love! “
Now I was arriving in Mexico.
Now I was arriving in the city of her shrine.
Now I was remembering.
Now resisting, determined to have any and all experiences but that of going to her shrine.
Grace operates within even that which seems absolutely in opposition to grace.
There is perhaps no better example of this, though not necessarily as a clear answer to the question of why or how God could operate in such a manner, than the life of Job or that of Hosea the prophet.
In the former we see how God permits evil to befall his beloved Job, not as punishment per se, but so Job may exemplify absolute trust in, and surrender to, the loving will of the Father.
In the latter we see through Hosea, called by God not to abandon his adulterous wife, the exemplification of the Tremendous Lover Himself who will constantly grant a new beginning to each one of us IF we will allow Him to take us back, again and again and again, like the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the woman who washed His feet with her tears, like the prodigal son, like frightened servants at Cana, like Peter after his repeated denials. We must come to that moment of truth where we admit to Him our adultery, our arrogance, our running; our denial has so exhausted us, because we have finally tasted fully of His mercy and strive to “go and sin no more.” [cf. Jn.8:11]
Perhaps the hardest thing to admit, to accept, in this mystery of the life of grace, is that conversion does not mean He will prevent us from ever again experiencing sin or weakness or the damage done to ourselves by our sinning — hence, for example, an adulterous spouse may still find themselves divorced; an alcoholic may still die of liver ailment; someone else may suffer from aids, smokers from cancer; thieves and murders and others still be sent to jail; consecrated persons be evicted from their religious communities or the active exercise of their priestly ministry in public— and Pope John Paul II, famously recorded by television cameras forgiving the man who tried to kill him still did not walk the man out of his prison cell.
Sin has consequences and His Divine Mercy does not necessarily, nor I would suggest normally, spare us from the purifying opportunity of those consequences.
That is perhaps the hardest of lessons for Christians to learn and accept.
I have learned it intellectually in my life, that is, I know it to be true.
I have not yet accepted it emotionally and still have this attitude that God is not playing fair, a sort of ‘why I am being punished since I said I was sorry ‘childishness, which itself is the experience of the consequences of sins perpetrated against my being in childhood.
Thus once again I can only, in my MISERIA lay face to the ground and wait in trust upon the fullness of HIS MISERICORDIA!
Thus it was that upon our entering into the airport reception area we were met by two young men, clearly out to hustle tourists.
Thus it was that through them, due to the battle raging in my soul over to, or never, approach the shrine, we ended up with my asking to be driven past there in the dead of night when the place was safely shut-down.
Thus it was that my companion determined since the next day was Christmas day we should return there for Mass.
Thus it was that in spite of my fearful reluctance I ended up at her shrine.
NIGHT HAS fallen as I resume this writing.
It is, for this northerner, a seemingly strangely warm night for January, but apparently not, as I had assumed, typical for this southern city in winter. Nor in the north, as I saw on this evening’s news, where it is warm like late spring. The prognosticators suggest this is further proof of global warming.
My heart simply recalls these words of Pope John Paul:
When man disobeys God and refuses to submit to His rule, nature rebels against him and no longer recognizes him as its ‘master’, for he has tarnished the divine image in himself. The claim to ownership and use of created things remains still valid, but after sin its exercise becomes difficult and full of suffering.[bt1]
Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though the earth did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray. Instead of carrying out his role as cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him. [bt2]
Everyone we human persons are in relation to: God, other, self — as well as everything created, the whole order of nature — all our relating is impacted in a determined way by our sinfulness to increased chaos, by our holiness to increased restoration of all persons and things to Christ.
If we are indeed in a period of unnatural global warming, it is because those of us with the dominate cultures of the industrialized world are greedy. Our sin of greed is the prime source of environmental chaos.
When we willingly, motivated by the highest degree of charity, simplify our standard of living, the natural environmental balance will be restored. A Christ-centric restoration alone will bring this about.
CLOSE TO noon the next day, which was Christmas Day, we traveled across the largest city, at least in population, on the face of the earth, to the shrine.
As we journeyed, by subway, bus, taxi, on foot, I observed the people and was struck by something in my heart I could not exactly define, save to say that even among the poorest, perhaps particularly among the poorest, I saw a radiance in their eyes my being could only yearn for.
Yet seemed to fear at the same time.
When we arrived in the plaza my friend said he would find out when Mass was.
I shuddered interiorly.
I urged him to climb the great stone stairs, go to Mass if he wished, I would wait for him right where I was.
He tried to get me to go with him, but knowing full well how utterly stubborn a person I am, he finally went ahead without me.
The plaza was filled with people, with families, many of whom smiled at me as I stood there at the base of the steps, some even calling out to me the traditional greeting for the feast.
I began to look all the way up the great staircase to the basilica itself, to notice the many pilgrims, some black clad old women alone, some men by themselves as well, dressed in their best, many poor people dressed in all they appeared to have, children, adults, large groups, small family groups, some people dressed in classic peasant garb, all of them ascending the stairs on their knees, praying the rosary.
Was it that I was becoming intrigued by what could be drawing them?
Was it a type of shamed unease as a result of standing there like some rock in a fast flowing stream of people, around whom they were forced to find a path?
All is grace.
Slowly, experiencing a persistent and ever more violent interior shudder, I climbed the great staircase.
The closer I got to the basilica entrance, the more I could hear a chorus of human voices, speaking, praying, and singing.
Outside the noon sun pounded heat and light upon me, each step became a twin effort against the exterior heat and the interior angst.
As I approached the portico my ears detected, from amongst all the other sounds and voices, the words of the central moment of Holy Mass, the consecration.
The urge to enter was immense.
The fear, of a more weighty immensity.
Now I was standing inside, at the very back, and as my eyes adjusted to the shift in light could make out high and way at the front the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
I made to flee!
Only my extreme upper body appeared capable of movement.
I could tilt my head, raise my eyes, look towards the image.
All other movement was impossible.
Terror seized my whole being.
Yet it was not now a fearful terror so much as an experience of awe, of desire.
Suddenly from the very core of my being an awareness which urgently rose to a thought which gave way to a yes of my will:
‘MADRE — MOTHER! BRING ME BACK TO YOUR SON! ‘
Suddenly, with a gentle jerk, my body had movement again.
I was stunned.
I turned, fled down the stairs, bumping into a black dressed elderly woman who grabbed my wrist, looked deep into my being, and assured me Nuestra Madre had heard my cry. As Our Lady herself said to the holy Juan Diego: I am the Mother of all who love me, who cry to me, who have confidence in me.
This is, as St. John tells us in the Holy Gospel [ Jn. 19: 26,27]how Our Lady fulfills the mandate Jesus gave her from the Cross, indeed how we fulfill our part for the ‘home’, into which St. John and we are to welcome her, is the very depth of our being, heart, soul.