WEEKS PAST, and while things seemed to return to the way they were — my companion returned from the coast, I kept up my free-lance work — things were much changed, though it would take time for me to comprehend just how they had changed.
Early one afternoon I sat with friends watching the television coverage from Rome as a man, small of stature, emerged onto the ancient balcony to give the Church and the world his first pontifical blessing.
What struck all of us, and certainly I had been interiorly comparing this new Pope on sight to the image of Pope Paul VI, was his smile!
It seemed the world instantly rejoiced and embraced this humble little man of the kindly father’s smile.
Yes, change was afoot.
One day a letter arrived from my former spiritual director, last seen in the black cloud diesel smoke of a departing bus.
It was a strange letter.
The gist of it being a vague description of his plans to be a priest and scholar in some new charismatic community and an almost off-hand note that he has passed on my ‘file’ to another priest to be my spiritual director.
I was infuriated by both the fact of the ‘file’, in other words my letters to him over the years and his comments, and that he assumed a] that I wanted a spiritual director and b] that I would want the priest he picked as my spiritual director even if by some stretch of the imagination I should figure out either that I wanted, or even more distressing, that I needed one!
So I, in that instant, made one of my more stupid inner-vows that I simply would not respond, should I ever hear from this new priest.
But then I read the end of the letter and came upon the name of the ‘new’ priest.
It was the name of a priest who was a dear friend of mine from The Community!
The very priest who had received my first vows in The Community more than a decade before.
He was someone I admired as a man, a friend, an intellectual and especially as a priest.
Perhaps, just perhaps, this wouldn’t be such a bad turn of events after all.
Still, I did manage to find this change rather threatening.
It was as if my soul knew this priest would indeed be the hound of the Hound of Heaven Himself!
THE HOLY SPIRIT has His own way of driving a point home!
I was about to take a break in writing today, this already the second chapter written today, when my heart was moved, — as I was giving thanks in the very writing for the priest mentioned in the letter, he remains these twenty plus years later still my spiritual father, — to recall this word about Abba Evargrius:
..we also saw a most learned man, wonderful in every way, Evargrius by name. To him among other powers of the soul was granted such grace in the discernment of spirits and the purging of thoughts ( as the Apostle says ) that it was thought that no other brother had ever achieved such subtle and spiritual knowledge. He had gathered his great understanding by his studies and his experience but above all by the grace of God. [bz]
Within the common sense wisdom of that old saw, ‘ the man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client ‘, is the germ of a more vital truth: the soul who is its own spiritual director embarks upon a fool’s journey.
It is the Holy Spirit Himself who teaches the soul its need for direction and then Himself directs the soul.
The surest protection for the soul from error, in this dialogue and guidance of the Holy Spirit, is the instrumentality of a wise and holy spiritual director — preferably an ordained priest.
…through the Fathers of the Church God has made it clear to us that we need spiritual direction. All Christians, all Catholics, should make use of it. St. John of the Cross has said that ‘only a fool directs himself ‘….people should seek direction. Through this grace they realize better their poverty and their weakness. We need a spiritual guide on the narrow road that leads to heaven. The devil delights in placing confusing signposts on our way, especially at our major crossroads….That holy man, that priest, must know the state of your whole self mentally, emotionally, and spiritually……The great Spiritual Director Christ, who stands behind your spiritual director, already begins to bless you. Often without your realizing it, He gives the beginning of answers and places a great peace in your soul……because you have recognized your dependence upon the priest He has given to direct you. [ca]
Even before I had been contacted by this new priest, new in the sense of his being suggested as a spiritual director for me, the Church and the world, strangely even my own heart, were plunged into sorrow once more through the shocked suddenness of the death of the smiling little father of us all, Pope John Paul the First.
This time it would be a strange period of mourning I would undergo.
I even went to Holy Mass — though not Holy Communion being as I was still unwilling to confess my sins in the sacrament of confession.
Oddly I was feeling as a child who has lost their father.
What WAS happening to me?
How came it to pass that I was losing my taste for the life I had lived with such frenzied determination these many years?
Was this some auspicious change occurring within me, or a mere atavistic anomaly in the rhythm of my life?
Then once again, through television, the world fixed its eyes upon, the Church cast her gaze towards, the ancestral balcony, and there emerged a strong man, also a smiling man, ‘from a far country. ‘
THIS NEW BISHOP OF ROME intended to be a servant. And so, before the eyes of the world, John Paul II prayed, ‘ Christ, make me become and remain the servant of Your unique power, the servant of Your sweet power, the servant of Your power that knows no eventide. Make me a servant. Indeed, the servant of Your servants.’
And the message of this ‘ servant of the servants of God ‘ was the call of Christ to His disciples: BE NOT AFRAID! Be not afraid to welcome Christ and accept His power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind.
Be not afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To His saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Be not afraid. Christ knows ‘what is in man.’ He alone knows it. [cb]