IN THE FIRST encyclical of his pontificate, Redemptor Hominis, Pope John Paul II gives us a definitive teaching on the reality of the human person.
It is a bold, concise, clear, Gospel and Sacred Tradition rooted, teaching on Christian anthropology, the meaning and purpose of human life , the great sacred mystery, reality of God become man, the Incarnation.
Pope John Paul teaches:
Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. This…is why Christ the Redeemer ‘ fully reveals man to himself’…this is the human dimension of the mystery of Redemption……The man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly…..must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter into Him with all his own self, he must ‘appropriate’ and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. If this profound process take places within him, he then bears fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deep wonder at himself. How precious must man be in the eyes of the Creator, if he ‘gained so great a Redeemer’, and if God ‘gave His only Son’ in order than man ‘should not perish but have eternal life.’[ci]
Now that is what, though of course I could not have articulated it at the time, my being was yearning to discover and participate in during the period in my basement cave as an urban desert dweller.
The problem was that rather than enter into the mystery of placing my face to the ground and being humble before the Incarnate One with my weaknesses and sins, in a word being still, I approached the whole matter by and large as an intellectual exercise.
My being was hungering for an authentic experience of love, and of self.
My thinking, my attempts to rationally come to grips with my life to date, bereft of the essential simplicity, childlikeness of heart, required for true inner healing, came almost, though by His mercy not totally, to naught, as I took, as it were, a turn not of responsive docility to the prompting and illumination of the Holy Spirit, but into the disease of introspection.
I WAS essentially, (and only saved from total disaster since my spiritual father was always there, by letter, phone, visits in person, doing his best to break through my very sophisticated intellectual, ego defences), in this desert experience by my own ‘flight’ determinism.
Thus my uniformed, unformed, immature, fearful state of being, even endowed as I was with a ferocious autonomous will, could not long sustain the struggle.
The wise monk, a true modern desert dweller, indeed a true latter day father of the desert, Matthew the Poor, articulates it best:
Because of this hidden deceit and the fraudulent methods the devil uses, all who do not cleave to the Name of Christ and the Holy Spirit — that is, the Spirit of truth, knowledge, understanding and divine guidance — easily fall prey to the devil’s wiles and do his works quite unaware. Instead of rightly perceiving the works of the evil one, they see them simply as the way of the world or the prevailing custom or the natural product of human nature or perhaps the result of sickness, chance, unintentional error, or rash speech or action. These are the threads the devil cleverly weaves together till they invisibly encircle the mind, gradually and fiendishly shutting out the light that brings discernment between truth and falsehood. Then they close in upon the conscience, stifling it till it slowly and almost imperceptibly loses its sensitivity to truth. Finally these perceptions penetrate so deeply that they enslave not only the mind, but even the body itself, and in the end the law of sin occupies a person’s very being and controls mind, tongue, conscience, body and behaviour. [cj]
In the latter part of the seventh decade of the twentieth century the impact of materialist-hedonism, rejection of faith, in particular among Roman Catholics the development of a rejection of the sacraments, in particular confession and belief in the Real Presence, and the general spiritual exhaustion and malaise in society, was expressing itself in a desperate attempt to find meaning in the existence of self, in life in general.
Several well-known trends began to dominate the popular culture, and as well to penetrate, in various degrees, the centers of higher learning, including seminaries.
On the popular front, given the high cost of therapy with trained professionals, a whole plethora of self-help books became best-sellers, as did the expansion of so called ‘ eastern ‘ techniques. Some of the latter were rooted in actual ancient forms of religious belief and practice, such as Buddhism.
Among disenchanted Christians, including Catholics, looking for emotional solace, that feel-good aspect of life which so obsessed the decade, various forms of evangelical groups, some equating faith with material success — God as the ultimate middle-class capitalist — others became personality cults — began to pervade the air-waves.
The self-help books, and latterly in the eighties their attendant get-rich-quick offspring, will prove themselves to have been a mixed benefit — helpful to some, terribly destructive to others.
I found myself caught up in the general atmosphere of introspection, which is destructive to the baptized person — for the Holy Spirit, while He does invite us to a truly, contrite, examination of conscience, which includes a truthful awareness and assessment of one’s ‘consciousness’, nonetheless does not aid and abet introspection as a turning in upon the self.
The Holy Spirit invites us on a journey inward to encounter with Christ.
Again the ultimate point of the journey being our transfiguration by the Holy Spirit to where, in truth, we not only exult, but in reality live the sacred mystery: I LIVE NO LONGER, CHRIST LIVES IN ME.
The disease of introspection has many levels, some more lethal than others…. It is amazing how perfectly and methodically some persons can go about destroying every experience of life (i.e. the power to be), even every thought experience, through turning an introspective, analytical mind to bear on it….. a vicious and continuous mental obsession… an exercise in..continually looking inward to find some sort of a personal truth or reality… …inner dialogue..full of an irrational sophistry that [can] only tear concepts apart, but [can]never put the fragments back together in any kind of satisfying whole…..floundering in serious mental and spiritual darkness…filled with fear when he first sought help through prayer. [ck]
Of course at the time I was unaware that was happening within me, and my spiritual father, prudently, did not pressure me in anyway. He continued to work with me through the healing of memories and a constant encouragement that I strive to grow in trust of, and docility to, the Holy Spirit.
The turmoil of introspection, and the evil one’s use of that to sow confusion and a type of spiritual exhaustion, itself the step-child of emotional exhaustion, eventually led to an acting out of my old addiction and I began to lead, once again, a type of double life — struggling very hard to lead a chaste life of prayer in my basement-desert-cave, the introspective-performance oriented struggle — and straying, though only occasionally, into the fringes of the sub-culture which I was trying to leave behind. The result being I sometimes surrendered to the disordered addiction to hedonism, thus causing even greater inner turmoil, deeper introspection leading to a more determined ‘performance’ of my self-assumed ‘desert’ vocation.
I was, then, less and less Christ-centered, more and more egocentric within the false self.
To fail to be centered is to ‘walk alongside ourselves,’ a stance whereby we live out of an activism separated from being and therefore from meaning. A person split in this way can never live in the present moment. He can only live for a future that never quite arrives, one that he is perhaps feverishly trying to control in order to avoid the pain of his past. [cl]
This expressed itself within me through a growing conviction, aided and abetted by the growing trend in some circles within the Church, advocating the notion that it was indeed possible to lead an active homosexual life and be a true Christian.
This extended so far as to seeing the lifestyle as itself a vocation and I bought the ideas wholesale.
This in turn led to a determination to be re-united with my companion and thus the inner turmoil increased exponentially as the introspective turmoil fed the new notion of embracing the duality — so contradictory as to make me shudder interiorly today that I could have ever believed it to be true — of a Christ-centered existence while giving myself over to mortal sin.
The only way out of the disease of introspection is to place love in right order, namely God first, my brother and sister next, myself last.
For this to happen, of course, we must know true love.
This demands surrender, a childlike surrender and trust to the reality that love is God loving us first. Through the reception and acceptance of His love then we are able to love.
I was, as so long practiced in my life, substituting, frankly misunderstanding, gratification for love— taking superficial emotional consolation from someone for the reality of love.
Only when I would finally recognize not only my need for professional therapy to deal with neurotic damage, a true inner healing through real faith and sacramental living, would I begin to experience, taste, accept, the gift of the Father’s love, and only then would I begin to emerge from the quagmire of the disease of introspection, the bondage of performance, the dark ignorance of autonomous self-will.
I called my companion who, with some conditions such as I find a job, agreed to take me back.
A friend said he would drive me and my few belongings to yet another new city in my life.
Christmas came and went and instead of going to Midnight Mass I went out with a priest friend, who was struggling between the option of leaving the priesthood and going overseas as a missionary.
He arrived late Christmas eve begging me to go and have a few beers, shot some pool, chat.
By the end of the night he was more settled and had made his choice.
He chose Christ and the missions. [Mk.10:21, 22]
I had chosen flight from trusting in Christ alone.