THE SADNESS of the rich young man from the Gospel was mine.
It is not specified, rather presumed by most Gospel commentators, that the rich young man’s possessions where exclusively material.
I like him was hobbled in my hunger to know and be with Christ by my many possessions, though mine were less material yet no less a bondage: neurosis, bitter-roots, inner-vows, addictions, fear, self-will, and heaviest of all possessions to drag around from place to place, my egotistical-narcissistic-self.
Jesus, being as He is Divine Mercy, Divine Tenderness Incarnate, never leaves us without hope.
While the Holy Gospel does not so indicate, my heart has always believed that at some point in the future — perhaps after receiving Baptism and the Holy Spirit in the days following the Death and Resurrection of Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost — the sheer loneliness of having so many possessions, of being possessed by so many, humbled that young man enough for him to indeed sell all his possessions and give them to the poor, through a life of service to the poor.
Not in the Gospel per se, just a notion in my heart.
What IS in the Gospel is the story of a conversion from a no to the Father to a yes. [Mt. 20:28ff]
Jesus is always revealing to us how mercy is greater than hardness of heart.
So once again in my life, a new decade, a new city, new circumstances.
The apartment my companion was living in was in the worst part of town and filled with cockroaches and other vermin.
My friend had experienced a difficult time in his early months in this city finding work and had only recently begun to establish himself.
There was an urgent priority on my getting a steady job so we could get out of that dump and into something cleaner, safer, better to be sure.
That first day I slept a fair bit, finally ignoring the roaches scurrying across the counter tops and even over the blanket I slept under.
When I needed a smoke I’d lean out the bathroom window, over the alleyway, this not smoking in the place, being one of the conditions of my being taken back.
The next day I went walking about the city, traveling the subway system, getting off at various stops at random, emerging into the cold January air to see a different part of this huge city of finance, movie, television, literature, art, and extreme poverty, prejudice — a city which saw itself as the center not merely of the country but frequently of the universe.
A city also seen, if not across the country certainly in the mind of the local clergy and powerful laity, as the dominate, Roman Catholic, diocese in the country.
Unfortunately, as I would learn in my seminary days, this meant more error flowed from the local institutions into the wider Church across the country than obedient humility would have allowed.
I did, however, find this great city exhilarating and felt I would do well there.
A few blocks from the apartment was a parish run by the Jesuits and there, I quickly found out, the duality of lifestyle and unabashed modernist Catholicism were readily accepted, indeed advocated.
Yes, it seemed, things would work out here.
But this was the early eighties and while they would end as the decade of greed, that greed had a tremendous price for those used to working in a smokestack economy.
Within a few weeks my money had run out and I was still without work.
This caused increased friction between my companion and I until finally he simply stated either work, welfare or out.
One of the Gospel events which is applicable to a great variety of circumstances, sacramental, inner-healing, life-event, care of necessary material goods etc. is the event where Christ multiplied the loaves and fish, as found in St. John chapter six, verses one to thirteen.
The key phrase I wish to reflect upon here, in light of subsequent events from my early days in the new city, is ‘gather the fragments’. [Jn 6. 1-13, cf. V.12]
I was at prayer in the parish church one afternoon, before the Blessed Sacrament, in desperate agony over the tension between me and my companion, the financial stress, need for a job, inner healing, indeed the whole gambit of my real poverty, admission of which as true confession open to conversion, was still hobbled by the weight of my many possessions.
What my heart became aware of, astounded by actually, was a deep sense that within the very chaos of my life at that moment the Holy Spirit was at work, a work of purification and preparation — preparation for exactly what I was not given to understand at that juncture.
My heart was made aware of the Gospel referred to above and that henceforth all my poverty and work experiences were to be a gathering of fragments.
Today, as a priest who serves the poor, working people, the sick, lonely, rejected — as all priests are called to — I can rejoice that nothing of those fragments has been lost, for I am able to serve with a degree of understanding heart that comes from shared experience.
The next day I had the strength to go to the welfare office and apply for welfare.
Many comedy routines, films, tv episodes, make fun of what happens to people in a welfare office.
There is too the common mythology of people on welfare being basically pariahs who, in a sense, steal the money generated by the average, decent, hardworking citizen.
My heart believes the real evil here is that over the centuries, certainly since the advent of raw capitalism with its boom and bust cycles, Christianity itself has handed over to the state more and more of the corporal works of mercy.
It is a type of crisis of faith wherein we trust the state to provide more than we trust God.
As always it is the poor who bear the burden of our lack of faith.
The end result too, in that paradox since Vatican II of those who previously had truly cared for the poor, living poorly themselves, under the oft repeated false doctrine of the so-called ‘spirit of Vatican II’, orphanages, schools, hospitals, and so forth, have been closed because there are no consecrated religious to staff them…while so-called spirituality centers to assuage the angst of the middle-class proliferate…and convents, monasteries, seminaries, parishes, continue to be closed.
The state cannot, indeed will not, under any circumstances, treat the poor in light of their God-given dignity as persons.
To be poor, to apply for welfare, is to pay a tremendous price of loss of one’s dignity as a human person.
A dignity not easily retrieved.
So it was for myself as I was shuffled from wicket to wicket, berated for being a healthy man without work, challenged as to the veracity of my statements, advised I could go to a soup kitchen if I was hungry since no social worker would come by to verify my situation until the following week.
Imagine my amazement when the worker did eventually come by and deemed I was living high on the hog in that dump and was about to deny my application when she opened the oven door on the stove and a whole herd of roaches scampered out.
I got welfare then.
We used my welfare check to pay the rent, while my companion put his rent money aside as down payment on a better place.
Since smoking costs, obviously not just cash, we started jogging to help me overcome the withdrawal and to ease my general anxiety attacks.
The physical aspect of the relationship was minor.
Mostly I went out from time to time for anonymous encounters and when they did occur I had that interior split, the experience of walking beside myself — it was as if I were a mere observer and also as if I were trying to draw back deep inside myself so that the real me were not involved.
Afterwards I would take long hot showers as if the scalding water could cleanse me interiorly, or sear together the split.
By spring we’d found a better place to live and I began again the hunt for a job.
My best friend from many years had long been living in that city and had a place beside ours. Both buildings had been fine houses in the previous century and were recently done over into yuppie-style apartments. The whole neighbourhood reeked of youth, money, pleasure. It was very eighties.
Each time I’d pass a church, where Jesus lives in the Blessed Sacrament, I’d want to go in, make a sincere confession.
I rarely did until I found myself working near a worker’s chapel and there always confessing immediately I had sinned alone or with another.
Thus another type of gathering fragments would occur.
After sixty job interviews, broken in my ego, the tension increasing, the inner warfare with myself extensive, a type of rage towards the deafness of God taking hold, I was on the verge of a breakdown.
I was visiting my friend next door, sitting on his living room floor, sipping coffee, when suddenly I began to tremble, to shudder, to sob and out of my mouth rushed all the rage, frustration, doubt, confusion — a type of emotional vomiting.
Trying to comfort me he suggested I apply for a job at the hotel he worked at as night clerk where many of the tv and movie stars stayed. He stressed the money and the perks of going out with the sex-crazed entertainment types, adding that it was surely the stress of trying to lead a non-hedonistic life that was tearing me apart and that once I got money and pleasure unlimited I’d feel better about myself and life in general.
At first it was as if he was speaking to me from such a great distance away I could barely understand what he was saying. Then his words began to register. My heart understood I was drowning in a lifestyle I had not truly renounced. The sheer weight of my possessions was pulling me beneath the waves and surely I was about to drown.
I knew in that instant that if I did not try and pray all would indeed, I would indeed, be lost.
That was all Christ needed.
That minuscule crack in the wall of resistance to Him became the fissure through which He would begin entry as surely as if I had truly the courage to open wide the door of my being to Him.
I left my friend’s place and immediately walked the twenty blocks to the church in the city dedicated to Our Blessed Mother of Perpetual Help.
There I went in and my prayer was simply to weep.
The very next day I was hired by a company who supplied temporary staff to major corporations and was contracted at very good pay to work in a brokerage house in the financial heart of the country.
Money, the false security of money, does strange things.
I did return to the sacraments, especially on Sunday. Then, once I found the worker’s chapel near my office, I began to attend daily Mass, often also going to confession.
But I was lulled into a compromise.
Namely, I very, very rarely was unchaste, didn’t drink, or smoke, did go to Mass, but I did not move out from the relationship and I did not pursue true inner healing or even yet pose the central question: what is the Father’s will for me.
I had allowed a crack to open within me and Christ had indeed gained, as it were a foothold but I had not opened wide, as yet, my being to Him.
I guess it was a type of standoff.
He wanted me to move closer to Him so He could accomplish more healing within me.
I wanted Him to accomplish more healing in me so I would move closer to Him.