STRANGE the feeling within me this afternoon as I begin to write again. A feeling difficult to articulate, yet it is intense.


Perhaps this morning’s phone call from a dear friend, like several of late from other friends, triggered the initial feeling.

Each has asked the same question, a question which has dogged me these five months into the sabbatical: Have you finished writing your first book yet?

There are only four months left to this sabbatical and clearly this first book isn’t finished yet!




Yes, those could describe what I am feeling, but they would not tell the whole story.

It is more a sense of duty, a peaceful sense of duty now that I allow myself to feel it.

The duty is not the writing per se, for the sabbatical has never been exactly about what I might produce, on paper or canvas.

The duty is to be here, still and faithful, in the moment.

The duty is the duty of the moment.

If You Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus, Most Holy Spirit, grant there be enough moments to complete this book, or others, to finish that painting which leans against the wall near my desk, or others, indeed should You grant that anything I write be published, anything I paint be sold for the benefit of the poor, then praise be to You.

Should You grant that no matter how diligent I may be in the duty of the moment, not a manuscript is completed, not a canvas covered, not a book sold, not a painting bought, then praise be to You.

My heart understands, even if my emotions seem to put the lie to my understanding in heart, the purpose of this sabbatical is that I become more what I already am by Your Consecrating Will – priest of Jesus Christ.

All else is but means, and all is grace, praise be to You.

IT IS years from that summer when, through St. Sharbel, I was granted a healing miracle.

It is within the mystery of priesthood that I am here, deep in the forest, in this hermitage for a few days.

It is early evening.

The forest is still.

The valley in shadow.

The sharp blue sky now gathering about itself a shawl of grey cloud.

Beyond the hills, thunder’s growl announces the approaching storm.

Night is coming too.

I sit here in vigil candle light, penning these lines as I seek a receptive stillness of heart, mind, imagination, as the brilliance of Your grace in my life fills the memories of those years past when, grace flowing into my being like the now pouring rain on parched soil, nurtured me from death to life.

I am a living witness how it pleases You to use the weak, the fool, the sinner to confound the strong, the wise, the ‘saint’.

I am a living witness to the infinite bounty of Your Mercy.

This very bread I eat, spring water I drink, is tangible evidence of Your Fatherly care who adorn us through Baptism with a beauty which causes even the lilies of the field to bow in awe before the wonders of Your love.

My heart is moved this night with profound contrition for all the wasted years when, gorged on my abuse of the inheritance You gave, I fled from You Father, in such unseemly haste, giving myself over to idolatry and other addictions because, as Adam before me, I listened to the prince of darkness, the liar.

How easily we Christians say, true as it is, that You so love us You give us Your Only-begotten Son.

How rarely do we stand still before the immensity of that truth, the reality that sin cost the life of Your Only-begotten Son.

That we cost Him His life.

O Christ God You are indeed my everything.

O Christ God You are indeed fullness of Mercy.

My whole being leans into Your embrace with love. [Sg. Of Sg. 1: 2,3] 

Hours have passed and I am awakened in the deep of night, profoundly aware of souls across the earth moving about in the furtive darkness on their desperate errands, seeking what I once sought, wasting their inheritance as I once wasted mine.

It is a few weeks since I started to write more of this in the hermitage — but that was neither the time nor the place.

It was the time and place to pray for my brothers and sisters around the world that they might open wide the doors of their being to Him.

Now I sit here in my little basement rooms in this house of the aged and dying, having watched images from space, taken from the Hubble space telescope.

What most strikes my heart about those images from so many millions of miles away is the contrast of beauty in the midst of what appears to us as such blackness.

It is like looking into the mysterious vastness of a human heart!

It is summer, the time of heat, humidity, haze, and of a type of human restlessness which seems to take hold, particularly, of urban dwellers at this time of year.

I suspect the great allure of cottage country is the deep seated need in human beings of a simple life closely connected to, touched by, the earth.

If only souls felt a similar urgency to be touched by You!

My heart is moved to recall with gratitude my last summer in that other city where I too was restless, a restlessness which was indeed a grace.

The restlessness expressed itself interiorly as a basic question: what am I to do with my life?

This motivated me to speak with my spiritual father not only about those bitter rooted addictions and inner-vowed stances which spawned such anxiety throughout my life, but also about what was I called to do by God?

This led to my spending more time with The Community, when I was free from work, and a greater fidelity to daily Mass, prayer, frequent confession, to meditating upon the Holy Gospels.

That summer too I rediscovered in a profound manner, in large measure through my devotion to St. Sharbel, the gift and role of Our Blessed Mother in my life, a presence which would be dramatically confirmed through another of the important women in my life towards summer’s end.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, indeed I would only discover this some years later while doing research in the seminary library for an essay, Pope John Paul II had already stressed, in his first Holy Thursday letter to Priests in 1979, the importance of the role and presence of Mary in the life of a priest:

…..in the midst of the People of God, that looks to Mary with immense love and hope, you must look to her with exceptional love and hope. Indeed, you must proclaim Christ who is her Son; and who will better communicate to you the truth about Him than His Mother? [cp]

Within my being that summer a possibility was emerging, a dream being reawakened, and it confused me, for it seemed to the depths of my being a most radical and, frankly, unrealistic dream.

From my earliest conscious memory this dream, this desire, nay this passion, had always been there, even when I was most deeply in the dark ignorance of atheism and hedonism.

In fact, in the most improbable of circumstances and from the most unlikely of persons — such as clients in the street clinic where I had once been a counsellor — I was frequently asked: Are you a priest?

That was the never forgotten dream: to be a priest.

The desire was returning, the improbability, given my age, my background notwithstanding, there was deep in me a growing certainty that this was my vocation.

In the last few weeks of the summer I had some vacation time and spent it with The Community where I would have frequent conversations with my spiritual father, finally confiding my dream to him.

I’m not clear, in retrospect, exactly what I expected from him. Certainly not an outright refusal, probably a reply along the order of, in a few years, maybe.

Astonishingly he simply stated: “This may be closer than you realize!”

Barely an hour later one of those special women in my life came to me and told me the superior of the women wanted to see me before I returned to the city. So I met with the superior and she outright asked me: “What do you think of Our Blessed Mother?”

I don’t remember my reply other than I know for sure I would have expressed my renewed devotion to, and confidence, in Our Blessed Mother.


Later, as I was about to board the bus back to the city, my friend came up to me again and gave me a book, a gift from the superior: TO THE PRIESTS, OUR LADY’S BELOVED SONS.



FRESH SNOW fell during the night.


This morning the sun causes all the drifts to sparkle like scattered diamonds. The neighbourhood resounds with the scrape of shovels against cement as walkways and sidewalks are cleared. People chat and laugh with each other through the exertion and exhilaration.

My heart is moved to open Sacred Scripture and pray Sirach chapters 43 and 44!

BY THE TIME I was walking, at summer’s first beginning, deep into the woods with that kind priest-hermit, my stomach ailment had become a constant source of pain and stress.

My contract with the financial institution was coming to an end. The company I worked for was sending me out on various jobs (accounting, working for a polling firm, in a print shop ) prior to a major assignment for an engineering firm as an office administrator. Given my lifelong anxiety attacks these constant job changes exacerbated my general nervous state and my spiritual struggles.

Interiorly I felt as if I were in some state of spiritual vacuum, as it seemed to me the Holy Spirit had withdrawn from me, allowing me to experience more intensely than ever before in my life a state of desolation, without any sense of direction. It seemed the idolatrous addictions, the dark ignorance and sinfulness of my whole life was pressing down upon me indeed, eating away at my very being.

Yet by grace, even though I was sorely stressed out, confused, filled with inner darkness, an emptiness which seemed to impede actual prayer, rather than experiencing all of this as some type of despair my entire being was paradoxically filled with a joyful yearning, an enormous hunger, for Christ!

It had been months since I had made a good confession or even attempted to lead a truly Catholic faith life.

True I was, and again the paradox of graced inspiration, starting to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament — not so much in prayer and adoration per se as in the supplication of simply being there in agony — and when I did rarely attend Holy Mass I did not go to Holy Communion because I had not truly confessed my mortal sins — yet this afternoon my being was suddenly seized with a deep hunger for absolution, for the reception of Divine Mercy.

All this I poured from my heart into the heart of the priest-hermit who listened silently until the stream of words, emotions, confession, had exhausted itself.

By now we were sitting in his simple little hermitage and he said, just before he gave me absolution, how his heart felt I needed a special gift from Our Blessed Mother.

He gave me my penance, absolved me of my sins and repeated the conviction in his heart that through Our Lady I needed an experience of the direct intervention of God in my life — not just through the sacraments but in an intimate experience I would never forget.

That was when he told me about Mar (St.) Sharbel.

Briefly, this holy man became a monk and a priest in a monastery in Lebanon in the nineteenth century and after years of living the common life as a priest-monk he was given permission to become a hermit. He spent the next near quarter century living the hermitical life, being renowned for his piety, compassion, devotion to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, his confident love of Our Blessed Mother, his immersion in the Holy Gospels.

Many healing and other miracles were attributed to him during his life.

He died on Christmas Eve, which is now his feast day, as he was canonized by Pope Paul VI during the Second Vatican Council.

Once when they exhumed the body it was found to be incorrupt, the coffin filled with sweet- perfumed oil.

Countless miracles occur through his intercession to this day.

The priest-hermit gave me a holy card with a relic of the saint and asked me to trust God’s power in my life through the intercession of the holy priest-monk Sharbel.

I returned to the city with a heart filled with peace flowing from sacramental absolution and the compassion of the priest.

I began the new jobs with a sense of optimism and started to lead a chaste and sacramental life.

The greatest joy was going to Holy Mass and for the first time in months receiving my Lord and God, my Redeemer, Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in Holy Communion – it was like my First Communion!

The doctors ordered a new series of tests and I was actually able to see on a monitor what they saw as the scope-camera viewed my innards and revealed fluid.

This, apparently, was serious.

I was to return in a few days for possible surgery.

Before that, one June night, the pain was so intense I thought surely I would crack under the combination of pain and anxiety.

Suddenly I remembered that holy card with the relic of the saint.

My companion was away on a business trip and so the sense of being alone aggravated my distress as I fumbled around in a drawer among my papers for the holy card.

Yes, to my shame, I had failed to make the connection between being told about St. Sharbel and actively asking for his help.

Now fear, and desperate pain, had driven me, finally, to admit I needed a miracle.

Finding the holy card I immediately placed it against my stomach and fell back into bed, begging St. Sharbel to intercede for me.

Instantly I felt a sweet warmth flow over my being, penetrating through the skin, deep into my stomach, coursing through my body, enveloping me in a warm embrace.

I fell into a deep sleep.

I awoke at dawn with an urgent desire to go to Holy Mass and Communion.

I went to the first Mass of the day at the Jesuit church.

It was during Holy Mass I first became aware I was pain free!

Later when the doctors retested me they were amazed at the absence of fluid.

To this day I remain pain free with no recurrence of the fluid in my stomach.

There is a temptation as I finish the notes from this chapter to digress into an apologetic on the mystery of the Communion of Saints and the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition of invoking their intercession.

My heart, however, is moved to simply share this prayer:

O HEAVENLY GOD, OUR FATHER, glorified through the lives of all Your Saints, it was You who inspired St. Sharbel to lead the perfecting life of a solitary hermit. We thank-You dear Father for having graced him with the courage to detach himself from the vicissitudes of this world so that within his hermitage the gifts of the Holy Spirit, poverty, chastity, obedience, might triumph in his soul through fidelity to his monastic vocation. We beg of You Heavenly Father to grant us also the grace to truly love You and serve You following the example of our beloved St. Sharbel. Heavenly Father it pleases You readily to confirm the holiness of St. Sharbel by granting prayers offered to You through his intercession, thus we beg of You to grant us this grace which we urgently need and ardently desire through St. Sharbel’s intercession so that we too might live the Holy Gospel and follow Jesus, thus Heavenly Father we beg You to grant……………………Amen.





THE TELEVISION news this day has several stories involving workers: a coal miners’ strike in one country;

 after an earthquake men buried alive in a gold mine in another; thousands laid off by a multi-national so the company can cut costs and increase the dividends to stock-holders; and yet another series of tales from the former USSR of workers, teachers, doctors, and so forth, not having been paid in months.


Stories too: of human beings hiding in the containers on great ships, for weeks at a time, seeking to make their way into the country, in hopes of a better life.

Elsewhere, to punish and control the neighbouring nation, one country periodically closes its border so those workers who daily cross over to earn bread are kept from work, their families without bread.

How many hours have I spent in the confessional listening to the exhausted, frustrated, men and women, who feel so powerless before the corporate giants, or even just in face of the foreman, or others with power over their daily bread.

During the almost two years I worked for that company which supplied contract workers, I would work from the highest towers in the financial district to inside a print-plant six stories below ground.

I would work in stocks and bonds, accounting, as a person asking questions for a polling company, bureaucrat for an engineering firm, a folder and binder in a print shop — added to my experiences over the years as a social worker, postman, lumberjack, tailor, working in a laundry, free-lance writing, dj, some months as a mechanic, time as a farmer, even time doing stoop labour of seasonal workers around the world — each work experience a gathered fragment of insight and understanding into what it means for men and women to be workers.

My heart believes part of the greatness of Pope John Paul II as shepherd is he too has the heart, hands, bent back, of a worker.

Only a priest who has known hard labour could have written this:

( In Memory of a Fellow Worker )

He wasn’t alone. His muscles grew into the flesh of the crowd,

energy their pulse, as long as they held a hammer,

as long as his feet felt the ground.

And a stone smashed his temple

and cut through his heart’s chamber.

They took his body, and walked a silent line.

Toil still lingered about him, a sense of wrong.

They wore grey blouses, boots ankle-deep in mud.

In this they showed the end.

How violently his time halted: the pointers on the low-voltage

Dials jerked, then dropped to zero again.

White stone now within him, eating into his being,

taking over enough of him to turn him into stone.

Who will lift up that stone, unfurl his thoughts again

under the cracked temples? So plaster cracks on the wall.

They laid him down, his back on a sheet of gravel.

His wife came, worn out with worry; his son returned from school.

Should his anger now flow into the anger of others?

It was maturing in him through its own truth and love.

Should he be used by those who come after,

deprived of substance, unique and deeply his own?

The stones on the move again: a wagon bruising the flowers.

Again the electric current cuts deep into walls.

But the man has taken with him the world’s inner structure,

where the greater anger, the higher explosion of love. [cn]


Yes, I watch the television news from time to time, especially watching for stories of workers from across the world.

Jesus, God-Incarnate, spent most of His time on this earth as a worker.

Priests MUST have a special love and passion for, a particularly acute attentiveness and willingness to serve, those who work.


I recall one lunch hour going to the trading floor, that place of shouting, gesticulating, ulcer spawning, greed slacking-enhancing ante-chamber to the actual power over peoples — multi-national corporations.

The place where you could become wealthy beyond one’s ability to consume — or even quickly loose more money in an instant, more than the average human being can even conceive of.


This was a place – or rather this had become our culture — of greed and death where you can no longer assume a job for your entire working life — where human beings are declared as redundant faster than a technology becomes outmoded — stocks having replaced sweat as a the measure of a man.


No longer actually coins or paper or even a plastic card — rather increasingly a series of data on some electronic network — gone the clink of coin dropped into a man’s calloused palm at day’s end, gone the pay packet handed a woman as the store closes of a Friday evening — indeed gone the worker’s weekend — the believer’s day of rest — for money demands we never slow down, never stop, twisting in our constant search for more, even as the world turns, as if the earth were turning about looking itself for a place to rest.

I watched the relentless rush from right to left — globally from east to west — of the endless ‘ ticker-tape’ electronic spew of data — symbols and numbers assuring those on the winning end, discouraging those who’d misjudged — of fortune to be made, fortune now lost.

Not a single human face upon the ‘ big board ‘, not a single thought that this frenzy of buying and selling affected the dignity of real human beings at the end of the day as they were ‘ downsized ‘ while the cost of bread rose, interest on their mortgage rose, the corner store closed because the big box store a few blocks over now controlled things.

Money, money, money.

For thirty pieces of it you can buy and sell the Innocent One.

I returned to my office after that lunch time visit to the trading floor, returned to my work transferring billions in stocks and bonds from one buyer to another, one seller to another, and watched one town rejoice while another sank deeper into emptiness.

Something stirred in my heart that end of day as I was putting things away at my desk.

My heart saw the disposable worker, the frenetic trader, the corporate captain, the holder of stocks as not unlike myself — each of us wondering who and why, from whence to where, and fearing the answer as much as the question.

I understand now what my heart was seeing, and feeling, as a fragment of love –but I quickly dismissed it.

The Holy Spirit would have to prod deeper before I would look into the light, listen to what He was speaking to my heart.

But it was another fragment and they were — no doubt by Our Blessed Mother — being gathered into the basket of my heart.

Money, to the degree that I was making it in those days, became a problem for me for a time.

It became something of a burden, especially as I blithely walked past the seemingly constantly growing number of homeless and panhandlers.

Initially I was determined to cling to my new found money, after all I needed things, didn’t I. Besides if I gave to one person, what about the next. And the next.

Then Lent came and my heart was moved from incipient greed to a renewed awareness of charity.

I began to understand that what I was experiencing as a burden – money – was in fact a treasure and that for virtually the first time in my life I was in a position to be truly generous.

I began to make sure I always had some coins in my pocket. True, I could not give to everyone but once every day I could give to someone.

Another fragment!

For several months then my life became a rather comfortable, if somewhat insular, existence.

I had my daily job routine; stressful though it was which often included attending Mass in the worker’s chapel. There were the evenings with my companion, weekends with friends in the various bars, theatres, money with which to indulge my passion for books, the time, the security of a comfortable home in which to read.

Money for fine dining, art galleries, time to write poetry, essays, to travel in comfort whenever I went to visit my spiritual father.

There was a dichotomy however which could not long be ignored between the orthodox true teachings being placed in my heart by my spiritual father and the advice being given me by priests I consulted in the city whenever I would approach the sacrament of confession and confess sins such as greed or my disordered relationship.

The city priests assured me that if I was, as they said ‘basically’, monogamous, there was nothing wrong with the way I was living.

In the depths of my heart I knew they were not speaking truth, just as surely as I knew my spiritual father was speaking truth.

Of course I was placing myself in the heart of the dichotomy because as much as part of me desired to live in truth the rest of me clung to my fears and addictions.

Thus in the midst of a seemingly benign routine of life I was increasingly stressed.

One day I doubled over at my desk in excruciating pain and found myself rushed to the nearest emergency ward.

Once the doctors found out where I worked they spoke to me as if I were just another over-stressed achiever.

They loaded me up on some strong antacids, having determined it was stressed induced stomach trouble, and sent me home.

My stress induced trouble had nothing to do with the job I was doing.

It had everything to do with the work I was not doing.

If a man is entangled in the things of this world, caught by their many shackles, and seduced by the evil passions, it is very hard for him to recognize that there is another invisible struggle and another inner warfare. – -St. Makarios of Egypt.

Within a few weeks I was going through a bottle of the antacid medicine every day.

Summer arrived and with it the extreme heat and humidity which annually takes such a toll on my being.

My conditioned worsened and I began to miss work.

Food, which always had been a last resort source of comfort, became intolerable as it seemed to fuel the acidic burning in my stomach.

I returned to the doctors and more tests were ordered.

Nothing definitive was found.

Looking back on it, given my lifelong acute anxiety attacks, I am surprised none of the doctors recommended a tranquillizer.

Here is another fragment though, for at that stage of my life had I calmed down through drugs I most likely would not have looked into my own heart.

Filled with the physical pain, struggling with increasing anxiety, feeling like my idyllic situation was beginning to unravel, I decided on a spur of the moment to go and visit my spiritual father.

Not having checked ahead of time to be sure he was there I was very disappointed when I arrived at The Community to be told he was away and would not return for a few weeks.

Crestfallen I headed towards the shrine of Our Blessed Mother.

As I was walking towards the shrine one of the hermit-priests was coming towards me, noticed my sadness and asked what was wrong.

I told him my woes and he invited me to open my heart more and to walk with him to his hermitage.

I did.

Once in his hermitage he said he would pray for me and blessed me with a relic of a true healing saint.

I call upon You, my God, my mercy, who made me, and did not forget me, although I forgot You. I call You into my soul, which You prepare to accept You by the longing that You breathe into it. Do not desert me now when I call upon You, for before I called upon You, You went ahead and helped me, and repeatedly You urged me on by many different words, so that from afar I could hear You, and be converted, and call upon You as You called to me. [co]