WE HAVE entered anew the mystery of Ordinary Time in the Liturgical Year, the first experience of Ordinary Time in this new millennium, this Jubilee Year.


I have pondered this mystery in my heart today as I am also recalling that time in my life when, indeed, Christ was making all things within me new through the mystery of the call to priesthood.

This afternoon I took a break from my prayer and spiritual reading to treat myself to the movie Titanic, which I had originally seen when it premiered.

My heart was struck how that disaster was truly a Babel experience for early twentieth century civilization, for it so traumatically demonstrated the limitations of technology because of human arrogance.

Then my heart reflected upon that other technological trauma, the atom bomb, and how it too showed us the dangers inherent in our misuse of what we discover.

These reflections led my heart to the Holy Rosary, the simple prayer of children and adults, of childlike hearts.

The prayer: which weaves into our hearts contemplation of the mysteries of our redemption: the life, passion, death, glorification of Christ.

The prayer: which invites us to place our hands in the hand of the Mother of the Redeemed.

Once again watching that movie, Titanic, my heart was struck by the powerful scene of the priest, holding desperately with one hand onto a ship’s cable stock, his other hand holding onto a desperate soul, she in turn being clung to by others.

The priest is first shown praying the Hail Mary and then quoting from Revelations.

Scene of a modern flood, a sinking tower of Babel, children crying out to their Heavenly Mother, confident she will speak to Jesus of them, the priest a living bridge between terror and peace, darkness and light, despair and hope, sin and mercy, death and eternal life.

This is the challenge to we priests in this new millennium, to, like that priest on the deck of the Titanic — granted, a movie priest on a movie set, nonetheless a valid symbol — hence like that priest we are called, in spite of our own inner struggles with doubt, battle with fear, to stand firm, one hand holding the Anchor Himself, Jesus, the other, holding the hands of the world.

It means, as at our ordination when we lay cruciform before the laying on of hands and our consecration by the Holy Spirit, the shape of our priestly lives, our very being, is the Cross.

It is the shape of Christ.

It is, no matter what may be happening on the surface of our beings, to dwell always in sheer joy!

So my heart was moved then to meditate upon the central phrase from Sacred Scripture Pope John Paul has constantly repeated as the prism word through which the illumination of the Holy Spirit shall shine, be poured lavishly, into souls this Great Jubilee Holy Year: Jesus who was, is, always will be with us. [Hb. 13:8]

The great truth of this cry from Hebrews is found in the very mystery which is the central theme not only of the Jubilee, but is also the very summit and the very source of our sacramental life: the Most Holy Eucharist.

Christ IS the same in His Real Presence, yesterday, today and forever.

In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we rightly proclaim, at Christmas, the today of His Birth, at Easter that this is the night of our redemption, the day of His Holy Resurrection.

Through the mystery of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, of His Real Presence, we can enter the Bethlehem cave as surely and as in reality as the shepherds and behold the Child; take the place of the woman, our sister, at His feet and bathe them with our own tears; the place of the blind man, the prodigal, the Good Thief, our brothers, of the woman at the well, the ointment bearing women at the Tomb; take our place among those in the room on Holy Thursday — as indeed happened at my ordination — in the Upper Room at Pentecost.

All men and women who would believe are invited to open wide the doors of their being and encounter Christ in all His mysteries.

This is the wisdom known to the childlike of heart when they pray the Rosary and contemplate the mysteries; enter into those same mysteries, led deeply by the hand of Mary.

This is the illumination granted each soul who participates in the communion of Love during Holy Mass.

This is the reality of life lived sacramentally.

Christ, like a divine leaven, always and ever more fully penetrates the life of humanity, spreading the work of salvation accomplished in the Paschal Mystery. What is more, He embraces within His redemptive power the whole past history of the human race, beginning with the first Adam.

The future also belongs to Him: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever “ (Heb.13:8). For her part the Church “seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ Himself under the lead of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgement, to serve and not to be served “. [cs]

Standing on the shore looking out across the ocean, the burial place of thousands of souls over the millennia, walking amid the rubble of Hiroshima, hearing the cries of starving children, seeing the horrible films of death camps, it is understandable we can wonder, as the humble Rabbi who taught me about the theological challenge of the Holocaust did — as the equally humble woman survivor of Hiroshima also taught me — what of God, where God, when such things happen?

At such a moment, in the utter desperate depths of such a question, as the waters reach our necks and we sink in the mire without a foothold, when our throats are raw with crying out, eyes burned dimmed scanning the horizon as we seek our God-(Ps.69)-, the place to the Father is where His Son is, upon the Cross, within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass — there Christ is in the depths of all human suffering, the desperation of every human shuddered ‘why?’ — but His being there is not the fullness of His being the same, ‘ yesterday and today and forever ‘, for that fullness we must go to the empty Tomb and listen, for He approaches, calling us by name!

….it is helpful to recall the words of the Pastoral Constitution Guadium et Spes: “ The Church believes that Christ, who died and was raised up for all, can through His Spirit offer man the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme destiny. Nor has any other name under heaven been given to man by which it is fitting for him to be saved. She likewise holds that in her most benign Lord and Master can be found the key, the focal point, and the goal of all human history. The Church also maintains that beneath all changes there are so many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday and today and forever. [ct]





AS I WAS about to resume these notes today my heart recalled another story from the Fathers of the desert,

 recounted in the tales about Abba Elias as a story told by him about another great desert dweller and spiritual warrior. This latter is not named, but must have been a man of extraordinary spiritual fortitude:


ABBA ELIAS …said, ‘ An old man was living in a temple and the demons came to say to him, “ Leave this place which belongs to us, “ and the old man said, “ No place belongs to you. “ Then they began to scatter his palm leaves about, one by one, and the old man went on gathering them together with perseverance. A little later the devil took his hand and pulled him to the door. When the old man reached the door, he seized the lintel with the other hand crying out, “Jesus, save me. “ Immediately the devil fled away. Then the old man began to weep. Then the Lord said to him, “ Why are you weeping? “ and the old man said, “ Because the devils have dared to seize a man and treat him like this. “ The Lord said to him, “You had been careless. As soon as You turned to me again, you see I was beside you. “

I say this, because it is necessary to take great pains, and anyone who does not do so, cannot come to his God. For He Himself was crucified for our sake.’ [cq]

Towards the end of the summer, after the meeting with my spiritual father where he had confirmed the call in my heart to priesthood, I became like the old man in that story, in the sense that I weakened in my faith, gave into interior thoughts that I was coming from too sinful and faithless a past to dare consider priesthood.

Once again in my life I also seemed incapable of truly foregoing my addictions, even though my companion had astounded me by recognizing I needed to try and answer the call in my heart and agreed we would end our relationship, which, frankly, by that juncture had virtually ended anyway.

Then one day as I was leaving my office my being was suddenly filled with a deep desire to settle the issue once and for all. Mind you my thought was that it would end with my being rejected, for the rejection wounds and fears were still great within me.

Basically what I challenged the Lord was, and given the lateness of the hour that Friday evening it seemed a ‘safe’ challenge, I’d go to the diocesan offices and if they were locked that would be a sign from Him priesthood was not my vocation.

It is, of course, a serious sin to deliberately test the Lord, as Jesus Himself remonstrated satan when he was attacking Christ through temptation in the desert. [ Mt.4:7]

However the Lord in His tenderness also understands when we are struggling, such as the old man when the demons were scattering his palms.

In such an instance the Lord is compassionate and uses our weakness and uncertainty to bring us to a point where we can, if we say yes to grace, receive the clarity our hearts yearn for.

I arrived at the diocesan offices and the place appeared to be in darkness, closed for the weekend, but when I tried the door, it opened.

I stepped into the foyer and noticed a corridor, at the end of which a soft light seemed to be coming from an office.

Venturing towards it when I got to the end of the corridor I startled a young priest, seated at a desk in the office from which the light came.

He asked how I had gotten in there and I explained the door was opened, which he indicated surprised him since the office was closed. Then he asked what I wanted, beckoning me to be seated once I told him I was struggling with the idea of becoming a priest.

It turned out he was the vocations director.

I explained my situation to him, gave a detailed, though brief sketch of my life and background, told him how new I was in return to the faith and a life of chastity.

By then I was pretty tense and was sure he would explain the impossibility of my being called to the priesthood.

Instead he excused himself and phoned someone, speaking too softly for me to be sure of what I heard.

Once he had hung up the phone he told me the admissions director at the seminary would see me later that evening.

I was stunned, as much by the turn of events as the great swelling of joy which was filling my heart!

Given the distance I’d have to travel that evening, I left that office immediately.

The priest having given me directions, I started the long subway and bus trip out to the seminary.

Dusk had fallen by the time I got there and was met outside the main doors by the dean of admissions, who suggested we walk and talk.

He asked very pointed questions, having obviously been well briefed by the vocations director I’d spoken to earlier.

After about a hour, during which he pressed why I wanted to be a priest, he said it was too late in the summer to accept me for that year. However if I would move out of my living situation, get some particular courses at the university, including philosophy, he would consider me for the following year.

I thanked him and headed back to the bus station, elated.

A brother questioned Abba Poeman, ‘What ought I to do about all the turmoil’s that trouble me? ‘The old man said to him, ‘ In all our afflictions let us weep in the presence of the goodness of God, until He shows mercy to us. [cr]