IT IS A BRILLIANT, unusually warm, winter Sunday afternoon.
Little rivers of water were racing across the parking lot after this morning’s Mass.
The Church was packed!
The people prayerful, attentive, and when I was distributing Holy Communion their faces were radiant and I thanked God for this incredible lavishness of His Mercy which makes that I am His priest, their priest.
Given the mystery of my life as recorded in these chapters, and after the exhaustion felt when the previous chapter had been written, the First Reading of today’s Holy Mass pierced my heart with a light of understanding, causing my being to exult, how great are the ways of the Lord as He calls us through the mystery of His Son’s death and resurrection to a complete communion of love!
It was the lament of Job found in chapter seven of the Holy Book.
What struck my heart was not his lament per se but the reality of suffering, the consolation of suffering, the grace of suffering.
Down through the centuries and generations it has been seen that in suffering there is concealed a particular power that draws a person interiorly close to Christ, a special grace. [dq]
It MUST be stated here and now and clearly: THE HOLY SPIRIT IS NOT FINISHED WITH ME YET AND I DO NOT CLAIM, NOR MEAN TO INFER, IN ANYTHING WRITTEN IN THIS BOOK SO FAR, OR FROM HERE ON, THAT I HAVE COMPLETELY SURRENDERED, AM HEALED OF ALL WOUNDS OR ACHIEVED SOME ETHEREAL LEVEL OF UNION WITH THE BLESSED TRINITY!
Once again the only claim I make with confidence is: CHRIST IS EVERYTHING!
He is faithful indeed!
Where sin abounds (our own or those committed against us), grace abounds all the more!
As I come towards the end of this half of the story [for recent events already are prompting a second book], pray encouragement for whoever may someday read it to trust completely the love and mercy, personally and intimately in your own life of the Father, the Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit, my heart has been struck by this insight from Father Hardon:
….This price that we are asked to pay for our proclamation of Christ in word and in deed is not only the price of endurance of pain. Nor is it simply the patient acceptance of criticism and rejection, or perhaps of open persecution. What we are also asked is to sacrifice what we personally like and have a natural right to enjoy. In order to confess Christ before men as He would have us do, we are invited to give up many things to which we are naturally, and legitimately, inclined……But as the beauty of Christ takes possession of our hearts, we become different men and women. Our personality is literally changed. We take on the quality of martyrs ready, if need be, to die for Christ. And we acquire a capacity for sacrifice that smiles at logic and rises above the desire for pleasure in this world in order to bring as many souls as possible to the Heart of the Saviour whom we love. [dr]
Only now as I come to the end of this work do I begin to understand what Fr. Hardon means, for only now in my life have I experience of the Beauty of Christ and all that flows from being in communion of love with Christ the Beautiful, as Beautiful on the Cross, in the beauty of complete suffering surrender to the will of the Father, as He is Beautiful in the Glory of His Holy Resurrection wherein, and this must never be forgotten, Divine Radiance pours forth from the wounds which He has within His Glorified Body.
Since we become what we contemplate, when we are suffering we should not only contemplate the wounded Christ on the Cross but the Risen Christ with wounds in glory!
As with my original account of my time with The Community, so with this second sojourn in my life with them, I do not believe in my heart much detail is needed, since their lives are not mine to write about.
Suffice to say I was reintegrated into the normal routine, though because of the extreme traumatic shock of what I had been through, some days it was very difficult for me to participate fully.
My anxiety level was very high pitched and sometimes those attacks would be so severe I could not do simple things like sit still at table and eat a meal but would flee in utter terror, not knowing why or of what I was terrified, but feeling convinced that if I did not flee I would go insane or die.
When this happened during Holy Mass it was most distressful.
When this happened during Holy Mass it was most distressful.
I was given simple jobs with the men in the bush: I’d burn the unusable branches from the trees felled for either firewood or to be cut into lumber; help sort donations, record and file books in the library.
All the while the appeal was slowly grinding its way through the system.
After some months my spiritual father, in agreement with the Bishop, felt a smaller, simpler, setting would ease the stress and so I was given assignment to a house of prayer in the west.
There I lived with simple duties in a community with three others, all of them laywomen.
I had a type of chaplain’s quarters which allowed me time for rest.
My duties were simple, daily Mass, help in the gardens, be available for sacraments.
The town was very tiny, the people wonderful and I began to heal from the trauma.
However I remained stuck in intellectual pride, that is, dealing with everything by thinking about it, figuring it out, avoiding emotion. The result was, for there is no greater pride than intellectual pride, I was not, as I thought, protecting myself from further pain, a lifelong survival skill learned in the traumas of childhood, rather what I was doing was frustrating the healing action, the purifying through suffering activity, the sanctifying fire of the Holy Spirit.
In truth, in spite of all that I had been through, I was saying to the Holy Trinity: You may come into my being, into relation with me, thus far but no further. I shall not feel, for that is to be vulnerable and being vulnerable means pain.
No more pain!
Frankly I still needed to embrace humility and the courageous strength of meekness! [Js. 4:6; 1 Cor. 8:1, 2; Mt. 11:28-30]
I knew there had to be some point to His allowing all this to have happened to me but I was so afraid it might be because of my sinful past or my failure to be a great priest that I dared not be still long enough to hear Him.
I knew a lot about God, or thought I did, certainly I was at least well informed through my studies.
But I did not know Him.
All I had to do was ask Him :’Are You real?’ and He would have shown me but to ask would have been to admit I needed Him, couldn’t handle things on my own as I had since I was a child.
Since childhood I had protected myself by never loving nor allowing myself to be loved, hence I was philanthropic but never truly charitable and the gulf between the two is immense. The former is certainly a benevolent love for mankind, but it can lead to a type of the ‘better’ being kind to the ‘lesser’ whereas true charity seeks the suffering Christ in all who suffer and sees self as a servant, that is as the lesser, with a passion for others, true love.
Because of my self-protection from true love, since abandonment and rejection seemed to always assail me when I risked love, I had no experience, non-intellectual that is, for I knew it to be a factual truth but not experiential reality, of God’s love.
To have that I would have to risk being a child, something also foreign to me, and I dared not risk being that powerless.
Indeed before going further I was praying this morning and a list, in no particular order, came into my heart of why all this had to happen to me, in a word why I needed such a grace of purifying, sanctifying, suffering, and, to be honest, why this work of the Holy Spirit I see, even ten years after the events first happened to me, is still keeping me, as it were in kindergarten, that is, I am still a mere beginner.
For the rest of my life I must be, and am willingly, in school, the school of the Holy Spirit and Our Lady.
What I would experience as the absence of Christ from my life because of what I was suffering was in fact the fulfilling in the depths of my being of what Jesus spoke of at the Last Supper — for I now understand Scripture is both universal reality, the recounting of our Redemption, and deeply, intimate in each soul, the personal experience of being redeemed:
I did not tell you this from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to the One who sent Me, and not one of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I told you this, grief has filled your hearts. But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you. And when He comes He will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation: sin, because they do not believe in Me; ( I had intellectual assurance but not heart/soul faith ) righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see Me; ( having no natural sense of what it meant to be a child I had no idea at all of God as my Father, much less self as His child) condemnation, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. ( because of what I was going through, the protracted legal process, and had been through, the false accusation, trial, condemnation, I doubted in the extreme God was more powerful than evil.)
I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. ( this because of my pride rendering me unable to trust, so somehow He would have to intervene in ways which would break open my defences until I would trust.) But when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth. (This is the great grace of my sabbatical and is a continuation of what began in that western town, which I’ll note momentarily.) He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears, (what does that Spirit hear and speak to us if not the dialogue of love between the Father and Jesus, and the communion of love they speak to us, hence, He IS the Spirit, the Communion of Love.) and will declare to you the things that are coming. (fullness of redemption, sanctification, communion of love in our own beings IF we open wide every door, every aspect of our beings to Him.) He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you. (this happens must fully in the Spirit’s taking what is Christ’s, i.e. Sacraments instituted by Him, especially Baptism, Holy Eucharist and Confession, for some of us Priesthood, others Sacramental Marriage, and declaring them, that is making them efficacious in our lives, sanctification being the work of the Holy Spirit and when we no longer live but Christ lives in us then truly has the Spirit glorified Christ within us!) Everything that the Father has is Mine; for this reason I told you that He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you.(our Christian life is through Baptism life lived in ever more complete union and communion of love with the Most Holy Trinity.) [Jn.16:4-15]
I had repented before entering the seminary but had never opened to the emotion of true penthos, that is contrition with tears; I had learned, vowed, was faithfully obedient but had never surrendered interiorly, abandoning myself to and trusting absolutely Divine Providence; I was living chastity but was not pure of heart; I’d embraced voluntary poverty but failed to yield to kenosis/self-emptying, dispossession, especially of my own agenda; I knew how to say Mass, but not how to celebrate Mass, to preach but not proclaim the Gospel, to endure pain somewhat stoically but not to be one with the Suffering Christ, knew I was created by God but without any understanding or experience of being child of Abba, God my Father; yes I was a hardworking disciple of Christ but was not in love with Him nor given over to Him as the Tremendous Lover; intellectually I knew it was true through Baptism I was a living temple of the Holy Spirit but I was not trusting enough to be motivated only by Him, to live and move with Him; I saw conversion as what I had done when I stopped my hedonistic/atheistic way of life, not as what it is in truth, a continuous life reality of metanoia/an ever more complete, profound, change of heart; I was faithful to saying my prayers but resisted that purification which allows the Holy Spirit to make me prayer; I could meditate, that is think about the mysteries of our faith, but would not let go of my intellect long enough to be swept off my feet by the Trinity, into the depths of contemplation; I read Scripture, thought about it, but was not permeated by the Gospel to the point where I could preach the Gospel with my entire life, being, without any compromise; I was a good pastor¬/administrator but had never learned how to be a shepherd-father and thus while I was a good care-giver failed to be a humble, hidden, loving servant of His people, my people; I knew about God but did not know Him or truly believe I was known by Him; intellectually I was open about the need for some professional help to deal with the ravages of the traumatic events of my life, but failed to risk opening to the Holy Spirit so He might purge me of the bitter-roots of those events and the inner ¬vows I had made to survive life by my own wits; the Cross of Christ was something I endured, not a gift I took up, nor embraced, childlike, in-joyful-suffering following Him; being a priest was a type of contented fulfillment but because I was so proud and self-reliant I had no experience of the ineffable joy of priesthood, hence it was my identity-profession rather than my vocation-being; in a word I ‘did’ priest rather well, rather than being priest well; faced with any demand, problem, issue, pain I’d get going intellectually and solve it, indeed was often told there seemed no challenge I couldn’t deal with, which was not true, because the central challenge of trusting God, simply put, of letting go and letting God, was beyond me; each day I’d check my list made the night before, my agenda, but failed to put my face to the ground and ask: what Father is Your Holy Will for this day?
Simply put while the traumatic events of the false accusation and its immediate aftermath had cracked my defences, by the time I was in that western town I’d pretty well shored up the breeches, so that Holy Spirit was going to have to pulverize them!
It began simply enough.
We were working to rebuild a stone fence in the broiling late summer heat far from any shade and I was so into the work I failed to drink enough water.
The next morning when I went to get out of bed I collapsed onto the floor.
Within a few minutes the women had me rushed to the hospital where it was determined I’d suffered heatstroke.
Once I was well enough to travel I returned east to The Community.
The severe vertigo did not clear up however and that is how it happened, as noted in earlier chapters, I endured a series of medical tests as a tumour was suspected, and hence how I came to have the original time to begin this journey inward through the notes which form the foundation of the major part of this work.
At the same time, weakened physically by the heatstroke, my mind took advantage of my vulnerability and I entered a period of emotional panic and depression. My spiritual father, seeing this, said to me one evening I should be sure and take my medicine. I asked him what medicine was that. When he realized, for the first time since somehow it had never come up in any discussion over the years, I had never been treated medically for chronic anxiety attacks, he immediately phoned a doctor friend, who was also a Christian Therapist.
I saw this wonderful Doctor the next day and began both medicinal and talk-therapy and within a few months was much better.
Then suddenly the appeal was ruled upon and I was fully vindicated by the Judges who heard the case.
Re-called by my Bishop, assigned as a hospital chaplain it seemed all was well.
In point of fact I’d been through a type of spiritual MASH Unit experience, which is I’d responded enough in therapy and spiritual direction to be patched up and returned to the front lines.
The Holy Spirit, however, is a much more through surgeon and within a few months the anxiety attacks returned and under obedience to my spiritual father I began long term talk therapy because I had never grieved the sorrows in my life and at the same time I began spending more time in silence with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
All culminating in this sabbatical: to write, pray and paint.
Which brings me to the source of the title of this chapter: “You feel like a top…”and the single, outside of Sacred Scripture, most important source of teaching me to begin the beginning of trusting and surrendering to the Father’s love, to trusting that where sin abounds grace abounds all the more, to opening wide the door of my being to Christ and submitting, freely, joyfully, to the activity of the Holy Spirit.
I speak of a letter written in 1970 by The Servant of God Catherine Doherty entitled: PARADOXES OF THE SPIRIT.
It was my spiritual father who, in the midst of all that happened, told me to truly take this wisdom into my heart.
Ever since then, for more than a decade now, it has been a constant source of meditation.
I am only barely beginning to open up to all Catherine teaches here, but the peace and joy which is ever increasing in my life as tangible experience of the Father’s love, the love of Jesus and the Spirit’s love, makes being pulverized not so bad a grace after all!
Here I will only excerpt some lines from this tremendous teaching letter, for, as said, in this, as in so much, I am but a beginner.
….Whenever you experience inwardly any annihilation of yourself, you will feel an overpowering urge to assert yourself outwardly, to imprint yourself on life. “Look, folks, I exist! I’m here. I haven’t disappeared. I’m a person. Listen to me!” [ ds-1]
That is certainly how this writing began, until it was blessed by my spiritual father and I radically re-wrote so the emphasis, please God, is not on me but rather on how our loving Father, our loving Redeemer, our loving Sanctifier transforms abundance of our sins, and the impact of sins committed against us, into an even more lavish abundance of grace, of mercy, the communion of Love Himself.
The Holy Spirit seems to annihilate your spirit, you see; or so it will appear to you. Sheets of flames and raging wind and all types of symbols will come into your imagination. You see they are terrible, terribilis, in their power to overwhelm you. You suddenly feel like this: “Where is the Kingdom which He calls me to, which He has promised now, for today?…It is not true, what’s happening to me!…This can’t be right!….It’s too heavy…Make it go away and come gently.” [ds-2]
When Jesus allowed the disciples to travel onto the lake and be caught in the storm which raged, no doubt they experienced what Catherine describes happens in our emotions, mind, soul. We can see clearly in the Holy Gospel their fear. When Peter challenged the reality of the Lord and the Lord showed him His reality, Peter walked on water until he allowed the wind and the waves to overcome him with their terribleness. Then Peter sank, but the moment he cried out to the Lord the Lord rescued him. In that moment of rescue came the profession of faith[Mt.14:22-33].
It is we who are afraid. It is Jesus, true God, who comes to us telling us NOT to be afraid.
For over twenty years Pope John Paul II, indeed since the beginning of his pontificate, has cried out as well, beseeching us to not be afraid of God, of self, of life, of other, but to open wide the door of our being to Christ.
This call to open wide the door of our being is not just for the un-baptized, but for all Christians, not just for the laity, but for religious and priests as well.
Indeed it is the call of Love, offering love, to every human being!
Because of original sin, the first aftermath of which is fear of God and the terrifying, vain, attempt to hide from our loving Father, here we are two millennia after our Redemption and the Gift of the Holy Spirit, still so terribly fearful.
…you’re devastated inside…utterly devastated. And it is in these devastations, and in this being touched by God, then you feel dizzy. You feel like a top, because you don’t know where a top is going to end up…..Slowly, slowly you sink down to the floor because it gets harder and harder to move…Now the grace is that you are on the floor, that you haven’t turned your back to God and walked away. That’s the grace. That’s the beginning of your growth in faith: you’re there! He was on the cross, and you are on the floor. After you get up, your soul feels like a thousand sponges that have been squeezed out, but it doesn’t matter. Grace can go through inward sponges like water goes through outward ones……..[ds-3]
Catherine has written elsewhere that in God every moment is the moment of beginning again.
I am learning each moment is grace.
THIS MOMENT IS GRACE AND WE RECIEVE GRACE FOR GRACE JOHN 1:16 AND SO ALL IS GRACE!
A final word:
I began this work on sabbatical towards the end of the last year of the 20th century and have worked on it intermittently since then.
In the nine years since that sabbatical I was vindicated by Church and the secular courts, return to active priestly ministry, taught, gave lectures and missions in many, many places, wrote and eventually was made a pastor of several places.
Then, without warning, everything was turned upside down across the Church with scandal, across the world with 9/11 and eventually in my own life.
Currently I am working on a second book about this first decade of the 21st century in the Church, the Priesthood and my own life and ask your prayer for this new project.
Rev. Arthur Joseph
Holy Easter, 2009