Category Archives: Autobiography



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]


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.
This moment!
I am learning each moment 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

56 COLOSSIANS 1: 24-29

BEFORE BEGINNING THIS night’s writing I went and walked about the town, praying the Holy Rosary for all the  sleeping workers, the sick in hospital, those in the county jail, night workers, children, passengers on the rushing night trains, people working night shifts everywhere, and especially for every priest on the face of the earth.
I walked the snow covered sidewalks, the dark alleys, deeply aware of every person, those saints unknown but to God, sinners likewise, children of the Father all, souls for whom Christ lavishly poured Himself out to the last drop, hearts to whom the Holy Spirit is seeking continually to be invited to pour Himself within, more, more, more!
The walk, the prayer, was deeply needed for I am about to write about the strangest period of my life.
I say strange, but mystery applies as well, mystery of the struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, satan and the disciples of Christ.
Once this work is completed I intend, God willing, as approved by my spiritual father, to write another book. It will be on the priesthood and therein I shall try and raise a cautionary voice that we Bishops and Priests need to get past the quagmire of reducing every evil to a social justice issue or some psychological problem and face the reality of satanic activity and use the sacramental authority we have.
What follows should illustrate what happens when priests are not properly trained to deal with evil, but rather have been trained to approach things in an overly rationalistic and intellectual, a problem-to-be-solved manner.
In literature perhaps the most famous play that offers a study in the psychology of evil, and it could be argued even contains a philosophy of evil, is Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
In Act 4, Scene 1 is found this chilling exchange:
Macbeth: How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags, What is’t you do?
All the Witches: A deed without a name.
Macbeth: I conjure you by that which you profess, Howe’er you come to know it, answer me.
Though you untie the winds and let them fight
Against the churches, though the yeasty waves
Confound and swallow navigation up,
Though bladed corn be lodged and trees blown down,
Though castles topple on their warder’s heads,
Though palaces and pyramids do slope
Their heads to their foundations, though the treasure
Of nature’s germens tumble all together
Even till destruction sicken, answer me
To what I ask you.
First Witch: Speak.
Second Witch: Demand.
Third Witch: We’ll answer.
First Witch: Say if thou’dst rather hear it from our mouths
Or from our masters.
Macbeth: Call’em, let me see’em.[dm]
What is telling about this passage is the reality that ordinary persons choose to dialogue with, seek the cooperation of, evil spirits. Given the era in which the play is set, the 11th Century, one could assume the women most likely would have been baptized as infants; hence it is baptized souls who have chosen the black-arts and have submitted to ‘masters’, that is, evil spirits.
Macbeth himself freely chooses to approach these witches and indeed chooses further to have them conjure up the evil spirits that he may communicate with them.
Macbeth cares not a whit that opening his being to such evil means the witches might unleash chaos through creation even so far as to unleash a ‘fight against the churches’ or to the point where the extent of chaos renders even that ‘destruction sicken’.
There are, of course, two errors, two dangers which must be avoided here.
First is to accredit to satan and his minions more power than they have, for in truth they have none more than God permits. Christ has already vanquished satan. Hence while an individual soul may surrender to satan, that is by their free will hand themselves over to him, satan can never overcome the Church, Christ’s Body on earth, for Christ has already crushed satan.
Second is to assume satan does not exist or is no longer at war against the followers of Christ.
Of the two I would suggest the latter is the more serious error and is the one most commonly found among modernist clergy and laity alike.
Modern media, while mocking the Church for her authentic teaching on the reality of sin, evil, satan, nonetheless will never hesitate to promote any book, song, tv show or movie about evil, evil spirits, or witchcraft, because such things, tragically, are money machines.
In Sacred Scripture perhaps the most familiar text on evil experienced as suffering and satan’s role therein, and the act of God permitting this, other than in the life and suffering of Christ Himself, is to be found in the Book of Job.
Job was a good and holy man, and satan challenged God that Job was good only because he was amply blessed by God.
Were he not so then he would curse God.
Job’s suffering is permitted, his experience of evil, his being attacked by satan, as a test which not only proves his goodness but enhances it.
Throughout God in His tender mercy sets a limit to what satan may do, for God will never allow us to be tested beyond our strength nor to be destroyed.
Only we can, in a sense, self-destruct through a total rejection of His mercy.
Self-destruction is, in reality, choosing eternal damnation over the salvation and eternity of love with Love Himself purchased for us by, and offered to us by Christ, through the fullness of His Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection.
Perhaps the most astute teaching on this whole matter of the reality of spiritual warfare, of the struggle between good and evil, the mystery of human suffering, the reality of sin even after the death and resurrection of Christ, is found in the Apostolic Letter: SALVIFICI DOLORIS (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering) by Pope John Paul II, issued on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11, 1984.
It is not my intent here to do a dissertation on this seminal document, rather to use it as a reference point, for it was to become, after the originating experience of extreme suffering as a result of an experience of evil, a source of gradual understanding of what had happened, why it had been permitted by God and how I should respond.
Sacred Scripture is a great book about suffering. It can be said that man suffers whenever he experiences any kind of evil. In the midst of what constitutes the psychological form of suffering there is always an experience of evil, which causes the individual to suffer. While it is true that suffering has a meaning as punishment when it is connected with a fault, it is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment. Suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance. [dn]
A friend asked me recently if I had finished writing this story of Divine Love and Mercy, and I said that I was about to write the final chapters and was struggling with this most difficult one.
My friend then asked if that was because this writing was affecting me more than expected.
I thought for a moment and realized yes indeed it does.
The effective affect has been increase of joy as I have come to understand the absolute truth of the statement that where sin abounds grace abounds all the more.
Having set the stage then about the reality of spiritual warfare and the mystery of suffering as grace of ultimate conversion I paraphrase the words of St. Paul which form the title to this chapter: rejoicing in suffering for the sake of others and surrendering to fulfilling in my own being that portion of Christ’s suffering He offers [Col. 1: 24-29].
So I arrived in the new parish.
Unknown to me at the time I had been sent into a situation fraught with extreme spiritual and emotional danger for me.
Indeed it would have been dangerous for any priest.
It was a situation equivalent to that faced by the patron saint of parish priests, St. John Vianney.
Unlike him, however, I was not formed, nor prepared, to handle the challenges that faced me from a perspective of an intense interior life.
Rather I immediately fell into the trap which exhausts many priests and results in many priests leaving the priesthood.
I became performance oriented.
The area I was sent to was racked with problems normally encountered in dense urban areas, but because of modern highway systems and media even remote areas have become places of occult activity, covens, satanic ritual, cults, drug abuse, violence, new age activity and the rest.
Some things should have been obvious clues to me this was going to be an extremely stressful situation, such as the church building itself which was practically devoid of all Catholic symbolism.
No statues, votive lights, the Blessed Sacrament in faded brass tabernacle set to one side. Indeed the building physically, in materials and colour, resembled a subway station more than a church.
The rectory itself was in such a state of chaos I was about to report a break-in when a woman from the parish stopped by to ask for an announcement to be placed in the bulletin and informed me the place ‘ always looks like this’!
It would be several months before the promised assistant was sent by the Bishop, nonetheless, thanks to the cooperation of the people, for it is key to any parish to have the people desirous to build a worshiping, charitable community, we began to restore the interior of the church and rectory, do much needed repairs, tackle the debt, begin home visits and programs to help people return to the sacraments, or become Catholic, re-established devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and restore devotion to Our Blessed Mother.
One of my great concerns was the amount of violence in that area.
Everything, from violent domestic situations, to work-related accidents in the area factories and forest operations, to highway carnage.
One accident scene I was called to involved so many deaths and injuries that the snow was so saturated with blood my feet were soaked. Body parts were scattered everywhere. It took days before the smell of blood left me.
Then there were the many suicides, and the desecration, sometimes by burning, of churches.
Throughout the nation in the same period more and more news reports had to do with abuse of children by priests. The Bishop warned all priests to be aware some people were taking advantage of the climate to falsely accuse priests in order to win huge lawsuits, for, tragically, the very Bishops who had failed to deal rightly with actual cases of abuse where now presuming guilt everywhere and often dismissing priests and settling lawsuits without due process.
One day an elderly man from the parish came and told me of an abandoned church which had once been a place where Holy Mass had been celebrated and of his distress about its condition and would I come with him and pray there for forgiveness of those who had destroyed the building.
I went with him and was heartbroken to find the ruins filled with satanic symbols spray painted on the ruined walls.
We prayed.
I left that place feeling the ominous presence of evil shadowing me.
Sometime later, through what appeared at first as ordinary circumstances, I was required to deal with members of a powerful cult, not knowing at the outset of the meeting these persons belonged to the cult.
Once I found out, from their own frank admission, they belonged to the cult I had no option but to tell them I could not fulfill what they were requesting unless they left the cult.
This infuriated them and they said, very softly, yet coldly: “We will destroy you.”
About a week later the Bishop called to inform me he had been made aware, by an anonymous source, of a whisper campaign suggesting I was not to be trusted around children.
By this point almost two years had passed since I had been first assigned as pastor in that parish and by this time I was also a full blown workaholic with the result that television had replaced contemplation, movies and beer on my day off had replaced days of recollection, novels had replaced spiritual reading.
Externally I was doing all the right priestly things, that is I preached well, celebrated Holy Mass and the other sacraments, did home visits, spent lots of time in administration, had all sorts of programs going in the parish for married couples, the elderly, youth, groups with particular devotions, such as to the Holy Rosary were encouraged and operating, the sick were visited in hospital and so forth.
Indeed it seemed to me I had, by God’s grace, come a very long way from the atheistic and hedonistic life I had led before my conversion and eventual entrance to the seminary and that since my ordination life had been good, fulfilling.
All very true.
All very human.
All very external, for as yet I did not fully appreciate the Divine Lover is jealous, that is, He desires He alone be our true love. [Ex.43:14 & Dt. 4:24]
Rather than being devoted to an intimate relationship in love with the Tremendous Lover Himself, and from that love having a passionate love in humble service of His people, I had become enamoured of what I was ‘doing’, namely I had given priority to what ‘I’ was accomplishing as a priest and forgotten whose parish it really was.
I, through my performance addiction, was cutting myself off from Him.
Cutting ourselves off from Him is to become powerless and to forget our true love [Jn. 15:5 & Rev. 3:14-22]
It is an understandable human tendency, much like flowing water, to seek the path of least resistance.
We are all called to be saints.
Yet so rare is true saintliness that when a holy person is spotted, such as Mother Theresa, they become phenomena, when in reality what should be extraordinary would be to find a Christian who is NOT holy.
The Pharisees encountered in the Gospel, and those who followed them, we not, per se, evil people. True, some of the leaders became so and warred against Christ, but most I would argue were sincere followers of the Decalogue, seeking to observe the Covenant between the Lord God and His Chosen People.
However they too fell into the performance trap and became stuck, as it were, on the external path of least resistance.
Jesus would try and shake them out of their spiritual rigidity; their forgetting God calls us to a profound interior communion of love, not just external observance: Mt. 15: 7-9.
The human precept I was ‘teaching’ as a ‘doctrine’ was that doing sacrament is the same as being sacrament.
It is not enough, for example, to celebrate Holy Mass, to participate in Holy Mass, our entire life must be permeated by the Mass, that is by communion of love: His love for us and our love for Him manifested through love of one another, love in action, and a profound interior relationship with Him, love in contemplation.
Thus being caught up in performance and increasingly neglectful of the intimate relationship with Christ I failed to be aware of reality as noted by Pope Paul VI and referred to eloquently by Rutler in his work on St. John Vianney:
The modern age, which has seen the power of evil so gigantically displayed, is also a time of disbelief in the existence of evil. In 1972, Pope Paul VI told nations reeling from hunger, violence, indolence, and nuclear threats that evil is not an absence of good: it is a ‘living, spiritual being’ who is perverted and perverts: ‘What are the greatest needs of the Church today? Do not let our answer surprise you as being over simple or superstitious and unreal: one of the greatest needs is defence from that evil which is called the devil.’ And he publicly lamented that the smoke of satan had even entered the Church. [do]
Some of the acrid cloud of that smoke centered on the sins of some priests and all priests would find themselves choking on it.
The Bishop had warned me about the whispers.
His warning had been like that any office manger might give an employee who was the subject of office gossip.
I was so busy doing the work as a priest I never gave it much thought until one day in early winter the Bishop phoned again.
This time he was more forthcoming and said the whispers were I had touched a child inappropriately and he ordered me to cooperate with the police.
No lawyer was offered and so none was present when I was interviewed.
I had done no such thing, indeed the very notion of such things sickens, but I had been ordered by the Bishop to participate in the interview.
Once it was over, stressful as it was I had to wait a bit more than a week before I was told they were satisfied it was a lie and that was, supposedly, that.
In retrospect after that it is almost unbelievable that I could have simply resumed the ordinary rounds of priestly life.
That I did not flee to the Bishop and ask him to send the official Exorcist of the diocese to come and cleanse the parish and environs is proof of the too human way I was dealing with the shock and stress of the false accusation.
For some weeks things seemed normal, though I was in a constant state of anxiety.
Then word reached me that the whispering was more intense and that someone had gone over the heads of the police to the prosecutor and that this matter was still very much alive.
A few days later there was a knock at the rectory door very early in the morning and when I opened the door uniformed police shoved me against the wall and told me I was under arrest for suspicion of child abuse.
A couple of hours later, after once again being interviewed, fingerprinted, formally charged, all without benefit of a lawyer, I was released with a court date.
I immediately phoned the Bishop and was ordered to leave town and stay with The Community.
This I did.
Eventually I got a lawyer, out of the yellow pages.
The trial took place over several weeks, a day here, a day there.
Oddly the whole point seemed to be not the accusation, which was that I had inappropriately patted a teenage male, but rather an assault on priesthood as constant reference was made to what ‘other’ priests had done around the country and even more odd, factually more satanic, the way the lie had been told my only defence would have been to violate the seal of confession which I refused to do.
On the last day in court I emptied my pockets before entering, convinced I would be declared guilty and sent to prison.
I had been in a state of shock for weeks and in a type of spiritual darkness such that I had not a shred of trust in God being greater than the evil swirling around me and so my prayer life was in shambles.
However by a special grace I was able to make an ascent to His Divine Will before entering the court that final time.
The Judge went into a long, rambling statement that I found hard to follow but the upshot was he acquitted me of what I had been accused of.
Then he said since I was a priest it was probable there was some truth to the matter and convicted me of a misdemeanour, sentenced jail time, suspended that, put me on probation with no conditions.
Informed of this turn of events the Bishop told me to remain with The Community, hire the best lawyers, launch an appeal, since I was innocent and this conviction should not be allowed to stand.
The evil one terrorizes no one as much as he is terrified himself by Christ the Victor….[dp]


The appeal process would take three long years during which I would learn that, for all the baptized as well as for the ordained, being, and being in communion of love with Him, is the essential.
Only flowing from our being in union with Him does our doing have salvific meaning.
It is a lesson I am still learning.
I had thought, sincerely, the radical conversion of external habit and lifestyle sufficed.
I had failed to continue that interior conversion where God alone is God.
My priestly service had been effective, and that too was part of the problem.
It had been too much mine, not purely His.
All is grace!
All Sacred Scripture is filled with examples, prefiguration of His ultimate act of deliverance of us through the death and resurrection of Christ, of how our Father delivers us from evil: Noah, the escape across the desert of the Chosen People, the young men in the furnace, Susanna.
Indeed ever since my own experience I have never failed to appreciate the Scripture readings at the Easter Vigil, as with all Scripture, as not merely the telling of His mercy to the collective of the human family, but of His particular mercy in the intimate communion of love with each individual.
However it would take years for me to understand why He permitted such a profound experience of evil and such protracted suffering.



WHEN I WAS a child, decades before the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated according to the basic formula laid down after the Council of Trent, thus it is commonly known as the Tridentine Mass.


In the section known as THE MASS OF THE FAITHFUL of that liturgy, the priest began with an Offertory verse:

BENEDICTUS SIT DEUS PATER: Blessed be God, the Father, and the Only-Begotten Son of God, and also the Holy Spirit: because He has shown His mercy towards us!

It was participating in those Masses, celebrated according to the, by then, ancient rite, in Latin, and later as an altar boy serving Mass, that the earliest conscious memory of my life began to flower into a profound desire: to be a priest!

The fire of that desire was always the longing to celebrate Holy Mass.

As is clear from reading this telling of the mystery that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more, often times, frequently for years on end, it seemed that dream was impossible, if not virtually rejected by the sinful choices I so often made.

Now, in the first years of my fortieth decade of life, my studies completed, the Bishop was calling me to ‘orders’, that is, he had set the date for my priestly ordination.

Throughout my seminary years I had asked Our Blessed Mother that, if possible, the chosen date by the Bishop would be on one of her feasts. And so it would be, and not only that, but the same date as the ordination of my spiritual father, which had taken place nearly a quarter of a century before mine.

I was to be ordained with four confreres and so this meant the cathedral was packed with all our families, friends, relatives and, most movingly, not only the priests of the diocese but various priest friends and newly ordained confreres from across the country.

Reception of any sacrament is so sacred that any attempt to put the event, the experience, in words, will necessarily always fail to convey the full impact of sacred mystery.

Yet I feel in my heart an attempt must be made.

Not, however, with my own words.

There are no better words than those of Holy Mother the Church herself, from the Preface to the Canon of the Mass for the Mass of Ordination:

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give You thanks.

By Your Holy Spirit You anointed Your only Son High Priest of the new and eternal covenant.

With wisdom and love You have planned that this one priesthood should continue in the Church.

Christ gives the dignity of a royal priesthood to the people He has made His own.

From these, with a brother’s love, He chooses men to share His sacred ministry by the laying on of hands.

He appoints them to renew in His Name the sacrifice of our redemption as they set before Your family His paschal meal.

He calls them to lead Your holy people in love, nourish them by Your word, and strengthen them through the sacraments.

Father, they are to give their lives in Your service and for the salvation of Your people as they strive to grow in the likeness of Christ and honour You by their courageous witness of faith and love.

Within that brief solemn prayer is contained the whole truth about this sacred mystery of a mere man being sacramentally transfigured by the Holy Spirit into Christ.

It is the holy will of the Father there be but one priest, one mediator, Jesus Christ.

It is also the holy will of the Father that Christ be truly, always, present among us in the reality of sacramental life, most especially in the Holy Eucharist.

For this reality to be made present in time, space, history, the Father wills through the power of the Holy Spirit that men be sacramentally transfigured in persona Christi, in the person of Christ.

It is Christ who chooses the man to be ordained.

It is NOT the man who assumes priesthood.

It is the power of the Holy Spirit, passed by Christ to the Apostles in the upper room and through them to their successors, the bishops and priests across the millennia through the laying on of hands, the invocation of the coming down of the Holy Spirit upon a man, that makes this sacramental reality, real.

The priest is to continually renew the Paschal Mystery which he does each time he celebrates Holy Mass.

He does this for the children of the Father, the family, the holy people, mentioned in the Canon, a people made holy by the same Holy Spirit through their reception of the sacraments, Baptism, gateway to sacramental life, and all the others, and when they render themselves unholy through sin the priest, in the person of Christ, has authority to absolve their sins so in Christ they can begin again to be, to live, as a holy people.

Ordination is not glorification of a man.

Ordination is sacred consecration of a servant who is to pour himself out, like Christ, for the people.

There is another word on this mystery of ordination, of priesthood, of what transpired on the day of my ordination, and it is from a woman who has an extraordinary understanding and love for this sacred mystery, in particular for every priest and who gave her life for priests, the Servant of God Catherine Doherty:

A priest is a lover of God, a priest is a lover of men, a priest is a holy man because he walks before the face of the All-Holy.

A priest understands all things, a priest forgives all things, a priest encompasses all things.

The heart of a priest is pierced, like Christ’s, with the lance of love.

The heart of a priest is open, like Christ’s, for the whole world to walk through.

The heart of a priest is a vessel of compassion, the heart of a priest is a chalice of love, the heart of a priest is the trysting place of human and divine love.

A priest is a man whose goal is to be another Christ; a priest is a man who lives to serve.

A priest is a man who has crucified himself so that he too may be lifted up and draw all things to Christ.

A priest is a man in love with God.

A priest is the gift of God to man and of man to God.

A priest is a symbol of the Word made flesh, a priest is the naked sword of God’s justice, a priest is the hand of God’s mercy, a priest is the reflection of God’s love.

Nothing can be greater in this world than a priest, nothing but God Himself. [dg]


Finally, there being on the face of the earth as I write these lines no more consummate living icon of the fullness of this sacred, awesome, mystery of sacramental Divine Mercy, than Pope John Paul II, it is from him this final word, seeking to convey the ineffable grace of my ordination and of every moment of being priest, now nearly twenty years a reality of my being:

The one about to receive Holy Orders prostrates himself completely and rests his forehead on the church floor, indicating in this way his complete willingness to undertake the ministry being entrusted to him……I was thinking back on that moment of ordination and I wrote a poem………Peter, you are the floor, that others may walk over you…not knowing where they go. You guide their steps……In lying prostrate on the floor in the form of a cross before one’s ordination, in accepting in one’s own life — like Peter — the cross of Christ and becoming with the Apostle a ‘floor’ for our brothers and sisters, one finds the ultimate meaning of all priestly spirituality. [dh]

Until the day I am lain in a plain pine box, vested as all priests are in death to celebrate Holy Mass, each moment of my life has been, will be, a continual, graced, struggle to become what I am by ordination: PRIEST!

To become, joyfully, ‘floor’!




SNOW is falling in that mysterious gentleness so unlike rain!


There was a news story the other day, about a man whose hobby is catching snowflakes on pieces of glass coated with a special substance which keeps them from melting. He examines them under a microscope, chooses the most unique, manages with another process to colour them and then photographs them.

The pictures are astonishing images of the not-visible-to-the-naked eye tapestry of ice-crystal beauty, an example of the intricate weaves of beauty the Beautiful One Himself has woven into the basic fabric of creation.

Before beginning to write this evening I stood in the gentle snow and let some of those tiny vessels of beauty fall upon my face, profoundly aware that the Beautiful One chose to manifest Himself in our flesh, chose for Himself a human face, chose also to remind us that we can, with our eyes, always see the beauty of His Face whenever we look upon the face of any human being.

To see the beautiful Face of Jesus, to see Jesus, is to see our Father. [Jn.14:9]

SUDDENLY events can occur which transport us from what has become familiar, ordinary, indeed in a sense a false-godlike serenity, that when they happen we can experience an inner trauma which rattles us so deeply even our very faith can be shaken.

I had no sooner written about seeing Jesus and the Father [Jn.14:9], when such an experience occurred in my life and for almost a week I was, by necessity of circumstance, living out of my briefcase with no settled place to finish this sabbatical.

Suffice to say what occurred happened to a friend, involved violence against their person and my intervening to obtain them a place of safety, in the process of which I then became the target and my spiritual father discerned satan was afoot and since finishing the sabbatical is clearly the will of God for me, best I relocate.

The Bishop agreed to the offer of a confrere and so I am now no longer in that southern city of factories but in a more northerly one. I am to live here for the remaining four months.

The advantage, which most consoles my heart, is the ground floor chapel where Jesus lives in the Blessed Sacrament and where I can spend time with Him as often as I want.

I must admit that there was a strange, — I almost wrote premonition but that is not correct, rather there was granted to my heart a mysterious awareness as I began this chapter that soon there would be an attack and I was not to worry, all would be well in the end.

Indeed, on my travels over the past week, a dear woman friend, not knowing I have been writing this very manuscript, begged me to write such a work and within the hour a dear, newly ordained, priest friend made the same supplication.

Thus, as Weigel reminds us in his seminal work on Pope John Paul II, this truth uttered by the Holy Father: …in the designs of Providence there are no mere coincidences…[da]

Since in a few days I am to finish this and then begin my work on the second manuscript, on the priesthood, how wonderful to be living in a rectory where Jesus lives under the same roof in the Blessed Sacrament. I can bring each page before Him.

BEFORE THOSE events I was beginning to write about my seminary years. It has come to my heart to write about that experience as with that of my monastic years and those with The Community.

I have found over the years, often in books, articles, most assuredly, sadly, in conversation with priests across the generations, there seems to be an overly negative collection of memories of seminary life.

It’s part of this culture of blame we live in which has infected even the lives of priests.

For me seminary life was essentially a joy.

Certainly there were stresses, sufferings, struggles, but then why not?

The grace I was given was a profound awareness that being a seminarian, at the time I was in the seminary, was my vocation in that moment.

True, being in the seminary was preparation for fulfillment of my vocation to be a priest, but all ‘vocations’ are within the universal vocation which is that we are created to be children of the Father, disciples and co-heirs with Christ, living temples of the Holy Spirit, open wide to His activity of transfiguration, sanctification, divinization.

Seminaries are not perfect institutions which meet all the physical, emotional, spiritual needs of seminarians; not all professors are orthodox or holy; not all confreres either. Seminaries are where, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, men are formed to surrender to the sacramental action of the Holy Spirit, not just on the day of our ordination and configuration to Christ Priest, but every moment of our lives.

My duty of the moment, when I was in the seminary, was NOT to become the greatest theologian, liturgist, canonist, nor become a clerical administrator, rather it was to do my best to surrender to the Prime Teacher, the Prime Former of my being, the Holy Spirit, and to sit at the feet of the Mother of all Priests and learn from her how to do as she did, love and serve the Lord Himself through loving service, of sacramentally most of all as a priest, my brothers and sisters.

I frankly found all of the courses fascinating, from Sacred Scripture to Church History to Liturgy, Sacraments, and so forth.

The pastoral experiences in parishes, working with the poor, teaching children catechism, all were fuel to the fire burning within me to become a priest-servant of the people of God.

Granted, I was no fan of examinations and tried where possible to choose courses where a major paper replaced written exams. Failing that I’d try and choose ones where it was an oral rather than a written exam. In both cases I was moving from my strengths as a writer and orator.

The fact that we lived in the same house as Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament was also a great joy. I loved the Divine Office, still do, and, of course, Holy Mass, which I now as a priest can celebrate every day and it remains the greatest joy of my life!

If there was a common denominator I found, and treasure, from among the professors and seminarians, indeed even among the cooks, cleaners, office staff, the religious sisters who worked there, it is that virtually all shared a firm belief in the treasure and importance of the sacramental priesthood.

Not everyone made it through those years of study and formation. Indeed it is a truism commonly spoken when someone would leave of their own accord, or even be rejected at evaluation time, a twice yearly ordeal we all sweated through, that: “The best guys leave.”

I say a truism because, like all platitudes, it articulates, in this instance, a fear, that is: “ If they got rid of him what chance have I got?”

In reality no vocation has to do, per se, with the mere external talents of any person. Talents are given generously by the Holy Spirit to everyone.

Vocation has to do with call and response.

He calls, we respond.

Our response is an act of trust that He will provide all the grace, which is all the mature and holy use of talent, needed to fulfill the vocation He has called us to and we have said yes to.

This call and response occurs constantly in every moment of our lives.

There is, of course, the initial call and initial response, but, as in marriage so in priesthood, in all vocations, there is the very real necessity in every moment in Him to begin again, to in every moment say YES!

To my heart, then, the essence of the seminary experience was the action deep within my being of the Holy Spirit, the true Teacher and the One who configures us to Christ, in the case of men called to the priesthood this configuration is a sacramental reality, not as some reward for having passed final exams, gained a degree — but as fulfillment, sacramentally, of Christ’s promise not to leave us orphans.

The priest, not because of his studies but in the reality of the sacramental activity of the Holy Spirit, is configured by the Spirit IN PERSONA CHRISTI.

Seminary life then should generate humble, holy men, servants of the disciples of Christ.

All else is secondary to this formation towards humility and holiness, itself the work of the Holy Spirit and thus our word for, our prayer, for all seminarians should be seek only of Christ all that we need and doing only/all that pleases Him. [Hb. 13:20,21]

While it would be untrue to claim the seminary was exactly as described in the decree Optatan Totius of the Second Vatican Council on priestly formation, nonetheless the result of my seminary experience, and in a most particular adjunct grace, my continued association with The Community, especially the wise teaching of my spiritual father, was as prayed for by the Council Fathers who decreed:

Major seminaries are necessary for priestly training. In them the whole training of the students should have as its object to make them true shepherds of souls after the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, teacher, priest and shepherd. Hence, they should be trained for the ministry of the Word, so that they may gain an ever increasing understanding of the revealed Word of God, making it their own by meditation, and giving it expression in their speech and in their lives. They should be trained for the ministry of worship and sanctification, so that by prayer and the celebration of the sacred liturgical functions they may carry on the work of salvation through the Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments. They should be trained to undertake the ministry of the shepherd, that they may know how to represent Christ to men, CHRIST WHO ‘ DID NOT COME TO HAVE SERVICE DONE TO HIM, BUT TO SERVE OTHERS AND TO GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR THE LIVES OF MANY’ [ Mk.10:45; Jn.13:12-17], and that they may win over many by becoming the servants of all [1Cor.9:19] {db}

The mystery of suffering, the purification and redemptive mystery of the Cross, is, because such was the reality for Christ and therefore is necessarily for all His disciples{Mk.8:34}] was not absent from my years in the seminary.

The greatest suffering of that period was to occur around the death of one of my sisters and the subsequent attempt by satan, through the actions of a seminarian, to discourage me from priesthood.

It would not be the last time satan would mount such an attack, as is evident by the events around the writing of this very chapter!

At the beginning of summer break after my first year, my sister phoned one day from the military base where she lived with her husband and children. She asked if I could meet her at the main cancer institute.

I had known for some time that she had cancer and for some time it appeared the surgery and chemotherapy had arrested the disease.

I met her the following evening after the phone call at the cancer institute’s guest house. She revealed to me she had not much longer to live, asked if I would be there when the time came, made a few other requests, and then we spoke of our childhood, life since then, God and life after death.

When the time came for us to part, until I should get word the end was near and would travel to her home, I walked out of the institute into the now dark summer night.

I sat on a bench near a bus stop, my being in the throes of a type of grief not experienced since the death of my grandmother some four decades previous.

Shock had gripped me.

Anger seethed, rebellion beckoned.

What kind of a God would call me to this vocation and then tear the very fabric of my heart through this horror which was devouring my sister?

I wanted to run from that bench and plunge myself into some kind, any kind, of instant gratification: booze, sex, rage, it really didn’t matter.

Instead I walked across the street and bought a pack of cigarettes, figuring, in the immediate at least, it was the less destructive gratification.

Then I went down into the subway, boarded the first train, rode around for a while until the shock lessened, at which time I switched to the right train and headed back to the seminary.

I’d been hired to work there over the summer cleaning rooms between the various retreat groups’ coming and going while the students were away. At the same time I was taking summer courses in subjects as diverse as medical ethics and comparative mysticism, wherein the prayer traditions of the various world religions were studied.

I was glad to be busy as I waited for that dreadful call I knew was coming.

Early in the fall, when we had returned to the seminary program for second year studies, the call came and with the rest of my family I made the long trek to the military base where, with my sister’s husband, children and friends we began the long vigil.

After what seemed like months, but which was actually only a couple of weeks, the strain of the deathbed vigil was taking such a huge toll on all concerned the night of my birthday, as I stood at the foot of my sister’s hospital bed, I begged the Father for one gift only, that she be taken home to Him.

Early the next morning she died.

I preached at her funeral.

Then next day I returned to the seminary.

Posted on my door was a note from a fellow seminarian containing within it Xeroxed copies of pages from a book in which were footnoted copies of stolen letters from me, years before my conversion, to a pro-gay ‘catholic’ group.

The seminarian’s note suggested if I did not want this information passed on to the Cardinal I should leave the seminary.

WALKING NEAR the parish church this afternoon I chanced to look up towards one of the chimneys, out of which spewing steam rose as the heat was condensed in this deep freeze weather we are having. Huddled on the rim of the chimney were two pigeons, doubtless keeping warm in the escaping heat.

My heart was thrilled to see them, to see also a fulfillment of the Lord’s words sheltering the sparrows, comforting us in our struggles, reminding us we are important to Him. [Ps.102:7-14; Lk. 12:24]

I removed the seminarian’s signature from the note. Took it, after going through my files, with copies of the original letters and went to the Rector.

I explained the situation to the Rector and that I had confirmed the originals had been stolen from the offices of the people I had sent them to, showed him the section from the book where they were quoted and informed him that someone had threatened to go to the Cardinal if I did not leave the seminary.

The Rector said he would handle things and get back to me.

Within a couple of weeks he informed me the Cardinal had said that while I need not leave the seminary immediately I should seek another diocese and transfer after that to another seminary.

The Rector said not to worry he would help me find another diocese and seminary, and indeed he helped me put together an application. At my insistence the offending material from my past was included; for it seemed to me openness was the best way to go.

I knew my past.

My present, by His grace, was not my past.

By the end of the academic year however I was still without a diocese and could not return to that seminary the following fall for the beginning of third year.

The combination of un-availed grief over my sister’s death, of the stress of dealing with the assault from that book which distracted me from grieving, and confusion over the certainty of my vocation, with the apparent end of my seminary training, took its toll as I found prayer difficult, found it extremely difficult to refrain from chucking everything and return to my pre-conversion lifestyle and attitudes.

Summer came.

I was taking courses in pastoral care and Islamic studies, trying to be faithful to my formation even though it seemed a pretty crazy thing to be doing when, come the fall and the opening of the academic year, it appeared I would be without a diocese, still unable to return to the seminary, would be also homeless and jobless.

August came.

Many friends were praying for the intervention of Our Blessed Mother, she who is the Mother of Priests in particular.

A Bishop called from out of the blue, told the Rector he had heard of my plight from another bishop in Rome. If I could come and see him that weekend he would consider my case.

At the same time arrangements were made for me to live in a house of studies of a religious order so my studies would not be interrupted if this bishop accepted me.

I packed and traveled to his diocese, was interviewed and told he would first discuss the matter with the Priest’s Senate and then give me his decision.

Summer courses were over and I traveled to The Community for a week’s rest and a visit with my spiritual father who reminded me to trust Our Blessed Mother.

Just after her feast of the Assumption word came from the Bishop: I was accepted.

…sanctification consists of enduring moment by moment all the trials and tribulation it brings, as though they were clouds behind which God lay concealed… …He directs our lives from these shadows so that, when the senses are scared, faith, taking everything in good part and for the best, is full of courage and confidence. ….However mysterious it may seem, it is in order to awaken and maintain this living faith that God drags the soul through tumultuous floods of so much suffering, trouble, perplexity, weariness and ruin. ….Nothing is more noble than a faithful heart that sees only life divine in the most grievous toil and peril….the instinct of faith is an uplifting of the heart and a reaching over and above everything that happens. [dc]

There still remained a couple of years of study, and, placement in a parish in the final year after ordination as a deacon.

During the remaining time I would learn profound lessons about social justice as a perhaps well intentioned desire to serve the poor, even more profoundly, see the sacerdos magnus, the great priest, Pope John Paul II himself revealing how to be a priest-shepherd when he visited the country.

These were the years in the universal church when the extreme forms of liberation theology were all the rage, even in the seminary. Since myself, and many of the younger men too, had been involved as laymen in the struggles against the war in Vietnam, racial justice, justice for the poor, the anti-nuclear war movement, and other liberation groups, this passion carried over into seminary life. Often the faculty would invite leaders in the various movements to lecture to us.

Sometimes, such as when a Rabbi who worked with survivors of the Holocaust and some of the men and women from the camps themselves spoke to us we were pierced to the depths of our souls. The teaching of Vatican II in NOSTRA AETATE, its righteousness and urgency, came to life as we opened our hearts to this latest mystery of the pilgrimage through history of the Chosen People, our elder brothers and sisters in faith:

Indeed, the Church reproves every form of persecution against whomsoever it may be directed. Remembering, then, her common heritage with the Jews and moved not by any political consideration, but solely by the religious motivation of Christian charity, she deplores all hatreds, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism levelled at any time or from any source against the Jews. [dd]

“The Jewish religion,” John Paul said, “ is not ‘extrinsic’ to us, but in a certain sense is ‘intrinsic’ to our own religion. With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.” [de]

Some of those involved in the issues of the day had a more deleterious effect on the seminarians and this, combined with other issues well known to contemporary Catholics resulted in the visitations of seminaries by Vatican officials, the Synod on the Priesthood and subsequent document seeking to reform seminaries.

None of this occurred in my day and yet, frankly, especially in the area of the extremes of liberation theology, I became, for a time, caught in the web of excessive activism.

Not that those were not dangerous years of potential nuclear holocaust, along with the gradual crumbling of the communist bloc, and other world events, and without failing to mention what was first called the ‘gay-flu’ but by those years had become indeed the horrific pan-epidemic called AIDS.

I recall one Holy Week when, and this is not atypical of activism gone awry in a Christian heart, some faculty, students, religious from various orders, with our protestant ministerial student counterparts, all got the notion there was no better way to celebrate the mysteries of our Redemption than to spend the week in a fasting prayer protest outside the gates of the main manufacturer of a particular type of weapon, rather than participate in the very liturgies we were being prepared to be the ministers of!

We would walk, we seminarians paired with members of a mendicant order, up and down along the chain-link fence praying for hours on end.

Mid-week there was an explosion at the plant.

Someone had bombed the place.

The next night we were there again, walking alongside the bombed plant praying when suddenly guards appeared with vicious dogs, police, some in plain clothes, swarmed us, guns and clubs at the ready.

As they ran towards us we formed a circle and continued to pray the Divine Office out loud and just as they were upon us, clubs at the ready, police vans pulling up, sirens bleating. They stopped as if they had hit a wall.

An officer in full riot gear approached and asked who was in charge and the senior priest said he was.

“What the hell are you nuts up to?”

“We’re praying.”

“For what?”

“An end to violence.”

The police silently withdrew.

However the next night a call came into the seminary from a friend at a radical catholic newspaper I used to write for, warning the order had gone out and anyone known to be in the peace movement who might be connected in any way with the bombing was being rounded up, along with files, documents, etc.

I got a couple of my classmates and we went to the offices of the paper, for some of the staff had recently been in communist countries, and indeed already some of the staff had been rounded up by the police, and we helped cull files and get rid of anything that might be used to discredit people.

Later that night I went into the seminary chapel, actually it was by then early morning, and sat before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and meditated upon His arrest and trial.

My heart knew then I was going to be ordained for everyone: the weapons builders, weapons users, those pulverized by the weapons, police, crime victims and perpetrators, for everyone.

The preferential option for the poor means a preferential option for everyone since the slum dweller is certainly poor, but how immense, ultimately, is the poverty of the slum lord.

We had been taught a narrow and self-serving use of an excerpt from Pope Paul VI’s famous encyclical Populorum Progressio as justification for priestly participation in the extremes of liberation theology. We had been regaled with tales of priests bearing arms side by side with the peasant soldiers in Asian and Latin American revolutions:

We know, however, that a revolutionary uprising — save where there is manifest,                     longstanding tyranny which would do great damage to fundamental personal rights and dangerous harm to the common good of the country…[df-1]

That part was hammered into us…but it is a distortion to leave out the Pope’s urgent warning about just what, as so many tragic histories of nations show, revolutions actually produce: injustices, throws more elements out of balance and brings on new disasters. A REAL EVIL SHOULD NOT BE FOUGHT AGAINST AT THE COST OF GREATER MISERY. [df-2]

I remembered also a vital lesson taught me by a simple man, a truly good man, during the height of the Vietnam War in the late sixties.

He was a farmer, living on a small, rocky bit of land in the hill country, the poorest part of the nation.

I was there in midsummer, helping to bale hay, and as the sun began to set behind the hills, the day’s work done, we sat on the weathered wood planks of the porch.

The man brought out some cold beer.

I’d enjoyed a simple but hearty meal with him and his family.

The children were playing among the stacked bales in the field in front of the house, his wife was in the kitchen doing the dishes and singing.

The farmer rolled a couple of smokes and passed me one.

We sat there, satisfied with sweat, food, dwindling sunlight, sounds of crickets and children’s laughter.

Silence bathed that masculine moment with the at-rightness of all.

The war, where friends of mine were dying in the paddies and jungles, the war whereof I and others were lost in a confused struggle between anger at the insanity and compassion for our friends, occupied my mind even in the midst of that idyll.

Finally I broke the silent moment with a simple question to the farmer: “What say you about the war?”

He took a long draw on his cigarette, sipped some beer, looked over his shoulder towards the torn screen door of the house, then looked towards the field, now filled with evening shadow, at his children playing: “I sit here,” he said in soft tones filled with a pure man’s authority, “and I thinks, over there, in that Vietnam, there’s a man just like me. He’s sore, but it’s a good soreness ‘cause he’s worked hard his land. He sits, like me, with another man, looks about his land, watches his sons, hears the wife singin’. His belly’s full ‘cause he worked hard and she be a fine cook.”

He paused for what seemed a long time and I watched his tired watery eyes. Then he looks at me hard.

Not judging hard, penetrating hard, like a father trying to press deep into his son vital wisdom.

He spoke with authority. “Now this man, the one like me. He loves the wife and his sons and he don’t hate me and I sure don’t hate him. So I asks myself, why do they want us to kill each other? That be my thought on the matter.”

Towards the end of the last year in seminary the Pope came to our country and since two friends of mine were co-ordinating events in our area they asked if I would help out at one of the sites.

I readily agreed and was issued various passes for the different sections of the site, including the so-called papal enclosure and a security badge to be worn, I was warned, at all times.

The night before the Pope was to arrive at the shrine site I arrived just after midnight and hundreds of people were already there, along with a contingent of police, soldiers, Red Cross volunteers, site volunteers from surrounding parishes, media people and the papal advance team.

I went into the shrine and met my priest friends who were naturally a little stressed wanting everything to be just so for the Pope.

The air, in the classic yet true phrase, was electric with expectancy.

About two in the morning it began to rain and we were concerned over the plight of the now thousands of pilgrims getting soaked by the cold rain.

Suddenly across the valley lights began to come on in the village houses, even in farm houses up in the hills.

Sometime later headlights could be seen moving towards the sight and then flashlights, bobbing like fireflies approaching the shrine.

Dozens of local men, women, and children had been awakened by the rain – by angels – made coffee, sandwiches, turned big plastic garbage bags into impromptu rain-gear for the pilgrims huddled in the rain!

The next morning the sun beat down and dried the mud rather quickly it seemed to me and warmed those hardy souls who’d been there all night.

The Holy Father arrived by helicopter and went into the shrine to first see to the sick and elderly, then came out to the main site.

I was within a few feet of where he was to pass by heading to the makeshift altar, but with my particular clearance was free to move anywhere I wanted.

The pilgrims who’d endured the night’s cold and rain pressed against the rope barrier, having the best vantage spot.

The Pope drew closer and another unexpected event happened.

Those who’d been there all night looked behind and if seeing anyone who was short, like an elderly person or a child, or just plain short, they gave up their nightlong saved great viewing spot to the person unable to see above the crowd!

Everyone wanted to see the Pope, be touched by him.

I was transfixed by his radiance and frankly don’t remember a word he said.

As I walked among the people some hours later after the Pope had left I was constantly touched, physically touched, by people to the point where I wondered if they were going to tear my cassock or surplice they literally were grabbing.

But everyone was smiling, radiant with joy.

Their touch was actually a holy gesture, for though not yet ordained they assumed I was a priest and simply stated, some of them: “It is good to touch you Father, it is a blessing.”

Later in the residence of the religious priests who care for the shrine we watched video of the just happened visit.

One of the priests was a consultant to the movie industry for films having priest characters and so forth in them.

This priest suddenly shouted: “Look at him! Look what he’s doing! What a shepherd! We’ve been doing it all wrong! Look at how he touches them and let’s them touch him. We’ve been doing it all wrong.”

Then I understood why so many had wanted to touch me.

Then I remembered all the touching of Jesus in the Gospel.

I knew then that as a priest I would always allow people to touch me, touch my vestments and would always hold any person needing to be embraced by Christ.

Some weeks later final exams came and I was called by the Bishop to be ordained a deacon.

Called to the order of service, for all priests must first be consecrated by the Holy Spirit as servants of the poor.

My seminary days were over.

INTROIBO AD ALTARE DEI [Ps.42/43: III: 4] All is grace!





EXTREME COLD and heavy snows have even reached this southern city as we approach the midpoint of the first month in this new millennium and century.


Six months, almost, have literally flown by on this sabbatical and I find myself having to place my face upon the ground these days and accept the plans I made may not all come to pass.

My face, however, is pressed even more tightly against the ground in adoration and gratitude for the intense and mysterious activity of the Holy Spirit within me, the more critical aspect of this, or any, priestly sabbatical.

I have come to the last ten pages of previously prepared notes and wonder, with a certain trepidation, yet expectancy, what will flow from my heart once I no longer have notes to refresh my memory?

By the beginning of Lent, the year before I entered the seminary, the Dean had secured a place for me to live.

It was in a working class parish.

The rectory was of the huge kind built at the turn of the century when in large parishes there was need to accommodate several priests, the pastor and curates, or, if it was a country parish, to provide overnight accommodation for the priests who would gather during Forty Hours devotions for comradeship and time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

In lieu of paying board for the accommodation I would be expected to help out on the weekends as a lay assistant to the pastor, his assistant and a resident priest who worked in the chancery. It would be, the Dean suggested, a good experience of rectory living and parish life.

I moved in there just as I began my contract as an administrator with an engineering firm.

I had by then developed a regular routine at work.

I’d arrive at the office by about seven in the morning and deal with overnight paper-work, find out from the senior engineer what needed to be done that day and then work through the morning at my desk.

At noon I would leave, go to the nearby sandwich shop for a quick lunch.

Returning to the office while most of the staff was still gone, there I’d sit at my desk, pray the Divine Office, do some spiritual reading.

At the end of the day I’d take the subway to the university where I would be in classes until ten o’clock.

Another subway trip to the rectory where, not much after eleven, I’d re-heat my supper, kindly left by the cook, doing my studies or writing essays for the various courses I was taking until about two in the morning when I’d grab about four hours sleep and begin the routine again.

On weekends, of course, not having to go to the office, I’d help out around the parish as the pastor directed: visiting shut-ins, serving Mass, answering the door, or phone.

The spring before I entered the seminary is one I shall never forget because it would be, for modern Catholics across the world, not unlike the event which so shook millions one November day in 1963.

I had gone for my usual lunch and when I returned to my desk one of the engineers, a good Muslim man, came up to me, visibly shaken. My first thought, his wife was expecting, something terrible had happened to her or the baby.

Instead I was suddenly plunged into a type of shock as he told me he had just heard on the news that the Pope had been shot.

As other staff returned to the office everyone, Christian, Jew, Muslim, non-believer alike, seemed genuinely shocked. Many were frightened that, given the struggles occurring at that time over Solidarity in Poland, various wars around the globe, not to mention the heightened tensions in the Cold War, this was the harbinger of a new world war. Some were comparing this shooting to that of the Austrian Prince which triggered World War One.

What I found most surprising, after I had taken in the first shock-wave of the news, was the impact this Pope clearly had on people of all races, religions, backgrounds, so well represented in that office.

There was such upset in the office that finally the boss suggested everybody take off early.

I went over to the Jesuit church where hundreds had gathered, most in tears, everyone shocked or confused by this event.

During Holy Mass, I don’t recall his words as much as the tone he set, the priest urged a spirit of calm, trust in the Holy Spirit, and forgiveness.

I skipped the evening’s classes and returned to the rectory where the priests were gathered around the tv, watching the latest bulletins from Rome.

Over the next few days I used my lunchtime for Mass, rather than lunch, until the news made it clear the Pope was out of danger.

The day I was first back at my desk over lunch the engineer who had first told me the Pope had been shot stopped at my desk once more.

He told me that everyone in the office knew that by the end of the summer I would be going off to the seminary to study to be a priest.

He just wanted to tell me his prayers were with me and that he thought I would make a good priest.

The suffering of the Pope and its effect on my co-workers was a true revelation to me that whatever we Catholics may argue, indeed whatever doubts I might have then or in the future — or even as I pen these lines — about the orthodoxy of revelation as regards the role of Peter and his successors, or of priests — it is far greater and more important in the lives of every human being than we can possibly understand.

These events, however, had given me a glimpse, and another important fragment, about the various and sacred mysteries of our faith.

Often at Holy Mass I will pause and remember those men and women with whom I worked those last months before entering the seminary. I remember them with deep respect and joy and pray they have come to know Him who knows and loves them.

By summer, with its usual extreme heat and humidity broiling the canyons of the city, I’d completed intense courses in history, anthropology, sociology and was nearing the end of courses in Utilitarianism and Ethics in philosophy, as well as a course in the philosophy of history.

…..the relationship between theology and philosophy is best construed as a circle. Theology’s source and starting-point must always be the word of God revealed in history, while its final goal will be an understanding of that word which increases with each passing generation. Yet, since God’s word is Truth — philosophy, pursued in keeping with its own rules — can only help to understand God’s word better. It is not just a question of theological discourse using this or that concept or element of a philosophical construct; what matters most is that the believer’s reason uses its powers of reflection in the search for truth which moves from the word of God towards a better understanding of it. It is as if, moving between the twin poles of God’s word and a better understanding of it, reason is offered guidance and is warned against paths which would lead it astray from revealed Truth and to stray in the end from truth pure and simple. Instead, reason is stirred to explore paths which of itself it would not even have suspected it could take. This circular relationship with the word of God leaves philosophy enriched, because reason discovers new and unsuspected horizons. [cz]

This was the revelation during that spring and summer, the inter-connection between faith based study and the development of authentic critical thinking.

I could not have expressed what was happening to my intellectual approach to ideas, ethics, culture, and so forth, in anything at the time resembling the forceful clarity of Pope John Paul’s argument favouring faith and reason, but the seeds of a spiritually mature manner of use of reason were being planted within me.

By late August I had finished at the university and the contract at the engineering firm as well.

The Dean urged me to spend the remaining time before the seminary year began getting some rest.

I contacted my spiritual father and he suggested I come and stay with the community, rest, relax, allow the Holy Spirit and Our Blessed Mother to prepare me for seminary life.

My basic memory of that two week rest is the constant refrain in my heart of the words from the Archangel Gabriel to Our Blessed Mother, words which for my life were then already, and continue to be, a living witness to the truth of His Divine Mercy and Tenderness, for nothing is impossible for God.  [Lk.1:37]




WALKING FROM the Post Office back home yesterday afternoon, adjusting to new tri-focal glasses, I was wary of the ice on the sidewalk, increasingly irritated at the man approaching, riding his bicycle towards me. Irritated that someone would place my arthritic knees at risk by invading MY space with his bicycle.


As the man got closer I noticed he had the facial features common to a particular type of mental handicap and became more interiorly irritated, this time against myself for being such a sidewalk hog.

In the same instant the man past me, at a clip, while saying, with a great smile on his face: “Hello there! How are you? “

The other day in my mediation I was seeing myself as Zaccheus and rejoicing that Jesus called to me as He passed by — the moment that man called out his greeting I felt as if Jesus Himself was passing by and felt, of myself, like one of those proverbial cartoon characters who sits on a tree branch, merrily sawing away, until too late he discovers he has severed the limb, and thus himself, from the tree.

HE LIVED until he was over a hundred years old. He was born in Egypt of Christian parents but orphaned at an early age, with a younger sister to care for. One day in church his heart was broken open when he heard the words of the Gospel, spoken by Jesus to the rich young man. So moved, he immediately gave away all but what was needed to care for his sister. Yet sometime later, his heart further opened by the Gospel passage not to worry about tomorrow, he gave away what was left, saw to the care of his sister and went deep into the desert.

There he became the greatest of all spiritual warriors and the great Abba of monastic life.

He is ABBA ANTHONY and today is his feast.

Divine Wisdom was fused into his heart in the crucible of decades of solitary life in the desert, battling evil spirits, being emptied of his false-self by the Holy Spirit, who illumined Abba Anthony and, with fire, configured him to Christ, so that, as is recorded:

They said that a certain old man asked God to let him see the Fathers and he saw them all except Abba Anthony. So he asked his guide, ‘Where is Abba Anthony? ‘He told him in reply that in the place where God is, there Anthony would be.[cv-1]

Now THAT is what it means to be a friend of God!

So here, then, wisdom from the ‘desert great ‘, Abba Anthony:

…whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures…… ….This is the great work of a man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath. ….Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven….Without temptations no one can be saved. ….I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, ‘What can get through from such snares?’ Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humility.’….Our life and our death is with our neighbour. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ. ….A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us. ‘…I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear. [cv-2]

The life of Abba Anthony was preserved from the oral tradition and written down by another giant of the faith, himself a saint, St. Athanasius. Thus by the time another young Egyptian man was struggling, the story of Abba Anthony would influence his conversion and he too would become a saint. That man was Augustine!

The first mention St. Augustine makes of Abba Anthony comes when he speaks of being introduced to the saint by a friend named Ponticianus. During his friend’s visit Augustine spoke about his meditations upon Sacred Scripture and notes:

…..a discussion arose in which he narrated the story of Anthony, an Egyptian monk. His name was famous among Your servants, but up to that very hour it had been unknown to us…..We in turn stood in amazement on hearing such wonderful works of Yours, deeds of such recent memory, done so close to our own times, and most fully testified to, in the true faith and in the Catholic Church. [cw-1]

Abba Anthony had died around 356 A.D., aged about 105. St. Augustine was born just two years before Abba Anthony’s death. St. Augustine was about thirty years old when he was baptized. Thus when Augustine speaks about ‘deeds of such recent memory, done so close to our own times ‘ he is marvelling not only at what Christ has accomplished in the life of Abba Anthony, but he is also revealing something vital about the mystery of the Communion of Saints, namely, while many have lived seemingly distant in time from our own era, others have lived close to our own. What is even more incredible is that many are alive in this moment in our very midst.

The Communion of Saints is part of the living treasury of the Church’s life, the storehouse of wondrous works of grace from which the Church brings forth models of hope and holiness for us, which are ever ancient and ever new.

When, in the powerful account of the pivotal moment of conversion grace where he, St. Augustine, hears the voice of a child, and is able to attune himself to this gift of the Spirit he remembers:

……I had heard how Anthony had been admonished by a reading from the Gospel at which he chanced to be present, as if the words read were addressed to him……and that by such a portent he was immediately converted to You. [cw-2]

Of course, in truth, such moments of grace are never something ‘chanced’ upon.

So-called ‘chance’ and ‘coincidence’ are terms only rightly applied to the dark ignorance of the tea leaf reading mentality.

With God all is opportunity of grace and graced opportunity.

Closer to our own time another saint emerged from that great tradition which has streamed across the millennia, developing into various forms of monastic-desert life, as well as various forms of religious orders of teachers, nurses, etc., and the modern new forms of consecrated community life in the Church today.

One of the more ancient, tracing itself back to Mount Carmel and Elijah, at least within pious memory if not hard fact, is the Carmelite order, from whose religious sisters in nineteenth century France came a woman known popularly as the Little Flower, whom Pope John Paul II made a Doctor of the Church, namely, St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.

Her autobiography is a record itself of the marvels and wondrous deeds of the Lord close to our own day.

Called “The Story of a Soul “ it was a treasure of my youthful reading, a source of inspiration when I was a monk and moved me to open my heart to Abba Anthony and the wisdom of the desert.

On my journey of return to the faith, before I entered the seminary, it became a source of hope and courage and I renewed my devotion to this holy woman companion.

A few words of wisdom from her:

At the beginning of my spiritual life when I was thirteen or fourteen I used to ask myself what I would have to strive for later on because I believed it was quite impossible for me to understand perfection better. I learned very quickly since then that the more one advances, the more one sees the goal is still far off. And now I am simply resigned to see myself always imperfect and in this I find my joy. [cx-1]

How often in life has the distance of the goal been a source of discouragement, when in fact, as the saint notes, embraced humbly, humbly embracing our weak selves, the journey becomes joy!

How sweet is the way of LOVE…True, one can fall or commit infidelities, but, knowing HOW TO DRAW PROFIT FROM EVERYTHING, love quickly consumes everything that can be displeasing to Jesus; it leaves nothing but a humble and profound peace in the depths of the heart.[cx-2]

This is the most difficult truth about actual conversion for many souls to accept. Hence, as can be seen in certain evangelical/charismatic circles, emphasis is placed upon external manifestations of faith and love, such as sudden cures, falling faint ‘ in the spirit ‘ and more bizarre forms of shaking, laughing, as well as an increased emphasis on financial security, all attended by a type of xenophobia regarding those who are not of like ilk.

To achieve the fullness of illumination, divinization, sobornost with the Trinity, as exemplified in the lives of the Great Desert Father Abba Anthony and in the Great Doctor of the Church the Little Flower, means a lifetime of spiritual warfare. A lifetime which in the case of Abba Anthony lasted more than a century, in the case of the Little Flower, barely a quarter of one.

It is not the length of the journey, but the inward depth of the journey; it is not the quantity of the battles but the willingness to open wide the doors of our being to His transfiguring touch.

Too often, infected as we Christians are with the Zeitgeist egocentric selfishness pervading our culture, we deny the reality of configuration to Christ by the Holy Spirit as meaning cross and death precede tomb and resurrection. That contemporary Zeitgeist flays about in the quicksand error of love as what I experience from another, rather than soaring into the communion of joy which knows and lives love’s truth: love is gift of self to another first in imitation of God who is Love and first loves us, makes Himself First Gift!

In order to live one single act of perfect Love, I OFFER MYSELF AS A VICTIM OF HOLOCAUST TO YOUR MERCIFUL LOVE, asking You to consume me incessantly, allowing the waves of infinite tenderness shut up within You to overflow into my soul, and that thus I may become a martyr of Your love, O my God! [cx-3]

It is her example of love why Pope John Paul II has urgently begged all bishops and priests to introduce the Little Flower to the youth of this era.

It should be clear too, now, why the elderly priest who took me in and fed and clothed me that stormy night so many decades ago, gave me, along with the Bible, a book of the Lives of the Saints.

It is in their lives that we see in concrete terms of human life the marvellous deeds of the Holy Spirit, brought to ultimate fruition in a manner which should encourage our wounded souls and hearts with the joyful acceptance in our own beings that nothing is impossible to God.

Once I was beginning to commune again with the Saints I was enabled to commune with the process of formation that awaited me in the seminary.

An even closer contemporary of this generation, whose importance in the deepening of Gospel life in the lives of ordinary Christians cannot be overly stressed, and herself a pioneer of the new forms of consecrated life in the Church, is the Servant of God Catherine Doherty.

Born in Czarist Russia, forged into adulthood as a nurse in the bloodletting of the First World War and the Russian Revolution, she was led by the Spirit into the desert of external poverty and service of the poor. Through those experiences she also was plunged into the purifying fire of internal poverty.

A modern Desert Mother she remains, after Our Blessed Mother, the most important woman in my life.

She herself is now in heaven, among that great company of the Communion of Saints where Abba Anthony and the Little Flower preceded her.

Often referring to herself as a poor woman, she was incredibly rich in her passionate love of Christ and all human beings, especially the anawim, those bent over by the burden of external or internal impoverishment.

From the mystery of Christ in the desert, through the life of Abba Anthony, the self-offering as victim of the Little Flower, to the treasury of practical spiritual wisdom from her own heart, poured out in service of the poor and filled with illumination from the Holy Spirit in her days spent in contemplation in her hermitage — always called by her according to its Russian name: Poustinia — comes a clear description of what the desert is all about, what conversion is about, and the central issue of freely choosing to open wide the doors of our being to the Most Holy Trinity, or not.

The teaching is stark, frank, admitting the exhaustion which is constitutive of spiritual warfare.

It contains both an echo of Abba Anthony’s admonishment that we shall endure temptations until our last breath and the passionate willingness of the Little Flower revealing the Little Way of complete self-offering as victim of love:

The more I behold this freedom of mine, poised between these two choices, the more tired I get. Everything suddenly becomes very clear, very simple, and that kind of simplicity is intensely tiring to us human beings. For the vision is clear. There is the burning desert, and there is the other side of the desert which appears so restful. I am somewhere in between. I must decide to either go to the right, into the will of the Father, or to the left, into my own will and the desert of satan. Yes, I am tired because the sight is so clear. I see confusion and demonic powers calling me to do my will contrary to the will of God.

Then, suddenly, all these thoughts leave my mind and I simply realize that God has given me the freedom of choice and a free will, and that He has sent His Son to show me how to do His will. That is what His Son came down to do — to do the will of the Father freely, without compulsion, at the request, as it were, of His Father. I was like that too, like Jesus. I had a free will, and I was not being compelled.

Now my mind begins to clear and my meditation becomes simple. Yes, I am the sister of Jesus Christ. Yes, I have come to do the will of my Father. Yes, that is what I am going to do. I have made the decision. I know that my fiat will have to be repeated again and again, but I am ready, with the grace of God, to do so. [cy]









THE FIRST READING in today’s Holy Mass was from 1 Samuel 3, wherein the young man is called by the Lord and utters his famous: “ Here I am Lord! “


One of those modern songs, I dare not call it a hymn, used ad nauseam for years at ordinations and other liturgies, repeats that ‘ here I am Lord ‘ phrase over and over, but in a context which is more laudatory of ourselves than humble praise and gratitude of His calling to us.

This originates, I believe, in the misconception that once we have said ‘here I am Lord ‘, things are a done deal.

Yet the very life of Christ Himself, indeed the very ‘fiat’ of Our Blessed Mother, testifies that answering His call is but the bare beginning.

He calls us constantly to an ever deeper metanoia/conversion of heart and more dispossessed kenosis/self-emptying, so that by the purifying action of the Holy Spirit we may come to such a complete imitation of, configuration to Christ, that we can indeed, with the Apostle, cry out in truth: “ I no longer live, Christ lives in me! “

The perfect “Here I am Lord “is, of course, Jesus Himself — Jesus in the Garden and on the Cross, saying His ‘here I am ‘to the Father: [Lk.22:42] and [Lk.23:46].

Like probably everyone else, when hearing His call, I sincerely believed my ‘Here I am Lord ‘was complete.

Of course it was, in the narrow confines of that immediate moment, but, it was limited by my lack of understanding about the reality, the implications, as well as the gift, of His call: Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me. [Mt.16:24]

Christ was obedient unto death….here is the ‘essence’ of our life……We are going to be tempted; we are going to be scourged. Everything is going to be against us; for the one thing the devil doesn’t want us to do is to die on the cross of our Lord…….At night, before you go to sleep, keep in your mind this thought: “ He was obedient unto death. “ [cu]


It is in the reality that our — no, in truth I can only say my: it is then in the reality that my ‘Here I am Lord ‘ is not yet complete that I am beginning to write the end chapters of this work, renewing my prayer that should anyone, should you, ever read this it will console your heart with the merciful, lavish, communion of love truth that, no matter how mired we are in sin, grace abounds all the more! [Rm.5:20]

I’M STILL reflecting in my heart upon the Desert Father story of the old man whom the devil distracted from trusting Christ by the scattering of the old man’s palm leaves.

What a metaphor for my life!

The old man said, indeed I say to the Lord, I weep because of the suffering, the shock, humiliation, frustration, yea even the fearfulness, that the devil should be allowed to treat the baptized of the Lord in such a horrible manner.

Jesus touches me, as He touched the old man, with tenderness, and Infinite patience, teaches me yet again a basic truth I always neglect — more than merely forget — the devil has his way with me when I seek to struggle in spiritual warfare, in even the ordinariness of life, by my own wits.

“As soon as you called upon Me satan fled for I have overcome him. “

Yes Lord, You, and You alone, are the Victor.

Once I had started university, as the Dean had requested, I informed him, telling him at the same time I was ready to move out of my living situation but given the cost of university and books did not have the income to get a place of my own. He said he would take care of it for me.

Weeks went by.

Winter arrived.

The Dean contacted me and said I was accepted for the fall term in the seminary and to proceed with the required medical check-up, necessary copy of my Baptismal certificate and gave me a list of basic books I would need, including the breviary for celebration of the Divine Office.

He suggested that even though the obligation to pray the Divine Office would not actually be mine until I was, some years in the future, a deacon, it would be good even now as a layman to begin to pray it.

As to my living situation he trusted my word I was living chastely and would soon have a place for me to live.

Today as I sit here and pen these lines in the rectory of a friend, where I am having a little holiday, I look out through the lace curtains into the expansive yard, with its statue of Mary, flower beds in full bloom, grapevines embracing their lattice. Across the alley, above the roofs of houses on the far street, the sky is boiling with black clouds, as thunder cracks the silence of this summer afternoon, and, lightening heralds the sudden downpour which slakes the earth, burdened by this latest drought.

It has been a good day. [Lk. 1:37]

We are nearing Epiphany.

Once again I fled these pages for months!

I have been scurrying around, chasing palm leaves again!

At this rate I’ll be on my deathbed and they’ll have to uncurl my fingers from around the pen with which I shall still be scribbling away.


Such a relentless companion of late.

A veritable cyclone of palm leaves.

It has occupied me much, both as a priest serving the dying, and the grieving, and very much in my own heart.

A great mystery in this season when we celebrate His birth — but then here is a deep mystery worthy of constant contemplation: God leaps down to earth Incarnate as a man, lain in the manger and ascends to heaven after having Risen from being lain in the tomb.

So far, since I last wrote any of this, I have attended the funerals of five dear brother priests and been the priest present as two of them were called home.

Each was in his own way a true holy servant of God, His People, our people.

It is also true that the actual reality of a person’s goodness becomes apparent only in death.

This is borne out by the fact, as another priest once remarked in a homily, we seem in our grief blessedly purged, in most instances, of all but the most tender and respectful memories of the deceased.

Yes, each of those dear brother priests was a mixture of saintliness and the woundedness of sins committed, sins thrust against them. But in the end each died in the arms of Jesus and Mary as we, their brother priests, prayed they be forgiven the sins of their youth.

The Pieta moment, for all Our Blessed Mother’s priest sons.

Is this not the joy of our Catholic sacramental faith that within the Church all are members of the same family, saint and sinner alike, and everyone is welcome and Our Lady is there as tender Pieta for all “ now and at the hour of our death! “

This week, the latest death of a brother priest hit me particularly hard, indeed reminded me too of the need to continue this writing.

Meanwhile I hereby pay a debt to my brother priest who died this week, a debt which is another example of the mysterious way in which Christ is always there, knocking on the door of our being and asking entrance:

Almost thirty years ago, not many months after finding myself unemployed from one of my many jobs, I was hitchhiking around the country.

It was early fall and the nights were quite cold.

This particular night the cold was aggravated by a steady drizzle and I was alone, cold, wet, hungry and, in spite of my anger at the Church, found myself desperate enough to bang on the door of a rectory in the small town where I was stranded.

It was well after midnight and no one seemed about anywhere in that town. There was no all-night gas station or coffee shop. No shelter of any kind.

After some pounding I noticed a light come on in an upper room. A few minutes later lights came on near the door. The door opened and standing before me, dressed in a black cassock, stood an elderly priest.

All I remember saying was, “Hello Father. “, and the priest instantly inviting me in.

The place was warm and before I had gotten too far in my tale of woe the priest assured me I could stay the night and immediately took me into the large kitchen, put on the kettle, disappeared for a few minutes and returned with some dry clothes, showing me a bathroom down a hall where I could clean up, dry off, put on the warm clothes.

When I came back into the kitchen he had a simple meal of soup, toast and coffee already prepared, gave me directions to a guest room, and left.

When I came down to the kitchen the next morning he had already prepared an ample bacon and egg, toast, coffee, breakfast. He’d even washed and dried my clothes.

As I was leaving after that breakfast he pushed what seemed to me like a fistful of cash into my hand, told me to keep the clothes, insisted I take a bible and a book of the lives of the saints, and as I stepped out of the door he said: “ You MUST return to the faith!”

A few days ago, just before Christmas, I took the elderly priest who lives here with me to the bedside of a dying brother priest. We anointed him, gave him Holy Viaticum, prayed the prayers of the dying as he fell asleep in the arms of Our Blessed Mother.

Both of those priests, the one who died, and the elderly one who accompanied me, had been brother priests together for decades and had even once served together in the same parish.

The one whom I anointed and gave Holy Viaticum to is the same priest who sheltered, clothed, fed, and encouraged me to return to the faith those thirty years ago.

Please God by now I have chased enough palm leaves.




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]





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:

… 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.