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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

( In Memory of a Fellow Worker )

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

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

as long as his feet felt the ground.

And a stone smashed his temple

and cut through his heart’s chamber.

They took his body, and walked a silent line.

Toil still lingered about him, a sense of wrong.

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

In this they showed the end.

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

Dials jerked, then dropped to zero again.

White stone now within him, eating into his being,

taking over enough of him to turn him into stone.

Who will lift up that stone, unfurl his thoughts again

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

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

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

Should his anger now flow into the anger of others?

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

Should he be used by those who come after,

deprived of substance, unique and deeply his own?

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

Again the electric current cuts deep into walls.

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

Money, money, money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another fragment!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My conditioned worsened and I began to miss work.

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

I returned to the doctors and more tests were ordered.

Nothing definitive was found.

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

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

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

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

Crestfallen I headed towards the shrine of Our Blessed Mother.

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

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

I did.

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

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





IT IS evening, before the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. I continue my meditations on the various teachings of Pope John Paul II given this Christmas as he inaugurated the Jubilee Year.


This is from the traditional Urbi et Orbi ( to the city of Rome and to the world ) message before the Pope gives his blessing. This special message and blessing is given only twice each liturgical year: Christmas and Easter.

We turn our gaze to You, O Christ, Door of our salvation, as we thank You for all the good of the years, centuries and millennia which have passed.

We must however confess that humanity has sometimes sought the Truth elsewhere, invented false certainties, and chased after deceptive ideologies.

At times people have refused to respect and love, their brothers and sisters of a different race or faith; they have denied fundamental rights to individuals and nations.

But You continue to offer to all the splendour of the Truth which saves.

We look to You, O Christ, Door of Life, and we thank You for the wonders with which You have enriched every generation.

At times this world neither respects nor loves life.

But You never cease to love life; indeed, in the mystery of Christmas, You come to enlighten people’s minds, so that legislators and political leaders, men and women of good will, may be committed to welcoming human life as a precious gift.

You have come to give us the Gospel of Life.

We lift our eyes to You, O Christ, Door of peace, as, pilgrims in time, we visit all the resting places of the victims of brutal conflicts and cruel slaughter.

You, Prince of Peace, invite us to ban the senseless use of arms, and the recourse to violence and hatred which have doomed individuals, peoples and continents.

“To us a son is given.”

You, Father, have given us Your Son.

And You give Him to us again today, at the dawn of the new millennium.

For He is the Door.

Through Him we enter a new dimension and we reach the fullness of the destiny of salvation which You have prepared for all.

Precisely for this reason, Father, You gave us Your Son, so humanity would know what it is that You wish to give us in eternity, so that human beings would have the strength to fulfill Your mysterious plan of love.

Christ, Son of the ever Virgin Mother, light and hope of those who seek You even when they do not know You, and of those who, knowing You, seek You all the more.

Christ, You are the Door!

Through You, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we wish to enter the third millennium.

You, O Christ, are the same yesterday, today and forever (cf.Heb.13:8). [cf]

OUT OF the blue one day my companion announced he had accepted a job in another city and would be moving out.

The emotional impact upon my narcissistic being was pretty severe.

Yet at the same time, deep in the garden enclosed, I was aware this was indeed Jesus offering me in my sin induced wilful dark ignorance blindness a chance to take His hand and be led outside the village.

Yet again!

Perhaps this time I would walk even further with Him from the village and not hesitate at the nearest outskirts.

However, as shall soon become clear, I was to make a pretty common mistake and in so doing compound the error by failing to truly listen to my spiritual father.

The graced event, though not recognized at the time as an occasion of grace, which had motivated me to get off drugs had been that traumatic experience when I almost overdosed; a similar experience had started me on the road of overcoming my heavy drinking, again not understood at the time as an occasion of grace, namely, I was so drunk one night in a disco that I had danced for hours within inches of large speakers with the resulting damage to my eardrums, which took weeks to heal. During that time the pain, and constant ringing in my ears, was a salutary reminder of the stupidity of the inebriated.

This departure of my companion, and the necessity therefore of my finding my own place to live, and a more secure paying job than free-lance work, was itself a graced moment.

However, as mentioned, I did not take time to be still in prayer and listen to the Holy Spirit before formulating a plan. Once formulated I did not trust or accept the concerns expressed by my spiritual father, but forged ahead, literally, on my own.

Freud speaks of a ‘flight into health ‘, which is not a healthy journey at all.

In the spiritual life, the life of faith, there is a type of ‘ flight into holiness ‘, which rather than being a true pilgrimage towards union with Christ is in actual fact a flight from the necessary conversion ( metanoia ) and abandonment to the Father (kenosis-emptying of the self ) which the Holy Spirit seeks to achieve within us.

Instead of using the time available to me for job hunting I used it to plow through the stories of the Fathers of the Desert. Filled with romantic images of desert life I decided I would instantaneously transform myself from a man who was barely returned to the practice of the faith, and still living in the dark ignorance of his addictions, into a desert dweller in radical emulation of those heroic saints — true saints radically wiser than I, then, OR now!

Unwittingly, and this is something I have only discovered in my heart as I write these lines, I was duplicating my very ‘flight’ pattern from when I had first arrived in the city a decade before after being ousted from The Community.

Then too I had sought to, frankly, assuage my fears, placate my God, through plunging myself into a way of life which, it seemed to me, would by its very construct, militate against the disordered tendencies within me — namely atheism and hedonism.

Sanford speaks of ‘performance orientation’ and May speaks of ‘autonomous willpower ‘.

…soon after the glow of conversion dies down, performance resurrects with a vengeance……Many come into the fullness of the Holy Spirit only subsequently to crack up because that un-dead area of flesh throws them into an inner striving no one can live up to! [cg]

For the power of addiction to be overcome, human will must act in concert with divine will. The human spirit must flow with the Holy Spirit.

Personal power must be aligned with the power of grace….It is surely impossible by autonomous willpower alone; the addicted systems of the brain are too numerous and overwhelming. It is also impossible if there is only an intellectual attempt to align the will with grace…The alignment of our will with God’s must happen at a heart level, through authentic choices of faith that are empowered by God. [ch]

It would be a painful process of accepting failure before I would begin — by grace obviously — to accept the truth of those statements.

In the meantime, as a performance oriented personality in full energetic flight towards I had deluded myself, conversion and holiness through the effort of my very sharp intellect and strong autonomous willpower, I ignored the recommendation against the move from my spiritual father and forged ahead on my own.

So, in spite of the clear, profound concerns, yet not an outright telling me not too, (here I used a type of rationalization common when we ignore the will of God expressed through a spiritual father) I managed with the help of friends, to find a very tiny basement apartment in an old building on the edge of the inner city.

The little apartment was across a narrow hall from the furnace room of the building. The apartment had a small bathroom, a ‘main’ room which was slightly more than four feet wide and about ten feet long. In this room as a small refrigerator and an old fashion electric stove. Then there was the bedroom, which was even smaller. There was no window in it. There was a window in the main room. Just up near the ceiling, which itself was just over a foot above my head.

The window was two feet long and a foot high and covered in coloured paper.

The place was as close as I could get to a desert cave without actually being in a desert.

I moved in there with my books, typewriter, some holy pictures, icons and statues given by friends, some of whom thought I was doing something holy and some who thought I was just nuts.

However both groups in their kindness helped me move.

I had just enough money to cover first and last month’s rent, buy a little bit of food.

Once everyone had left that first night I sat in the semi-darkness.

The little window gave onto the alley, at ground level, so even though it was not yet sunset, only weak light entered.

Suddenly I knew myself to be terribly alone.

Later that night, and only now, in light of the words from Sandford and May, plus the maturing, healing, effect of grace over these decades, do I understand that, alone with a tender miracle from Our Lady, it was also an acute experience, psychologically, physically, with a spiritual component to it, of withdrawal.

As May notes:

In Scripture, nothing portrays our vulnerability to grace more profoundly than the imagery of the desert….Humanity’s struggle with addiction is a journey through the wilderness of idolatry where temptations, trials, and deprivations abound, but where God’s grace is always available to guide, protect and transform us. [ch]