Tag Archives: Scraps

Scraps falling from the Master’s table (Questions of unworthiness edition)

chapel saint michael

My neighbor in Transylvania County likes to talk to Jesus during Adoration, not out loud, mind you. But he likes to ask Jesus questions, because, as He said, Jesus answers the questions. Mind you again, my friend asks the questions our Lord is happy to answer. If you’re not getting answers, perhaps you’re not asking the right questions. He asked Jesus the following question this past Tuesday during Adoration at Sacred Heart Church in Brevard:

“Jesus, what’s it like for you to be received in Holy Communion by someone who is not worthy?”

So, when’s the last time you asked Jesus something like that? My neighbor reports that the answer from Jesus was immediate:

Imagine a bathtub which a huge crowd of people use as a toilet, defecating and urinating and filling it right to the brim and overflowing with all sort of diarrhea and disease, emanating a stench just about knocking you unconscious. And then imagine taking a bath in that horror. That’s something of what it’s like to be next to the heart and soul of one who is in sin.

Yikes! When I first arrived in these mountains of WNC, the very first day, I went on a long trip to the Sylva hospital to anoint Father Bill Evans. He’s dead many years now. He had the same question for Jesus, and received the exact same answer, verbatim, as my neighbor: “Imagine a bathtub…” You know the rest of the story. Double-Yikes!

padre pio high massThis all reminded me of the time that Saint Padre Pio stopped dead in his tracks going out the sacristy door into the sanctuary of the church to offer Holy Mass. He turned white as a ghost and was dropping to the floor, having to be caught by his deacon and subdeacon. They asked him what happened. He said that the Lord revealed to him in that instant all the priests who at that very moment were offering Mass unworthily, nearly bringing him to his death.

As I drove the 2 ½ hours back to Andrews that Tuesday evening, I talked to Jesus about this, telling Him of my fear to be in solidarity with Him just as He is in solidarity with us, for I am very weak and surely couldn’t support knowing even the tiniest smidgen about what it’s like for Him when a priest unworthily recites the Consecrations at Holy Mass, Jesus’ wedding vows with His Bride, the Church, His body and blood sacrificed for that Bride. I asked my guardian angel that if I should make such a request of Jesus, that he, my guardian angel, would please have to have pity on me. I complained to him too of my weakness. Of course, you know what happened next…

I got back to the rectory, made a bee line straight into the tiny chapel, right to the altar, right before the tabernacle, and asked Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament that if He thinks it’s O.K. that then He might let me know the tiniest smidgen of what it is for Him when a priest unworthily offers His Holy Mass, and this, so that I might in my own little way be in solidarity with Him in His solidarity with us, I myself knowing just a little how unworthy I am, or thinking I do, but not really, because…

That was Tuesday night. Nothing. Nothing Wednesday. Nothing all day Thursday. But then, the vigil of the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the answer to my request started to be given. Great! But there was a problem. I had forgotten about the request I had put before Jesus. What was to happen was, for me, now devoid of the context which brought it about. This is stupid of me, and Jesus was going to let me fall to teach me a lesson. I had said I had wanted to be in solidarity with Him being in solidarity with us, and then I forgot my request. I guess I wasn’t very serious in my request, was I? I was just spouting off words however sincere I thought I was. But Jesus ALWAYS takes such requests seriously, and I know this both from the accounts of others told to me and by my own personal experience, which damns me all the more. This forgetting is just how self-referential I am. But Jesus knows that, and I think He purposely waited until I forgot, not to be cruel, but to let what was going to happen to me have its full effect. I deserved everything I got. Moreover, what I was to experience wasn’t at all what it’s like for Jesus when a priest offers Mass unworthily. Instead, I was to know what the spiritual reality would be if I myself were to offer Mass unworthily. After all, priests say the Consecrations in the first person singular: this is my body and blood given in sacrifice and poured out... But remember, in my mindlessness this was all experienced devoid of the context of my request to Jesus:

I started to feel entirely, fatally, helplessly alone in front of real evil, of living, marauding, predatory death – how to say it? – an oxymoronic purposely conscienceless malice… a personal evil meaning harm not just to me, but to the entire Church, to humanity, to God, but I myself was in its sights right now. I was immobilized. The darkness was crushing. I felt a deep and immediate fear personally riveting me before this monstrous and ever so personal, diabolical evil. I was cringing in my spirit. Cowering is really the word, though there was no escape, no retreat. Throw into this mix an acute sense of all the grotesque self-referential church politics there are by which Satan mocks God. There I was, in the midst of all of it, in chaos, in fear, helpless, alone.

Fear is key to understanding this. Fear before Satan is the very definition of impiety, giving honor to one to whom no honor at all is due. Such fear is a betrayal of Jesus, abandoning Him to all of the hell which was broken out on Calvary. Such fear is playing politics with Satan, a most violent darkness. That’s easy to say with one’s brain, but it doesn’t mean that one can extract oneself at will from the grip of him who is the most damned of all.

Meanwhile, I was nevertheless entirely able to pray and was asking Jesus and my guardian angel about all this hell all of a sudden in my life. Why? I just didn’t understand. They didn’t want to tell me quite yet that this is what it is for a priest to offer Mass unworthily, and therefore what it would be for me to offer Mass unworthily, however much I might want to congratulate myself as being, you know, O.K., good enough.

Since there was no answer from them, my own answer to these and lesser problems is always to go to sleep. It was now late, so, lights out. At whatever time I would awaken during the night, however, I noted that it hadn’t stopped in the least. I was continuously captivated in the worst way by all this darkness. The next morning, Friday, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was just from hell. I had hoped for better, given the great feast day. But waking up for the day brought all this to a greater intensity. And this was terribly frustrating, making me angry. And yet I would praise the Divine Heart that wrought our salvation. It’s not like I wasn’t with Jesus. I was entirely with Him, close to Him, heart to Heart with Him, and yet, all this hell was captivating me and grabbing my attention and letting me know a bit more just how weak I am. This was exhausting. I went before Him, begging to understand. Nothing.

cooking lessonsI did some office work, offered the Noon Mass, and then took care of more office work, and then I was away to Huntersville for the diaconate ordinations which would take place on Saturday. I stopped on the way to speak with a priest and have a wonderful dinner (He’s giving me cooking lessons; I have a mental block about that…). We, of course, solved all the problems in the Church and the world. I let him know many times in that conversation about the darkness I was suffering, the sense of abandonment, the purposely conscienceless evil before which I had such a deep fear, but not knowing the reason for this experience in the least.

cooking lessons2As the meal continued, and as the conversation turned to some topics which I meet with particular dismay, in my weakness I gave vent to cynical and terribly ironic and uncharitable judgments that were ever so incredibly very easy for me to make being in such a terrible state of non-stop darkness, a kind of imposed oppression it seemed to me.

That was that, unfortunately, and I was on my way again to Huntersville to stay the night at a house owned by the parish where the ordinations were taking place. I got there past midnight and crashed in the basement, going to sleep in darkness of every kind. Every time I awoke, there it was, mocking me. When I awoke for the day, I lay in bed, begging my guardian angel to let me know what was going on. I have never in my life had such a terrible terrifying experience. I was trying to be polite with him, maybe even humble, but I must say that I begged and I begged for understanding from him.

And then, on that morning, on the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, he told me in four words what the explanation was for all this: “You asked for it.”

He said this almost like an accusation, for I had not been up to the task of solidarity at hand. Surely he had wished better things for me. Yes, I remembered my request to Jesus. Yes, the oppression was instantaneously lifted. But my guardian angel was not happy with me. I had said some silly things the evening before, things which I fear might have brought me into some unworthiness in regard to offering the Holy Sacrifice. How ironic.

But, it was now time for the ordination Mass. While vesting for Mass, I told this story to those who would listen. The effect was that many confessions were going on before Mass. I also went to confession, confessing my conversation the night before, along with my lack of trust in the Lord. Guardian angels also set up such things as Confession, thanks be to God. There is no greater joy for the angels than that a sinner repents.

The ordination Mass was absolutely beautiful, everything it should be. I was entirely happy, though sobered by my experience. I had a great time meeting a gazillion friends, and had a peaceful time on the way home, though, again, taken aback by the experience I had had. The drive home, taking many hours, put me before Jesus. I apologized for my weakness in not having been able to bear up under the weight of the truth of what it is like for Jesus when a priest offers Holy Mass unworthily. In speaking with cynicism the night before, I had run away from Calvary. Our Lord always works with irony. Repentance and conversion is good for the soul. It’s a coming back to life. This is a joy.

I spoke of all this in my homilies this weekend. And if anyone should think speaking of all this is scandalous, let me just say that while, yes, some of the older parishioners said that the moral of the story is “Be careful what you ask for!” there was nevertheless a number of teenage boys afterward who said that they wanted to go on the priestly vocations discernment retreat to be put on later this month (June 2016) at Belmont Abbey.

No one is interested in the priesthood if it is about priests saying how good they are. They are interested in the priesthood if it is all about learning to be with Jesus, to love Jesus, to serve Jesus and serve those for whom He laid down His life. As it should be.

Whatever the questions there are about unworthiness, Jesus and our angels are great teachers. They want us in heaven. That’s what we need to know and want to hear. If it takes telling people what a knucklehead I am to get some interest in vocations to the priesthood, then I’m at the ready! Praise to the Divine Heart which wrought our Salvation!

P.S. All that stuff about fear and darkness, that’s all a hypothetical, not the way I am: all of that is what Jesus was saying a priest would be susceptible to if he were to offer Mass unworthily, because that’s the situation he would actually be placing himself in whether he realized it or not. I mean, that was really my request to Him, to know a smidgen of that in order to be in solidarity with Him.

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Scraps falling from the Master’s table (Laudie-dog the thunder-dog edition)

laudie-dog whoa

I brought Holy Communion to my 190 million year old neighbor lady in Transylvania County the other day, and afterward was able to greet Laudie-dog the world famous thunder-dog. It was half sunny out, but half not, meaning there could be thunder somewhere in the world, meaning Laudie was spending pretty much 100% of her energy on perceiving the least whisper from any cloud anywhere. Dogs have super highly developed antennae for storms which no NOAA radar had been able to equal to this day. Not hearing anything just this very second, she let herself be slightly distracted by greeting me, offering a paw, but not really even seeing me as she was otherwise preoccupied. If there is thunder that no one else can even hear, off she goes to hide in the deepest darkest cave she can find.

wile e coyoteSome have noted that her claws are long and, of all things (I can’t imagine), need a trim. But, no. If she didn’t have those while chasing off to hide when there was a clap of thunder, I fear that the lack of traction would give her a heart attack.

You would be hard pressed not to recall the great prophet Elijah having to be called out to the front of the cave in which he was hidden in the midst of the storms of this world so as to hear the whisper of God’s voice. The whisper bit is an occasion to be trained into properly listening to the voice of our Heavenly Father, an occasion to listen with the attentiveness brought about only by love. But even Elijah was a bit afraid of that love, and could only think of the great storms. He was a reprimanded for this, and sent right back into the heart of the fiercest storms, not so as to hide from them again, but so as to confront them and conquer them, doing God’s will in all things.

Laudie-dog, of course, got a pat on the head for her efforts. :-)

And we listen to the voice of our Heavenly Father speaking the Eternal Word to us, we hearing “Jesus”, that Word Incarnate, as an invitation to be in solidarity with Him even as He is in solidarity with us, and this even while Jesus, during His transfiguration, was speaking with Moses and Elijah about his exodus, His death in Jerusalem, even while  our Heavenly Father was saying about Jesus: “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him!”

And so we listen, so as to have the privilege to be crucified with Him for our efforts. :-)

Listen… listen… listen… (Just a little whisper… And no spinning feet!)

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Scraps falling from the Master’s table (Forgiving my own darkness? edition)

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The “Scraps falling from the Master’s table” title of this series which will parallel “Flores for the Immaculate Conception” is in reference to the dogs under their master’s table who eat the falling scraps (see Matthew 15 and Mark 7). I like to think of myself as a donkey, but I’m just a dog most of the time. Anyway…

Besides the sanctuary lamp, I might light a candle stub from the parish next to the tabernacle when spending some time before Jesus. It makes me think of the preface of Saint John’s Gospel, the bit about the second Person of the Trinity shining in the darkness and the darkness not being able to grasp and claw after the light until that light becomes incarnate, thus revealing to us a love that is stronger than death, Jesus purposely taking on our punishment for sin in death so as to have the right in His own justice to have mercy on us.

And the blinding light in the tabernacle shines in my darkness, and, in His grace, I thank Him for His forgiveness and bringing me into this light which I can hardly perceive amidst the continued darkness of the effects of original sin all around me and within. But, there He is, with a good grip on my soul and immediately present. Lots of healing goes on in this way, lots of healing, with me saying Amen once again to the reception of the forgiveness He has provided to me so very many times in the Sacrament of Confession. Because of this healing, spiritual and also psychological and emotional, a healing of the whole person – however weak we all remain in this world because of the effects of original sin – I am aghast, as I always have been, utterly aghast, when presented with statements from people who glibly say that they have forgiven themselves. I HAVE NOTHING BY WHICH TO FORGIVE MYSELF! The thought of it has always seemed instantly absurd. I’ve said that to those who come up with what seems to me to be an individualistic affront to mercy, and they give me hemming and hawing explanations, twisting and writhing in this way and that, and then two seconds later I forget their reasoning because it all seems so abstract from the Incarnate Son of the Living God, the Divine Son of the Immaculate Conception, who laid down His life for me that I just cannot bear to have such a washout of all that is good and holy in my all too small already skull. I’m just little me!

But, having said that, I ask you this: is there a plausible explanation for the just forgive yourself thing? Isn’t this just some sort of surely Jesuit pop psychology of the mid-1970s? Who came up with this and why? Any ideas? I love Jesus and what He did for me, for us. Am I narrow-minded? Not open to new ways? Not hip?

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Scraps falling from the Master’s table (Corpus Christi edition)

eucharist pope john paulToday’s the Solemnity of Corpus Domini, the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. I remember many times walking in procession with Pope John Paul II from the Lateran Basilica to Saint Mary Major down and then up the Via Merulana. In the early years of his Pontificate, the sainted Pontiff would, on foot, himself carry the monstrance with our Lord, no mean feat for any man for such a distance. Pope John Paul spoke much about his prayer life. He wanted so very much to encourage his priests right around the world. I looked forward to his messages, his letters to priests on Holy Thursday (the special day for priests what with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper), which were good to get out again on this Thursday, when the joy of the feast is fully expressed. Let’s take a couple of snippets from his letter of 2005, published just ten days before he died:

Jesus said: “Do this in memory of me”. The Eucharist does not simply commemorate a fact; it commemorates Him! Through his daily repetition in persona Christi of the words of the “memorial”, the priest is invited to develop a “spirituality of remembrance”. At a time when rapid social and cultural changes are weakening the sense of tradition and leading the younger generation especially to risk losing touch with their roots, the priest is called to be, within the community entrusted to him, the man who faithfully remembers the entire mystery of Christ: prefigured in the Old Testament, fulfilled in the New, and understood ever more deeply, under the guidance of the Spirit, as Jesus explicitly promised: “He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14:26).

“Mysterium fidei!” Every time he proclaims these words after consecrating the bread and wine, the priest expresses his ever-renewed amazement at the extraordinary miracle worked at his hands. It is a miracle which only the eyes of faith can perceive. The natural elements do not lose their external characteristics, since the “species” remain those of bread and wine; but their “substance”, through the power of Christ’s word and the action of the Holy Spirit, is changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ. On the altar, then, Christ crucified and risen is “truly, really and substantially” present in the fullness of his humanity and divinity. What an eminently sacred reality! That is why the Church treats this mystery with such great reverence, and takes such care to ensure the observance of the liturgical norms intended to safeguard the sanctity of so great a sacrament.

Beautiful, no? Yes! It is good to remember such good encouragement of priests in these days. Saint John Paul, pray for us!

eucharist pope benedictBenedict, of course, has put great emphasis on the liturgy, being found, if you will, by the Triune God there. Here’s a bit from Sacramentum Caritatis (a most wonderful post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation):

The Eucharist reveals the loving plan that guides all of salvation history (cf. Eph 1:10; 3:8- 11). There the Deus Trinitas, who is essentially love (cf. 1 Jn 4:7-8), becomes fully a part of our human condition. In the bread and wine under whose appearances Christ gives himself to us in the paschal meal (cf. Lk 22:14-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26), God’s whole life encounters us and is sacramentally shared with us. God is a perfect communion of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At creation itself, man was called to have some share in God’s breath of life (cf. Gen 2:7). But it is in Christ, dead and risen, and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, given without measure (cf. Jn 3:34), that we have become sharers of God’s inmost life. (16) Jesus Christ, who “through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God” (Heb 9:14), makes us, in the gift of the Eucharist, sharers in God’s own life. This is an absolutely free gift, the superabundant fulfilment of God’s promises. The Church receives, celebrates and adores this gift in faithful obedience. The “mystery of faith” is thus a mystery of trinitarian love, a mystery in which we are called by grace to participate. We too should therefore exclaim with Saint Augustine: “If you see love, you see the Trinity.”

Seeing Love: seeing the Trinity. Yes.

eucharist pope francisPope Francis has, as well, given us something upon which to be nourished. Fear not! He has! Behold:

The Eucharist is Jesus who gives himself entirely to us. To nourish ourselves with him and abide in him through Holy Communion, if we do it with faith, transforms our life into a gift to God and to our brothers.

I’ll take that. This goes right to the Sacred Heart of it all. Jesus has come to give Himself as a gift to us so as to give us as a gift, through, with and in Himself to our Heavenly Father.

It’s all about Jesus. We must never forget.

I recall a Cardinal, a good friend, who would always stop me as I was walking away after we said our goodbyes after a bull session high atop San Callisto or up in Saint John’s Tower or at the Casa Santa Maria or wherever. He would say: “George! Remember!” I would turn and stare at him, always wondering to what this could possibly refer. To my great shame – shame I tell you – I have only figured it out, decades later, right now as I type this. He was, of course, speaking to me of the Most Holy Sacrifice during which Christ bids us to remember Him each time we offer the Last Supper. Thank you Jesus! So:

“Remember!”

 

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