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!
This 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.
I 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.
As 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.