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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What happens is we harbor anger too long?

Dear Reader,

When you respond by email through the blog, your message comes anonymously; so I can't respond to you personally. Should you want to send me email directly, you can find a General Queries button on the main page of my website, and just click on that button and your messaging software will open up an email window addressed to me personally. I'll be glad to answer you as soon as I can.

Having said that, allow me to briefly answer the question I recently received from you following on my previous post of July 2nd, which took a lot of time and energy to do, which in part explains the lapse of time since then. I developed quite extensively the background context in which Christians and for that matter any human being can best understand the mechanism of anger.

You quoted me where I wrote:

"On a human level, if you harbor your anger too long without acting you may begin to have homicidal fantasies - even though you may have no intention of ever acting them out - so you need to find some way to channel your anger, which is raw power, into some constructive form of action."

What I didn't explain fully is that such fantasies tend to occur in more extreme situations. For example, one woman explained to me years ago that after her husband abandoned her and their young children, she just knew from the fantasies coming into her imagination that during that extremely emotional initial period, had she come upon him in front of her on the street while she was behind the wheel of her car; she would have been severely tempted to step on the gas and not on the brake.

I believe that this would be a fairly common fantasy for abandoned women to have during the initial period of emotional turbulence, and this condition could last longer depending on what help she seeks for herself. That is just one example, but the point here is than anyone - man or woman, youth or child, young adult or elderly person - will have trouble with anger when it is allowed to simmer on the back burner for too long without relief of the pressure; much like a pot left to simmer too long on the back of the stove with the cover on tightly.

What came after what you quoted from me was an explanation of what kinds of things we can and must do in order for the mechanism of anger to play itself out, deliver its message, see that we have received the message, and then go away and leave us alone and in peace once again.

What you mentioned, reader, was a much more normal and not at all extreme case of anger. In the normal course of the day, someone offends or hurts you, and you feel angry. However, out of Christian charity, you decide to love your neighbor - even when the neighbor behaves like an enemy - and you hold your anger in rather than act it out and react. So you don't react and you instead treat the person with equanimity, also out of concern for the example you are giving to others. You certainly don't want to cause scandal.

I couldn't agree with you more. This is what Jesus did himself, and He didn't suggest we do the same, but Jesus actually commanded us to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us, and so on. Most of what I wrote in the last posting was not at all about what we actually do in our relations with others when the circumstances cause us to experience anger. Rather, what I was concerning myself with was on the inside of us, while the anger is going on, what we can do to help ourselves manage that energy of anger and what it does to us.

We need to channel the energy of anger into some useful outcome so that it doesn't sit on our back burner and burn a hole through our pot, or boil over and cause a fire on our stove top, and so on. I certainly don't suggest that the only way to channel the energy of anger is to throw it in the face of the person who triggered that anger, no, not at all. We need though to acknowledge the anger happening inside us and we need to develop a whole bag full of tricks or ways of using or diverting that angry energy to useful outcomes.

Here are a few examples. On the heels of anger churning up inside of you, your swim, run, or walk may become rather more vigorous than usual, as you give the anger free rein in a safe way and allow it to play itself out until you feel calm, loose, and peaceful again. If you need to beat the dust out of some carpets, well those carpets would get a beating the likes of which they've probably never seen! In a completely different way, if the situation causing your anger requires that you sit down and have a talk with someone, then the anger can give you the boost of energy you need to make up your mind to do it and to actually approach the person and not settle for no until the person finally agrees to meet with you.

It is certainly possible for us to allow ourselves to be governed at all times by Christian charity, and love others - even enemies - as God has loved and continues to love us, which is in mercy, in a love so great we can never deserve it. Nevertheless, we can still, on the inside, manage our energy budget in such a way that the anger we are experiencing won't burn us up. The thing about anger is that it will keep stirring us up as long as the conditions generating it continue to exist. The more difficult and outrageous the situation, the more intense and persistent the anger, and the more our anger managing strategies need to be creative, diverse, and effective.

God bless you, and may the rest of what you find in the July 2nd post help you do that well, for your sake, for the sake of the good example you will give others, for the good of souls, and for the glory of God!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Anger can actually become a moment of intimacy with God

What do you do when something really terrible is done or allowed to happen to you or a loved one, and you find yourself consumed with anger if not rage that just wants to pulverize those who have acted as your enemy or the enemy of your family?

We are all too familiar with Jesus' teaching, even commandment, to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us and desire their good. What's difficult is actually doing that.

May I share with you, reader, that one of my deep joys as a pastor is how readily children of God such as yourself are willing to entrust to us priests the amazing adventures of spirit that you - as we all do - encounter in your daily life, either to share with us the wonder of what the Blessed Trinity are doing in your soul, your marriage, your family, your lives, or to seek a little guidance among the many choices that open up on the path ahead of you, or simply out of need for a little light to better understand what is happening to you as you get caught up in thickets of thoughts and feelings in the very heat of the action as event unfold all around you.

How beautiful your soul is when, in the midst of the intense anguish you may be experiencing, you still manage to care for your family, for others with whom you are relating, and even for the Lord; as you struggle with the intensity of your feelings, especially if you have an impression that these are unworthy of Him or in some way impure.... For example, by simply observing a wrong being done we can feel somehow defiled by what we saw, even though we bear in no way any responsibility for it. Another example, perhaps more common and at the same time also difficult, is the myriad forms in which we can and do experience anger, which also leaves us in a feeling of defilement or impurity, if for no other reason than the sheer primitive intensity of this emotion and the aftermath of anger clinging to us as an impure residue.

How wrong we are but also right. It is true that anger and indeed many of our feelings have a primitive quality about them, I mean that they are raw, located right in our gut as it were, and intense, and so totally what they are. Let's examine anger as an example, since it is so common an experience. We must say that anger is exactly what it is, and it is not the same as love at all, but that does not mean that they are exclusive, because there are different centers of feeling within us. I sense that just a little more understanding about how we work as human beings can help us a great deal to find a bit more perspective that can allow us to find the freedom inside ourself that we ache for so much to be able to make the decisions we long to be able to make.

What is in a way most intense in us is the flesh, the body, because it is, well, so all pervasive, we just can't ever get away from our flesh. Hindu and Buddhist and other religious people give themselves all kinds of disciplines to deprive the flesh and as it were starve it into submission, to reduce the hold it has on the spirit and keeps it as it were earthbound, but that is not the way that Jesus revealed and came to the Earth to give us.

We have been created as souls enfleshed in the body, which as it were clothes the soul and lets it touch and be touched and interact with the creation all around us. The flesh has been made good by our Father, and its greatest virtue or strength is its truthfulness. What I mean is that if you burn yourself it will hurt, and if you rest yourself your body wants to hug and thank you for caring for it, and so on. Our body allows us to make contact with others with affection or understanding or compassion, or romance, or discipline, or friendship, through a look, a touch, a tone of voice, and so many different and creative ways of giving expression in a visible or audible way to what is hidden deep inside of us.

However, our body and its movements, sensations, emotions, and feelings, is also at times clouded by what are called passions and appetites. If unbridled, untamed, unbefriended, these passions and appetites can enslave the entire body and the person inhabiting it, confuse the whole person, and even tear it apart. That is why is simply is not wise to allow the flesh and its ways dominate our whole person, and why we must integrate our other levels, centers, or dimensions, or whichever way you would prefer to speak of our mind and its faculties and our spirit and its powers.

It is in what we call the mind that come together very complex processes that make up what we call the human consciousness or awareness: apprehension - which processes all our sensory information sent to the brain; understanding - which makes sense of all that data; memory - which stores all that sensory data as well as all our conscious and even unconscious experiences; imagination - which takes all that we have stored and can play with it to create new patterns, images, ideas; reason - which can take the realm of ideas, experiences, and motives and put order in it and relate it to everything else that exists outside of ourselves and inside of us; and so on. Then, there is the realm of the spirit or soul.

That, my Dear Reader, is far more subtle than the mind, though the mind itself can reach great heights and depths of subtle understanding and interpretation. That is because the spirit or soul, more than any other part of us human beings, is most like God, like each of the three divine Persons, because like them, our soul is immortal and can never be destroyed by anything that exists in the universe, except God - the three Divine Persons themselves - but they are committed never to do any soul any harm, let alone destroy one.

Having said that, we don't know what exactly a soul is, because we don't know exactly what a divine person is either, not the way we know what an acorn is, or a stone, or a neuron that does what it does in our brain. We know primarily by intuition that we have a soul, some dimension beyond what science can measure, in the very heart of what makes us what and who we are, because we are much more than the sum of what can be seen, observed, or explained. We also know from the exceptionally determined and humble ones among us, the saints, that in the realm of the soul, a different set of rules or laws is at work.

Whereas in the world, we must make efforts to achieve anything or get anywhere, in the soul, we must accept freely to be docile - willing to be led, like a child, by the hand; passive - willing to wait however long it takes for the moment to be right; receptive - willing to let the Divine Persons do what they do best and when they decide is the best time to do it and to receive whatever they decide to do within us.

When we or someone we love has been or is being hurt, violated, or threatened in any way, and especially in a serious way, we have every right to be angry but often feel somehow defiled by our anger and are in anguish that this anger is coloring and dominating our life at all the other levels and preventing us from being truly present to our family, to God, to colleagues, to friends, and even to ourself.

One primary reason is because anger is a God given attribute that has a very specific and time limited purpose. The longer we entertain it the more it tends to poison or turn against us and eat us up from within. If someone steps on your toe you automatically shout out "Hey, that's my foot!" That's a form of anger and the anger is a messenger bringing the pain in your foot to your attention so that the rational part of you has the sudden surge of power and strength to act: in this case to shout out and rush to the defense of your foot to undo the harm already done and prevent any further harm.

The greater the harm, threat, danger, or loss, the more intense the anger, because the obstacles to overcome are probably proportionate to the harm, threat, danger or loss. However, just exploding into action may not and probably won't achieve effective deliverance, because we would just be acting blindly and only by random chance might we succeed in accomplishing what needs to be done. So, our body's rush of anger needs to go and consult with all the powers our mind can muster in order to get a full grasp of what's going on and what's at stake and what are the ramifications of every conceivable course of action we want to entertain in response.

All that is well and good, but it still isn't enought to come up with a truly human response, because we need to go further and consult our soul or spirit, where we know by intuition and by faith if not by experience that the three Divine Persons always dwell with us unless we are in mortal sin. Even then they only stand outside the door until we decide we've had enough of the sin, repent, and ask them to return, and they come rushing like loving parents. As we consult our own soul and the Blessed Trinity abiding in our soul, we gain a much wider perspective and see a lot more possibilities of action and consequences and ramifications, and have the greatest freedom to consider carefully what we want to do in accord with the MEANING AND PURPOSE WE WANT TO GIVE TO OUR LIFE. (This is an expression which I first heard at this Institute and which they use in the course of their formation program designed to help people live their lives with greater autonomy.)

That is why what Jesus did on the cross was so remarkable. Yes, He fully suffered cruel agony on the cross, and didn't appreciate it one bit, but He remained in touch with that part of himself, his soul, where He shared the Father's love for human beings - even the most wretched sinner - because by intuition as a human being He knew what He naturally understood as the Son of God: that each human soul has infinite value because it has been personally created by the Father. Just as each human child born of parents was specially made in love and conceived in a moment of great self giving by a husband and wife, and so is special and unique, and that uniqueness and value becomes visible in time as the child grows up and chooses or fails to choose to open up and develop much or all of its potential; so it is with each soul.

On a human level, if you harbor your anger too long without acting you may begin to have homicidal fantasies - even though you may have no intention of ever acting them out - so you need to find some way to channel your anger, which is raw power, into some constructive form of action. Anger aroused by harm done, something lost, or persistent threat of harm can be resolved in one of three ways: 1. If the thing lost is returned or the threat ceases; 2. if something of greater value than the thing lost is given as compensation or an apology is offered for threats already made; 3. failing #1 or 2, all that remains is to let go of the thing lost, to release it and accept its loss, or to find some way to either live with the ongoing threats or move away from them to an effectively safe distance.

Any of these three will allow anger's message to be received and resolved, and the anger will dissipate. The best motivator for #3 is love, not the cheap sentimental hollywood feel good kind, but simply a pure hearted desire for the good of the other and letting go of any desire or attempt to change the other. This is what Jesus commanded us his disciples to do because it is the true test and way for us to practice being like Him and children of our Father in heaven, because this is the way He loves each of us.

None of us deserve the great immeasureable riches of his love and eternal life, not matter how good we think we are. Ultimately, our very life and breath are gifts being offered us from moment to moment and over which we have no power or control as to how much longer we will go on living. Even greater are the gifts of inner life and love by which we have begun to live with the same life and love the three divine Persons have inside and among themselves.

This is a far greater and more priceless gift, and we can only live it and go on enjoying it by trying to be open to the full extent of it, which is to exclude no one from the embrace of that love, especially not those who harm us, precisely because in harming us they betray themselves and reveal what a poverty they are themselves. If they were rich inside with the wealth of God, they would not behave in this way. For them to go on in their poverty will lead them to eternal misery unless they change, and that would be a far greater punishment than anything our devious little minds could cook up for their torture.

As we manage to find within ourselves the will and openness to trust the Blessed Trinity to know what is happening to us, to allow it for their kind purposes and in view of what will be not just good but actually the best for us and those we love; then we are securely on the path that Jesus walked and opened for us to follow behind Him. Trust in the Blessed Trinity and hope in the future they are bringing about in us are perfect dispositions for walking with the Lord, and these attitudes of spirit bring us peace and joy, even in the very heat of difficulty and trial, as contradictory as this seems to eyes open to see only as the world sees.

Of course, even with the best of dispositions we can expect a little more turbulence, human nature being as it is, as our memory resurfaces impressions, sensations, feelings, and thoughts.... Know Dear Reader that even though there may be moments when you feel yourself going backwards, that is, regressing, or succumbing again to intense feelings, it actually is not so. We are indeed very complex, intricately made, and functioning on many levels, and it takes time for the light shining from the face of Jesus to penetrate into the deepest parts of the most secluded rooms in the mansion or castle of our soul.

Each situation, relationship, memory, event, experience, feeling, can have such substance that it actually constitutes a room in the castle of our soul, and as such, is in need of the light and love of God so that we may surrender it to the lordship of Jesus. This is such a profound and patient, painstaking process that it is not something we can plan, let alone achieve, ourselves, but it is the beautiful work of the Holy Spirit in us. Our part, as each moment of the day unfolds, is simply to venture forward with trust in the Father's love and like a trusting child with its hand buried in the bigger hand of its Mom or Dad, allow the Holy Spirit to "touch" that part of our soul and bring it to life, order, harmony, peace, and fruitfulness.

To put it simply, as each moment of our day unfolds, pleasant or painful, it is that very moment that can become an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to continue his work in us, as we simply hand over that moment to his grace, and surrender it into the power of his touch in the love flowing from the Father to us through Jesus. It can happen through an inner dialogue as simple as, "Ouch! O Father, I thought this was settled, but I guess there's more in there that needs your love and the healing touch of your Holy Spirit. Take this memory, pain, anger, whatever; I give it to You. Glorify yourself in me and configure my heart, mind, and soul to Jesus, that I may walk on with Him and live like Him."

These are my words, but you see the gist... you too Reader can spontaneously enter into this kind of dialogue yourself with the Father, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit with words from your own heart, or at times even without words, as St. Paul mentions in Romans 8, where our soul prays simply through the groaning of labor pains within us... God be always with you and your family, and may the Blessed Trinity enjoy greater and greater freedom to glorify themselves - make themselves visible and attractive to others - in and through you.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Why are apparently good men leaving their wives and children - when it's not women leaving their husbands and children?

What follows has been prompted by yet one more wonderful lady and her children being dropped by her apparently good husband and father, but the truth wasn't fully known until he revealed himself to the light of day and what was hidden in him finally came out, but it is sadly also applicable to some wonderful men who have been abandoned with their children by their apparently good wife and their mother. So what gives?

What a joy it is for me as a pastor to occasionally hear from someone I once served and who moved away as they just decide to contact me or as I send - which I don't like to and rarely do - one of those email warnings about something or other. What a shock it is for me to hear yet one more time that she has been abandoned by her man. Every time it happens everything in me wants to scream. "Do you realize what you're doing to them and to yourself? Don't you know that you are bailing out at the very moment and threshold of dramatic growth for you as a person, if only you face what it is that's going on and go through it, but no, you turn back and leave. What a waste. The loss is almost entirely yours, because the one who gets left behind will almost certainly grow, even if at first it's only for the sake of the children."

I really don't get what's happening to men in our society and culture... It's like they're not growing up.... What I really find strange is that all too often, at least where I have been, she is very beautiful, talented, smart, skillful, and just plain good and kind and generous, and the list goes on. It seems that no family is spared and everyone knows someone who is going through this, someone close, and I am no exception. What's interesting is that some of them have been telling me that they've discovered - the Lord is giving them - a new freedom and realization of how much they had been carrying their man, who really in varying degrees hadn't been fully a husband nor a father in too many ways to tell.

It would be harder to the extent that he was in any way a good husband and/or father.... or if the shoe is on the other foot and the one who left seemed to be a good wife and mother. Then the trap is to begin wondering what you did wrong, what was the cause that forced your spouse to leave you, but it's only a trap. The cause is not in yourself but in him or her who left you and your children. Of course, you're not perfect, who is? The point is that life is like that, and we are here on Earth precisely to experience the "sandpaper effect" of rubbing up against each other in irritating ways, so that our rougher edges may be smoothed and we might actually become more beautiful, kind, understanding, loving, ready to defend the good and the truth, and be generous.

Then there's the other trap at the other end, where the one who left was such a dead weight that you now may feel guilty about feeling so relieved of the burden of his dead weight that you actually feel glad, joyful, elated.... Don't feel guilty... that's just a trap. The fact is that a woman gladly carries the weight of her man during his struggles and uncertainties, and her constant love and support supplies him with time and an environment that actually incubates him and allows him to grow and put in his efforts and make of himself a better man. Our Father designed woman with the capacity to do that and do it gladly; that's how she nurtures life, and it is one of her greatest sources of satisfaction. The Creator designed man to awaken to her goodness and gladly, freely, and generously cherish her. Then the circle is complete and her love and efforts come back to her.

Conversely, the Creator made man to notice woman, to value her and take her under his wing. He leads her from her parents' home to a home of her own, even in cases where she is so talented and able that she actually leads in many of the decisions they make. We're not talking about who wears the pants here, but rather about the topography of the human soul. Woman has been designed by the Creator to desire and expect to have her own value noticed, wanted, appreciated, and affirmed in the eyes of another who looks upon her with love. She has been designed to be cherished.

So when a man does that and after a shorter or longer time she leaves him and even her own children behind, he can fall into the same trap of wondering what he did wrong, but it's just a trap. It's not about him or the children, who also wonder what they did to cause Mommy not to love them anymore and leave, but it's mostly about her and the decisions she has made. This man needs to remember that he is good and lovely and precious in the eyes of his true Father in Heaven, and that he has not love his ability to love and be loved, and at first he must carry on for the sake of the children, but in time, he will discover that he did not squander his love on her who left him, but rather that he has grown through it all and has become a better man.

You know, I've had lots of time to think about such hurts that really should never happen, wondering what is happening to the countless millions of people suffering such injustices and neglect and worse.... and where is our loving Father in all of that... I remember that He only ever has one answer to all our situations and questions: his own Beloved Son, the Word, whom He sent and who accepted to be sent to come among us, and whom we celebrate with such joy - and good reason - every Christmas... Jesus, the Beloved of our soul and the True Bridegroom of his Bride, the Church, us. He will ever remain faithful to us, having already poured out his life for us and for all of humanity who simply accept to receive the gift of his life by accepting to be called by it to move up a little higher and become a little better.....

Woman, or man, you who have been abandoned by one not willing to rise to the dizzying heights of true and profound love, love that is faithful and true and learns to leave self behind, this is an opportunity for you to rediscover in a deeper way the simple goodness of you, that you are ever so precious a daughter or son in the Father's eyes, and that He has so much trust in you to know that and to breathe deep and drink deeply from the springs of Living Water He has given to erupt in you - the Holy Spirit - from the moment of your Baptism and strengthened at your Confirmation and fanned into flame with every incident on the road of life as you allow it to prompt you to open wider with ever deeper trust the windows and doors of your soul....

Please give my regards to your children... Tell them that they are very special... They have a very good Mom or Dad who has chosen freely to remain faithful and true to them and won't leave them ever - until their body gives out and their soul moves on to be with God - and what has happened is not their fault, nor is it the fault of their Mom or Dad who has remained behind. It's mostly about their Dad or Mom who left and the choices they are making.

It's also because of our culture and times.... It isn't a good time for good, strong, just men to sprout up from the Earth... It's also becoming a very bad time for good, strong, nurturing women to sprout up from the Earth.... There was a time when many men tended to get caught up in macho activities to prove themselves and left the women to do the important and foundational work of rearing children and forging character in their children, and so women grew and became powerful and wise. Those times are quickly fading.

Too successful is the great lie being propagated by interests that want to manipulate and control destinies and/or want to hinder or even abolish the great and wonderful design of the Creator for our happiness. So more and more girls and women are trying to define themselves by being better men than males, proving they can do anything men can do or even better, proving to themselves they can enjoy the same sexual irresponsibility that for so long has been the reserve of men who don't have to carry newly created human beings in pregnancy. The tragedy is that by the time woman discovers what God already knew and intended, that she can do what man does at least as well and often better, it may be too late for her to realize that wasn't the point.

God designed men to compete against themselves, to become better than their own self, not to become better than others, but mostly, the Creator designed men to develop a life, a self, so that then they might freely and gladly lay that self aside in order to apply all their energy and devotion to cherish the woman who has accepted to share and enhance their existence.

God designed women to be content to observe the man competing against himself and by her freely and gladly given companionship be as a catalyst that enhances his ability to more quickly develop a life which he can then gladly and freely devote to her and cherish first her and then also their children. He designed her to find rather her inner satisfaction in fully developing her own potentialities for giving and nurturing life all around her, like a fruitful vine, but if she allows the great lie to distract her gaze from her own inner goodness and accepts to look outside herself for a measure of her own worth, then she will reject her own fertility and fruitfulness and become an arid and sterile wasteland that in the end remains alone and empty.

The tragedy of our times is that our culture has developed especially in the past fifty years around the momentum of reacting against elders and former ways of living in an insatiable search for novelty and the futile attempt to satisfy the appetites of the flesh. They have been given us to help us survive and to add color to life, but they have no lasting substance. That is something that grows root, stem, leaf, and fruit from within our spirit and has to do with our design to give and nurture life, one way or another, in our own children or in other ways of adding life to others by our presence and services.

This new orientation is actually not new at all. It was introduced at the very dawn of humanity and we have an account of it in Genesis in the drama staged with a first primordial couple, Adam (man) and Eve (wo-man). The great lie is to believe we can do better than follow the design inscribed within our very nature, but the proof is in the origin of the message we choose to believe. Our Creator loves us and designed us to be happy in a lasting and even eternal way, whereas the stranger who wants our attention and discredits our design wants nothing else than our total and utter destruction. The choice of orientation is ours. Will we have the wisdom to recognize the innate genius, beauty, and wonder of our own inner design, or will we prefer the attractive but artificial and sterile and empty appearance? That is the test of our humanity.

Too many of us are not passing the test... We are being sifted like wheat by the events and abundance and prosperity.... to discover what is really inside of us. No one can escape being tested. It's only when we discover what is inside of us that we know the truth, and knowing the truth about ourselves, we can act accordingly. Jesus' response to our situations was: "Repent and believe the Good News!" What good news? That He has come no to leave us orphans but to restore us to our true Father.

God bless you dear sister, dear brother, who have been abandoned but are not orphans, because you still have your true Father above, and the One who came among us to at last make Him known and loved. May this loving and Blessed Trinity of divine persons continue to pour out the Holy Spirit and have mercy on all the delinquent and lost spouses and parents who have left their treasures behind, blinded to their value and enamoured of the lie that they must cultivate their own life alone or with someone else; for sooner or later they will have to face the truth they is trying to escape.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

About what goes on in the human soul

Dear Soul,

As Jesus revealed to us while He prayed to his Father the night before He died and while He was in the company of his apostles, Jesus was not of this world, nor were his apostles, nor are we. Yet we are in the world, and having as it were one foot on Earth and the other in Heaven often causes us to feel off balance and we seek reassurance.

It is not so very healthy to become preoccupied with the progress of our soul or lack of it. Yes we are to desire God with all our being and respond to God with all our faculties and energy to the point of loving our neighbor and even our enemies. However, we are not to fall into the temptation of wondering or trying to catch a glimpse into the souls of others or even our own.

We are the work of the Blessed Trinity and we are a work of love. It is enough for us to put all our trust in them and allow them to use all the events - even unpleasant - of our life and world around us for our good and benefit and that of others. We are, as Jesus showed us, to accept to live fully and go through everything that is ours to live, do, and experience. We are to allow God to draw us away from our ordinary way of looking at and understanding things and into a divine way of looking and understanding everything. Many spiritual writers have used different words to try to give expression to this.

"The Cloud of Unknowing" is a book written by an unknown author in the 15th century or so, at what is considered the beginning of the so called piety movement, during which time ordinary Christians began to have more personal experiences of the presence of God and to write about that experience, simple people who were not bishops, priests, religious, or extraordinary witnesses as in the early Church, but just ordinary people.

The Cloud's author writes about how, once we are more conscious of the presence of God and respond, the Blessed Trinity give us to see everything with the eyes of faith, but in a way that often outstrips the ability of our reason to keep up. It's a new kind of knowing, which is actually opposite to the normal way of knowing with our intellect, senses, and reason. It is a knowing that happens in what is for the reason darkness but for faith light. Most of the spiritual writers like John of the Cross spoke of this in similar terms.

Be careful dear Soul of thinking you are making great progress in God or judging whether or not other people are experiencing intimacy with God based on your own inner view or impressions of them. What is new to you may be very familiar to others, whether or not it is given to you to know anything about it or about them. It seems to please God that what goes on in the human soul be hidden from the eyes of others, and often even hidden from the soul itself.

For my part, I do not share with anyone what is going on between the Blessed Trinity and my soul. That is for Jesus' eyes alone. You may at times have been somehow motivated to have others change, or experience something that you are experiencing, or to manifest external signs that are in accord with your view of what it means to be in love with God or vitally connected to God, or whatever. If you indeed have, then I am glad that you are feeling blessed by the love of the Blessed Trinity, and remember that they are looking after you as Jesus revealed in Himself as the Good Shepherd. He is doing the same with me and with all the other souls alive on the planet at this moment.

In the course of our lives we all go through many things, and God alone knows how He intends to use all these experiences to prepare us for eternal life. The progress, regression, stumbling, hurting and healing, sin and repentance and forgiveness and conversion of each soul is in God's hands, and our part is to keep a reverent silence in the face of the mystery of each soul and its realtionship hidden in God. Only at the end of time will what is now hidden be revealed.

Try to be content with the knowledge that you are indeed God's work of love, and allow yourself to be motivated only by gratitude to the Blessed Trinity, gratitude for everything at every moment of every day, and by eagerness to live in the desire and motivation to spend yourself with trust and generosity in one lifelong effort to respond to the Blessed Trinity and their love for you and for us all.

In the footsteps of Jesus, offer at every waking moment what is happening and what you are living and doing and loving and enduring in union with Jesus for the good of all living souls on the Earth - especially those most troubled, lost, suffering, sinful, and violent - and for the glory of God. God bless you and your family.

What to make of supernatural happenings and private revelations?

I think the first time I began to notice strange possibly supernatural happenings going on around us was as a newly ordained priest in the Fall of 1983. Someone offered me a little wooden icon (a copy of course) of "Ou Lady of Tenderness" from a photo of the original in a Verdun church, where the original icon was sweating a fragrant smelling oily liquid. It smelled of roses only better, more heavenly somehow, and all who smelled them were mysteriously touched in a deeply spiritual way with sheer love from God and a desire or return of love to God and Our Lady.

Since then, I have noticed any number of such happenings, not to mention a plethora of so called personal revelations and inspired writings. You can see for yourself a few things our pastors have to say about these things in the Catechism of the Catholic Church among other sources. Why, I was myself quite taken up with some of these phenomena from 1992-3 at a time when I had been stirred up by an international priests' retreat in Rome (September 1990) and was marvelling at all that was happening in the Church and the world and wondering what the Lord was expecting of me.

Why all these amazing and often questionable phenomena and why now? What are we to do about them - what is the Father's will for us in the face of these and everything else that is going on in the world and in our lives?

My purpose in reflecting on this with you, dear reader, is that chances are you have asked or are asking yourself questions like these or know someone who is. Pope Benedict's presence, witness, and pastoral care for us directs us to Jesus, and especially, as the Father's eternal response to us in our need, Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist (choose your language version of Pope Benedict's Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church's Life and Mission (February 22, 2007). We have been designed and created by the Father for love, to receive and live in his love and that of his Son Jesus, in the communion of the Holy Spirit. All other things must be judged and ordered in light of this most important of all truths and realities.

What to think about all the strange happenings? First of all, we must be careful not to jump to the conclusion that they are from God. Paul warned us that even the devil can appear to us as an angel of light in order to deceive us and lure us away from the will and love of our Father. It also happens that strange things can happen due to human deception or illness that can cause or exaggerate unexplainable human behaviour. That is why our Church authorities have always taken great care in judging these things. It took some 20 years of investigation before the Pope and bishops felt the Church say definitively that what happened at Lourdes or Fatima was worthy of human belief, that is, that people can reasonably believe that what happened in these places was of supernatural origin, that is, from God.

Why are so many of these phenomena happening in our times? Perhaps because the devil has been for many years recruiting agents, witting or not, in such areas as the arts, media, politics, and culture in general, to break down any remaining barriers of morality, decency, respect, and consideration of others in human society, the Blessed Trinity are endeavoring to strike a balance in what is getting the attention of people, especially the innocent, the poor, the fragile, the old, and the young.

Since many have lost their way and may not even know about what really goes on in church on Sundays and so don't have any occasion to benefit from the pastoral ministry and care of the shepherds Jesus continues to send us, it seems as though the Good Shepherd is using once again some of the arts of Simon Peter the fisherman and casting all over the world a very wide net to catch all those that can be caught in order for the three divine Persons to get their undivided attention, if only for a few moments, hours, or days.

Each of these supernatural happenings, books of private revelations, and signs in the sun and in the sky, and so on are so many strands in this new fishing net from Heaven combing the seas of human society to catch all the good and often suffering souls who, though lost, are somehow seeking or desiring the good intended for them by our Father and Creator of us all.

Now, if the Father, Jesus his Son, and the Holy Spirit already have your attention, and you are walking in the company of our Blessed Mother Mary, Mother of all disciples and of the Church, and are allowing yourself to be drawn each Sunday to the Divine Liturgy at the faith Assembly where Jesus continues to nourish and form us to live and proclaim the Good News in the world all week with our lives; then you really don't need all these unusual things. If for a time they may help you better understand the Gospel and other Scriptures and the ways of the Lord and increase your enthusiasm for prayer, for reading Scripture, for living all day long in the presence and company of the Blessed Trinity, and for serving your neighbor - even to forgiving enemies and praying for the good of evildoers before the Lord - then perhaps the Lord intends for you to use them, for a while.

However, beware of the trap of getting hooked on these "goodies" and letting yourself become closed in on your own personal and private experience of God but diverted from actually living your life, having your own relations with the three divine Persons in God, generously carrying out your duties, and going out into the world. If these things anaesthetize you to what is your real life and pull you into something of a fantasy and a distaste for the company of others or for real life, then you would only be regressing. You would be like the person who throws away a precious gift in order to play with the wrapper in which it came. It's fine for little children to enjoy playing with boxes, but it's no longer healthy for adolescents or adults to do that all the time. Once in a while, OK, but be careful.

God gives us graces, kind of like spiritual "candy" that makes us feel loved and sense spiritual pleasure, but only sparingly, so that we will not become obsessed with getting more candy but rather fall in love with the Giver of the gifts, and want to become like Him and go out and do as He did and say as He said.....

Saturday, February 03, 2007

How quickly the days go by....

Good morning to you, or whatever time of day it is as you read me. The last 17 days have been so full.... Life in my family seems like a roller coaster ride some days.... It is a consolation for all of us to have one another, all the more so because we are relatively few. It is a fact of life that I have not been close to any of my cousins, perhaps because our lives were so different, and for a time I had a lot of difficulty enduring cigarette smoke and most of them were smokers.... I'd be open to renewing their acquaintance again... perhaps when I retire....

It was Saturday, December 9th that I had my first big breakthrough with my website when I enjoyed dinner with Marcus Arts, his dear wife and son, and then he introduced me to the art of webmastering. He helped me with the software and tutored me on its use. While there I searched the web and found a good web host and service provider and signed up. From then on, I found my way, continued doing what Marcus had shown me, and made new web pages, designed them and loaded all kinds of files.

It was as if a huge backlog of pressure built up over the past several years was finally allowed to rush forth! I had long accumulated reflections and documents that have various uses in the course of ministry that I wanted to make available both to share with other priests and with the people I serve and work with. It's all about the kingdom of God and not personal glory.

So these past few weeks have been particularly intense with creativity and the preparation and loading of homilies as MP3 files and miscellaneous Word documents and web pages from a few good Christian web publishers. My web site has been a real construction zone!!!! My intuition in reviving this English blog and in beginning another en français was that when the dust settles I will be able to slip into either one and log theological reflections on my days and experiences in the vineyard of the Lord; so that He might get the glory and souls might be helped, and that we who labor together might become more transparent to one another.

For these reasons I must heartily disagree with the professor who was quoted by the Gazette as saying that bloggers are primarily lonely and isolated individuals, for whom blogging is a kind of substitute for relating directly with real people. Get a life, please! Loneliness is part of the human condition for everyone, and it hits particularly hard at the turning of 40 - somewhere between 36 and 44 - according to Dr. Jeannine Guidon, who founded the Institut de Formation Humaine Intégrale de Montréal.

People like Francis of Assisi and Benedict of Nursia before him who went and spent years alone in a cave were not lonely, isolated people who couldn't face the rigors of relationships! No, they were people who could no longer ignore the profound and very intense desire in their soul to know and experience God directly, and it was the Spirit of the Living God who attracted them into solitude. The Holy Spirit even today attracts receptive souls into various forms of solitude - temporary, permanent, or periodic - in order to more easily perceive and actively communicate with the Three Divine Persons and then emerge purified for more transparent relations with real people. Whoever faces the rigors of relating in the dark night of faith with divine persons can certainly face the uncertainties and demands of relating to other people in the flesh!

Fr. Gilles

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I'm a priest - why all this web activity? Who's going to read or listen to it?

Yes indeed, that is an interesting question. Why should a priest, who has so many things to do and people to see, bother with a blog like this or a web site or an additional blog en français? This question was put to me by a dear friend today, and I'm so grateful that he did, because it sent me into the depths, where the meaning and purpose of our lives is to be found.

As Dr. Jeannine Guindon was fond of saying, as an integral part of the formation program she pioneered since the 1950's through the 1970's, it's about the meaning and purpose we choose to give to our lives that makes us the persons we are becoming. As my friend's question burrowed down into my soul, I began to notice again the depths of gratitude that I have been enjoying these past several months.... ever since my sabbatical experience in Chicago, really....

I'm grateful for the great grace and privilege of having been chosen and loved by the Blessed Trinity from infancy... I still remember my Christian Initiation: first Penance, Confirmation, and First Holy Communion.... there was Someone there! Indeed there were Three Someone's there! For decades from youth into adulthood there was painful confusion and inner conflicts, and it wasn't until a good and holy elder priest who loved young people shared with us the great grace of silence, reflection, and prayer, that I had a real opportunity - for the first time in my 27 years of life - to look back on my "sacred history" with God.

Once those flood gates opened, I couldn't get enough of silence and retreats and prayer and then getting to know the three Divine Persons and how They were present and speaking / guiding deep in my mind, heart, and soul.... Then came another great struggle and wonderful call: to follow Jesus and serve Him as a priest.... After 23 years and counting, I am filled with gratitude
to overflowing for the privilege of seeing Jesus speak, heal, enlighten, teach, warn, reproach, caution, instruct, form, lead, and nourish through me, and that is only the beginning of it.... It goes on! It's so clear to me how great God is for bringing about such wonderful blessings and life in others through the poverty and weakness that I am!

There are countless blessings going on all the time in my parents, who despite - no perhaps because of - their growing weakness and increasing illness, are aging and entering into the Fall and Winter seasons of their lives so graciously.... My sister and I are only two, and it has been and continues to be at times such a burden, and yet, we are being changed, purified, stretched and blessed as well as our parents by the opportunity and challenge of attending lovingly to our aging parents....

The transition I have been living from Becket to St. Luke and to the Lakeshore General has been and continues to be quite exciting and exhausting, but I have a deep sense that it is all good and for the glory of God. In fact, that is why I am bothering with this blog and began one in French and finally have succeeded in activating a web site. It is to put on display all the gifts the Lord is pouring out for you his people through me, such as I am. So we are posting the homilies on the website and occasional reflections here.

Beloved sisters and brothers in Christ, and other guests, feel free to share this site with your friends and family, with fellow students and work colleagues. Our Creator and God is doing a wonderful thing in people in our time, despite the dreariness and violence that the media are constantly feeding us in the form of a daily dose of poison. It's about time we give ourselves another diet than this poison. We know there is evil out there, all around us, and yes, even within us, but that is why it is such Good News that God has sent us a Saviour in Jesus Christ!

Jesus is God the Father's antidote to the poison unleashed as a dragon's vomit by the father of lies and chief rebel, the primodial serpent.... Jesus is Lord and has crushed the serpent, overcome the dragon, and robbed him of his treasure hoard. He has made us children of God so that we might enjoy the freedom of his children. Glory be to God our Father in his only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, victorious over sin, suffering, and death, and in the Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of life! now and always and forever and ever! Amen!

Fr. Gilles

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Let's pray together now - the Lord wants us to do it.

You may never have seen it or not even know about it, but the Lakeshore General Hospital has an interfaith chapel that was inaugurated this past year 2006. Its benches hold 20 to 30 people and there is an altar. At the back there is a section for praying without shoes made especially for Muslims or for anyone wanting to pray without shoes.

Next week all over the world Christians will begin observing the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, while in Canada and other countries Christians will observe the week with two weekends bookending January 25, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The Pastoral Services Team of the Lakeshore General Hospital has just sent out today to dozens of Religious leaders in the West Island and beyond an invitation to offer a prayer and worship service on one of the days from January 18 to 25 inclusive. Councils of churches worldwide have prepared the materials for prayer and worship gathering together Christians of all denominations throughout the week. Non-Christians are also welcome to attend these services, as it is in their interest that Christians become more united; as this will enhance peace among people and nations.

We've also invited these religious leaders to offer a prayer and worship service on one of the days during the week leading up to the World Day of the Sick on February 11, which would be on any of the days from February 3 to the 11. The purpose of this day - and we thought that a week would allow more people to participate and benefit the hospital population - is to affirm and raise the dignity of those who are sick, to commend those who care for and attend them, and to encourage their family and friends. Read Pope Benedict's message (another version) on the occasion of this 15th World Day of the Sick.

Naturally, people of all faiths and spiritual values are welcome to participate in these manifestations of solidarity, support, and prayer. As religious leaders respond to this invitation and offer to lead prayer and worship services on particular days and at specific times, we will draw up a calendar and begin to publicize it as soon as we can. You will find it on this blog as soon as it is ready.

With time we hope to better prepare such weeks and events, but since Fr. Michael Tauro and I are only part-time, we prefer to spend most of our time visiting patients. Exceptionally, I have spent two days setting up an email list of religious leaders and sending out our invitation to them. If you go to this link you will see that full time chaplains who have been at work for some time have prepared wonderful resources (more resources) to enhance our care for the sick and their care givers.

Feel free to let other people know about these events and to make use of this blog entry to help you pass on this information.

"He even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak"
(Mark 7: 31-37) is the theme of the 2007 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. An annual event, the Week of Prayer is a significant time during which churches around the world express their longing for and commitment to Christian unity. You will find this and other texts at the World Council of Churches website.

If it's been a while since you gathered with Christians of other denominations to pray, chat, share or collaborate on a common project, why not talk it up with friends and consider coming together to participate in a little prayer and worship service during one or both of these two weeks, for the benefit of the patients and their families at the hospital, as well as the medical and support staff and administration, not to mention all those who come in for ambulatory care.

Prayer for others is a powerful instrument for good because it is motivated by love and taps into the very heart of the Blessed Trinity, source of all life and being. Contact your pastor and ask whether they intend to participate or even offer to lead a prayer and worship service and maybe you can offer to help or assist them.

Whatever you are able and choose to do, may the blessing of Almighty God fill you and rest upon you and your families, Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit, now and always and forever and ever.

Friday, January 12, 2007

What is the difference between denial and shock?

This question arises from conversations I have recently had with folk both in the parish and at the hospital. I have had my own experience of both shock and denial, and you may be surprised by what you will read me write about them.

Denial - especially the kind related to illness and death, but other kinds too - is often if not usually spoken of as something negative that just cannot be avoided and that we should get out of as quickly as possible so we can get on to the good part, the healing, and move on. The fact is that in nature many things are as they are for a good or several good reasons.

Denial is somewhat related to shock, and it will be helpful to have a better appreciation of what denial is all about if we look at shock first. The shock I want to examine here is that physical state we go into that shuts down our feelings when there is trauma and the feelings are too overwhelming and could actually kill us. Shock allows us to go on for a while and as we go along in the process of the aftermath following our traumatic experience, we try as well as we can to carry on with life and as we do so begin to want to relate to others again, and we slowly begin looking at the experience, just fleeting glances at first.

Then, as we are able, our organism senses this and thaws out the tangle of emotions connected to the shock but only a little bit at a time, and so this emotional flood comes over us in waves, just to give us a taste or glimpse at first, then shuts down again. Something triggers these waves of emotions, we taste them more intensely and deeply each time, and they shut down again so we don't get damaged by the sheer power of them. This process accelerates and intensifies as our organism senses we're up to it. Faith in God, hope in his grace, and love lubricate this process incredibly.

Denial is like shock but different. Whereas shock shuts down our affectivity, denial shuts down our will, our willingness to look at, think about, admit, imagine, remember, visualize or even acknowledge the source of our pain, the traumatic event itself. The purpose is similar - our own protection and self preservation - and it enables us to go on functioning until we have enough energy, stamina, and vitality to begin looking at the awful truth.

When we consider then that both denial and shock, and other mechanisms like them, are really gifts from God, woven into the fabric of our being, to help us cope with the powerful events of life, then we can look at them and approach them with more reverence and appreciation for what they are designed to give us and allow us to do. Everything that is written or said about both of these by way of warnings applies to the danger of remaining in these states longer than we need to, as a kind of unhealthy appetite for the anesthetic effect, much in the same way one can develop a dependence or appetite for excessive alcohol or drugs.

There is great wisdom in the Jewish Scriptures that is applicable here:

"There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away. A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace." Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth) 3:1-8.

“Were not our hearts burning within us as He talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:32

«Notre cœur n’était-il pas tout brûlant au-dedans de nous, quant Il nous parlait en chemin, quand Il nous ouvrait les Écritures?» Luc 24 :32

l’abbé / Fr. Gilles A. Surprenant

Monday, January 08, 2007

15th Day of Christmas - the Baptism of the Lord

What's that? Christmas is over, you say? All the lights are being put out, the decorations are for the most part gone, and other "commercial seasons" are beginning to clamour for our attention? Well, let them go fly a kite! They're not getting my attention, which I am carefully and jealously guarding for what and who really matters....

Since the time of the first Christians, they needed and loved to extend the festivals that grew around his passion, death, and resurrection, and subsequent ascension into heaven and sending of the Holy Spirit.... 50 days in fact! Even that wasn't enough, and they gave themselves another 40 days to prepare for that holiest of weeks between Passion/Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.

They did the same thing to properly remember, ponder, and celebrate the Lord's incarnation and birth, taking 30 to 40 days before Christmas - if we mark the time from the 33rd Sunday and the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Solemnity of Christ the King, which focus our attention of the "final things" and second coming of Christ in glory as judge of the nations - to get off the merrygoround of the world to give proper attention to the significance of the presence of God among us in the human flesh of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Christmas carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas" marked the high season of Christmas from the Day of the Nativity through New Year's Day marking the maternity of Mary, Mother of God (since Jesus although fully human was truly God, the divine Son of the Father, existing from all eternity with the Father) to the Solemnity of the Epiphany, the manifestation or the revelation of Jesus as Son of God and Saviour of humanity to the nations in the persons of the three Magi from the East.

The pressure from society at large and the secular culture to get on with the business of profit and pleasure is so great that only the devout and determined manage to maintain the ancient tradition of keeping festival of the Lord's birth not just for 12 but for 40 days, til February 2nd, the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas, when candles are used in procession to gather around the manger to acclaim, worship, and praise Jesus as the Light of the Nations.

Merry Christmas Season! Happy, Healthy, and Holy New Year 2007!!!! Fr. Gilles