This semester has proved to be challenging meeting various obligations and trying to maintain this Blog. A good busy, as they say.
So I will put my writing here on hold for a stretch as I anticipate more of the same to the end in December, weekends included. So until at least Thanksgiving, I will not be posting.
May the Lord bless you super-abundantly in all ways, in the meantime. I’ll leave an old reflection below Sound of Silence for your reflection, if you wish…
[re-post from 2014]
Keep your mind in hell, and despair not. — St Silouan the Athonite
I met with a young man earlier this year to discuss some faith struggles he was facing. I will call him Eric here, and he gave me permission to share this story.
Eric had been brought up in a broken home, and had been physically and psychologically abused by his step-father. After getting out of high school, he got a job and quickly got caught up in drug and alcohol abuse and in the hook-up culture. But after going on an ACTS retreat, and having a life-altering encounter with Christ, he radically altered his lifestyle and moved to another state to start his life afresh. Eventually, after a few years, he decided to become a priest.
While he was in a parish assignment his third year of college seminary, he discovered the pastor was engaged in some seriously nefarious activity, which shook him to the core. As this dredged painful memories and overwhelming anger, he said he did not have the inner resources to confront the pastor or face his vocation director, so he simply disappeared and left the seminary and stopped practicing his faith altogether. Though he never lost his faith.
I met him by chance one day and when he found out I worked for a seminary, he wanted to talk to me. Our several sessions were painful and fruitful, and he eventually decided to return to the sacraments and give the church a try again. It was a miracle of grace and a testament to his own resilience.
At the heart of our conversations was the question of why Jesus chooses to include messed up people in His Church. Especially in leadership positions. I remember the day when he said, “I hate that life is so messy in general. I guess the bottom line is, what other choice does God have, right? I mean, I’m messed up, everyone I know is somehow messed up.” We talked about human institutional dysfunction as a permanent state of affairs that requires incessant reform, and shared ideas on possible remedies. Then I said,
But bottom line is it’s only faith in Jesus that gives us hope beyond the limits of history and keeps us from hopeless pessimism. And really, if we look at Jesus as the way things work for God, it’s actually when things are worst that it’s clearest He’s getting down to business and dealing with the problem at hand. Bringing the hidden toxins to the surface. In the Passion, evil was totally spiraling out of control and put Jesus in its cross-hairs. And when evil had done its worst by dragging Him into hell, it was then that He blew it open from the inside out and launched a new creation.
So hope is found only in collaborating with God’s project of new creation, which He makes out of the scraps of human rubble.
You know, St. John of the Cross in the Dark Night says that just before you get to the brightest light of union with God, you stare into hell’s darkest eye. And then what you discover when you get there is that the darkness is really in you. So dealing with the problems of the church or world, whatever they are, really means dealing with your problem, the only one you have a final say over.
My first spiritual director told me that a warning sign that I have become unhealthily preoccupied with others’ failings and faults, have lost perspective, is when I pray less and less. In other words, when I lose hope in the God-project of new creation and progressively withdraw into myself. Of course, what that leaves me with is the exact same mess, but now without hope or joy.
There’s this Orthodox saint, St. Isaac the Syrian, who says that once you let God’s mercy REALLY deal with your own crap, you then become the most merciful person in the whole world and see things the way God does. Which is the final goal. He has this quote that’s killer on that point.
I later emailed him the St. Isaac quote:
What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm him, that they be protected and receive mercy.
I ended my email to Eric with the Silouan quote, and added, “If you choose to dive into Jesus all the way, wholeheartedly, you’ve gotta be ready to go deep into the thick of it all with Him. I mean, that’s where He’s always heading, to where it’s worst. The key is to stick with Him and never go it alone. Go it alone, you’ve lost everything. Go it with Him, you’ll find everything.”