In a footnote to today's commentary, Francis Brown writes: "This piece of writing is meant to illustrate how a priest displaced from the official clerical status of priesthood (because of a request to marry), and feeling a persisting priesthood within him, can occupy himself. There are many spiritually-minded people in the world who have been displaced in some way by the lesser spiritual aspects of churches. These are still waiting for the hand of Jesus to touch them. Perhaps I can be the light of Christ that they are waiting for and have not found in the official churches."
Learning and Pastoral Theology...
What do I know? After my studies were completed, I was admitted to ordination as a priest and commissioned to teach the faith, to confirm the faithful in their faith, to bring back those who had seemingly lost their faith, to minister to the faithful nourishing and refreshing them through the sacraments and the Scriptures. The supposition was that I was well-equipped to be knowledgeable about all that was necessary to fulfill what was required of me. I felt that my brain had been stuffed full of all required learning and the required ability to dispense it.
Here was I, a know-all, on a mission, sent out to bring salvation to the world. After 55 years I realize how ill-equipped I really was; that what I knew was mainly book learning, lots of it for sure, but not what is necessary to enter into people's lives to help people mould their lives to the form that I had been taught. I was supposed to tell people how they were to behave in every aspect of their lives in order to be saved. What authority did I have? Was it the moral theological books of seminary days? Was it an authority that sat in bishops, undoubtedly schooled by theologians of their choice over a long period of time? I could not go around saying, "By the authority of the bishops, I teach you this". I was supposed to have become an authority so I taught doctrine and morals as I was directed to teach. I, in effect told people how to believe and how to behave to gain access to heaven. I was a "know-it-all" and everyone was supposed to trust me and fit their lives into the mould of belief and morals I outlined.
Apart from being such a knowledgeable person, I had a duty of prayer. Now prayer came easily to me as it was part of a relationship I had with the God, of which I had been taught from childhood by parents, teaching nuns and brothers and preaching priests in parish life and in parish missions and retreats. I loved reciting the breviary and chanting the various prayers instilled in me from community prayer life. My meditations were about what the learning I'd gained told me about God, and, better, about the life of Jesus that I'd got to know from reading the New Testament. Here again learning seemed to be the controlling factor.
My knowledge as a teacher of faith and morals and also as a prayerful priest became shattered by my contact with people once I had been sent out from the seminary. People did not fit easily into the patterns that knowledge said they would fit into. People were different from the people found in books and lectures. If it were up to me to be moulding them into strict forms of faith and morals according to my learning, I could not see how they could fit into those forms.
My prayer life based on learning as taught was inadequate because relationships in people went far beyond learning. Changes in me began as I admitted to myself that there had to be a better way of relating to God and people than the way of learning as taught.
My relationship with Jesus was for so long based on what the New Testament and on the deductions of authors, some, by sound scriptural understanding, others by imagination, even fantasy. As I related more and more to people in down-to-earth situations, even as I felt Jesus chose to me, my prayer life became more relational. Meditation gradually changed from a mental projection of aspects of Jesus' life, to the development of mental stillness and spiritual awareness and Christ-consciousness. I learnt to be still enough to have my Holy Spirit prompting my body-mind to greater attentiveness to what was surely the Mind of God. The peace I thus gained assured me it was right. I sensed that God wanted nothing but my happiness.
Clarity of vision regarding my relationship with God, with Jesus and with my fellow humans improved slowly but surely. This came from the promptings I felt coming from the Holy Spirit which I gained by the degree of stillness I felt even in the midst of activity. I sensed myself growing from a book-knowledge to a knowledge I did not know earlier, something that came more from within. I was becoming more in touch with what I felt sure Jesus' life and his quoted words meant. At the time all this was not as it is now becoming clearer. My growth was somewhat like the way I saw the Church growing. From its early floundering steps, its mistakes, its misjudgments through the centuries to the point now when it is still in need of guidance and will continue to grow. It has shown me the pattern of my growth that I must not stop at one stage, satisfied, but must allow the Holy Spirit to keep showing me and moving me on.
Re-discovering my more mystic nature...
In the back of my mind there was a realization that I had been given a certain nature (gift?) from infancy. I have come to remember how still and peaceful I was as a small child somehow experiencing oneness in my being and in all else. There was for me a constant presence that held me in a state of paradise. During my school years, I allowed this state of being to be submerged and subjugated by teachings that I later recognized as fundamentalist or stifling, as literalistic, even influenced by Jansen. This earlier mystic nature has been rediscovered and contributes to a tendency to look beyond words commonly used in connection with creeds and explanations of faith and relationship with God to deeper and parallel experiences within me.
These changes were brewing in me, perhaps unknown over many years especially from the 1960s. The call of the Church's Vatican Council II was exciting and I felt in tune with it.
What is now called "mid-life crisis" or a late blooming of sexuality in the 1970s effected changes of a mental and physical nature that later proved beneficial in spiritual growth. From teenage years and throughout adult life I experienced sexual feelings and bodily manifestations but there were no overbearing temptations in that regard. My observance of chastity was not saintliness or purity. A more likely explanation is that self conditioning over many years to accept a form of conduct acceptable to my status as a priest and religious was responsible.
In the 1980s a further significant catalyst for my spiritual growth showed itself. I had become accustomed, by this stage, to expect "happenings" that seemed to catapult me forward in spiritual development. I was asked by a religious sister engaged in charitable works to visit a Papua New Guinean family, lonely and distressed, in Sydney for medical treatment of the baby of the family, to give them solace and comfort. I could speak their language and knew their culture. This sister was then instrumental in my meeting another religious sister of a disclaced contemplative order who introduced me to a way of spiritual discernment. This reinforced the way I was beginning to look at my place in the world and spotlighted the message of Jesus in a manner that stressed the content of his words and avoiding the traps of being bogged down in form. This is what had been going on in me for some years as I've explained. It was encouraging to find that others were being guided in the same way as me. I found that Jesus or my inner God-Nature was energizing me anew and further clarifying my relationship with God, with myself and with others. I lived more and more in the present. "Now" became the focal point — the only reality for me. I was being brought back to the mystic experience of Oneness. This experience was mine in childhood before I had allowed myself to be caught up in focus on the form of faith and the words of faith and practice. I was becoming better able to discern the content of what relationships were, especially my relationship with God. What I have learnt (not so much as knowledge but as experience) is not new. The Church has had it all but failed to consistently teach its depth as Jesus did. Its attempts to codify it, to make it exact and non arguable seem to have taken the spirit out of it, obscuring the practicalities of living it and concentrating too much on form.
The blunt words of creed became softened for me so I could, as it were, eat them. They are now less like a trumpet blast. They blow a gentle breeze into my being. The word of God was opening to me, not in the calculated and wary way of theologians but as a flowing stream. There are numerous books I have read that read in much the same way as my life is coursing now. My experience is not uncommon. My reading over years included books of many titles and authors I've forgotten, but they include mystical writers, tellers of inner experiences, writers expressing remarkable insight and others whose thinking was catalytic for me.
The learning I allowed myself to gain from my seminary training prepared me for ordination to the priesthood. The exercise of that priesthood helped me be a presence of Love but my return to a more mystical theology has clarified my perception of all that I had learnt. Awakening to full awareness of my oneness with God has become my only commitment. Knowledge learnt previously is now constantly being interpreted in accordance with that awareness.
Although the active ministry of my priesthood has been curtailed the presence of Love remains and my priesthood is exercised in much the same way as it was in Jesus although he was never formally ordained. I have become aware of the Christ in me and I can beam it to all I meet. Awareness of being one with God includes awareness of oneness with all of God's Creation. 2002
I sense stillness within me,
Perfect Presence and Perfect Love
Perfect Presence and Perfect Love;
What are your thoughts on this commentary?