Friday, January 13, 2012

Painful Realities are Spiritual Good

The snow begins lightly, then thickens.  It is so in the spiritual journey of trials.  The Lord allows them lightly at first; then they fall more heavily upon the body, mind, heart and spirit.  St. Teresa of Avila shares some of these painful realities.  She writes of them in third person in her Life as well as includes examples in The Way of Perfection and Interior Castles. 

However, sometimes one learns most of this saints' painful realities by reading books by scholars who have researched all her writings as well as that of others who knew her, in order to discover some of the actual details.  I, for one, find details helpful as encouragements in my personal spiritual journey.

At times I have been criticized for writing personally--tidbits transpiring in my life as a Catholic, a hermit, a victim soul and as a human being who is an imperfect but aspiring follower of Christ.  Much has occurred in the past three years, some of which I have touched upon in these blogs.  But I have not shared some of the recent ordeals which had me at the very door of spiritual death...or so it seemed to myself, family and friends.  And the spiritual governs and affects the body, mind and heart.

For one thing, there has been injustice and persecution from Catholics in particular.  This includes some who do not know me other than through anonymity, but most do not know me other than seeing me at Mass, daily.  Way back, the late Irish Da said that I am like one the farmer has marked, and the other chickens sense it is different and try to peck it to death.  So the farmer has to remove it and place it in a separate coup for protection.  I admit that I have not handled the persecution always with grace.  Sometimes I have wept and other times I have snapped back verbally.  I mention these situations as mostly being the ones regarding local parishioners who are detractors.  Some have been very outlandish in their attacks, garnering the ear of any new priest who passes through in order to influence him negatively toward what has become a rather visible situation.

Teresa of Avila is the first Catholic person I recognized, after the fact, in a corporeal vision other than the Virgin Mary.  This event occurred long before I converted to Catholicism.  But her writings and life, even now, prove very helpful on a personal level as well as for anyone reading this post.  She is our friend and guide, thankfully having written what is so helpful, including her personal experiences.  Recently we renewed friendship, she and I, when I happened to open a book I've had for awhile which consists of various Discalced Carmelite priests and scholars' contributions on various topics of her life.  The first I read, "Mystical Ecstasy According to St. Teresa", was immediately helpful.

"In fact, almost twenty years before St. John of the Cross made the redaction of his first work, The Spiritual Canticle, St. Teresa had already finished her Life, in which she describes with all precision and profundity the nature of mystical ecstasy.  Moreover, the reason which urged her to write the ife was the rich ecstatic experience which she had been unable to understand or interpret at the beginning of her profound spiritual crises.  Neither the reading of learned books nor her frequent discussions with theologians could satisfy her.  Only when the Lord gave her to understand the significance of her ecstatic experiences, and gave her the power to express them, did her spiritual crises cease....Her own personal experience, then, and the special help of God made it possible for St. Teresa to grasp and express what in the beginning she did not at all understand. "*

Her sharing saved me from yet more despair.  The entire book of essays remind me, also, that there will be ugliness and trials from those we would least expect: from other Catholics, from family members, from priests and religious.  The very aspects of mystical phenomenon which can emanate love, healing and peace to those all around can become the very goads with which others can torment and reject the person who never anticipated such things nor less that they would publicly occur.

In my own life, the cruelty has mostly come from priests.  Yes, it was painful that some parishioners would lie about me, tell others awful things totally fabricated, as well as to make ugly faces and even do the crazy signal about their ears and point at me when I'd walk into Mass.  Then there were those who would physically harm me when I was unable to move or speak or see, as the ecstasies last the entire period of Mass and often slightly beyond when the angels and saints continue to praise God in prayer and music beyond our temporal awareness.  (There is a reason why we should remain still and adoring for a few minutes after Mass!)

Perhaps most painful is the physical-emotional unkindness and injustice.  A tiny example: Due to disability of constant, high-level pain (for years after car accident and surgeries), I cannot sit on certain padded seats.  While hurtful it is to be disallowed all parish involvements due to the head priest not liking the ecstasy occurring and his discomfort with spiritual matters, I was also disallowed from chapel renovation committee.  It burns: I made a large financial contribution.  O happy fool?  All pews are now padded; I truly cannot sit on them without--within hours--utter, painful incapacity. 

This has been my cross for years; it is no surprise.  But the priest would not allow me to bring in a wood folding chair for quite some time.  He finally relented to my tearful pleas, but I have to carry the chair in and carry it out; he would not allow the chair to remain or be stored in either of two storage areas more easily accessible.  While he did not like the ecstasy occurring during Mass, he would not allow me to be in the confessional or the choir loft during Mass.  My doctor gave me a handicap permission so that I do not have to carry the chair across the parking lot but can park close, but still it is an ordeal for someone my age with a terrible back, to be lifting the chair in and out of the car and into the chapel and back out after Mass, back into the car.  On rare occasion a parishioner will offer to help, but it is a matter of timing if one is arriving at the exact same moment.  Well, this is a minor incident, after all.  There are by far worse.

Then, when my spiritual director interrogated me monthly for over a year on what happens in this state during Mass, and then consulted with some archbishop or other, and they decided surely I could make it stop if I tried harder, I was ordered to stand in the back of the chapel during Mass.  I tried to point out I had tried all manner of getting it to stop and consulted a doctor on the West Coast who is gifted in the paranormal, but no, the spiritual director was insistent that somehow standing would stop it.  I obeyed.  Immediately at the start of Mass, per usual, the ecstasy overtook my body, mind, heart and soul, and the body fell to the ground from a standing position.  The shoulder was injured, requiring the very painful rotator cuff surgery.  I have not been able to get health insurance for years, and on top of that injury, there were others at the hands of parishioners. 

The Diocese refuses to help pay the costs.  They did use a limited liability med pay-out that barely covered the initial doctor visits and imaging tests.  An employee, the CFO of the diocese whose salary is paid by us peons in the pews, said even that small amount was a "gift" from them.  The head priest refused to do anything to try to educate or stop people from hurting me during Mass.  My attorney, a devout Catholic, finally said to post two signs, and if people hurt me with the signs posted, to file police reports and have them arrested.  The signs have helped, but they also have been the point of yet more ridicule and persecution for my having to post them for my own protection.  The attorney said to sit in the handicap pew, and that has caused parishioners and priests to accuse me of wanting to be noticed.  There is never any end to what others think, whether or not negatively or, in some cases worse, thinking too highly and thus being awkward around me.

Anyway, this is just a smidgeon of some of what has occurred of the actual physical and mental trials that very much affected the emotions.  I started a little site online which offers some items I can make, trying to help generate some income to pay for the medical costs for the surgery.  Even doing that has brought persecution from some who think I am making light of my hermit vocation.

When St. Teresa of Avila writes that the trials can be far more painful than the consolations, she has this quite aptly and correctly stated.  Yet, the consolations do bring the person through the darkness and into a kind of strength that one did not think possible.  While now some family members do not speak to me because I remain a Catholic after the injustices and persecutions that reduced me to a heap of tears and despair, His Real Presence has lifted me beyond the sadness of their misunderstanding and the resultant isolation.  I understand why and how, and I trust that His Real Presence knows fully what He is doing.  He chooses what will stretch us the most.

I have no rancor at this point, and shortly after I returned to Mass (yes, my own spiritual director not once, but twice, directed me to not go to any Mass which caused the most dreadful state of soul imaginable to the point of death) because a former abbot stepped in to say that the direction was wrong and to return to Mass, His Real Presence gave a glorious infusion of unconditional love into my soul during a daily Mass ecstasy.  This unconditional love has helped me in ways that I would not believe had I not known how otherwise ugly my previous unwanted, sniping word thoughts could be!

Plus, now I see that there are those who love me very much, even if they are not on earth to remind me.  And, there are those on earth who are so kind and supportive, even if they are not able to tangibly show it due to the lay of the land in a parish.  But there are some who show kindness in a smile, a hug, a word of loving welcome.  And even though I cannot have the spiritual director to guide me, as he cannot go against the head priest or step in to defend or right the injustices, for I cannot be obedient to what has proven to be rather disastrous direction, he and I are on most good and loving terms as spiritual friends. 

Here again, what is written more candidly by St. Teresa and by others who have culled her writings and those of others who knew her, has been most helpful to me in these trials.  She went through painful trials at the advice and direction of priests and religious and finally concluded that they did not know, themselves, and at a certain point His Majesty (as she calls Him) or His Real Presence (as I call Him) teaches the soul, just as St. John wrote in his First Letter, that when anointed, He becomes the teacher.  St. Paul writes similarly, and yet in some ways, this takes all the more faith and in some aspects the soul may feel more humanly alone.  It is necessary, all of it.

In closing on this rather long, personal post, someone who privately wrote said sometimes what I write sounds as if I am angry.  Angry?  Well, yes, of course!  There is so much more that could be written of the horrible persecutions, misunderstandings, and downright cruelties by the ones who one would hope could be compassionate and even act as we understand Christians are to act, that it would take volumes and only result in going over the ugly and painful once again.  But perhaps the anger can also be termed as deep hurt, for it was all very hurtful; and until one can grasp that this is exactly as His Real Presence needs the soul to feel in order to comprehend what He has felt, does it then make any positive sense.  To explain that to family and friends who are not Catholic, goes beyond what they can grasp. 

Some lapsed Catholics also use the visible injustices as more reason to remain away.  My son, for example, is not speaking to me, either.  It is not a matter of my having divulged the wrongs. While I did have my handful of faithful friends who prayed and grieved with me, the injustices popped out from those who did the injustices, such as the diocese employee who was overtly rude when the hospital business office called to ensure surgery payment, only to be told that the diocese had changed their mind and would not pay.  I will yet be judged and scourged by some who read my blogs for having been this open.  I do not want anyone to go through what I've been through, but I suppose they won't.  It will be different for each body, mind, heart and soul, for we each will be trained and honed by His Real Presence according to what--well, what works!  His Real Presence knows best, always.

One could still question why His Real Presence allowed so much of the injustice to be known to others--other than He knew it would be exquisitely painful for me to endure the shame of what I love so much, the Church, to look so ridiculously cruel to one of Her own.  But it is only us humans.  Just think how Jesus felt when the High Priests and Pharisees so mistreated Him publicly--His very own temple priests, family and friends!  Anyway, on this very snowy morning, having shared how helpful are the writings of those who endured much upset and retained their faith, I suppose I am one who is enduring, as well, by the grace of His Real Presence.  He is all love--is His Real Presence--above all else.

God bless His Real Presence in all of us!

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