A previous quote posted touched upon the difficulty, in reality near impossibility, of embracing authentic humility. The complexity of the interior life provides irrational thoughts, leading to behavior, deluding one into assuming he is humble, when in truth, he is pulling the wool over his very eyes, blinding himself. I recognize situations in my own life. It is truly too easy to assume I am self-effacing when in actuality I am doing everything to impose my will, just being clever enough about matters to allow myself the luxury of positioning and perceiving myself as a man of God.
The area I concentrate upon humility intensely is my prayer life. I go to great extreme to ensure authenticity during times of prayer. Utilizing all my faculties, I doggedly cut away errors in humility, aware acutely of the existence of false humility. I am determined not to allow cleverness to impede upon my prayer life. Under such an extreme effort, I plead with God to provide true humility, comprehending through Him all things good are manifested, all things created by God are good. Left to my own devices arrogance, rationalization, and delusion will always be a part of my life.
I want to observe a friend, a dear friend I respect to the highest spiritual degree—a true man of accomplished prayer. Avoiding judgment, understanding lessons can be garnered from others, he serves as a good example. My good friend has lived a lengthy life dedicated to religious study, daily mass, a moral life, works of corporal mercy, and a proficient/blessed prayer life. Yet continual intimate interaction with him has placed me in difficult situations. One involved a visiting priest from Poland, a devout, intelligent young man, personable and an extreme pleasure to encounter. I learned a lot through the interaction. It was difficult, yet now I see contemplatively essential for growth.
The uncomfortable must always be a part of my spiritual life. If I seek affirmations, I blind myself. I recall a statement I heard once about the Church. The Church is at its best when it disagrees with me. When the Church agrees with me, I am prone to pride and the pursuit of selfish endeavors. I am too quick to assume a self-proclaimed authoritative role. My pride will try to pass myself off as a Bible scholar, or some other type of religious expert. I am at my best when I am content within my simple and imperfect role of hidden contemplative, a man of prayer, active within the world. When the Church disagrees with me, it is confronting spiritual incongruities. I must challenge myself not to become defensive and self-justifying, rather figuring out how to change in order to grow closer in intimacy with God. The Polish priest staunchly confronted my spiritual life.
I really did not want to become intimate with the priest, respecting St Liguori’s insistence that priest are to be held reverent in societal interactions. We must not approach a priest as a buddy, as just another member of the Knights of Columbus, another member of the lodge, someone to speak with daily regarding casual affairs. A priest is not my spiritual equal. He ranks in closeness to God. I am an inferior to a priest. It is no insult.
My friend, Paul, older, took it upon himself to welcome the young priest to our Polish parish. Paul spent all of his time attending to the priest. He took command of the priest’s off day, scheduling day trips, events and people to meet throughout the city. He insisted I accompany him. On my own, I would have never pursued such matters. I hardly spoke, never feeling comfortable during this casual time spent with the priest. My intuition screamed something was amiss.
There were other errors in my life. My residence living amongst a community of artists committed to secular and worldly ideals a serious encroachment upon my weaknesses. I fell victim to my strongest demon. A drinking binge of horrendous nature enveloped my life. I managed to pull myself together, seeking the priest out not as a friend, not as a spiritual equal, rather as a priest. I needed him to witness my tears, to absolve me of my sin, to assist me in assembling a life of order and the means to pursue the God I knew in my heart I loved. My life is extreme in the regard that if I do not open myself and love God completely I collapse in such a self-destructing lifestyle it is pitiful to witness. The pain I will wreak upon myself, left to my own devices, is an absolute abhorrence.
I was actually told I should be grateful for my condition for its graveness forced me to seek drastic solutions. The cross I must bear does not allow me to function if its not handled austerely. I relate it to a story I read many years ago, a sensational novel about the infiltration of the Church by dubious forces. Details and title of the book elude me. An idea within the story struck me as profound, sticking with me. Two investigating priest were discussing various priest and church officials during a massive gathering, attempting to determine who was aligned with demonic forces. The one investigating priest pointed out several priest he found fault with. The wise leading investigator pointed out the error of his speculation. The priest singled out had faults: a severe temper, an egotist, a tendency to drink too much, a glutton, human weaknesses too easily to perceive. The insightful priest stressed those men were apparent. Their faults identifiable. It was not such type of men they sought. The men with obvious faults were all too human. These priest knew their faults, working diligently to overcome them. Failing at times, the priest of obvious weaknesses endured the battle against their personal demons. Amongst the gathered, the penetrating investigating priest pointed out the priest who caused him consternation. The priest were intelligent, lacking no discerning faults, yet their personality remained vague. They were men convinced they were not lacking. These self-deflecting priest could not be pinned down. One was never truly sure who they were. Their strongest beliefs and motivations remained a mystery. One was not sure where their hearts truly rested. The enigmatic priest worked hard to make good impressions, people pleasers, always saying the right things, while never committing themselves to definitude. Those were the men the insightful investigating priest was confident they must be on guard against. The men of hidden agendas were truly the men to be leery of.
My faults come cross harshly and abrasively. I feel I am a good man, yet certain ugly truths about myself must be accepted. Spiritual growth for myself comes from conquering myself. The road narrows as I progress, yet that challenge I am primed for. It is my gross demon: alcoholism, I fear. It is the one thing that can topple all things.
When I fell, the Polish priest took me strongly under his wing, supporting me, assisting me in arraigning a lengthy rehab stay. He told me of firsthand experience with alcoholism in Poland, within his own family. Explaining the ravishing nature of alcoholism during communist years, telling how officials, harsh on other infractions, looked the other way regarding severe drinking. The people miserable and drinking themselves into a stupor served communism well. Regarding myself, while we set rehab conditions into place, I can remember distinctly, a film festival occurred amongst the artist community I abode within. I was off to the races, playing the Jack Kerouac, Nick Cave, existential fool I can be. My efforts hurt the priest. He removed all pleasantries between us, refusing to show kindness toward me. His justified wrath forcefully sank into consciousness, wounding me severely.
My friend also encountered difficulties during the time. A white haired soft-spoken Lebanese man of obvious spiritual advancement, he insists upon commanding spiritual respect. His spiritual reputation means everything to him. Daily, he makes the rounds of hospitals, visiting the sick, providing favors. Every Friday he visits nursing homes, praying a Rosary and Divine Mercy at three O’clock with residents. His retired life is concentrated upon religious service and prayer. However a glaring complexity emerged during the time of the visiting Polish priest. His wife, waiting upon a lung transfer, became conspicuous in her absence. His wife was being tending to by his son. In and out of nursing homes, due to physical limitations and frailties, her condition became critical. Dedicating all of his time to the Church, Paul ignored his wife. He disappointingly expressed to me the sad reality that his wife brought it upon herself due to her choice to smoke cigarettes during her youth. The coldness and annoyance he displayed when his successful adult son called him regarding attention for his wife’s condition disturbed me. I feel the picture is defined clearly enough.
The Polish priest also took strong opposition to Paul, expressing severe disapproval of both of our applications of faith. He gave a powerful Friday mass, an evening mass for a solemnity I cannot even recall. The Gospel reading contained the words: Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? Sitting in the back hiding, the words penetrated to my heart. He spoke directly to myself and Paul, emphasizing the lack of need to be a world problem solver when charity must first be firmly established in the home. The absolute necessity to put our own house in order if we are to grow in Christ. He spoke out about being a religious know it all, a political expert on all matters worldly, a busybody within the church, stressing that God was not going to give us a final exam upon judgment day. God will want to know how we lived. Did we love and care for others? Where, truly, was our heart? Were we enigmatic and difficult for others to comprehend? Were we precise in our efforts to conquer ourselves? In humility, did we serve God or was it all about self-glorification, was everything an imposition of self-will? The Polish priest brought tears to my eyes, giving a homily of immense power, the congregation realizing they witnessed something special. I could only sit stunned after mass. The young priest walked over to me, extending his hand. I complemented his homily. He invited me to see him off. The courtesy and sincere humility he demonstrated to a man, who let him down twice, was much more than a casual imprint. I remember walking with Paul to his home in complete silence after the accusatory homily. We knew we had been properly scolded from the pulpit.
During the sending off of the Polish priest, a time after daily mass, we gathered outside the church. There was a fairly large crowd of well-wishers. The majority of the gathering supplied by a single family. The family, home-schoolers, numbered twelve children, plus parents. I greatly admired the family. The mother is an astonishingly intelligent woman, so brilliant when speaking words burst forth in rapid succession. She can barely contain her thoughts they are so vibrant and accessible. Her boys serve expertly during the Latin mass. The Holy Spirit is strongly apparent within the family. The family displays a passionate pursuit of life and Christ. The Polish priest thoroughly enjoyed his time amidst the family. I held silence throughout the parting, keeping my words minimal and friendly. It was enough to simply be present. I saw how much the priest enjoyed the children, giving proper attention to all the attending.
I started writing this with the intent of touching upon the difficulty of applying humility to life. Advancing the focus to obedience to Divine Will, surrendering self-will. It is such a difficult process. Brilliant words from Church doctors, advice from others, nothing eases the burden of sacrificing the things I want the most for myself, especially not the things that I am convinced will allow me to serve God better. I will naturally impose my self-will upon the worship of God. I must surrender to faith, hope, and charity.