See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. - James 5:7

Friday, March 06, 2009

My reputation.

I know I have one.
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My writing, my art, my remarks, my taste in music and film and comedy apparently is enough for some readers to imagine they know me. To some extent that may be true, but I have to tell you, I don't know who I am, and I have been working on this self knowledge thing for many years. I also do not know if it very prudent to reveal oneself publicly, as so many people do now days - albeit their revelations are usually self-edited with a bit of literary cosmetology: "I was a sinner, now I m a saint!" Or, "I was a disc-jockey with mental problems and now I'm a priest with mental problems."
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In the "About me" section of another fellow's blog, I read "I despise disingenuous writing, speaking and argumentation. I don't trust priests, brothers or sisters, but do trust the priesthood and the ideal of religious life." That statement pretty much sums me up too.
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When I make a mistake - I'm the first one to admit it. Even when I'm right. Readers need to get this straight however. I do get angry, but I usually repent as soon as I express it - which explains why some of my posts are taken down in an instant. (I wish I could be more like Clint Eastwood.) I despise my own disingenuous-ness, as well as the same hypocrisy and inconsistency I see in others, be they religious or laity. I make fun of myself and write off the wall stuff because I believe laughter is more therapeutic than tears or angry attacks or endless complaining. And I find myself insufferable when I become too high minded or take myself too seriously.
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Advice and consent.
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I was stunned by an email I received the other day. A lovely woman sent me an encouraging note. In it she wrote:
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"I am recalling that I sent at least one young person to you who was inquiring about the monastic life. I know you said you didn't think you were the right person, but given your experiences (which you have never explicitly said, only implied) I think you ARE the right person to advise a young person these days. I don't want a young innocent man to be thrown to the wolves, so to speak, which I hate to think about most of the monasteries these days, but does in fact seem to be the case. I also thought you might know of one or two orders which has managed to remain free of being infiltrated by rampant homosexuality and liberal brainwashing, etc, etc, ad nauseum."
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Despite her kind words, I still do not believe I'm the right person to advise anyone. Although in some of my more frank discussions concerning issues of sexuality and vocation, my real intention was to write what I know and hopefully to help anyone struggling with issues of continence to have greater hope and persevere, trusting in the mercy of God. (My fatherly instinct longs to save people from anguish and discouragement, false teaching, and so on.) Yet I have made my greatest mistakes as I naively assumed every one's struggle is basically the same and the grace I received in my personal life was typical of other men's experiences. One may not generalize. This accounts for why I refrain from writing anything very spiritual now days, or anything critical of the gay lifestyle, my impatience with the acceptance of certain false teachings, has been interpreted as hate speech. It is not. But I do not want to alienate or ostracize people of good will who disagree with me either. We never know the state of one's soul, nor the stage one is at in the spiritual life.
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"Love is a teacher, but we must know how to acquire it, for it is hard to acquire... it is dearly bought... it is won slowly by long labor. For we must love, not occasionally, or for a moment, but forever. " - Dostoevsky: Fr. Zosima
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Vocation and community.
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Nevertheless, after this very long foreword, I will respond to the above section of my friend's email. My short experience in an enclosed monastery was the best, and most important experience of my life. Up to that point, my training in the spiritual life was based in the Carmelite and Franciscan tradition, totally Marian and Eucharistic. My return to the sacraments in 1972 was due to a very special grace of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Later, Benedictine spirituality, as I came to know it in the Trappists developed as the other great influence. My taste in Liturgy is more austere because of the Trappists, and since Scripture has always been a key element in my prayer life, Lectio Divina was a natural for me to adopt and incorporate. Nevertheless, I am by no means an expert in spiritual matters.
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However wonderful my experience in monastic life, my temperament simply was not suited to enclosed life, and in the early 1970's every order or congregation was in some sort of disarray because of all the experimentation going on, frequently resulting in a loss of identity and direction. I found that out after entering the Carmelites. Then I tried the Little Brothers of Jesus, as well as a new Franciscan group in Naples. Lest I forget, after the Trappists, I then tried the Carthusians. I tried far too many orders - don't do that people.
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On my pilgrimage, I also came in contact with dozens of new orders seeking to reform the old ones, albeit their founders were usually lacking in formation themselves, and not infrequently, I think a few were simply looking for companionship. I met numerous priests who thought I should enter seminary, they ought to have known better. I became friends with several seminarians, and spent a lot of time in their dorms, learning a great deal more than I wanted to know. And yes, I knew priests who are either in prison, or, as in one case, murdered in one. Indeed, I knew priests who have written books refuting Catholic teaching on sexuality, as well as falsely interpreting scriptural prohibitions against sodomy. So I have really been through the gamut, so to speak - and my experience is worth more than some of the erroneous educations many of my peers earned their degrees by.
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Enough said.
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Now if I were to counsel anyone about monastic life, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that there are many fervent, observant, faithful communities around the country. Latin usage is not a guarantee of authentic observance however. An aspirant to religious life or priesthood must find a good priest, a man of prayer and sound doctrine, to help him discern. A simple priest, without a great deal of academic achievement, is better than a vain, pompous, or highly educated priest who flaunts his status. (I found retired clergy, who were particularly good professors, to be wonderful directors.) The best priest is easily recognized as one who actively exercises his ministry - who is dedicated to his ministry, and whose entire purpose is dedicated to the salvation of souls. Always watch out for vanity and those who seek fame; and always be wary of any invitation towards intimacy or particular friendship in a spiritual direction situation.
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Back to religious life.
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Despite all that the Vatican says about the admission of men with homosexual inclination to seminaries and religious life, such men will always be there - and they always were there. Not in the numbers revealed by the scandals which broke in the late 20th century - such extremes only occur intermittently in history, as in St. Catherine of Siena's day. Our culture today is quickly becoming more like ancient Roman times, when Christians were a minority and the Commandments were mocked. As the Church faces more cultural persecution, and the times become increasingly more austere, the more purified Her members become, thus, the problems with seminaries and religious life will be far more limited and isolated. We first have to wait for those my age and older to die off, along with the congregations which have deformed and whithered. Religious orders are different than religious congregations. The major orders will last until the end of the world, congregations come and go.
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Be assured of this however: A person with an authentic vocation can enter an order that has become decadent, and the Lord will support him - although not without some difficulty. The great reformer saints all went through similar situations, even the Carmel of St. Therese of Lisieux was kind of a nut house. One very key deterrent for a candidate would be any evidence of heresy or doctrinal irregularity - if an aspirant finds that, then he must leave the community, or not enter in the first place. Otherwise, be consoled that religious life, just as in secular life, is full of all sorts of people, many misfits, a few nut jobs, and so on. There is not a perfect house or a perfect monastery. One simply has to enter with their eyes wide open and firmly fixed upon Jesus - if one seeks God alone, one will find him, if one enters seeking oneself, one only finds discontent. Religious life and priesthood is not a country club - if it becomes that, it has fallen into decadence.

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(I may take this down by tonight.)

19 comments:

  1. Terry

    Awesome. From the heart, and it seems a heart secure in the Benedictine tradition of balance. Good for you. I really enjoyed this post more than anything else so far.

    I can second and "amen" all you have said about religious life (was in 1975-77 as a young kid). And I also give an "amen" to what you said about an apsirant entering the community God wills for him to enter even if it seems imperfect.

    Case in hand: At the national right-to-life marches one meets all kinds of people and many within one day as people move in and out of the walking crowds. So I struvk up a conversation with this 20-something guy in black shirt and collar. Solid as a rock (his theology I mean, not physique...though that was too come to think of it). ANYWAYS...I wondered where this solid guy with deep devotion to Sacred Heart and fidelity to Pope could come from. Ready for this? A JESUIT novice ready to make profession in a couple months.

    Now...who woulda thunk a kid in a collar with RC-proud attitude would be a Jesuit????? (No offense to the many good and typically elderly SJs I know and love). But its just as you said about the Little Flower and actually many other saints. Theire monasteries were often far from our present day ideal of observance BUT they became saints and in most cases their houses reformed as a result.

    Keep up the good work Terry. Deus nobiscum, quis contra?

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  2. You said- some readers to imagine they know me. To some extent that may be true, but I have to tell you, I don't know who I am, and I have been working on this self knowledge thing for many years.
    ..................................

    I feel the same way about myself , however I don't think that we are as complex as we fancy ourselves to be ,or else Satan wouldn't have had such success in manupliating us.
    I also think that as scripture said about the splinter in your neighbors eye while you have a log in your own - can be applied to our self knowledge - backwards. Sometimes others can see something within our personality that we - ourselves can not, and rather plainly.

    Poor Example - remember Norman Bates - he couldn't see that he was crazy. He thought he was compassionate enough to not even hurt a fly. He was deceived by his own self knowledge.

    I don't see my sins as well as my husband see's my sins. I have told him dozens of times - you don't know how I think or feel , and he always says's I know you better than you know yourself Belinda. Yeah, he probably does.

    Although sometimes we may feel alone , and unique from others to the point that no one understands us this is a self deception.

    Contemplating the complexities of our own selves is vain , I have fallen for this for years. Over thinking thoughts about myself, which steals my thoughts away from Christ.


    Don't forget our wonderful saints who wait to interceed for us . They are people that have experienced much of the same thoughts , feelings, and pains that we have , and that criteria makes them perfect intercessors who know us very well.

    It's the "world" that doesn't understand us.

    ..............................
    I wrote something funny to you yesterday, but you deleted the post. It took me 45 minutes to hen peck with my one good hand . You missed out!! (glad you got ashes , your a good person , and my "pretend friend!" )

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  3. I mean "pretend" in a funny way. Given that blogging isn't real , and all. No snotty hatefulness was expressed in that statement.Just me trying to be silly.

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  4. Belinda I'm publicly responding to another email. I'm not unique.

    Listen to your husband however - I guarantee you he knows what he is talking about. It's part of the vocation.

    I'm single, so I listen to my spiritual director.

    That's all - I wasn't asking any questions here.

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  5. SOOOOORY, I still like to talk to you though. Even though you weren't asking for a response.

    How do I make a smiley face sticking it's tongue at you?
    And why aren't you at work? Hum?

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  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  7. michael r.3:23 PM

    I agree with David. This is one of your best posts ever. My quibble with any of this is that sometimes you have someone who is guarding the front door of the monastery - the vocation director - who won't let in certain types of individuals. I am always saddened thinking of all of the vocations that have been lost.

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  8. Oh, please don't take it down. It's marvelous.

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  9. Ditto what Elena said! Besides, some young person contemplating religious or monastic life may stumble upon this blog and find this post which may be the just information they need.

    Thanks for this insightful essay. May God bless you always.

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  10. That's how I stumbled into the "Terry" zone - quite accidently , and like "The Hotel California" song , I have never been able to leave, much to Terry's dissapointment,

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  11. Anonymous3:12 PM

    You came to Terrygorje because you were called by the message Belinda. Nobody comes to Terrygorje unless they are called, and once called, no matter how banal the message, they tend to stay.

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  12. I read Terry's posts because - warts, and all he's a loyal, faithful, and true Catholic,and he's a good person, and no matter how much he pisses me off, (and he does,) I love people of great faith. Otherwise I would have never returned. Some of my favorite posts are the ones where he's complaining about something because that's when he's the funniest.(But he deletes the good stuff, or worse yet refuses comments)
    I read mostly to hear something wonderful about God, or of the saint's.


    We need to time our responses with when he get's back from his confessions - while he is still feeling warm , and fuzzy.
    .......Until he grouches up.

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  13. Ter: Your journey made you the person you are and I think that's a good thing.

    I think you are very reasonable and that you truly strive to live a life in Christ. But, you recognize when you fail and I admire that honesty.

    That's why I'm drawn to you as a friend. Plus, you are crazier than I am! LOL!

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  14. Thanks Cath - Gette - Elena - everyone.

    Yes Belinda - I just went to confession - you have about 3 minutes - oops - time's up!

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  15. "Terrygorje!"

    I love it! Now what we need are some logo stickers and t-shirts and sweats and hoodies and coffee mugs! Oh yes, toques for those of us in the northern climes.

    Go to it, guy!

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  16. Ray , don't forget the bottled water from his bath tub.

    Has Terry been approved?

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  17. Belinda:

    I guess bottled water from Terry's tub would be OK if we could guarantee that there were no peanuts in it.

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  18. I was thinking that given the amount of joy that Terry get's from a well shaped hedge row that perhaps to enrich OUR devotions he could expand his mind a bit , and consider forming his hedges into holy inspired shapes. Maybe St. Francis , or St.Bernedette. Or if he was feeling especially creative, "the battlefield of armegeddon" ooooh, now that would be cool. You could even charge admission.

    http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/01/08/e1/c6/green-animals-topiary.jpg

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Please comment with charity and avoid ad hominem attacks. I exercise the right to delete comments I find inappropriate. If you use your real name there is a better chance your comment will stay put.