"A man who is not stripped and poor and naked within his own soul will always unconsciously do the works he has to do for his own sake rather than for the glory of God. He will be virtuous not because he loves God's will but because he wants to admire his own virtues." Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation.
Without having heard, I suspect, of the Alcoholics Anonymous concept of "reaching
bottom", Thomas Merton captured, in these elegant two sentences, the
special grace of spiritual desolation. Our capacity to delude ourselves
in false security, to take comfort in a phony self, to clothe our
nakedness and desperation in smooth answers and shallow platitudes is
nearly limitless. I know this firsthand.
I am not yet able to discuss the details, but suffice it to say that in
the autumn of 2014, in the space of just a few days, I went from a
relatively happy and successful parish priest to one who lost nearly
everything: job, reputation, financial security. My career of 25 years
was suddenly washed down the drain; my future as a priest was deeply
I was fortunate to have retained my health, my beloved girlfriend, and
my best friend. I am very aware of how much worse it could have been.
But the experience was truly horrifying - like being inside a flimsy
building during a massive earthquake. Everything I took for granted was
crashing down around me.
And the earthquake continues. I don't have a job - but my calling has deepened beyond anything I've known before. If I let myself, I can be seized by financial panic - but through this whole ordeal, I have been possessed by an uncanny
sense of God's presence - which is also God's absence. It is a sense of
finding God in emptiness; of finding myself by losing myself. All the
crazy, paradoxical dimensions of the Gospels and the koans make a deeper sense to me
I am finding my ground - in free-fall. As much as I resist the term
"God's will", I can't think of a better way of describing this process of absolute trust.
I am trusting in God's will because there is no other option, no other
reality. So I meditate and I pray, like a beggar sitting naked and
exposed at the threshold of God's palace.