This was a theme I wrote about often when in high school. I'm not sure why, as one of my English teachers wrote on one essay how different for one my age, yet how so powerful were the depths and darkness the writing revealed on the reality of how we humans can be so inhumane to others.
Despite a sense of humor all my life, there has been a deep and contemplative side as well. From my earliest memories, I pondered and saw beneath surfaces. And I learned to speak up against some injustices when seen and when there seemed a hope of making progress in correcting them.
The man, a financial advisor and strong Catholic, had told me he'd visit the old priest and find out why it is he no longer has a stipend, why he has no money, and also to ascertain how much money he wants and needs. I also asked the man to please check on the heat in the facility, for the priest had written to me that he was very cold and the heat was being kept too low.
Yet I realized after ten days, that the man was avoiding my calls and not reporting back as he'd promised, as to what he would find out in person. On Friday when I called, the man answered rather than his secretary, and he awkwardly admitted he did not visit the priest. Gave some weak excuses which I did put to an end by saying that I realize the man felt awkward about visiting the priest and ascertaining what was going on there--and that I understand.
I was upset, of course, for there is great concern for the old priest; and I knew something was not right. I do not trust some of those around him and especially not the person he's had handle his checking account for a couple or more years.
I called a banker in the area in which the facility is, where the priest is. I know this banker from years past, and there was a miraculous answer to prayer in her life, early on in a marriage. She had come to me when I was in an extended time of bed rest due to pain, and she confided the problems, and we began a prayer mission resulting in a miraculous outcome for her marriage that has brought fruit now for many years.
I shared the problem I was having finding out what was occurring in the church-run retirement center, and she told me who to contact at the facility--a woman who attends the parish the banker attends, and where I attended years ago. I placed the phone call.
What I learned is revealing. The more I have mulled it and prayed about it, the more distressing it becomes, for I am amazed at how an elderly priest can be so treated by others in the diocese as well as those for whom he'd worked and served for years.
The reason he does not receive a stipend any more, is that the religious sisters have cut it off. There is but a handful of them yet living, but they have not wanted him to celebrate Mass and thus the reason for ending his stipend. The facility administrator explained when I asked why he was not allowed to celebrate mass. (The priest had written to me of this a couple or more months ago.) The administrator said it was due to the priest being unsteady on his feet. Well, I pointed out that St. Padre Pio sat on a stool the past couple of years of his life, and in fact others helped him walk to that stool, and toward the end even helped steady him on the stool.
The administrator replied that they think of the old priest's "dignity", in not subjecting him to that. Then she mentioned that there is a step up to the altar. He might fall. Yes, I know the place; there is also a rail and a ramp. I mentioned even a wheelchair but did not continue the going-nowhere excuses when the administrator said that they had offered to the priest to let him celebrate Mass on his jubilee and his birthday, but he refused. Well, I know why he refused, for he knew they did not allow him at other times to celebrate Mass; he is sharp, bright, and intuitive.
I did have to refrain from asking the administrator that if they were so concerned about him falling and his dignity then why were they willing to risk his life and limbs on his jubilee and birthday?
We moved on to the topic of the facility seeming cold, as elderly people generally feel colder than active people; and the priest has low blood pressure as it is. She said he can control a thermostat but also there are aides in and out of his room whom he could ask to do so. I'm relieved to know that, and I wonder at why he has not asked them--or if he has, what has transpired.
It is so difficult not being there; and I did agree with the administrator that the priest is extremely private.
Then on to the money issue. Besides his stipend being dropped because he does not celebrate Mass (truly, that was the religious sisters' doing, telling him he could not), the diocese also takes all his Social Security funds and uses them toward his room and board....
Oh. So I was getting a better understanding as to why he is penniless, and that he probably would like some money to buy some postage stamps, some writing paper, to buy a few gifts for those around him, for Christmas, or to make some donations, or if he needs a lot of money, to help someone in need as he has done time and again when he had funds!
The administrator said she had a man who could speak with the old priest to find out if someone was asking him for money, for that would not be right; or if the woman handling his checking account somehow mismanaged or whatever. But I know the old priest will not like this probing into whatever is going on, and yet if I send money, I need it to be in the hands of the priest and not the diocese, not the facility, not to the woman handling his checking account.
And this whole situation has disheartened me greatly. How is it that a priest who has served selflessly there for years and as a priest for many decades, has ended up penniless? Why can they not let him celebrate Mass any time he wishes and stop their thin excuses that he is unsteady or there is a step (and ignore a ramp) or that they are concerned for his "dignity"? What dignity is there for a priest to have to write to one who is part of his soul life, to be demeaned and need to ask for money?
Why is it that a diocese can be so heartless as to take all his monthly Social Security checks and not give him even a small allowance?
Ah, man's inhumanity to man!
I am ever amazed at how Catholics--clerics and diocese workers and often enough, parishioners--who either consecrate the Host and offer His Real Presence or go to Mass after Mass and receive His Real Presence, can be so nasty or at minimum unthinking when it comes to what is dignified, or even what is Christian behavior?
I am ever amazed at how inhumane Catholics can be to fellow Catholics. I've never known the likes of it, for it stands out sharply in contrast due to what we espouse, to what we say we believe of the Living Word and the Sacraments. We are to be dedicated in love and service to the least of these, of which an elderly priest certainly seems to be at this phase of his relative imprisonment.
The woman said she will get back to me when she knows more. I am grateful. It would be very wrong for someone to impose upon him for money when he has nothing. But the more I ponder what the administrator said, the more I sense that he simply would like a little cash in order to buy incidentals and to gift others now and then.
She also said she'd not be able to tell me what she finds out as far as the why, since she does not know me at all. And I am increasingly appreciative that she does not know me nor do I know her, for I am not feeling good about the information she gave of his stipend being dropped, their reasons for not letting him celebrate mass regularly, and the diocese taking his Social Security payments--which to her thinking seemed logical and proper.
I wish I'd not involved the administrator in the sense that the situation will become more invasive into the priest's situation, and I pray they do not berate him for not asking for the heat to be turned up. Perhaps he has, and his request ignored; or perhaps the aides do not want to work in rooms too warm for their own comfort.
Yet, here again, I guess the Lord wanted me to know from listening to the administrator's explanations, just how repetitive is the inhumanity within the church in little details such as an old, devoted priest being penniless. The administrator did point out he is allowed to stay there and has his meals....
I am so reminded of St. John of the Cross over four hundred years ago. Many know of his being imprisoned for nine months by his Carmelite confreres and his miraculous escape from their brutal mistreatment of him. That was earlier on in his priesthood. But not many realize that toward the end of his not-lengthy life, his confreres and especially a superior, so envied and despised St. John's popularity and spiritual gifts, that they wanted to punish him yet with mistreatment.
His superior decided to send him to Mexico where the order was setting up a new enclosure. They figured John of the Cross would not want to be sent away from the many religious sisters and lay persons who relied upon him for counsel and spiritual direction. But John of the Cross was pleased to be sent to Mexico, as he by then was in union with the Lord and also knew that distance from the conniving and cruel Carmelite brethren priests who despised him, was best for all.
When John of the Cross showed gracious acceptance of the superior's order to send him to Mexico, the superior did not like John's reaction! So he changed the order and decided to send the saint to their Carmelite house in the worst climate of Spain, in the most remote area, with the greatest hardships.
John graciously accepted this directive, as well, for by then he was so longing to be with the Lord in eternity, he knew nothing of the temporal mattered other than his ongoing love of God and of love of others as God loves. The saint knew the climate and conditions would hasten his earthly death, and he had by that point in his 51 years of life, reached spiritual detachment of both the exterior and interior senses.
So the last two months of St. John of the Cross's life were spent with increasing suffering and ill health, as well as being kept in a small, dark, dank cell, given little to eat but mostly bread and water, not allowed to celebrate Mass, and brought communion only on occasion. He accepted all this without a word of complaint but in a state of prayer for those who persecuted him, for he was subsumed into Christ while yet on earth.
Three days prior to the saints death, his superior had a breakthrough moment (praise God), and went to John of the Cross's cell to ask forgiveness. St. John readily forgave the man. But of course there is always the judgment of God and whatever His consequences to be the plight of all of us at our own deaths. And this is a good thing for us. We can ask others' forgiveness but there are always consequences of our actions, especially our inhumanity to our fellow humans and our ugly attitudes, thoughts, words, and behaviors that are never hidden from God's omniscience.
I wrote some of this to the elderly priest, for if anything, God is having him share in sufferings such as John of the Cross suffered, in the dehumanizing aspects of being denied by those around him who see nothing wrong about their manipulations and their notion of "dignity".
And that, my dear readers, can be so easily true of any of us.
Today I must pray for the Lord, on this Second Sunday of Advent waiting, to reveal to me any ways in which I display or enact inhumanity to man, or why it is that I tend to have these experiences come to light, that I do not shirk from taking them on. Others perhaps wisely do not get involved, like the financial advisor who was gun-ho to find out the circumstances there only to have his courage fail. And I am asking the Lord if I am doing His will by my involvement.
I admit that I did mention to the administrator, that I may need to start a GoFundMe page for the priest--given his circumstances there in the diocese and the facility. I let it be known that I know any number of lay persons in that area as well as dotted around the country and some outside the country, who would be quite upset and thus willing to donate so that the priest will not be penniless after all his years of impeccable service as one of Christ's own.
Yes, I admit I was irked enough to consider what at least local exposure might do as a motivating factor to shake them into seeing a broader view of "dignity", but I trust the Lord will handle this far more gracefully than I. That is my prayer, anyway. Sometimes we are, however, called upon to reveal things not quite right, even when we do not want to! I think often of Jeremiah and of Jonah, of Eli and Elijah and Ezekiel!
In the meantime I am making arrangements with a person I trust who lives near where the priest is, in the diocese-overseen facility. I will send her money every two weeks, and she then will take it in person and place it in the priest's own hands. And she will then procure whatever he needs of incidentals or make sure those he wishes to gift, are gifted. It is the best I know to do from a distance and also to keep the process unentangled from the temporal system-at-large.
My mind and heart are calmed by the Holy Spirit and am assured that he is not being asked for thousands of dollars, although that had been a possibility earlier, roaming in my thoughts. I guess it is good to find out, for if he wants to gift someone a large amount of money, then hopefully, fairly soon, I will be able help him with higher amounts of money.
And I must remember that much in the temporal Catholic world is as a business, such as this facility, and the diocese offices, and of the administrators as business people whether they be clerics or religious or lay persons. Positions of prestige or power no matter the setting, can so easily alter our way of thinking that takes us farther from the spiritual view. People working in a group or under cover of a large organization or business, can tend to do that which as individuals we might not dare do! Herd mentality, safety in numbers, justifying actions in the security of group-think.
I can see how one can be distracted and also must involve in the temporal world by my own efforts here to finish this temporal abode. If I let down my guard, I could easily ooze into the slime of how some employees operate in big box stores. Hopefully, before long someone will be able to live in this dwelling--finished, comfortable, and not a rat or bird or many in the walls, attics or crawlspaces, not an infestation of coons, not bad plumbing with dangerous off-gasses, not a leaking roof nor dangerous electrical wiring. And I can in wherever next, not need to interface as much with the snares of "businesses" be they in the secular or religious realms. Whatever the Lord wills, of course.... He must be my portion and my cup. I must follow where He leads.
In a few days I will celebrate in an extra-personal way, the feast day of St. John of the Cross. I hope the priest across the miles will receive my letter in time to join with me in praising God for the saint's example of how he endured his superior's and fellow priests' inhumanity to him off and on in his life. We are to rather expect (or perhaps hope for) a crucifixion at the end of our lives so as to share in the sufferings and likenesses of Jesus Christ.