Today's Gospel gives the reaction of Jesus to the news that his cousin, St. John the Baptist, died from decapitation. John had been imprisoned by Herod for having spoken out against Herod's marrying his brother's wife. It was actually the wife (a true pawn of the devil by her reaction to John's speaking truth, and then her hideous actions) who wanted John's head cut off.
There are many fascinating facets to this real-life situation; but the point I'm considering this morning is that Jesus reacted to the terrible news by withdrawing "in a boat to a deserted place by himself" (Matthew 14:13).
Mostly we consider the verses following--that the people tracked Him down, followed after, wanted Him to heal them, speak to them. He took pity on the crowds, 5000 approximately, and what ensued was not only His speaking and healing but providing them with dinner known as the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. It is a "type" for the Last Supper, and for the celebration of Mass, in many ways, especially with the Eucharist--feeding us yet today with His Body and Blood.
However, I am struck by Jesus' reaction to bad news, heinous actions that would have cut to the core of His human emotions. He withdrew, by Himself, to a deserted place. Sometimes we do best to be alone, and when alone, we are alone with God: Solus Deus!
Yet people sought Him out. They wanted conversation and miracles that would benefit them temporally, such as healing or even just to have the amazement of some fantastic feat that defies the very laws of nature.
I am fascinated by people seeking out others. I suppose it comes from a couple of phone calls over the weekend that left me pondering, and not in a satisfied way but in a jagged way, causing me unrest until alone with God, the insights came for better understanding.
It has to do with two people who called and who increasingly have not called for what I can offer them. I know they are concerned, but they are concerned about many things that none of us really has much or any control over, especially not them. (One is 93 and the other nearly 68 but physically limited from letting a health condition go untended.)
Unless they call seeking out what I can offer, such as the one sometimes has family or other issues to talk over, or asks for prayers for a medical procedure, and the other to discuss her health issues or living circumstances in a retirement facility, they then want to know what progress I've made here. And, of course, the temporal progress is next to nothing, and the hindrances are bounteous.
So I answer with truth. And then I turn all to the spiritual lessons being learned, such as this past couple of weeks being reminded of and taught much about spiritual combat, right down to doing the God-pivot! When I mention the obstacles that I must endure and deal with, the callers become frustrated. When I turn all to God in conversation, and joyfully share the lessons and how God is handling the soul's growth--there is progress in that!--the one caller gives a negative "mmmph" and the other rushes to cut off the phone call: Have to go now!
Neither call leaves a nothing consecrated Catholic hermit uplifted. Whether or not in the midst of a gnarly pain siege, "mattressed" with stuff piled all around and nothing but work to be done that cannot be done, or if the calls occur when I am attempting to deal with the hindrances and mounds of workload that will take some of Jesus' miracles to overcome--I am not uplifted by the calls, nor am I utilized with what the only good I have to offer them: the spiritual of God, the lessons and insights, the glory of how He teaches us in the Order of the Present Moment how to endure, to love, to keep faith.
I am very much in a deserted place, brought here not realizing how deserted, for it is deserted by God's magnanimity of purpose in honing my hermit vocation and teaching my soul, preparing it for better fulfillment of my mission as well as for my earthly death and transition to Consummation: Divine Union. Heaven.
The Stairway to Heaven now is like the ladder in this hermitage, leading to the second floor without railing or treads other than narrow metal ladder rungs, and the ladder on quite a slanted angle due to part of the stair framing in underneath where the laundry area is. That is something--a type of cleansing with water beneath the stairway--to consider. The Stairway to Heaven extends over a place of cleansing beneath, undergirding--flowing through us--the need for repentance each step of the way.
I wonder if the people who tracked down Jesus when he withdrew to reflect upon and nurse the deep wounds of agony the news of his cousin-precursor's beheading would cause in His Heart and Mind--I wonder if they listened to what He had to tell them, listened to what He wanted to share of lessons and insights of God? Or did they just want temporal talk, sweet-talk, small talk? Did they want the truth--or platitudes?
After the two phone calls this weekend, being stuck in a cistern of pain, I had time to reflect and examine why it was that the calls left me more fatigued and disconnected, disused, dejected. (The second call was cut off when another call came in that the caller rightfully needed to answer, which was fine, but no call back later--again, fine as it turns out.) Yes, I had time to ponder, to ask the Lord about it all, and to listen for answers.
Into the thoughts came St. Charbel Maklouf. I recall reading and also watching a video on YouTube of his life--hermit mystic saint of Lebanon. Feast day recent: July 24. He had been in the monastery awhile when his mother came to see him. The superior sent a monk to inform Charbel; he refused to see his mother. In the video she is depicted as weeping at the door to his cell; this probably is not the case, but it does dramatize his reaction on the other side of the door. The mother weeps while the saint struggles mightily with emotion, but refuses to open the door nor to speak.
Also into the thoughts came another mystic hermit, St. Seraphim of Sarov. I had read that he had been a hermit awhile when his brothers came, hoping to see him one time before any of them would become old and not see each other again. Seraphim refused to see his brothers.
I recall telling my spiritual father of these instances from my reading. My spiritual (director) father, a diocese priest of many years, said he felt that too harsh. But, I interjected, they are saints, so the Church must not have felt it disqualifying. And they grew in holiness and were given graces necessary to fulfill their God-willed missions.
So I'm getting a different perspective for those with religious vocations: holy orders, religious orders, eremitic, virgin, widow, societies of the faithful. Especially if one is born a mystic plus with a religious vocation, and all other temporal obligations fulfilled--of course the focus should be on turning from the world to that which is above. The spiritual life in Christ is the purpose, full-time, all the time, within, without, here, there, everywhere.
I can better understand the perspective and lesson Jesus was exemplifying when his mother and brethren came to where he was teaching to a gathering in a home. Someone came to Him and said your mother and brothers have come and wish to see you and speak with you. Jesus refused. He instead proclaimed: Who are my mother and my brethren? They are those who hear the Word of God and act on it.
Peace returned within my thoughts despite the havoc the physical pain continued to wreak on body, mind, and emotions. (It does get horrifically intense, does high-level pain, over and over, never without pain, always another pain siege to come until this body is "deader 'n a doornail," as my late dad would aphoristically say.)
What do my relatives think when they call a mystic who is also a consecrated Catholic hermit? Do they expect chit chat and talk with no message, no insight from God, no Jesus nor Christian lesson? If they ask what progress, is not spiritual progress good enough--interesting enough--especially when it is always applicable to their own lives?
When they repeatedly reject the mention even if an insight helpful to some situation they are dealing with, of which they have called me to ask for assistance--what then? So I can see that the Lord allows the passage of time and growth in relationships, and it is my own clinging, in a way, to the comforts of the temporal family relationships, when the Lord keeps bringing me plenty of souls who desire spiritual discussion, insights, lessons, as well as who do not turn away, cut off, with what I am to be about in my vocation.
Yes, I have explained as best I can what is a mystic, for they have wondered at times; and they know I am a Catholic now, and also that I professed my vows nearly 16 years ago. (Although I don't know if they are aware of how many years or what all that means--but know I am a Catholic hermit very much from the time period I was in the hermit community, briefly wore a habit, and had a religious name, of which I still have but do not use, for the name by which God calls me, my heavenly name, is far more special and unknown to those on this side of the veil....)
Have withdrawn to a deserted place, not by boat but by moving truck, and very much by myself.
Those who come seek me out, track me down, do so via email or phone, or the most rare visit. What they come for is up to them, but what they will take away is also up to them. What is up to me is to be true to my spiritual calling, my mission, and to do with what I am called to do as a consecrated Catholic hermit and what mystics "do", how mystics think and feel and are.
Love God above all things and others as Jesus loves us. Pray for one another, suffer with Christ on whatever crosses life sets before us to pick up and carry. And live out my eremitic vows and profession, and be the mystic that God created me to be, which to some seems extreme or strange, but to me is just how it is and has been and will be.
I will let those who do not want what is my duty to God and the Church to offer, what is my innate reality and essence to be--let them not approach unless they desire to receive what it is the Lord gives me to give to them. Otherwise, let them walk away and deal with their vocations in life, which are different than mine. For those who stuck around for the dinner Jesus provided, and for those of us who read about it and ponder the meaning, we have gained something most special.
What if Jesus had not withdrawn to a deserted place that day? What if St. Charbel and St. Seraphim and a slew of other mystics and hermits and consecrated and ordained religious wavered in their spiritual work, their religious vocations? What good would it be for others or for themselves, then?
As the priest said somewhere in the midst of the ecstasy during Mass, this simple take-away: Let it go and let it be.