PART I

 

 

 

2. SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES LINKED TO THE CROSS OF CHRIST

 

 

 

I also have always had a special sensitivity towards social justice issues, especially, because I have seen injustices committed first hand. Once, for instance, I saw a young Israeli soldier, with a sadistic expression on his face, make his horse on which he was on, knock over a Palestinian's stall full of fruit and vegetables, in the market place in Old Jerusalem.

 

I have always had a special soft spot for reaching out to the poor and to the younger generation. This has been prominent in my ministry. Today I still work for Food for the Poor, and reach out to poor Hispanic people living in the U.S.

 

In fact, as a reminder to myself and a sense of identification with the cause of the most marginalized people of society, I wear along with my Passionist rosary ring, one that is made out of a coconut shell by a tribe in Brazil. The meaning of this last one is that I have made a covenant before God, to fight for the dignity and rights of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and downtrodden. I wear these rings together on the same finger. No doubt this last ring keeps me mindful of a good section of humanity that suffer in a special way as the crucified of today.

 

Having the experience of a close encounter with death, when in the hospital in Chicago, in December, 2017, would set me up for a new stage in my life, when I would move to our Passionist Sacred Heart community in Louisville, Kentucky, to be under supervised care. It was an underserved blessing, to live in this beautiful place and be cared for. One could ask, where was my opportunity to share in the Cross of Christ? Dealing with some of fellow Passionists can be a real challenge. Disciplining one’s life by caring for one’s health, eating the right food and being faithful in doing exercises are all ways of carrying the Cross.

 

During this period in Louisville, I have been more constant in enhancing my sense of gratitude, which I had already started doing in Chicago. When I would get up in the morning, after making my prayer of offering, which I composed many years ago, I would thank God for everything immediately around me: not just for the hot water, but running, clean water, privacy in bathing, a roof over my head, a comfortable bed to sleep in, electricity that permits me to have light through a switch, heating, and air conditioning. Also things like the gift of sight, color, light, touch, hearing, ambulation, food to choose from, and of course friends, family, community, etc. Having worked a lot among the poor and working with Food for the Poor, has brought home to me how blessed I am with all these immediate, undeserved gifts. I also will sing sometimes a thanksgiving song which I composed in Louisville, which I afterwards adapted by changing a few words, to be used as a grace (first verse). The words go like this:

 

 

                                                                                                                                       R: Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus,

                                                                                                                                                      Thank you for your love. (2)

 

                                                                                                                                       1. For the gift of all creation;

                                                                                                                                                      For the gift of food and drink;

                                                                                                                                                      For the gift of all the loving people.

                                                                                                                                                      Thank you Lord for so much love.

 

                                                                                                                                       2. For your love as our redeemer;

                                                                                                                                                      For your dying on the Cross;

                                                                                                                                                      For being the light for all the nations.

                                                                                                                                                      Thank you Lord for so much love.

 

This helps set an attitude of gratitude throughout my day, while helping me at the same time, to overcome a spirit of "griping" or feeling sorry for myself. After all, we must train ourselves to celebrate Easter in the middle of our "passion" when painful moments hit us, quoting one of our Passionist theologians. Then we can truly identify with the witnessing of St. Paul and St. Peter to rejoice meaningfully in the middle of suffering. 

 

Along with my devotion to the Passion of Jesus, as years go by, I am centering more and more on the Nativity scene, especially focusing on the Infant Jesus. My Franciscan roots seem to be returning! I like contemplating the "beginnings and ends" in life, which is a constant concern of human beings in all cultures and religions, be it from the womb to the tomb and/or, collectively, from the beginning to the end of time. But as we meditate on in this book, the nativity of Jesus, while being a joy for us, as well as for those present at his birth, it was a very painful experience also for the Holy Family. The wood of the Cross, started with the wood of the crib. Mary and Joseph, for instance, had to flee Egypt, to escape the sure death of Jesus because of Herod's orders.

 

No doubt, life has its sunny and shadowy moments. There are many great things we can be grateful to God for. Certainly I have seen my life flourish with many wonders, and I am aware that I have been enriched with many gifts planted in me by the work of the Holy Spirit. However, so that the Lord should help me from becoming prideful, the worst of all sins, He has allowed me to have my own weaknesses, which has led me to failures, but He has also given me the grace to rise above my faults. As St. Paul the Apostle mentions, that he suffered from a thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10) and the Lord showed him it was for his good that it was so, for "virtue is perfected in weakness"; and Paul will then say: "when I am weak, then I am powerful". All have their weaknesses. If we didn't, how could we grow in heroic virtue, if we had nothing to overcome in life? But it is the Spirit of God that gives us strength to overcome our limitations. As St Paul says, "we hold this treasure in earthen vessels." (2 Corinthians 4:7) We are the fragile vessels, but are filled with the precious treasure of the Lord's presence. We have to be empty though, of ourselves, to allow the Lord to fill us with His presence.

 

One of the things I have noticed throughout my life, is that not only do we have to deal with the Evil Spirit who tempts us often looking for the areas where we are weakest, like a slithering sneaky snake finding a crack to get into, to tear us down, but he also finds ways of punishing us, through people and diverse circumstances. Demons also have a way of trying to destroy us collectively, by attempting to destroy the Church and society through skewed media, and many leaders who become his puppets, etc.  Look how he has come to pit different groups against each other in all countries, in politics, between religions, within religions, within families…more crucifying experiences!

 

When the James Bond films came out in the 1960's I was keenly aware that there was something very perverse being introduced through films. Here was a supposed hero, surrounded in luxury, having sex with different beautiful women, while using romantic tactics to kill other bad women: not only would he be insensitive about it, but actually was enjoying his actions. How many so called "heroes" in the role of detectives appeared afterward in TV series, which, after they had done their "heroic" deeds, would finish up going out with their girl friend, with one specific intent. This was a way of brainwashing people's minds, subconsciously convincing them that "free sex" was OK because "our hero" was into it. Think of a film about the historical couple "Bonnie and Clyde" that came out at that time, where, after robbing many banks and killing those who got in the way to prevent it, one would be led to feel sorry for them at the end of the film, when they are finally killed, because they were presented as being a very likable couple.

 

How many times something Catholic is associated with evil, from a picture of the Sacred Heart hanging on the wall in a criminal's house where he lives, or writing on an abuse case by a priest in a newspaper, next to another picture of a priest raising the host in a mass. It all flows from the W.A-S.P [1] mindset in its original meaning since the founding period of the United States, brought over from England. No doubt, hearing about the scandal of abuse of kids in any Church and in other institutions is a horrendous reality. A good percentage of these cases happened during the sexual revolution in the 60's and 70's, which was a critical time in society, as well as polarizations within the Church just after Vatican II. Luckily, in our day and age, society has come to realize the harm this behavior has on kids.

 

Any group or institution that works with kids and teens, be it in schools, sports, church settings, or other settings like the scouts, summer camps, etc., minors must be protected, and cover-ups to save the reputation of any institution is completely unacceptable. Reporting cases to the civil authorities is also important. Media doesn't usually report the efforts of the Catholic Church's strict implementations in the U.S. since 2002, of zero tolerance for clergy offenders. All clergy and lay people in parishes working with children are required to go through a program called "virtus" training, not only to protect the children but also to protect against false accusations, which, unfortunately, happens intentionally sometimes. If clerics and anyone working with kids move to another diocese, they have to repeat the "virtus" course. Some dioceses even require fingerprints to be taken along with background checking. Religious communities also go through a program called "Presidium" with yearly follow-up sessions. 

 

As the ample majority of cases of abuse of children happen in families, be it sexual, verbal, or physical, it is harder to watch out for the signs of suspicious behavior and report it to the civil authorities. Reporting suspicious behavior is an obligation in the United States.

 

On the other hand, we must not forget that kids deserve and need the attention and affirmation from adults even if there are doubting and suspicious on-lookers.

 

No doubt, this situation is another form of suffering with Christ.

 

We must not forget that the crucifixion of Jesus looked like the end of, and destruction of his mission, and yet it was only the beginning. We see this, as He was to open the eyes of the disciples of Emmaus. (Luke 24: 13-35) Yes, we also see a positive turning point in how underage kids are now being helped not to become prey of a certain type of adults or older teens.

 

In the past, kids weren't given the respect they deserve and sexual abuse of minors was seen as simply a very serious sin, correctable by some good intention and penance. As those who sexually abuse kids are a small minority in society, stereotyping that one case fits all cases is unrealistic. Once I heard people say that pedophiles don't feel guilt when they act out and would never come to confession. I disagree. I have dealt with pedophiles in the confessional for acting out and they felt awful for their behavior. If a pedophile doesn't feel guilty for acting out, then they are also sociopaths as well pedophiles. This applies to people of other sexual orientations as well.  Not all pedophiles therefore are sociopaths. We are dealing here with a sickly orientation, but the different personalities and intent are the same as in the general population. Those who have various orientations and/or act on evil and even violent intent should be dealt with by the law.

 

Those whose only sexual orientation is toward minors must be kept out of danger, and be assisted by psychological and spiritual help. Making them feel condemned and rejected because of their orientation, which isn't a chosen one, will only make their impulses more intense, as emotional upset in relationships is dangerous for any sexual orientation. Many conscientious pedophiles know the danger of acting out, and fight to remain chaste. They have a heavy cross to bear, not only because of their orientation, but because they know that they are hated by many in society just because of their orientation. As it is known, many of these people have been abused themselves as kids. As a priest who knows what different types of people under spiritual supervision go through, one gets a more objective insight about the sexual reality people have to deal with, no matter what orientation they have.

 

There is a type of suffering that is not redeeming. It is the "tripping stone" that St. Peter speaks about. (1 Peter 2: 8) It’s the type that the Evil One succeeds in us when causing divisions among us. Pope Francis constantly leads us to overcome the divisions that the Evil One traps us in, causing so much unnecessary suffering which isn't the redeeming type that Christ bears. He has insisted, frequently, that we build up a "culture of encounter" as a way of overcoming divisions. It is important that we see the beauty, and honor the differences of each person and groups of people, but with a common goal that unites us in Christ, harmonizing the differences toward the common good. This is possible because the Holy Spirit is in us, symbolized often as a dove. After all, God is three distinct persons in One God. It is the devil who twists in people’s minds this truth with ideas like "they are not like us" instead of "they are like us" because we are all the same and different at the same time. I love the symbol that came out as we celebrated the 2000 millennium of the Christian era, where different colored doves, representing the Holy Spirit, locks together into a perfect unity, with the light of Christ at the center and the Cross showing also diverse colors.

 

Obviously it is love that is what it going to unite us in the Holy Spirit but not only among us but within the Holy Trinity. (John 17: 21). As mentioned previously. Christ's Sacrifice of Love for us on the Cross is the bright light that shows us the way to the maximum expression of Love. The new commandment of Jesus is: "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34).

 

We must always beware of the presence of the Antichrist among us, often expressed in perverse leaders throughout history. We have them prominently in our days as well. Pope Francis, during the World Youth Day in Panama, alluded to this when he highlighted what youth instinctively reject:

 

"It is because you have that instinct which knows intuitively that “true love does not eliminate legitimate differences, but harmonizes them in a superior unity” (Benedict XVI, Homily, 25 January 2006). On the other hand, we know that the father of lies, the devil, always prefers people who are divided and quarrelling. He is the master of division, and he is afraid of people who have learned to work together. This is a criterion for distinguishing people: those who build bridges and those who build walls. The builders of walls seek to sow fear and make people afraid. But you want to be bridge builders! What do you want to be? [The young people answer: “Bridge builders!”] You have learned well; I like that!"( WYD-2019)

 

Around 1973, I felt a special "call" to reach out in vocational ministry which has followed me to the present day.  I would constantly find ways to promote vocations in every ministerial outreach that presented itself, be it in missions, schools, retreats, family visits, etc. 

 

One of the two ways of promoting vocations back in 1973 was through the creation of "Getsemaní" [2]groups around the country, established as a fruit of a mission or novena. 11 groups in all were formed throughout in Argentina and two in Uruguay.  Each group of kids and teens would meet weekly to pray for religious vocations and collect stamps to support the missions. Most would have an animator who was usually the mother of one of the kids, who would also be the secretary. They would meet in the house of one of the kids and I would keep contact with them through correspondence. Groups were composed of kids, teens and adults.

 

Sometimes I was able to get some groups to come together, which was an enrichment, as they could feel accompanied in their vocational search, and realize they weren’t alone.

 

The mystique of ‘Gethsemane’ was based on Christ’s experience of making a difficult decision at a difficult time in his life. The danger was pointed out of “going asleep”, like the apostles, where one loses the sense of one's vocation instead of keeping it alive through prayer and allowing it to grow and develop through prayer.

 

Once, I got a kick out of my mother when she not only was interested in the cemetery where she wanted to be buried, but also the exact spot where she wanted to be laid to rest. Well, she got her wish in regards to the cemetery, but not the exact spot in it. I have thought of different places for myself, where I wished to be buried, because I have been requested to express it by my superiors. I finally thought of something practical: Louisville. It is where I am likely to spend my last days on earth. However, I have been thinking of a date which, if the Lord wishes, I would like to die on: 2nd February. This is the feast day of the Presentation of the Lord. I was my father's birthday, who also owned a chicken farm, called "Candelaria" after the word "Candle Mass" linked to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. The feast reminds me also of my consecration to God at my profession, like Jesus presented to the Father by his parents. The day of my final profession as a Passionist religious, I had a lit candle to symbolize my life that burns away at the service of Christ and his Reign. After the ceremony of the profession, I gave it to my father and mother, to be lit every time they prayed for me. The feast day also connects with Our Lady of Sorrows, the title I assumed at my profession, and with what Simeon tells Mary, that a sword would pierce her heart. Also on this day, Psalm 24 is recited after the first reading at the Eucharist, as happens also on the anniversary day of my ordination on the 20th December as mentioned earlier, and which is also cited on our Gibson family crest: "Open heavenly portals". My hope is to move forward in the Lord through those portals when I die, into eternity. Finally, this feast would connect me with my time to see the Lord face to face, like old Simeon, who said "Now Lord, you can let me go in peace, as my eyes have seen Your Salvation" (Luke 2:29-30). This is also recited at the end of each day, in the night prayer of the Office we religious and priests recite, along with other biblical readings, like the psalms, used also in our Morning and Evening prayers. Night time naturally brings this to mind, when the sun has gone down, and, when our eyes will no longer see the light of day on earth.

 

In regards to physical ways of sharing in the Cross of Jesus, we also all have our share of it. For me, the most painful ones have been otitis interna (labyrinthitis) agonizing ear infection of 3 days at the age of 15, operations like appendicitis, hernia, two hip replacements, a cartilage removed from a knee. I have also dealt with many sicknesses like sinusitis, flu many times, tropical eosinophilia, typhoid and hepatitis simultaneously, malaria and food poisoning. I will include a few of these painful experiences in the next section.

 

 

3. DANGEROUS MOMENTS IN MY LIFE

 

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[1] W.A-S.P. for those who are not aware of the original meaning of this acronym stands for White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant. Anyone in this mindset will look with disdain or/and hatred on anyone who doesn't fit into this category of people. As I write this in mid-2020, we are getting a good taste of this reality in the U.S.A.

[2] 'Gethsemane' in English spelling.