Salvador Dali was an amazing artist. This view of the Christ of John of The Cross is among my favorites, because it comes from my heart and from heaven at the same time. I have argued before that it is within the human heart that we meet God.
I would argue further that it is also between human hearts that we meet God. There we meet love, forgiveness and reconciliation. In that space between and among us we meet Justice and Peace. This is very hard work!
As a child, I often cried myself to sleep at night wondering what happened to my father. He died at Christmas when I was a child. I tried to pray but there was only silence. Nothing happened!
But I did not give up. I kept on praying. The Silence was absolute, and persistent. But I was a stubborn child and demanded more.
Months and months went by. There were the night sounds. A distant church bell stuck the hour and the quarter hour. Street cars squealed mournful sounds. Sirens wailed to the heavens.
But for me there was only a Silence. I hope you notice I capitalized the word "Silence". I begged and pleaded with it to answer me night after night. But the cruelty of the Silence merely let me cry into my pillow.
Then one night my grandmother told me a story from the Bible. She was a marvel of a storyteller. She could have been on stage and screen. She commanded all the drama of a fine Shakespearean actress. She read the story of the call of Samuel that night.
I still love the story.
"Samuel, Samuel" the Voice called to the boy
And the boy ran to Eli, the old priest; "Yes, you called me".
"No", the old priest said, "I did not call you. Go back to bed"
"Samuel, Samuel" the Voice called again.
And the boy ran to Eli, "Yes, you called me".
"No" my son, I did not call you, go back to bed"
Then a third time the Voice called to Samuel; "Samuel, Samuel"
The boy insisted to Eli that he had called him.
Then finally the old man "perceived" that God was calling the boy.
Eli told the boy to go back to bed and when the Voice calls again, he was to say;
"Speak Lord, for your servant listens."
My grandmother looked into my eyes deeply, and I perceived something.
I asked her if God could call even children into servanthood.
"Yes", my grandmother, of blessed memory said, and may Peace be upon her.
When I went to bed that night, the Silence then became a Presence.
In the stillness, nothing.
The Presence became a "place" that existed above my bed, perhaps 4-6 feet away. (I was a child. That's how I "sensed" the Presence).
I spoke to it.
I poured my heart out to it.
I cried to it out of a paroxysm of grief.
And it became God for me at some point.
Still, I heard nothing at all. The Silence was exquisitely perfect. But now it was Presence to me.
And it has become my Constant Companion all my days.
Heaven for me is within my heart, and one day it did speak to me.
Yes. It actually spoke to me. I had wondered about my dad. Religious people said my dad could not go to heaven because he did not go to church. I thought that religious people could be mean.
My grandmother didn't go to Church either. But there was no question that she knew who God was and IS.
So I heard this message. It was no voice. No sound. Just a sense beating within my heart. But it spoke as clearly as if my beloved wife were to speak to me as plain as day.
This is what I heard;
"Don't you know that there is a special place in my heart for your dad?"
I stopped dead in my tracks. I was on my way home from church at the time. I remember that it was a sunny, sunny day in September.
I listened but there was only that Silence still. That Silence that had become so abundantly Present to me.
This time I gave the Silence a voice. I spoke right out loud on behalf of the Silent Presence; "Don't you know that there is a special place in my heart for your dad?"
I ran home as fast as I could. I burst into the kitchen where my grandmother stood over her cast iron skillet, peppering our dinner to taste...
"Ma, is there a God?"
"Of course there is!"
That was easy.
"Ma, is there a Heaven?"
"Of course there is."
Also an easy question and answer.
"Ma, is my daddy there?"
That was a bit more problematic. My dad was Irish. My grandmother was English. And she didn't like the Irish (or my dad for that matter) one bit.
There was a hesitation, albeit very brief.
But she looked into my eyes and saw a plea from Heaven.
She knelt down. She embraced me, and held me very close.
I can still smell the aromatics of her hair as I write this.
And then she said;
"Of course he is!"
That was when I decided to become a priest.
This is when I saw Jesus holding out his arms on the hard wood of the cross so that EVERYONE might come within the reach of his saving embrace.
I later learned that this embrace included my mother with her three marriages, divorces and her abortion (the coat hanger kind), and my gay uncle.
I learned this at an early age and have been working out all the particulars since. All this gives this day special significance for me. This is what my priesthood means to me. It is a matter of some urgency that we get the message out; that the Holy Cross is God's embrace for EVERYONE!
Happy Holy Cross Day!