The Catholic Church should look after its Rejects
By the Carthusians and the Cistercians
Ended up living on the streets of Rome
St. Benedict Joseph Labre, you gave up honor,
money and home for love of Jesus.
Help us to set our hearts on Jesus
and not on the things of this world.
Peter Biddlecombe says
Nix. Nowt. Zilch. Not a letter. Not a telephone call. Not even a scribbled note through the letter box. I could be starving. I could be freezing to death under a hedge. I could be being eaten alive by rats. I was always told that breaking up is hard to do. But there’s no way I ever thought it was going to be as bad as this. Especially as I’ve just been kicked out, dumped, stabbed in the back, by Dom Michael the new temporary stand-in holy Cistercian Abbot at Mount Melleray.
Three months. One hundred days. One hundred masses. Half a dozen novenas. A couple of quick trips to the local Grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes. Nothing’s changed.
The previous Abbot, who resigned in disgrace after admitting he was whooping it up with a young seminarian in the guest house, is doing whatever he wants. In the sunshine. In Australia. And I’m being forced to do what I don’t want. Out in the cold. In Ireland.
One of the handful of monks left at Mount Melleray, the newly-ordained Fr John, once proclaimed during one of his first Sunday sermons, “Rejection and exclusion are experienced by many people … We will be praying to God … for those, who experience rejection in any form.”
You can say that again, Fr John. From where I’m huddled up against a dustbin in a back alley in the middle of nowhere, I don’t see any signs of it. Whatsoever.
Although, I admit, I did once, for a fraction of a second, see one of the monks queuing up at the local supermarket in his civvies. His arms full of sweets. Which did not for a moment look as though he was, as The Imitation says, “turning with distaste from all the passing pleasures of this world.” He saw me. But quickly turned away. Hey. Ho. Father John’s initial enthusiasms have long gone. Instead, I got the modern equivalent of passing by on the other side of the street.
I also got a one-line e-mail from another monk about some remarks I made in an article I wrote about being kicked out of the monastery. He said the community found it “hurtful”. To which, I couldn’t help but reply, “Hurtful. How do you think I feel?” I was going to go on, “What are they talking about? I’m the one who has been kicked out, dumped, stabbed in the back, whatever. I’m the one who could be starving, freezing to death under a hedge, being eaten alive by rats…”
But, I thought, what’s the point? They’re holy men of God. They’re not worried about trivial things like that. Gee whizz. After all, to avoid sending me the husks they fed the pigs, they even got rid of the pigs.
But the worse thing of all is I’ve had time to think.
The Church is in crisis. Wherever you look, everything is going in the wrong direction. Like the previous Abbot’s trousers. Congregations. Down. Conversions. Down. Vocations. Down. Soon, we’ll begin reaping the consequences. More and more closures of churches, of monasteries, of convents. More and more de-consecrations and de-sanctifications. More and more empty shells. More and more once beautiful, sacred buildings turned into cheap hotels and sprawling shopping centres or, Heaven help us, Canadian University campuses.
Yet in the middle of this, the church is still casually throwing out on to the rubbish heap hundreds, if not thousands of men and women desperate to serve their God and give their lives to the church.
Something is wrong somewhere.
From one day to the next, in some cases from one hour to the next, a man or woman can, literally, see their whole life crumble before them.
One minute, they are sitting in choir, saying their prayers, thinking of nothing else but devoting the rest of their lives to knowing, loving and serving their God or reading that bit in The Imitation about “whosoever has received abundant gifts may not on that account boast of his merits, nor exalt himself above his fellows, nor despise any who are less richly endowed”.
The next minute, they can be standing outside the gates of the monastery, at their feet a battered, old suitcase and a couple of greasy carrier bags containing all their possessions, wondering not only where they are going to spend the night but how on earth they are going to get there.
Don’t tell me, it doesn’t happen. It does. I’ve seen it. With my own eyes.
Didn’t somebody say something about faith, hope and charity and the greatest of them is something or other. That section, I reckon, is missing from many a so-called discerning abbots’ bible. More and more priests and bishops are shouting and screaming if workers are treated unjustly, if offices are threatened with closure, if factories are shut down, if there has been a complete absence of any procedure, if decisions were opportunistic, if decisions were presented as a “fait accompli”, if there has been the slightest breach of the Employment (Information) Directive not to mention the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act. Christian charities are even getting in on the act. Stella Maris, the Catholic Seafarers’ chaplaincy even made waves when P&O Ferries sacked 800 staff without notice.
They should look at the church’s so-called worker or, if you prefer, human relations. They are not just appalling. They are non-existent.
Men and women, who have given their lives to the church, are often sacked, dumped, thrown out at a moment’s notice. Without the slightest procedure. Without consultation. Without any compensation. Without any kind of financial support. Without even a single penny in their pocket. Even worse, without any follow-up telephone call to see how they are surviving, if they need any help, financial, spiritual or otherwise.
Sometimes they are dumped because of the result of incoherent analysis. Sometimes because of corrupted logic. Sometimes because of intellectual mal-information. Sometimes - Would you believe it? – because of pure spite.
Again, don’t tell me it doesn’t happen. It does. Again, I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
A monk was at Terce. He was gone by Sext. All his belongings were piled up outside the front door of the monastery. They were packed for him.
One elderly nun, I knew, was in such a terrible state after she was thrown out of her convent at a moment’s notice, she was rushed straight to hospital where it was discovered she was suffering from acute osteoporosis. Her bones were crumbling away inside her. Within a matter of weeks, she was dead. Not once during the short time she was dying in hospital did any of the nuns go and visit her or even send her a Get Well Soon card. Which must be wrong let alone totally unchristian on every possible level.
One middle-aged monk was thrown out of his monastery. One minute, he was there. The next minute, he wasn’t. All his Christmas cards and presents from his family and friends sat, piling up, at his place in the refectory until it was practically Easter before anybody could be bothered to forward them on to him.
Another ex-monk told me he was forced out not just because he complained about “sexual sins” he witnessed in the community but because he criticized what he called “the psycho-spiritual babble” being spouted by various members of the community.
But even though they may have been forced out, most ex-monks and nuns still want to return.
But, again and again, they say they don’t want to go back to the same old system. They want to go back knowing their various communities have reformed themselves so that they are fully in line with Christian teaching and practice not what, various people say, is Christian teaching and practice. A crucial difference.
One ex-nun told me, she wanted to go back to her monastery but she “cannot see herself taking a vow of obedience that I already know I would sooner break than submit to corruption. I can’t trust any fallible human that much. I have to put my baptismal vows first and keep my soul intact.”
But will the various monastic communities reform themselves?
“Surrender without reservation to the Lord, who has called us,” says St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
“Love and do what you will,” says St Augustine.
No marks for guessing who is the winner by a clear mile in today’s monastic handicap.
If, however, the church bureaucrats who, for the most part can’t tell the difference between a full-blown psychotic meltdown and a bologna sandwich, are going to insist that they have a direct Hot Line to God and are entitled to make such life-destroying judgments, the church should, at least, set up a special Christian Rejects Guardianship and Protection Programme covering everything from healthcare to financial support for the people who have fallen foul of their so-called infallible God-given decision making.
The Church today is almost totally obsessed with guardianship this and guardianship that – One old monk, I knew, spent his life worrying about whether any dinosaurs were injured during the filming of Jurassic Park - it’s about time they introduced special Guardianship rules and regulations covering the people all over the world, who make the church what is. The monks and nuns and religious, who have devoted not just a few hours a week but their whole lives to the church. Their lives might be firmly rooted in the Catholic faith but, all too often, they live in paper boats.
A new Abbot or even temporary superior can almost without thinking suddenly arrive out of nowhere and not only destroy someone’s life but also dump them on the streets without a penny in their pocket. St Joseph Labre wasn’t the first and will certainly not be the last monk to end up eating out of dustbins and struggling to survive on the streets of a major city.
But what about the cost, the church bureaucrats will cry. The church can’t afford it. Oh, please. Many men and women, dumped for no reason at all by a so-called spit-balling church bureaucrat have given 10, 20, some even 30-years’ service to the church. Unpaid. Unrewarded. How many churches have been built? How many hospitals have been staffed? How many schools and universities have been run? All by unpaid labour. The least the church can do is look after their own if, for whatever reason, they fall foul of the rigged fangirling system and after a near lifetime’s dedication are thrown out on the streets.
Now, if you will excuse me, I’ve got to get back to this big hotel in the middle of town. They let me sleep in one of the dustbins at the back of the kitchens. They are Jehovah Witnesses. But, at least, they practice what they preach.