Thomas Moore wrote Care of the Soul (1992) just two years after I was ordained a Catholic priest. I believed back then that I was caring for my soul and growing in wisdom. In reality, I was living a myth. However, that may be a good thing in the long run. The ritual of crossing myself every day of my life is what allows my soul to be full of life and grow. According to Moore, a myth is a sacred story set in a time and place outside history. It describes in fictional form the fundamental truths of nature and human life. (p. 220)
During the too many memorial services for marines, sailors and soldiers killed in action, I braced for the barking out of the names, the silent response from the dead, and the parade forward of those present. More than my heart was breaking. My myth of the cross and the memorial service were indistinguishable. Those who were not Christian seamlessly joined in the same procession. I never saw the dead soldier’s boots, dog tags, rifle and helmet as we all approached and kneeled. But my soul revealed each one’s cross, even the cross of the Muslim and Atheist. Yes, I know the fundamental truths of nature and human life didn’t change. However, my life was remolded like clay in a potter’s hands. If I become rigid and fundamental in my religion, my myth will shatter. All faiths and denominations are welcome to the dance. The adoration of the cross on Good Friday will never be the same for me, even though the traditional ritual remains intact.
This is what makes my myth so soulful and sacred. All people have to encounter death and not be consumed by the fear of it in order to function in this world. As the cross feeds my soul and brings me to a greater spiritual depth, I am more apt to sit pastorally with another in the throes of their own crosses. Even if the human experiences seem incomparable at first, the simple sharing of our stories reveals the commonality of our human experiences and myths.
William Barry, SJ inspired me in God’s Passionate Desire…and our Response (1993). My response has been a mixture of complaining, playfulness and compassion. My retreat before being ordained a deacon was given by a Jesuit. He asked me to meditate on the passion of Jesus in the four Gospels and on the liturgy of ordination. While meditating, I realized that the bishop would ask the vocation director if he judged me worthy to be a priest. I was aghast. I truly and deeply felt I was not worthy or even up to the task. I packed my belongings into my car and informed the Jesuit retreat director that I was grateful for my five years of formation and that I was leaving because I was not worthy and didn’t want my life to be a lie.
As I started the engine to my car, he banged on my window and asked me to get out. He told me that now I was ‘ready’. I shrugged him off. He then proceeded to tell me that when one can admit that they are unworthy, then God has someone to work with.
The following year, a month before my ordination, I went on a weeklong retreat during Holy Week at the Jesuit Campion Renewal Center in Worcester, MA. The Church mandates this retreat. This time I meditated on the writings of Teilhard de Chardin. Humans (including me) tend to get out of synch, psyche and soul. I journeyed into the woods and celebrated Mass with nothing but my story and all of creation. Thomas Moore gave me the impression that my lifelong need of ritual along with my need to go reverently (and occasionally irreverently) beyond the rubrics (and myth) is essential to being soulful.