Spiritual sicknesses are both a developmental and mysterious dimension of the human condition. We cannot reduce all spiritual ailments to socialized causes, but we certainly cannot discount them as a reality that does in fact have a particular role to play in our spiritual deformation. Each one of us is wounded by a world that is disordered. Sometimes this disorder arises in our own family, through our peers, through authority figures, and sometimes even from spiritual battles that are unknown to us.
Spiritual wounds are both passed on invisibly and also at times inflicted upon us at points of time throughout our own personal history. These deep wounds ultimately lead us to a fork in the road where we have to choose between the way of the cross (sainthood) or the way of escape (damnation). Our wounds, according to St. John Paul II, enable us to confront the spiritual sickness within our nature that would otherwise remain dormant. That is to say, suffering can bring to the surface our wounds that can either fester through sin or be healed through grace. In this life we are fickle, which means we sometimes go through moments of healing and at other times enter into a sort of festering, decaying spirit, where the wellspring of iniquity within our soul defiles us to the point, where we are blind to love and justice and yet don’t even realize our blindness.
It is far better to be blind and to know that we are blind than to think the whole world is dark and we are not the problem. This double-ignorance (we don’t know, we don’t know) can at times be innocent and therefore easily corrected, but at other times can be obstinately maintained as a result of pride. Man can be so convinced he knows the world, when in reality he unwittingly projects his ignorance unto the world.
The particular spiritual sickness I see today in the Church and culture centres upon a fear and intimidation towards authority, especially authority expedited by men. There are many weakened, broken men, who have experienced bullying in their childhood or an abusive or absent father. As a result of these negative experiences of men, often times these broken and easily offended men, project upon anyone who exercises authority or boldness, a bully-like characterization. This is not to say that women do not experience the same brokenness (in many ways, they experience it quite often) but I’d particularly like to focus on men who seem to be lost in a narcissistic, effeminate, fear of “strong, masculine, men.” There is typically a knee-jerk reaction to anything stated on the issue, revealing unwittingly a wound within their own life.
The saying goes: “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.” Such is the attitude, however, when victims react to triggers that remotely remind them of wounds in their lives. We must therefore be patient in this regard with such broken individuals. However, redemption does not equate with escapism. The real healing that needs to take place in such men’s and women’s lives is a process, not a defensive reaction. Real healing sometimes involves pouring alcohol on an open wound and even cutting the wound open in order to get to the root of the problem. Healing is not something that is done without sacrifice, and without some measure of pain.
This means that in order for a generation of “soft and fearful men” to overcome an antagonizing fear and disordered rejection of strength, good men need to demonstrate how authority and love can coexist in a genuine harmony. It is sad to think that power is often associated with abuse and bullying, especially when the culture reinforces such an over-simplistic reality and calls it “chauvinistic” without taking the time to realize that they are projecting experienced-chauvinism upon a true act of love.
One of the areas of reflection in the way of life at the seminary I attended was that seminarians who demonstrated an effeminate disposition would not really be fit for the priesthood. One possible reason for this is that the priesthood requires a firmness in love that is masculine: it requires a real-fatherhood, not a motherhood. I remember in my first year of priesthood being told to be more motherly as a priest, however, I immediately felt demeaned by this request, as if I was being asked to become something I am not: a woman. It was not demeaning because women are somehow defective. It was demeaning because such a suggestion implied men as men were defective. Just the fact that I need to nuance this proves what kind of culture we live in.
You see, there is a genuine need for a greater masculine presence within the Church (as demonstrated by the demographics, which reveal that very few men attend mass, thinking it to be something for women only). However, when one is so wounded in their lives (and unable to realize it) they seek to eliminate masculinity, considering it to be evil and intrinsically married to abusiveness. This is an example of a festering wound within the Church, a wound which is not healed, but merely numbed through neglect and self-pity.
In example: I encountered a nun who refused to refer to me as “Father” because it resembled for her patriarchy. I asked her why she viewed “fatherhood” as something evil, and she quickly stated that I had mischaracterized her position. I retorted, “You have mischaracterized my Fatherhood.” It was sad that this woman would have such a terrible reaction to fatherhood, thinking it to be nothing more than a matter of domineering and demeaning power-mongering. But it was she who projected this upon the priesthood, and not reality at work.
As Deacon Keating suggested in my time at the seminary, “Do not worry about the women, they will always be at mass. Worry about the men. Go build relationships with them.” This deacon exuded a true fatherliness that I had rarely ever seen in most priests I had encountered. Likely because with a Church that is often mischaracterized by its own wounded individuals as “chauvinistic,” many priests are fearful to exert a fatherly, masculine authority. In reality, this true masculine authority present in the home and in the Church, if carried through, will actually amount to nothing more than alcohol purifying the wound (at least at first). If endured, men will be men again, but if escaped, men will run away from their own vocation and uniqueness that compliments the role of women. If healed, more vocations: if not, more disorder.
The other extreme that must be avoided is what reactionaries often present. When there is a legitimate hunger for authentic human needs, and the “real-thing” isn’t presented, such hungering individuals will satisfy themselves with a counterfeit junk-food. We see this with women who are aroused and attracted to the false-male image presented in movies such as “50 Shades of Grey.” Women who objectively are created to be loved by a man who is masculine, will seek what they wrongly perceive to be real manliness, a disordered, controlling, objectifying type of lust.
This spiritual sickness in our world is a reality. The call to healing is to request: healthy-men to rise up in the family and in the priesthood to lead with a firmness that also attempts at every possible occasion to convey that such firmness is rooted in love and mercy.