Rather than sharing my usual Scripture-based Monday morning meditation, I would like to take the opportunity this morning to ask readers' opinion on a dilemma that our prayer group will be facing at our meeting this evening (Monday). It involves a new member of the group, named Christopher, about whom my co-leader, I, and several members of the group are concerned. Christopher appeared one evening in our group, and, as with everyone else who has appeared unbidden at our door, we have welcomed him into our midst. He is in his early twenties; we have no idea where he came from for he shares little personal history. Once he mentioned a school in Seattle, and we think that may be his home area. He dresses in rosaries, literally, He wears one as a handband, another as a bracelet, and a third is wrapped around his left hand and fingers.
Christopher attends every Mass. Yes, literally, every Mass. He also attends every activity that is happening at Old Church: prayer group, Bible Study, rosary, and even came to my high schoolers' catechism class. He contributes to the discussion in every instant and seems sincere in his faith.
Christopher, however, has made some statements that have had us scratching our heads. Moreover, we have learned that Christopher has been sleeping behind the church. One member of our parish offered Christopher a place to stay in exchange for work, but Christopher turned that down. Behind the church is a Franciscan convent, and in true Franciscan style, the nuns have been caring for Christopher, feeding him, and trying to counsel him. When they have asked him to help them with some work, he has refused. He is always clean and sometimes hungry. He has a strange way, though, of looking at us individually seemingly from anther dimension, as if he is not altogether in the present and present with us. That look, as if he is examining us for some unspecified intent, has made each of us uneasy.
Here are some of the statements that Christopher has made that have us worried about him:
1. My name means Christ Bearer [this is true], and therefore I feel like I am one with Christ.
2. I am like Christ; sometimes I feel like I am Christ.
3. Sometimes I play chess with God. Sometimes I am God playing chess with me.
4. God talks to me; God told me to live without a wallet and not to work. [This is why he turned down work from the nuns and from the parish member willing to give him a place to stay.]
5. I do not have a soul. I gave me soul to God.
6. I cannot go to confession. I have not been to confession for a very long time, and I won't go.
7. I have asked God to send me women so that I will not be alone. [He asked one of the young women in our group to "join [him] in prayer;" by that he meant that she should leave her home and live behind the church with him.]
8. I don't want to hurt myself. [We are pretty sure he is speaking about spiritual, not physical, harm.]
9. People don't want to be with me. [He sees himself as a loner.]
None of us are psychologists or social workers. The most we have in the way of spiritual guidance is one of the nuns who attends our meetings faithfully and is great at guidance. We are not even sure whether our interim priest (our regular priest is fighting a sexual misconduct lawsuit, about which I have blogged in the past) is at all aware of any of this since he is only occasionally in the office. (He was retired and brought back to fill the gap until our regular priest is back -- it is pretty clear that the claim is bogus, but the court case has to be fought; the diocese has already made the determination that there is no legitimacy to it, but nonetheless we won't give back the priest who knows our parish and parishioners for some time yet, so there seems to be no local help here for us in dealing with Christopher.) We are relying on Sister for guidance tonight, and we are hoping that a former parish priest, who will be back in town in a couple of weeks for a retreat at our local retreat center, will be willing to talk to Christopher (if Christopher agrees); he is an especially appropriate person because he has a master's in psychology and a doctorate in theology and was the priest who guided me through my initial experience with locutions.
Without pointing out some of the obviously troubling statements made by Christopher, there is the issue of his claimed locutions (e.g., God tells him not to work). His unwillingness to have these examined by a priest is out of keeping with the guidance of St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the contemporary expert on locutions, the late Fr. Thomas Dubay. It seems unlikely that these are true locations because they are out of keeping with Scripture, which is the number one test that all who have dealt with locutions use and have used. Second, it could be simply something he is telling himself because it is what he wants to do and then has interpreted it as being from God when it is not. (This is a danger of which both St. Teresa and St. John warn. In my personal experience, locutions have required me to do what I do NOT want to do and often don't believe I can do, but somehow, once it becomes clear that the locution is real, I end up with the resources or new skills that I need.) I don't believe any of us, including Sister, can provide him help in discernment of what God wants of him, but we would like to get him to agree to talk to a priest, either via confession or just as a personal meeting.
None of us are qualified to determine or even make a guess as to whether Christopher is under the influence of evil spirits (or God's protection), psychotic, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (we don't know any of his bio), has a personality disorder, or is experiencing the results of previous drug use (he does not appear to be using alcohol or drugs now -- is always sober, just displays truly odd behavior at times).
I have shared all of this in in hopes that some reader will have had an experience with something like this. Or, perhaps there is a better approach than the one we have chosen: talking to him about our concerns for him (from the point of view of loving him and wanting to help) and trying to get him to agree to discuss all aspects of his current life (and especially his contention that God does not want him to work) with a priest.
That is far as I can go with you this Monday morning. I now retire to private prayer to ask for guidance this evening and for grace and help for Christopher. Then I will move on to contemplation, my favorite part of the day, letting God take over the direction in which my relationship with Him moves.
I will leave you now to your prayer and contemplation. First, though, I would like to bring to your attention a Monday morning prayer post that you might enjoy:
Fr. Austin Fleming, priest of the Archdiocese of Boston and pastor in Concord, Massachusetts, posts a prayer each Monday morning that he calls "Monday Morning Offering." I enjoy his prayers very much. I think you also will find them inspirational. He has graciously given me permission to include a link to his blog on my Monday Morning Meditation posts. (During the week, he also posts great homilies and other thoughtful discussions. I enjoy reading those, too, as do readers of this blog who have taken the stroll over to his blog.)
For additional inspiration throughout the week, I would point out two sets of blogs: (1) the list of devotional blogs on my sidebar and (2) my blogroll, where I am following a number of inspirational priests and writers about spiritual matters. I learn so very much from all these people. I highly recommend them to you.