Jesus Healing the Man Born Blind by El Greco, 1570
It is time to wind down this autobiography. There is so much more that I could have written, but in medio stat virtus according to Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinas. I would have had great difficulty making this autobiography be 100 pages but I could easily have made it be 1,000 pages long. The virtuous thing for me to do is to find a moderate position between the two extremes. The leitmotif running through this book has been my constant struggle to learn what God wants me to do with my life and then, to the best of my ability, with God’s grace, to do it; as you can well imagine, that was a daily struggle.
When Saint Joan of Arc was being interrogated by her prosecutor, Bishop Cauchon of Beauvais, he asked her, trying to trip her up so that he could accuse her of pride, “Joan, are you in the state of grace?” To which question Joan replied, “If I am, I thank God, if I am not, I pray that God will soon enable me to be.” I am not a saint. I am not even sure to what extent I am securely in the state of grace. All I know is that without formally seeking to be holy I have tried throughout my life to meet the Church’s definition of holiness.
Saints were canonized in the first centuries of the Church, and even later at times, by public acclamation of the holiness of an individual. When the Church began the formal process that leads to the Rite of Beatification or Canonization of a person the Church found it necessary to establish a uniform canonical definition of holiness. There can be, and there have been many definitions of holiness offered by spiritual writers and theologians down through the centuries, but here is the definition the Church has used to establish the degree of sanctity that must be possessed by a person being considered for Beatification and Canonization: Sanctity consists in the heroic performance of the duties and responsibilities attached to one’s state of life. That definition is so short that it does not seem to be a valid definition, but do not let its brevity fool you. It is profound.
Everyone at anytime in one’s life has and is in a state of life: son, daughter, student, husband, wife, father, mother, teacher, religious, priest, bishop, etc. Most people go through several or even many states of life in their lifetime, as I have done. The question the definition of sanctity frequently poses for each of us as we pass through life is, “Am I heroically performing the duties and responsibilities of my present state of life with all its difficulties and challenges ?” The following is something that has helped me throughout my life; I offer it to you in the hope that it will help you.
Early in my life I was given a beautiful insight into the story of Our Lord’s healing of the man born blind as recounted in the Gospel of Saint John (John 9:1-12). You know the story: Jesus was walking along and a man called out to him asking to be healed. Jesus, after a little dialog with the man, spat on the ground, mixed the spittle with the dust of the road, made a little mud paste and applied it to the man’s blind eyes and told the man to go wash in the pool of Siloam. The man did and his blindness was healed.
The insight I was given by the Holy Spirit was this: we are made from the dust of the earth, we are mud, and just as Jesus used the mud to heal the man born blind, Jesus can use us, who are made from the dust of the earth, to heal the blindness of others if we let the light of Christ really shine forth from who we are: in what we say, in what we do, in how we relate to others, etc. Given the rejection and opposition we receive from others as we go through life it is difficult to do that, sometimes it is very difficult to do that. And that is where heroism comes in. It is easy to go through life going through the motions of being a good son, daughter, student, husband, wife, father, mother, teacher, religious, priest, bishop, etc. But doing it with heroic virtue, out of love of God and love of the other person, that is not easy, and if we do in spite of the difficulties, that is heroic.
All my life I have sought to do God’s will. Some people say that it is impossible to know God’s will. I say that they are tragically wrong. One can discover God’s will for oneself by prayerful examination of the external factors that are imposed on oneself by life. I did not choose to go to school; my parents made that decision and I was forced to become a student. Without formally realizing it I recognized my duty and responsibility to be a good student; I was the Valedictorian of my High School graduating class.
I did not choose to go to war in 1943. The Federal Government required me to serve my Country, which I gladly did, and I tried to the best of my ability to perform the duties and responsibilities of a tail gunner and a flight engineer on a B-17 bomber.
The pressure of common sense told me that I should use my intelligence to get a college degree; to study architecture at Rice University and the University of Houston. I did so to the best of my ability and when I graduated the University of Houston made me a Teaching Fellow in the School of Architecture.
As I told the reporter of the Miami Herald, “God did not audibly call me to be a priest,” but he did leave me no mental or spiritual peace until I recognized that he was calling me and then I decided to enter Saint Vincent Archabbey. Only God knows if I performed the duties and responsiblities of my state of life as a monk heroically, but I know that I tried to do so even though it was painful and difficult at times.
I did not choose to be a bishop, on the contrary I was free from clerical ambition because of the impediments I received when I was dispensed from my solemn vows. But I evidently performed my duties and responsibilities as a priest so well that I was made a bishop. I have tried to perform the duties and responsibiilities of my office as a successor of the apostles, a bishop, as best I could, at times in the face of great oppositon from laity (lawyers, politicians, journalists, etc.) , religious, priests, bishops and cardinals as you discovered as you read my autobiography.
Now I look forward to the judgment of God. I know that I may have to spend some time in Purgatory because of my sins and the demands of justice, but that’s alright, I know that God is not only just but, above all, he is a loving God. I trust in his love to bring me eventually to the end for which he created me: perfect union with him.
It is my hope and prayer that reading my autobiography has inspired you to have courage in the face of the challenges of the present time that confront you. The Church is in crisis, our Nation is in crisis, the world is in crisis. It takes courage and reliance on God’s grace to perform the duties and responsibilities of your present state of life heroically in these times.
Keep in mind the motto which I chose to be the guiding plan for my life as a bishop: Abyssus Abyssum Invocat, “Deep Calls to Deep.” Call out to God in prayer from the depth of your need to perform the duties and responsibilities of your state of life heroically, call out to the depth of his love and grace to help you. Then, keep in mind what Our Blessed Mother said to the servants at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you!”
That in All Things God may be Glorified