On being rescued: part 3.

For part 1 and part 2, please click those links.

In summary then, from being a high flying king of the hill, I was taken down to being a broken-hearted child killer. My social circle was miniscule, and rarefied. I still had a job, and I clung on to that for dear life. I resolved to ‘reboot’, to rebuild myself from scratch, but what with?

I was 27. My numerology book told me that is 3 to the power of 3, and 3 is the number of the Trinity. (Mystic significance, eh?) My astrology book revealed I was a Leo, born in the year of the Tiger.  My book of names informed me that I shared my name with the last High King of Ireland, and it meant ‘hill’ or ‘prominence’. My birthplace was Redhill: was this some meaningful coincidence? None of that was of any help to me, except, oddly, to swell my ego. I spent long periods lying on my bed staring at the light bulb in the ceiling of my hospital room, or washing myself clean in the shower. I was lost at sea. I started drinking a lot, alone and in company.

I didn’t know how to pray, only to recite the prayers of childhood, which meant nothing to me. I was long lapsed from the Church, and I didn’t know a Catholic soul outside of my family. My mother rang, one evening, to say she had bumped into an old school-friend of mine, who was now ordained a Catholic priest. He had obviously left a strong impression on her. My sense of abject failure almost overwhelmed me, as she excitedly told me this news. My discomfort made me repress this.

Then, on Boxing day 1989, St Stephen’s day, I suddenly remembered him again, (his name is Stephen). I tried to write to him, but my letter was too wacky and rambling to send. I had been reading random sections from the Bible, and like a silly fundamentalist, getting terribly confused. I was hovering, like a midge, in and out of the mouth of madness, at this point, you see.

I must have cut a pathetic figure wandering around the hospital with a sad face, and little to say that made any sense. Strangers asked me if I was alright, all the time. I became depersonalised, watching myself going through the motions of life. Strangely, I was happiest when buried in my work, at which I remained fully functioning, on autopilot, as it were.

Colleagues noticed my troubled demeanour and provided great support, unbidden. I was invited out for social events, but was always the monomaniac party pooper in return. It was at this point that two books came into my possession. The first was ‘Siddhartha’, a classic novel by Hermann Hess detailing the spiritual journey of a young man during the time of Buddha. I had never read a book like this before, and I wasn’t in the habit of reading much anyway, but I devoured it in 2-3 sittings.

The second was gifted to me by a Hindu Brahmin acquaintance from medical school days. It was a transcript of the words of an Indian guru called Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, titled “I am that”. (This is a book deserving a post all of its own). It provided me with insights into the world of Indian spirituality, a whole new world to me. The book didn’t make any great sense, at this point, but I held onto it.

To relieve my festering soul, I went on retreat to my parent’s home in Ireland, in January 1990. I took three weeks off work, and for the only time in my life, gave up smoking completely. I walked and walked, and read and read, and listened to the radio, and watched the TV. I had bought a posh radio at Luton airport, on my way over: I wanted input, guidance, inspiration, but I was looking to the media for it! My poor parents thought I was having a nervous breakdown, because of my odd talk and ideas. I was far too clever to speak to them, the ill-educated Irish peasants that I saw them as. I was still lovesick for Helen, the junior doctor back in London. I remember being quite obsessed with a pop song/video by Sinead O’Connor, ‘Nothing compares to U’ that was playing incessantly at the time. It just seemed the perfect song for my situation. Silly, I know now.


I clearly remember choosing to set off early one morning to walk in a straight line towards the Cistercian monastery, some 25 miles distant. With my new waxed jacket, moleskin trousers and Doc Martens boots, and a few Mars bars in my pocket, I strode off on my own home-brewed ‘pilgrimage’.  Things went well for the first seven miles, but then the wind came up and the rain came down. I was climbing a small mountain range, trying to keep to my line, and the heather and bracken were manageable, but then a belt of forestry got in my way. I ploughed in, but it was very hard going: my ankles were continuously twisting on old tree stumps, and fallen trees were blocking my path in all directions. My progress slowed terribly. I began to feel cold and very lonely. My chocolate ration seemed far from adequate. I noticed that my thinking and moving were getting very slow and clumsy. I had no thermometer, but I guessed I was getting hypothermic. The self preservation instinct kicked in and I headed down and out of the forest. I made it to a clearing full of felled trees, with a track leading out from it. I sheltered beside some logs, to get out of the breeze and driven rain. I still have a photograph I took of my pathetic self, sheltering there. The weather not abating, I went to plan B and started back to ‘civilization’. I knew of a pub some four miles away, and tramped off in that direction, after rejoining the road. It took two hours as I was still groggy, because of the cold. I staggered into the empty pub mid-afternoon and plonked myself before the fire, shivering mightily. I called my Dad from there and was soon retrieved. I couldn’t help imagining my father thinking what a foolish son he had in me, as we drove home.

A few days later, on a trip to town I went into a book shop and came across a plain and simple book called ‘One Minute Wisdom’, by some Indian guy called Anthony de Mello SJ. It was full of short funny tales, one per page. I dimly remembered that SJ meant Jesuit, and that they were the Pope’s stormtroopers (thank God for a Catholic school education).  I also picked up ‘Return to the Centre’ by Bede Griffiths, an English Benedictine monk turned Indian Sannyasi. Both books seemed to resonate with my earlier reads: I was turning to the East. I bought them both and went home.

Those little, chance book purchases were to have big repercussions for me, though I had no foretelling of them…….


Cliffhanger ending again, folks. The discussion topics this time are “spiritual follies” and “books that have changed my life”. Please, can some of the silent witnesses of this blog overcome their shyness and contribute a comment or two?

Continue to part 4

About Brother Burrito

A sinner who hopes in God's Mercy, and who cannot stop smiling since realizing that Christ IS the Way , the Truth and the Life. Alleluia!
This entry was posted in Spiritual Life, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

96 Responses to On being rescued: part 3.

  1. manus2 says:

    So, encouraged by your kind words, here I come blinking into the light …

    There are two books I have found very helpful, if not life-changing, at difficult times.

    One is “Descent into Hell” by Charles Williams – the other Inkling. I read this just before going to York University – Wentworth College, as it happened. The description of the ex-military man Wentworth’s steady and self-indulging slide into Hell was just the kick I needed, as I wallowed over a lost love.

    The second book was Somerst Maugham’s ‘Of Human Bondage’ with its painfully accurate portrayal of hopeless infatuation. This helped me recognise a situation I found myself in a few years later on.


  2. Brother Burrito says:


    Thanks for those book recommendations, I shall seek them out.

    Yes, wallowing hopeless infatuation is such a powerful phenomenon, and the downfall of so many. There should be public warnings issued!

    The self absorption of it all blinds one to everything else. Love is not blind, but desire is.


  3. golden chersonnese says:

    Brother Ass, you seem to have a strong mystical streak in your soul as shown by your being affected by the Buddhist and Hindu literature you mentioned. Is that so? And were you perhaps a mouse in a previous incarnation rather than a burro?

    I might have a similar story.

    The penny started to drop when I was part of a group working on the “Cloud of Unknowing”, under the guidance of a marvellous and very clever Dominican friar. For some reason, very many questions suddenly welled up within me; I mean the sort of questions that you would ask somone leading a group such as the good Dominican friar. But it was quite strange as I really had no clue where all these questions were coming from.

    The good friar remarked that they were all excellent questions but also that he had wished that others in the group might get the chance to ask questions as well (the cheek!).

    The friar would also mention quite regularly the name of Thomas Merton, the New Zealand/British/American Trappist author, as you will know. He mentioned Merton’s early work “The Seven-Storey Mountain”, which I went and immediately bought and that, as they say, was that. I would recommend it for those who have not already read it. All his work is very easy to read but enormously profitable.

    The group went on and we all tried “beating on the cloud of unknowing”, some of us better than others. It made more and more sense as I experienced it all more.

    I remember following a lead from Merton and making a study of Taoism; the original Taoism of Chuangzi, not the magical elixir of youth and stuff that popular Taoism has since become.

    You will now that original Taoism values non-activity (wu wei) and a sort of personal anarchy. I must say this was all great for a while. Later however I saw that it wasn’t quite right and that “wu wei” is marvellous when balanced with at least half a day of conscious and focused activity as well.

    Anyway, would be glad to hear of your involvement with mysticism, Christian or otherwise. And many thanks for the topic which I hope others will also speak up about.


  4. omvendt says:

    BB, I find your story enthralling!

    Regarding books, I suspect you might enjoy reading Mauriac.

    My favourite is ‘The knot of Vipers’.


  5. Brother Burrito says:


    I was indeed Mystic Mouse, until my abbreviation MM began to be used for Marcel Maciel. Ugh!
    Ah, the Cloud of Unknowing, and the Seven Storey Mountain were later discoveries, as were Julian of Norwich, and Meister Eckhart.

    I am not familiar with Taoism, as it takes all my time to keep up with Christian mysticism, but I like the sound of wu wei. It sounds uncannily like Master Yoda’s Nokandu to me! I tried a bit of personal anarchy, though I called it ‘living by the providential accident’. Unfortunately, my life started to descend into something resembling ‘The Dice Man’, so I pulled the plug on it. Thank God!

    The greatest providential accident of all has proven to be falling into the excellent company of this blog and its readers. I may have written a lot recently (to cover holiday absences) but my greatest joy is to come here and read the works of others. My understanding of my Catholic Faith is growing exponentially here. The CS Lewis quote: “We read, to know we are not alone” is apposite, though overused.

    There are plenty of episodes left in my ‘Pope opera’, and they will all be strongly laced with mystic adventures. Bring on the comments, everybody please!


  6. toadspittle says:

    “Sod it, you aren’t Plato. Stop looking for a guru, ancient or modern.”Burro admonished me on a different ‘thread.’

    I hesitate to point out what D****n would no doubt call the ‘bleedin,’ obvious,’ but isn’t this post all about Gurus? How come it’s OK for a Burro, but not a Toad?
    To reject, after careful consideration, the advice, or instruction of a ‘guru’ can be as enriching as accepting it.
    Descartes is still a ‘giant,’ although virtually everything he proposed has now been discarded.

    golden chersonnese

    You may well know this already, but the reason you found ‘The Seven-Storey Mountain’ readable is that Evelyn Waugh entirely re-wrote it as an unsung act of charity.


  7. toadspittle says:

    “SJ meant Jesuit, and that they were the Pope’s stormtroopers”

    What better recommendation!


  8. golden chersonnese says:

    Omvendt, care to give us a few snippets from Mauriac’s “Knot of Vipers”? Sounds very tantalising.


  9. golden chersonnese says:

    “You may well know this already, but the reason you found ‘The Seven-Storey Mountain’ readable is that Evelyn Waugh entirely re-wrote it as an unsung act of charity.”

    You don’t say. dear Toad.

    And how did you get that? First time I’ve heard of it.

    All his later work was also very readable.


  10. golden chersonnese says:

    Manus2, thank you.

    Would you also give a few quotes or snippets from the writers you mentioned.

    I’d be very grateful.


  11. toadspittle says:

    golden chersonnese:

    In Selina Hastings’ biog of Waugh, (Houghton Mifflin) she writes,>/i>

    “Another writer much in Evelyn’s debt was the American Thomas Merton. Merton, a Trappist monk at the monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemani, Kentucky, had written an influential, if long-winded, autobiography, The Seven-Storey Mountain, which Tom Burns (Waugh’s U.S. publisher) had bought for publication by Hollis and Carter. Burns,with Merton’s agreement, had asked Evelyn to edit the book, an ‘enthralling task’ Evelyn piously described it, apparently undeterred by the author’s vanity and the second-rateness of his prose. The book came out in England in 1949, shortened by more than a third and much more disciplined in style, under the title Elected Silence.
    Merton was grateful , and from these beginnings a friendship grew…”

    Hastings seems a bit snitty about Merton.
    Toad, who has not read Merton, makes no comment.


  12. toadspittle says:

    Isn’t there some way we (I) can look at the thing and correct the coding before pulling the trigger? I get it wrong every time.


  13. teresa says:

    The journey of Burro reminds me also of that of a famous Jewish convert, Roy Shoeman, whom I mentioned several times before. He wrote he was educated as a pious Jew, learned Hebrew and studied the Torah thoroughly, he even thought of becoming a Rabbi. But later, when he went to MIT, where Atheism was prevalent, he turned away from God and became indifferent. With the time he felt a great spiritual hunger, and began searching. He began to pray again, but didn’t come back to the Synagogue, instead, he prayed in private to God, that He should show him a way. He tried also Indian Spirituality, but found no real satisfaction. He prayed to Lord that He should lead him to any religion, except the Christian religion. But one day he saw Mother of God, Blessed Virgin Mary come to him in a half awake, half asleep state, and she told him to become a Christian, to believe in Jesus the Messiah. Then he, Roy Shoeman, without any knowledge of Christianity, went to a Protestant church, but from the pulpit the pastor preached vigorously against the Veneration of Mary through the Catholics, he knew immediately he was at the wrong place. Then he began to inform himself about Mary, and came to a famous place of pilgrimage in the U.S. where Mary appeared (I forgot the exact name), and he was at the Mass, where he felt a strong desire to go to communion. He went to the priest after the Mass, and later, by and by, as every journey must be made with patience, he found home to us.
    I read his excellent book “Salvation is from Jews”, he has also a website:
    perhaps we can also invite him to visit us? He has also on his site a link to Hebrew Catholics.


  14. Brother Burrito says:

    I am no ‘guru’, but I have made considerable study of them and their workings. And, by guru I mean all and any spiritual masters/leaders.

    I totally agree that leaving a guru is vital. A good one will kick you out anyway, he/she is not interested in a personality cult.

    Sadly, gurus are ten a penny nowadays, many of them wolves in sheep’s clothing. Look at Scientology, Jonestown and Waco. Maybe the best guru is a dead one!

    From de Mello again:
    “Water remains free by flowing, You will remain free by going.
    If you stay you will stagnate, and become contaminated.”
    [so eff off!]

    The Church couldn’t be born until Our Lord had Ascended. His presence would have prevented the Apostles from receiving the Holy Spirit


  15. toadspittle says:

    While we are on a book recommending kick, may I suggest: The Essays of Michel De Montaigne, particularly Apology for Raymond Sebond,and Candide, by Voltaire. Both very well known in France, hardly read elsewhere, I fear..


  16. Brother Burrito says:

    Glad you’re enjoying it.

    I think you are going to have to tell us all about Mauriac, and his entangled snakes.

    Consider that a blog commission!


  17. Frere Rabit says:

    Very good reading, Burrito. Thank you. At the end of a long journey, the rabit piligrimin is now in a new landscape, reflecting on much piligriminage and a rough ride followed by a gradual new dawning. Your story clearly prompts reflections for others as it does for me.


  18. golden chersonnese says:

    Dear Toad, Dom Louis (Thomas Merton) wrote 70 books, many from his hermitage in Kentucky.


  19. Brother Burrito says:

    Thanks Rabit.
    Might I use this opportunity to tell the readers how much I enjoy visiting your blogue too?


    You really have the comedic gift in your writing, and I have to ration my visits there, to avoid personal incontinence.
    Please don’t respond to this, or they might suspect a mutual admiration society.
    The truth is, readers, we hate one another. So there!


  20. The Raven says:

    I was deeply relieved to find Eckhart, it was the opening to the whole tradition of Christian mysticism, proving that the mystical experience wasn’t the sole preserve of the Eastern religions.

    I’d say, Eckhart aside, that the books that have impacted upon me most deeply were Greene’s Monsignor Quixote and A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.


  21. golden chersonnese says:

    Dom Louis:

    “Whatever I may have written, I think it all can be reduced in the end to this one root truth: that God calls human persons to union with Himself and with one another in Christ, in the Church which is His Mystical Body. It is also a witness to the fact that there is and must be, in the church, a contemplative life which has no other function than to realize these mysterious things, and return to God all the thanks and praise that human hearts can give Him. It is certainly true that I have written about more than just the contemplative life. I have articulately resisted attempts to have myself classified as an “inspirational writer.” But if I have written about interracial justice, or thermonuclear weapons, it is because these issues are terribly relevant to one great truth: that man is called to live as a child of God. Man must respond to this call to live in peace with all his brothers and sisters in the One Christ”



  22. The Raven says:

    One of the works that keeps me going, especially through periods of “dryness” is St Patrick’s breastplate, which I have found myself returning to every time the going gets tough. The version I know it in is:

    For my shield this day I call: 
    A mighty power:
    The Holy Trinity!
    Affirming threeness,
    Confessing oneness,
    In the making of all 
    Through love…

    For my shield this day I call:
    Christ’s power in his coming
    and in his baptising,
    Christ’s power in his dying 
    On the cross, his arising
    from the tomb, his ascending;
    Christ’s power in his coming
    for judgment and ending.

    For my shield this day I call:
    strong power of the seraphim,
    with angels obeying,
    and archangels attending,
    in the glorious company
    of the holy and risen ones,
    in the prayers of the fathers,
    in visions prophetic
    and commands apostolic,
    in the annals of witness,
    in virginal innocence,
    in the deeds of steadfast men. 

    For my shield this day I call:
    Heaven’s might,
    Sun’s brightness,
    Moon’s whiteness,
    Fire’s glory,
    Lightning’s swiftness,
    Wind’s wildness,
    Ocean’s depth,
    Earth’s solidity,
    Rock’s immobility.

    This day I call to me:
    God’s strength to direct me,
    God’s power to sustain me,
    God’s wisdom to guide me,
    God’s vision to light me,
    God’s ear to my hearing, 
    God’s word to my speaking, 
    God’s hand to uphold me,
    God’s pathway before me, 
    God’s shield to protect me, 
    God’s legions to save me: 
    from snares of the demons,
    from evil enticements, 
    from failings of nature,
    from one man or many
    that seek to destroy me,
    anear or afar.

    Around me I gather
    these forces to save
    my soul and my body
    from dark powers that assail me:
    against false prophesyings,
    against pagan devisings,
    against heretical lying
    and false gods all around me.
    Against spells cast by women
    by blacksmiths, by Druids,
    against knowledge unlawful
    that injures the body,
    that injures the spirit.

    Be Christ this day my strong protector;
    against poison and burning, 
    against drowning and wounding,
    through reward wide and plenty …
    Christ beside me, Christ before me;
    Christ behind me, Christ within me;
    Christ beneath me, Christ above me;
    Christ to right of me, Christ to left of me;
    Christ in my lying, my sitting, my rising;
    Christ in heart of all who know me,
    Christ on tongue of all who meet me,
    Christ in eye of all who see me,
    Christ in ear of all who hear me.

    For my shield this day I call
    a mighty power:
    the Holy Trinity!
    affirming threeness,
    confessing oneness
    in the making of all –
    through love…

    For to the Lord belongs salvation,
    and to the Lord belongs salvation
    and to Christ belongs salvation.

    May your salvation, Lord, be
    with us always.
    (Domini est salus, Domini est salus,
    Christi est salus;
    Salus tua, Domine, sit semper nobiscum). 


  23. golden chersonnese says:

    Brother Rabit, I am all ears (but so are you).

    Please tell us of your new dawning (zizzing of paws fully allowed).

    The BBC is already telling us of the economic boost to Galicia from commercial Catholicism (now why am I not surprised?).


  24. manus2 says:


    Thanks for taking an interest! I responded to BB’s story thinking about the traumas of love, rather than of gurus and esoteric spirituality, which is how the thread has developed. But Charles Williams was something of a esoteric character himself, coming from occult practices to orthodox Christianity, and he acted as a guru to several younger women. His novels are extraordinary, especially as he supposedly wrote about what he had experienced of the occult. Tolkien was apparently concerned about William’s strong influence on CS Lewis.

    So in the book Descent into Hell you have a suicide and a succubis, dopplegangers and damnation, and the perfect warning to someone wallowing for a lost love.

    And you can get it for free:



  25. Brother Burrito says:

    Bravo Raven,

    I have known of this Breastplate, but never laid eyes on it.
    There is a modern hymn based on it, sung to the tune of ‘Morning has broken’ that we sometimes sing at Mass, which moistens my eyes somewhat, especially the lines:

    Christ be in all hearts thinking about me, (Christ in heart of all who know me,)
    Christ be on all tongues telling of me. (Christ on tongue of all who meet me,)
    Christ be the vision in eyes that see me, (Christ in eye of all who see me,)
    In ears that hear me Christ ever be.

    Now, compare those modern words, written by James Quinn SJ, with the original, and see why my eyes moisten!
    They are subtle corruptions of the original meaning, but I think they make it mawkish, and emphasise the ‘me’ over Christ.
    Am I being unfair?


  26. Brother Burrito says:


    Thanks for the free etext link, ‘Descent into Hell’ sounds right up my street(!)


  27. golden chersonnese says:

    Thanks, Omvendt, and why wouldn’t anyone take an interest in your thoughts? Dear Toad obviously has and the gods are still panting.

    Providentially we have our National Day holiday tomorrow, which I shall devote to your lead.


  28. The Raven says:


    There are a few versions of the “Breastplate” knocking around (some are better than the version that I have posted), Fr Tim posted on the subject a while ago. I do agree, though, that the version that you reference lacks a certain manly quality.


  29. hopeful62 says:

    Evelyn Waugh was mentioned, so, in the name of English Catholicism, I will mention the most influential book. Influential because it is sober and just makes plain sense, without trying to appeal to emotions, “We Believe” by Mgr. Gilbey. Well, I guess it is two books because you need to have the ‘Penny Catechism’ beside you whilst you read it.

    As for the likes of Eckhart, Merton, de Mello etc. aren’t they all a bit ‘dodgy’. Surely there are safer sources of inspiration?

    I would add as close seconds (well, make that equal firsts), “Imitation of Christ” and ‘The School of Jesus Crucified”.




  30. golden chersonnese says:

    I’m sorry, Manus2, I mistook your esoteric references for Omvendt, I can’t think why. Might be because of Omvendt’s involvement with Old Norse, if I recall correctly.

    Still, I will have a look tomorrow and many thanks.

    Any bits you want to highlight?


  31. Brother Burrito says:


    Dodgy, yes.

    These fish cannot be eaten whole, they need skinning, gutting and boning first. It all adds to the enjoyment. Think of boyscouts around the campfire.

    Much as I love Gilbey’s slim tome, I am unsure of its usefulness as an appetiser in the rapidly neo-paganising liberalist modernist West.

    Taking Fr Finigan’s lead:
    “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”


  32. golden chersonnese says:

    Hopeful62 (and previously Raven), mysticism cannot but be at the heart of Catholicism. We are all mystics, whether we know it or not.

    How else could we cope with the Creator Father of all, the Eternal Word and the great life-giving Spirit?


  33. omvendt says:

    Cheers, BB!

    Now I’ll have to do a quick re-read of the novel. 😉

    Off to bed now clutching it in my hot little hand. 🙂


  34. hopeful62 says:

    “These fish cannot be eaten whole, they need skinning, gutting and boning first. It all adds to the enjoyment.”

    But one can only do these things if one knows first which bits are cannot be eaten and which can. I don’t think ‘enjoyment’ is really the right word if the authors lead you to reject The Faith.

    As for Gilbey, well he appealed to me as a mathematically/logically minded soul.

    His appeal to our neo-pagan brothers and sisters, well that depends upon how much our education system decays.



  35. The Raven says:


    Eckhart was, fortunately, a “gateway drug” for me: readily available in the current culture, but ultimately leading me to want something more. From Eckhart I moved on to St John of the Cross and the Cloud of Unknowing, the Desert Fathers, St Augustine and Thomas à Kempis.

    Had I been well advised, I would have turned to the more orthodox authors first, but I was alone and without direction. In the circumstances I have good reason to be glad that I found Eckhart and I regularly pray for the repose of his soul in gratitude.


  36. omvendt says:


    You’re too kind. 🙂

    “Providentially we have our National Day holiday tomorrow, which I shall devote to your lead.”



  37. teresa says:

    Raven: “Eckhart was, fortunately, a “gateway drug” for me: readily available in the current culture”.
    Why, is Eckhart really so widely read these days?


  38. golden chersonnese says:

    Omvendt, you are an enigma.


  39. Gertrude says:

    Has anyone read Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection? He was a 17th century Carmelite – not particularly learned, in fact spent the last 30years of his life working in the monastery kitchen, but his ‘Practice of the Presence of God’ illustrates an awareness of exactly the presence of God in the tradition of the desert Fathers. It behoves us all to remember that Jesus was a carpenter before he was a teacher, St. Paul worked as a weaver as was St. Anthony (according to St. Athanasius). I recommend you seek it out BB.


  40. hopeful62 says:


    Perhaps (well, almost definitely), I don’t know the difference between a ‘mystic’ and a ‘non-mystic’.

    Maybe someone can help me on this one, a fairly important one, I figure. Years ago I read Cardinal Ratzinger, as he was then, in the magazine ’30 Days’, say that no one can really come to Our Lord without that personal encounter with Him. With which I have great a great deal of agreement.

    Yet a part of me says that this is a fruit of Pope Benedict’s Augustinian and neo-Platonic earlier studies.

    Frankly, the clarity of St Thomas Aquinas’ arguments, his five ways to God, and that of scholasticism in general, as far as I know them, have lead me, intellectually at least, closer to God. Maybe the ‘will’ part is sorted out by Pope Benedict’s earlier point. Come to think of it, that almost definitely is the more important matter.



  41. teresa says:

    Stephen, perhaps the book you are talking about is “Introduction into Christianity” of Joseph Ratzinger? To build up a personal relationship with God, is already implicited in the Lord’s prayer, I remember he wrote there that when we call God “thou”, it is already expressing a personal encounter, as you can’t refer to an absent person as “you”, but only to someone who is in your presence. And through Jesus we are standing in a filial relationship to God, which means intimacy with Him.


  42. Brother Burrito says:


    I shall that. (Oops, sounds like a title for a mystical masterpiece!)

    Jesus was a carpenter, why is that mentioned? Is it because every piece of wood is totally unique, but it can be fashioned into almost any needful thing?
    The same with weavers and thread.

    My reading list is growing faster than I can read. I hope others are benefitting too.


  43. teresa says:

    P.S. this personal encounter with God defends us from falling into Deism. As our God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not an impersonal Substance as the God of the philosophers.


  44. teresa says:

    Sorry for being so pedantic, but P.S. again in regard of Stephen’s comment: Pope Benedict must have meant the Grace which is infused into our heart so that we can accept the Truth and believe, as you said, the act of believing is an act of the will, so without the help of the Grace nobody can believe. The infusion of Grace lets us know the presence of God, and it is, as I assume, the personal encounter with God mentioned by Joseph Ratzinger.


  45. Brother Burrito says:


    You are obviously a more scholarly man than me, because I find Aquinas too difficult to penetrate far. There is quite literally a glass ceiling preventing my ascent with him.

    Can I hear your opinion on the famous episode in his later life, when he said to his socius “Reginald, I cannot [return to work], because all that I have written seems like straw to me.”


  46. teresa says:

    Burro, you must know how much we need straw!

    (I am being serious: in heaven we will get nectar, but on the earth we must live from straw and dried beans! So it doesn’t mean straw is not necessary anymore.)


  47. Brother Burrito says:


    If I only had the mind to appreciate it!

    Mysticism isn’t a substitute for Theology, it is an adjuvant.

    For a perfectly balanced diet, you need both. Our Lord rewarded St Thomas for all his hard thinking, with a shot of Divine vitamins.

    Now, having delivered my load, I await my education in Theology. Garcon!


  48. hopeful62 says:

    That comment of St Thomas has troubled me for many years, did he mean all my WRITTEN philosophy is worthless? Or all MY philosophy is worthless. Did he mean PHILOSOPHY is worthless? Something worse? Or something more sublime?

    I believe that St Thomas Aquinas had an encounter with Our Lord, much like the one that St Thomas the Apostle, had. St Thomas Aquinas suddenly knew – knew clearly,the way that angels do. The whole laborious process of reasoning, normally necessary for the even the simplest truths, yet alone the most sublime, was worthless compared to a direct, personal encounter with the Truth. Funnily enough, I’m guessing that St Thomas the Apostle thought the same way.

    Carravagio’s painting might help you appreciate this point.




  49. teresa says:

    Personal encounter with God is not necessarily the visio Dei meant by the mystics. I do think for normal lay people or even heathens, a personal encounter with God is possible. The vocation which a priest candidate feels in himself, is actually an encounter with God. As God is everywhere we can meet him also everywhere.

    The ecstasy experienced by the mystics must be something very different, like what Theresia of Avilla experienced, or Bernard of Clairvaux.

    The mystics stress also the total darkness which exceeds the light, and St. Augustine wrote about the transcendence of time and space. This experience can’t be made by everyone, it depends on the special Grace of God granted to a Saint.


  50. golden chersonnese says:

    I can’t see how humblyaccepting the invitation to the high feast of the Lamb is eating straw.


  51. teresa says:

    Golden Chersonnese, our doctor just ordered a shot of Divine vitamin!

    And the Garcon should serve barley on a gold plate, as in heaven donkeys get barley to eat, instead of straw, and I, the Fräulein, serve nectar instead of beer, we are leaving also the Russsian Landstreicher behind who occupied our earthly Beer Cellar.


  52. Brother Burrito says:


    Everything you say in that comment is so true. True mystical experiences are very rare. False ones are very common.

    Discerning the two is beyond all but the rarest soul. It is a mistake to assume oneself is such a soul. It is vital that professional advice is sought, from a professed, experienced, contemplative.

    All of the mystic texts make this warning: The devil himself can appear as an angel of light. It is a grave mistake to undertake Divine Contemplation with the intention to receive ‘lights’ and ‘communications’ from beyond the veil. You are bound to be deceived.

    I invite everyone to Google ‘mystical experiences’ or similar, if they want to see how much multiflavoured bull**** is out there, awaiting the gullible.

    Choose the safer path, find a real live monk/nun and talk to him/her. They will be only too glad to meet you.


  53. teresa says:

    Burro, you are quite right, we do need good guide, even the great women mystics had a guide, Birgit of Sweden had one, for example.


  54. joyfulpapist says:

    I’ve committed spiritual follies galore, my friends. The one I want to talk about goes back to my early teenage years. I was a rootless sort-of deist. Convinced by my reading and a couple of personal experiences I’d rejected my father’s agnosticism. There was a God, and I was prepared to accept CS Lewis’s contention in Mere Christianity that He was the God of Abraham and Isaac, and Jesus was His Son and Word. I had no idea what that meant, however. Nor did the knowledge have any impact on my life. Apart from repeating the Lord’s prayer on my knees before I climbed into bed each night, I was as thorough a pagan as you could wish to meet.

    Meanwhile, we’d moved from the town in which I’d grown up to a city where I found friends in short supply. I was shy, and lacked confidence, so buried myself in books and a technicolour fantasy life in which I was the chief script writer, producer, and hero.

    Before long, I had an accomplice – another lonely child with a vivid imagination. Together, we found a stone on the local reef that mimicked the shape of the island we could see across the harbour. From this small coincidence we invented a whole religion – complete with sacrifices and offerings, prayers and rituals, a theology and an entire fictional history.

    It satisfied us right through one summer – filling the empty spaces where a better religion might have been. But nothing that we knew we’d invented for ourselves could be entirely satisfactory. As we approached the age of 15, we discovered seances and ouija boards. And up came the curtain on spiritual folly number two.


  55. Brother Burrito says:


    You’ve got me hooked! More tomorrow, I hope.

    Good night from me.(it is nearly 2 am)


  56. joyfulpapist says:

    I’m finding your story fascinating, BB. Interesting, well-written, and thought-provoking.


  57. toadspittle says:


    “literally a glass ceiling preventing my ascent with him.”

    Metaphorically, surely?


  58. golden chersonnese says:

    Early walk of the gods, dear Toad?


  59. golden chersonnese says:

    Joyful, are you working on part 2 today?

    Burro and Teresa, I am sure the great and rare mystics of the Church are, well, great and rare.

    But I am sure the rest of us are able to approach their heights, which would explain Thomas Aquinas and his straw.

    I think our monasteries and the houses of not a few lay people must be full of people making the ascent and they have never set foot inside a Theosophical Society bookstore.


  60. golden chersonnese says:

    “To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
    Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”

    Thomas Merton


  61. joyfulpapist says:

    I’ll try to get time tonight my time, GC.


  62. golden chersonnese says:
  63. golden chersonnese says:

    Joyful, something to look forward to indeed. 🙂

    Don’t keep us on suspenders too long.


  64. toadspittle says:

    golden chersonnese

    Just waiting for Sun-up. But I suppose you are off to bed soon. As the old song went;

    “When it’s Christmas in Yokahama, it’s Wednesday over here,”

    ..or something.

    Like everyone else, I pass the time (when not corrupting CP&S) pondering Cartesian dualism and perusing the aphorisms of Chamfort, such as..

    “One must swallow a live toad every morning, if one wishes to be sure of encountering nothing still more disgusting before the day is over.”

    Swallowing toads! Can’t say ‘one’ approves overmuch of that…


  65. golden chersonnese says:

    Well a very good morning to you, Toad. I can’t imagine that toads are very nutritious. On the other hand, we are quite fond of nibbling on frogs over here, in the Chinese coffee shops and restaurants.

    For the squeamish, on the menus they are written as “field chickens” in Chinese.

    A foreign friend, thinking his Chinese to be passable, once ordered them in a restaurant here exepcting to be served with some delicious free range chicken.

    In the end he complained to the waiter that the chickens were miserably small in this country.


  66. golden chersonnese says:

    If you click on the Merton quotes link above and see the small photo of Merton in the top left, do you get the feeling you’ve seen this photo before somewhere, at least from the neck down?


  67. toadspittle says:

    golden chersonnese:

    I think it was Leon Trotsky (or it might have been Tommy Cooper, someone like that) who asked a waiter, “Do you have frogs’ legs?” “Yes, sir,” was the reply. “Then hop off and get me a cheese sandwich,” said Trotsky.

    (I will be accused of being ‘bitter,’ and ‘irritable,’ for running this, you see..)


  68. golden chersonnese says:

    No, there’s a deep meaning there somewhere, I’m sure.

    I’m going to use it for meditation today.


  69. toadspittle says:

    Golden C:

    The Merton quotes seemed, almost without exception, very sound, to me.

    Don’t think I get the picture ref, unless it is like the Rabit ‘atavar?’

    And the quote mentioning ‘combing my hair’ struck me as being, as Dr. Johnson said, (about second marriages) ‘a triumph of hope over experience.’

    On the other hand, the style of Bro. Merton’s barnet may simply be monkishly modish, or even modishly monkish.


  70. golden chersonnese says:

    Exactly, Brother Rabit indeed.

    The relevant Merton quote for second marriages might be:

    “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to… fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”


  71. golden chersonnese says:

    . . . . or, of course, relevant to second marriages or the avoidance of the need for them.


  72. golden chersonnese says:

    Toad, apropos ^, I remember another Dominican friar saying in a sermon the following or something like it (I think he was quoting someone else – you may know who?):

    Love your enemies.
    For anything you love you will tend to desire.
    Anything you desire you will want to possess.
    And anything you possess you will tend to destroy.

    Love your enemies.

    It’s too dangerous an emotion to use on your friends.


  73. joyfulpapist says:

    Part 2, in which proto-Joyful Papist plays with fire, scorches her fingers, and escapes through sheer adolescent lack of application.

    We flirted with the occult in the same spirit as we celebrated our self-invented religion – half in fun, and wholly in earnest. Had we not believed it a bit, it would have had no attraction. Had we fully believed in it, we never would have started. One of us had a mother who played at seances as a parlour game; she taught us the basic rules. And we were soon hooked. The sense of pleasurable danger, of flirting with unseen powers, made addicts of us. I was pretty sure that Jane, Melany, and Ann were pushing the ouija board – though they denied it. Pretty sure. And yet…

    For me, at least, the sense of dabbling in something not quite clean grew by increments. Melany and Ann seemed oblivious. Jane was intrigued. I kept my mouth shut to stay inside the circle.

    Then came a series of seances in which we seemed to be getting answers that none of us could have known. We appeared to have attracted a ‘spirit’, which identified itself – himself, we were told – as a friendly guide. I’d read enough to be suspicious, and at last one evening overcame my diffidence enough to challenge. I remember a sense of oppression, of the walls closing in, of a psychic smell of evil. Perhaps just an overwrought adolescent imagination. The glass shattered – imploded – when no-one was touching it. Perhaps a natural phenomenon of unknown causation remarkable only for its coincidental timing.

    Three of us refused to participate in any more seances. We escaped into middle-class suburban normality. My mother, who knew nothing of the detail but clearly sensed some of the emotions talked me into attending a camp with the local Anglican youth group. I discovered a new passion – the youth group president. He taught me kissing, the finer points of rowing, and the books of the New Testament. He made me editor of the youth group magazine. I began going to church twice on a Sunday and again on Friday evenings, not running from the devil or running towards God, but simply because I was having a great time. And this inveterate bookworm worked her way through the Parish library and managed to absorb enough that I started to love God just a teensy bit.

    The boy moved on; others followed. The great Fisher of Men had me firmly hooked. The youth group was a fixture. So much so, that after a couple of years I swore off romance till God sent me a potential husband.

    Less than four years in my future was a young man at a prayer group – the President of the local Young Catholic Workers group (he’s a Catholic, my friend the hostess whispered, AND he’s a Christian).

    I saw my three co-occultists at a class reunion a few years back. Melany was a head teacher of a school, never married, very conservative. Ann had married her chidlhood sweatheart from school and raised a family. Jane was making her living selling fortune readings in the classified pages. She was gaunt, on her third marriage, and smoked heavily – not necessarily tobacco. Well, she wouldn’t have started down that track if she had been a contented person. I ask our Holy Mother and St Michael the Archangel to pray for her.


  74. kathleen says:

    Rather than your escape from the creepy dabbling in the occult being due to “adolescent lack of application”, I think it might have been Our Blessed Lord getting your guardian angel to yank you away, knowing that there were better things in store for you 😉
    The occult (seances and suchlike) is a very real danger, and the young are the most susceptible.

    Thanks a lot to you and BB for your accounts of your spiritual follies. Mine were more of the opposite type, of a passionate desire to achieve great things for the Lord; things far beyond my strength and possibilities… so follies just the same!

    I too was an avid reader, and stories of the missionaries, saints and martyrs ignited my vivid, childish imagination. Not realising that first of all one can be a missionary without ever leaving home, for a long time I desired nothing more than to go to the furthest most dangerous places to “teach all nations” and perhaps win a martry’s crown! Of course this was pride disguised behind what I thought at the time was simply dutiful christian zeal.
    My parents wouldn’t hear of me going until I had completed my education anyway, in spite of my imploring. My wise father suggested I prepare myself for the trials and hardships life as a missionary would entail, mainly by practicing simple sacrifices, penances and fasting in the meantime…… especially obedience, something I’ve never found easy. Impatiently and reluctantly I tried to follow his advice.
    As I matured and learnt a bit more about myself, of my many weaknesses and limitations, I came down to earth with a bump! Slowly I began to realise this wasn’t the vineyard where God was calling me to work. He had other simpler plans for me.

    This experience taught me a good lesson though.


  75. kathleen says:

    “My reading list is growing faster than I can read. ”

    Mine too! Some of those books mentioned I have read, but others I don’t know. Many thanks to all the commenters for their wonderful suggestions. especially Omvendt for Francois Mauriac, and Teresa for introducing Roy Shoeman.

    I see no one has mentioned another ‘must read’, the beautiful autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, “Story of a Soul”, in which she explains her Little Way.


  76. golden chersonnese says:

    Well that was waiting for, joyful.

    Do you actually think you were so visibly troubled by the whole seance thing that your mother saw something was wrong and sent you along to the youth group solely because of that?


  77. toadspittle says:


    Your mention of missionaries, and going to far-flung places, hurtled me back to an incident at art school over half a century ago.
    One of the girl students – some sort of protestant fundamentalist I seem to remember, announced that she was off to bring people home to Jesus. But she was going to do it in Spain, in 1958.
    Gutsy girl.
    Don’t know what became of her.


  78. joyfulpapist says:

    Kathleen, for all of my jokes about it, I felt then – and feel now – that I had come as close as I ever wish to meeting Satan. It was becoming fashionable then to laugh at ‘Christian myths’ about the devil. My experiences innoculated against such foolishness and sent me to where I would be safest.

    And yes, Golden Chersonesse. I think my mother chivied me along to youth group because she saw that I was worried about something.

    Of course, both of our guardian angels were working overtime on the job, and what we didn’t know, they were well aware of.


  79. joyfulpapist says:

    Kathleen, your story reminds me of Teresa of Avila and her brother setting off to be martyred by the moors.


  80. omvendt says:

    I’m feeling the pressure of BB’s ‘knot of Vipers’/’Mauriac Commision’ 😉 so I’d better at least cobble together a few sentences.

    The story is told in the first person via an old, moribund, and considerably wealthy lawyer, who plans to disinherit his wife and his grasping children.

    The narrator is writing a letter to his wife, to be opened after his death, which will reveal that he’s left them all nothing.

    In the course of the letter, he seeks to justify his actions, and looks back over his long life in order to explain how he became the kind of man he is now.

    He comes across as an unpleasant, cynical, selfish and sinful creature; he has also completely lost his faith.

    As he writes his story, however, the letter becomes a cri du coeur from the depths of his despair.

    And then something extraordinary happens…


  81. omvendt says:

    Darn: meant to write “depths of his despair’.


  82. johnhenrycn says:

    “And then something extraordinary happens…”



  83. omvendt says:

    Something extraordinary just happened! 😉 🙂


  84. omvendt says:

    Well, you need to read the book, JH. 😉


  85. toadspittle says:

    “Darn: meant to write “depths of his despair’.”

    Says Omvendt.

    But you did.


  86. omvendt says:

    One of those days, toad. 😉


  87. Brother Burrito says:

    Sorry, I made the correction of Omvendt’s 20:24 comment, but didn’t think it worth telling everyone. I also deleted the post of 20:26, but some kind soul restored it.

    No miracle then. Move along, good people!


  88. omvendt says:

    Thanks, BB.

    I was getting worried for a moment there! 😉


  89. toadspittle says:


    It’s just that ‘B’ has got one of his ‘headaches.’ Be kind to him. There’s a dear.


  90. toadspittle says:

    “Love your enemies
    It’s too dangerous an emotion to use on your friends.”

    Says Golden C.
    Thanks, but I will pass on that one. Bit too cynical for me. Besides, I love my friends and I like living dangerously.

    (Also did a bit of loving dangerously in my time. Too old and tired now.)


  91. joyfulpapist says:

    Not dangerously enough perhaps, Toad? Loving Jesus is the most dangerous love of all.


  92. Brother Burrito says:


    watch out! I think the women are going to be all over you, any minute!

    (The headaches, yes, the big throbbing thing between my ears needs heavy sedation to keep them at bay!)


  93. Brother Burrito says:

    Has he been seen lately?

    I heard about some volcano eruption out his way, on the radio, and I immediately thought about him.

    I hope he’s alright, and his sick little girl too.


  94. toadspittle says:

    “Loving Jesus is the most dangerous love of all.” says Joyful.

    I’d like you to amplify that a bit, if you would.

    “watch out! I think the women are going to be all over you, any minute!” says Burroguru.

    The women are not all over me these days, just all over. My dear wife excepted, natch.

    I am, as CP&S’s favourite philosopher says; ‘Beyond Good and Evil.’ Nice, cozy feeling.


  95. joyfulpapist says:

    Why, Toad, look what He asks of His lovers! Can you doubt that the adventure of loving Him is the most exciting, most adventurous, of all?


  96. kathleen says:

    So true Joyful.

    (Btw, loved and laughed at your comment to me on 31/8 about St. Teresa of Avila and her brother off to fight the moors 🙂 )


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