I was raised in the Catholic faith. My dad was a rice and cattle farmer. Dad was a believer in prayer, but not so much in regular church attendance. Mom was very devout in both her prayer life and church attendance. The first major influence, other than my parents, was our parish priest. He was Dutch and had fought in the resistance during World War II. He was a by the book, no-nonsense preacher. I grew up thinking there was right and wrong and no in between. Consequently, as a young teenager, I grew up with my share of guilt at always falling somewhat short in being a strict observer of all Church law. I also grew up with an image of a demanding God, who was keeping tabs on all my sins.
It was not until, as a college sophomore, when I attended a charismatic based retreat focused on God’s love for his children that I began to question this view of a demanding God. This retreat experience reinvigorated my desire to have a relationship with God and learn more about this loving God.
The next big development in my spiritual journey was attending a Crusillo in 1981. Listening to other men talk about how God had worked in their lives moved me greatly. These men talked about how their relationship with God made them better husbands and fathers; and better members of their faith communities. Although I had grown in my relationship with God, I was still trying to “earn” my “reward” in an afterlife. The experience of the Crusillo taught me that I could experience God’s kingdom in this life and come to know God intimately now. I also learned that the experience of God’s love and forgiveness came through the relationships one had with one’s brothers and sisters in Christ. I began to think of myself not just as an individual, but as a member of the one body in Christ.
As I got more involved I felt a desire to devote myself to full-time ministry. In the spring of 1993 I was selected as the Executive Director of the Maryhill Renewal Center, the diocesan retreat center for the Diocese of Alexandria, Louisiana. I felt like a great dream had come true.
I often describe my three years at Maryhill as both the best and worst three-year period of my life. I worked seven days a week trying to prove to everyone that I was deserving of being the Director. I believed that the success or failure of the Center rested entirely on my shoulders. I was acting as if I had been hired to be Maryhill Renewal Center’s savior. While I was working seven days a week, I was neglecting my role as a husband and father. For the first time in our marriage, my wife and I became estranged.
In trying to do everything myself I had neglected or refused to turn to God for help and guidance. I had let my pride and my ego come before Him. Overwhelmed by struggles both at work and at home, I was finally able to open my heart to God and admit my weakness. I had finally come to that place of humility where I could experience the consolation of His love and mercy. Things began to change after that night. It did not happen all at once, but I slowly made changes in how I approached my work and my roles as husband and father. I began the journey of acceptance and surrender to God’s love and forgiveness.
One of the first steps in my journey of surrender was letting go of the anger I carried with me for longer than I could remember. The main reason for my anger was the way I had treated my dad. Before now, I always believed that I was angry with my dad for his drinking and the resulting dysfunction this caused in my family. I never tried to understand him. I did not respect him for who he was beyond the drinking. I only saw him as a weak, selfish man. I never made an attempt to really get to know him. I blamed him for all my troubles and never appreciated the love and support he gave me, which was substantial. I treated my dad like he was the child and I was the parent. He put up with my behavior and never held it against me. One evening, sitting on my back deck at home, I did what I should have done many years earlier. I began talking to my dad as if he were sitting right next to me. I thanked him for all he had done for me as my dad, for the lessons taught and the love given. I then asked him to forgive me for all I had done to him and the things I did not do for him. At the end of that conversation I felt a peace I had never felt before. I felt much of the anger I had been walking around with leaving me. I went inside, hugged my wife and kids, and asked them to forgive me for all the anger I had inflicted on them.
I was received into the Episcopal Church on Easter Sunday, 1999. When asked by the priest to describe how I felt on this occasion, I told him that I felt like the prodigal son who had finally made it home. I also became with involved with a men’s group call Louisiana MALES (Men As Leaders and Elders) which was affiliated the Father Richard Rohr’s Center for Action & Contemplation. We did annual men’s retreats for men of all faiths from Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama. Eventually, some of us formed a second group called MESS (Men Entering Sacred Space). This is a faith-sharing group which meets four weekends a year at Chicot State Park outside of Ville Platte, La. This group, like any good faith-sharing group, is a place where we can come together and share our stories without fear of being judged, without someone trying to “fix” us, and with complete trust that what is said will be held in the strictest confidence. It has meant the world to me. As part of this group, I have experienced friendship, understanding and consolation. The group has also helped me to hold myself accountable in my daily effort to take up my cross and follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
In 2005, upon the recommendation of my spiritual director, I began working with the Spiritual Directors’ Institute, which is part of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, to obtain my certification as a spiritual director. I became certified as a spiritual director in May 2009. The entire formation process was spiritually rewarding, but the one thing that stands out above the rest was the experience of the 19th Annotation. Prior to this I knew that I had an intellectual knowledge of God’s love, but I did not have a felt knowledge of that love. They say that the journey from the head to the heart is the longest journey of all. That was certainly true for me. I had been on that journey for over 50 years and had still not reached my destination. For those who have not done, or maybe never heard of the 19th Annotation, it is an “at home” version of the Ignatian 30-day retreat. You are asked to spend one hour a day in contemplative prayer with given scriptures, journal your prayer experience, and meet with your spiritual director once a week. It is a walk with Jesus from his birth to his resurrection. I came to know Jesus on a more personal basis and develop a deeply intimate relationship with him. This allowed me to complete the journey from mind to heart.
Three years ago I became spiritual director for a man on Angola State Prison’s death row. This ministry led to my participation in the KAIROS prison ministry and the Disciples of Christ in Community (DOCC). KAIROS conducts a men’s retreat twice a year at Angola and DOCC conducts small group bible studies twice a month at the prison. I was asked recently what it is I like about prison ministry. I responded that I enjoy the reality of the ministry. These men have been stripped of everything the world has to offer – freedom, possessions, power, prestige, etc. They understand surrender and lack of control better than any of us on the “outside’ ever will. They also experience God’s love and forgiveness in a very real and unfiltered manner. I love being with these guys. In prison there is no place or time for the bullshit of the world. When I am with them I know I am where I need to be and I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.
The journey continues.