I am Rose. I was reading the Maltese Married Priests website again, and one of the posts- the one on relationships, really helped me. Of course, all these simple logical things, such as communication seem so obvious – I would have seen all these things regarding other peoples relationships. With myself however, I’ve been pretty blind.
A couple of horribly painful events happened a couple months ago between the priest I’ve written to you about and myself. Ever since I’ve been healing – slowly, very slowly, but still feel caught in a cycle of frustration, anger and pain. It gets better, but then worse, and while I know it is necessary to give things time, I don’t want to fall into wasting any more time on grief or baseless hope than has actually been necessary. I usually try to keep everything as “bottom line up front” when I write to you, but unfortunately this time I doubt I’ll be able to with this article.
A couple months ago, I learned that the priest would be moved to a new parish. I expected it, and had been waiting for it with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I felt deep sadness and fear at him leaving – on the other, relief, that my activities at that parish wouldn’t any more chance running into him and I would have some peace at least. But I won’t lie, the pain was stronger than the peace. It made me think back to all those most painful times in my life, as all of us have, where I thought, “I don’t know what to do. How do I even ‘be’ in this?” It’s almost like falling between the cracks of existence, frozen. Here I was, almost having become a nun the year before, not having done so because of how my love for this man changed me, and he was about to be ripped out of my life. All the while, we’d said nothing about it to each other. I could see and feel the intensity of the battle he was in – he would look at me as though I were an angel descending from heaven one minute and there was a lightness and joy about him, and then next he would become harsh and heavy and look at me as though I were a nuisance at best and poisonous snake at worst. I tried my best to be myself, while still concealing my feelings for him. The negative reactions increased, and one mass I attended that he happened to be celebrating, he saw me sneak in late in the back of the church, and his entire posture changed. He went from cool, collected and preachy, to frustrated and angry. During the consecration I could almost feel the heat of it burning my way. He didn’t have to say it or even look my way, I knew it was directed at me. He was livid at my presence, and the intensity of it actually did frighten me.
At the young adult group I volunteered with – which he had been helping as well, I was scheduled to give a talk with another friend on what would be his last day there. Other group leaders decided to make the night from being just talks to also a farewell and thank you for the priest. I thought that of all those days they could have scheduled me to speak that summer, I was scheduled as the very last person he would hear give a talk before he left. So strange, creepy almost – no coincidences, right? Up to the morning before the talk, I literally made myself sick with worry over the whole situation between the two of us – especially the pain and fear of losing his presence in my life. I begged God, all day, for help. To be selfless – to give, even in this void of having nothing to give, and to in my power make the night the most encouraging and loving for him, and also for others who would hear my talk. I was terrified – of losing him, but also of giving a talk in front of 40 or so people. For a naturally shy person like myself, the latter alone is no small feat.
I decided to speak about “Healing our image of God”, prepared most of it that morning, and stopped at a friends request to pick up some snacks for the farewell. I pushed myself, to the deepest part of my core – to give, to remind myself that its times like this where giving really counts. I grabbed snacks I knew the priest in particular liked, and didn’t tell anyone about all the extra time and thought I was putting into making that night as best as I could for everyone. I’d heard that the priest had wanted a group photo with the group a couple days before (even though they’d previously taken one), and decided immediately that I shouldn’t be in it. I don’t mean that in some kind of dramatized way – but that it left me unsettled – it felt off – like it was some kind of “trophy” to him, and I wanted no part of it. I assumed I’d be able to slip out after the night was done before they’d take the photo, and it would be no big deal.
The night began late – due to the farewell for the priest, and so my friend who was speaking before me started his talk late. As he began speaking, I realized how full the room was – there was at least 50 people. When it came time for me to speak, my friend introduced me with, “and Rose will be speaking on women’s spirituality..” I told him thank you, and then to the group that I would actually be speaking about a necessary base for both men’s and women’s spirituality, just from a woman’s perspective. I could hear the priest stifle a sarcastic laugh in the back of the room to someone, and they chuckled along. He’d kept a wide birth all evening, keeping far from me, and sitting himself as far back from me as he could. The laugh stung – “why would he act that way?” I thought. Was it “from the woman’s perspective?” that annoyed him? Was it issues with women? I was already so nervous speaking in front of the group, that I pushed it down in my mind and began the talk. To give a super short summary – I focused on how men and women must first and foremost have a healthy image of God before everything else, and it was deep. Emotionally, spiritually, it went straight to the core, and I could see the reactions in the group. In the back, the priest looked down most of the time – uncomfortably so. Especially when I said, “Until we make that 18 inch journey from our heads to our hearts, we’ll never be able to evangelize”. Towards the end of the talk, we were already running late, and I resolved to finish up as quickly as possible, so I could leave, and the others could all leave for the picture. Either way, previous talks have gone over by half an hour or more, so I didn’t think there to be a serious rush. I saw the priest sneak up the side of the room, and whisper to a group leader in the front of the room, and go back to his seat in the back. The leader soon afterwards said, “we’re going to have to leave soon, some people have to go and want to be in the picture.” I looked back and saw a couple people who had come together, looking ants. The priest said, “They have to leave soon but they want to be in the picture.” I responded to the group, “Oh, OK, 60 seconds, I’ll wrap up with the conclusion quickly…” thinking it would be easiest for everyone, as no one would have to come back down to finish the talk up. Another woman in the front, speaking harshly suddenly said, “Rose we need to go now.” I was surprised at her tone, she’d never spoken to me in that way before. It was actually mean – as another friend observing later told me. I tried to keep light, and responded with, “OK OK, wrapping up, seriously it will be super quick….” Before I could get another word in, the priest, without getting up, sat forward harshly in his chair, threw his arm forward towards the door and demanded, ordered, ” No, we’re going NOW.” I was shocked. It was really really rude.
The whole room was in a stunned kind of silence, and then everyone started getting out of their seats, zombie-like almost, and started walking out the door to the chapel. The same woman ordered me in that same tone, “Rose, come take the picture..” as she walked by and out the door. A good friend of mine, another woman who had been sitting in the front and who I’d confided in about my feelings for the priest, took my hand in hers and we walked out with the group. I almost went with the flow, numbed with pain, I was walking the same direction as everyone else, but split off into the women’s bathroom as we passed it by. I stood in there, and I prayed. I thought about just going up, thinking they’d think I was being difficult over the talk by not being in the photo or something, but I resolved not to, because it would have been from a place of fear. I had peace standing in there praying, so I stayed.
When people came back down, many wanted to hear the end of the talk. The priest hadn’t returned. Before I could get a word in, my other friend, the friend who had given the talk before me, cut across me, and said, “now we’ll have a question and answer session”. As people asked me questions, and I responded, I could see this same friend looking at me in my peripheral vision, and he was fuming. Towards me. These “friends” all of sudden had this intense anger towards me since I’d begun the talk. Afterwards, I spoke with others, who informed me that the priest would be celebrating a night mass before leaving in the morning. I decided to go – to not be afraid, even though I was racked with pain. At mass, he was mad. As he had been at the mass before, but now even more so. As he read the gospel, he accusingly spat out, “beware of false prophets, they come to you in sheep’s clothing, but really they are ravenous wolves..” – “my talk?”, I wondered. I almost cringed at his words, he sounded so angry. Then during the homily, he mentioned me by name, “…as Rose said in her talk…” – the whole thing, was just – a mess. “Why are you drawing more attention to me?” I wondered
The next day I spoke with my friend who I’d confided my feelings for the priest in, and she told me when everyone went up for the picture, the priest made an unnecessary point to “apologize for my absence” and hoped I hadn’t been offended by him cutting off the talk. He then proceeded to run out after the picture and write a long post to the group page on Facebook, making a particular note to “thank everyone who gave talks (including Rose tonight….) She told me, “Rose, last night should have told you everything you need to know about him, even if there are feelings there. You don’t need someone like that.” I could see at that point, how selfish he’d been that night, and then he tried to cover it all up, by dragging my name through the mud, publicly, three times.
I apologize….this is already so long, I’ll try to wrap it up here. But you know Rev, what was the worst thing? After the priest had done everything he’d done, others were accusing me of “not keeping time well”, and were angry towards me. My friend I’d confided in told me, “Rose, when you were speaking, it was like you were a pillar of peace, and around you, all these people erupted into a storm. The whole thing was surreal.” And when everything was all said and done, no one did anything to defend me, and many of the people who I’d been friends with before the talk, spoke to me differently afterwards. Cautiously, at a distance almost. My friend is right – it is surreal.
These are my conclusions, when all is said and done, and I wanted to run both them, and this story I’ve just recounted by you, because I don’t want to live in my head or in a fantasy, and waste any of this precious life that God has given me. I would love to hear any wisdom or insight you may have, if you think it sounds like I am in any way out of bounds or imagining things. Here goes:
I was drawn to the goodness in this priest, and especially his deep feelings for me. As time went on, and they grew, on his and then on my part, it was something I’d never imagined possible – euphoric, wonderful, and full of joy. Then, he felt himself “falling too far”, and has been stuffing the feelings down. Denying them. But it came to the point that my mere presence disturbed him, and like that last night after the picture, he literally had to run out. My talk disturbed him, and others, because so many need healing in the area of their images of God, and they reacted in some ways almost violently – if only in words.
This whole thing remains a mess, as I’ve said before, in my mind and heart. You’ve said it before, and the priests actions proved it – that he is immature – and indeed still far from real love. His good name and popularity that night was more important than me. Rev, I’ve been trying so so hard to end the feelings for him. But they persist. I’m not even at the point of hating having feelings for him still, after all he’s done and said. I feel like I should, but I don’t. And I still am reminded of him often in the day, and I hope he’s not unhappy. That he won’t be trapped in this forever. And yes, that small, stubborn part of me still wonders if he’ll wake up one day with new eyes to truly see, and that the strong intuition I had when I first met him will prove its meaning as something meant to happen between us.
Ah, I don’t want to waste time! Please, I don’t know how to navigate this whole thing, and how to let go, as I should. My friend told me, “Rose, he doesn’t deserve to know you loved him!” I read so many stories of train wrecks between women and priests, and how women hold on, despite all logic’s warning. This priest too, is caught up in that world – in this spiritual ego rat race, while “constantly dodging the fear of hell”. As you’ve said about other priests – still far from real love.
What happened to Catholics, Christians for that matter who actually know Jesus? Where is that loving community? Don’t get me wrong, I know I sound a little gloomy at the moment, but I’m constantly searching for that church of the first Christians who were so on fire with Christ’s love. So many people are. If anyone searching saw how “Catholics” had treated me that night, and they were searching in earnest, they wouldn’t want anything to do with Jesus or His Church.
I have hope….It just hurts, so much. Everything. And I know my share, is only a tiny fraction of the pain of this giant tumour in the Church.
Thank you, once again, for listening patiently, and for supporting those of us learning to love in some of the most difficult trials.