As the days wore on, I noticed two things. First, I wasn’t getting my energy back. Second, I was surprisingly peaceful. I have had times of very profound peace during my life. But none were quite like this. Even during the times of greatest silence, I knew intellectually that I needed to return to active life and that for me active life was not silent. Now, as the days passed, I felt less the need to do something and more the peace that comes from knowing “goal accomplished.”
But what goal?
I had lots of visitors during couple of days following the stroke. Most of my lieutenants running various parts of my organization showed up. Some showed genuine concern over my heath and prospects. Others – the stronger and better ones – came to assess the likelihood of my recovery so that they could make their moves to takeover of parts of my organization from my weaker lieutenants. As long as they don’t put a pillow over my face, I’m happy with their love of power. Makes a stronger organization in the end.
Then came the purely spiritual ones. Those who heard God’s call, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. They wept. I told them to stop but that made it worse. So I just looked cheery and said, “God is all knowing and we must accept his will.” That is always a very safe position. It’s not very deep but it is always true. Anyway, it worked, just like it always did.
About two days after my stroke, James showed up. He was, arguably, my heir-apparent. In most ways James was the logical choice to succeed me, though perhaps not my first choice. James was tall man of 65 and remarkably strong. I have no idea what gave him his physical strength, since I have never seen him engage in any kind of exercise or sports. His hair was starting to silver, but plentiful. He was a truly striking figure and spoke with a clear and resonant voice. And when he spoke, he commanded respect. When he laughed, he engendered affection. When he bellowed, the leaders of nations, the captains of industry, the stars of the stage and screen jumped to his will. Absolutely everything about him said leader.
But I often wondered if his connection with the divine was as solid as the rest of his being. When he delivered a talk, the crowds swooned. Men and women alike teared up when he spoke of the God’s light. Yet, I often wondered if his rhetoric was felt or invented, heartfelt or contrived. But who, after all, am I to talk. Perhaps I was simply projecting, my own doubts, my own confusion, my own guilt.
I met James in his mid twenties. He was an ardent follower of a great spiritual figure in the Catholic Church, Father Timothy, a Trappist monk living in a monastery on an isolated plateau high in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. I loved Father Timothy. He was both a great theologian and a vastly practical teacher of genuine spirituality. His technique, which he called Essential Prayer, is just what Catholicism needs to bring about a great resurgence. He took a dry and arcane liturgy and imbued it with practical ways to contact the divine. His followers had legitimate experiences of God in a perfectly Catholic context. Alas, during his lifetime, his teachings never gained prominence. He had an ineffective organization to carry his teaching forward. His organization had all the earmarks of a typical volunteer organization – plenty of back biting and very little competence. As a result, the true beauty of his insights never reached the mainstream of Catholicism. I revere Father Timothy and I trust that history will revere him as well.
I was visiting Father Timothy, as I did many of the spiritual leaders of the day. One evening I was dining with the Father when an exceptionally good looking novice joined us at our table, a figure of earnest spirituality in white robes. He was delicate and powerful, subtitle yet forceful. And, amazingly, he avoided splashing the very runny spaghetti sauce we were served on his pristine vestments. I was not so accomplished and wore tomato stigmata in more than one spot.
Father Timothy said, “I would like you to meet James. He is becoming a monk and I am please to say that he deeply understands and beautifully teaches my Essential Prayer. James closed his eyes tightly, and a delightful crinkle spread around his face as if to say, “Father Timothy, you are much too generous.”
I loved James immediately.
At dinner, I told the Father the story of my organization and of our spiritual goals. He listened with the delight of a man meeting a kindred spirit. I felt exactly the same. We were brothers.
My accommodations at the monastery were wonderful – a small, round cabin laid out for up to four occupants with a modest private kitchen and a commodious – if cramped – bath. It was the quintessential monastic cell with an unassuming modernity. I had the room to myself and was entering deep meditation when I heard a gentile knock on the door. I slowly opened my eyes and opened the door to James.
“Mathew,” he said. “I have come to pledge myself to your cause.”
“Nonsense” I said. “The course and way of Essential Prayer is the answer for all your fellow Catholics. You must stay with Father Timothy and help make his message a success.”
“Yes,” he said. “Father Timothy’s message is the way. But the way to Essential Prayer is not through the Father’s organization. It is through you.”
James has been with me since.
Sitting there, blanket over my legs, forty years later I loved James just as I had the day I met him. Really nothing was different. He stood tall, powerful, charming and true. He was pretty clearly the continuation of my work. He loved me, but with the love that is granted provisionally, to that which is useful, that which advances us, that which moves our addenda forward. I loved him absolutely. Without reservation. I even loved the provisional nature of his love and everything else about him. He was my disciple. He was exactly like me.