Good Friday 2008, I’m three thousand miles from home, I still don’t really speak Spanish, and — surprise — I’ve taken my propensity for emotional entanglement right with me to Peru.

This time it’s one of the brothers who belongs to the order I’m staying with. Brother P. and I are drawn to each other like old friends, or ancient enemies: whenever we spend time together we wound each other, but we can’t keep away.

People talk about “living in the past” as if it were a figure of speech; but the past, if it’s potent enough, rises up to obscure everything in front of us, so that we’re not talking to the people around us at all, but to our abusive fathers, our bullying schoolmates, our lost loves. We remake our neighbors into the images of those who have hurt us. We are ghosts, haunting the scenes of our hurt.

What face am I superimposing on Brother P., and what face is he superimposing on me? Am I his controlling mother or his cruel childhood friend? Is he my father? Or just my worst self?

I’m not often in sync with the liturgy — I’m chipper during Lent, gloomy on Christmas — but Holy Week seems to be the exception. In the days leading up to Good Friday, all the distemper in me rises to the surface, and every enemy I thought I’d conquered murmurs, I am still here. It could be spiritual attack. It could be some mystery of participation in the Passion, my spirit drawn to play a part it doesn’t understand: This is your hour, whispers my soul to its tormentors, when darkness reigns.

Or it could be coincidence and good old-fashioned mental illness. I’ve got no way of knowing, and it doesn’t help to guess.

Brother P. finds me wandering the grounds, disconsolate. He wants to know what’s wrong, and I tell him I don’t know, but that I feel just awful, and burst into tears. It’s an even bet whether he’ll roll his eyes in disgust or decide that my pain is worth reckoning with.

He chooses the latter way. We walk to the chapel, where he takes me inside. “Tell him about it,” he says to me. Him is Jesus, and I look up to the fresco behind the altar — a larger-than-life scene bathed in blue and white light, the risen Son ascending victorious to the Father through a world of soft cloud.

“Not like that,” says Brother P. He turns, redirecting me towards the large crucifix on the wall. This Jesus is as big as I am, and he hangs low on the wall, uncomfortably close to me. He drips blood, his skin welted and torn. His eyes stare in agony or disbelief, his hands are claws. It is a different Jesus.

“Like that,” says Brother P., very softly. “Tell him like that.”

He leaves me there, and I begin to tell Jesus about it. He knows it all already — for he himself knew what was in man — but I tell him anyway, this Jesus who not only knows it but feels it as well. I can see in his eyes that he does.

Dear Jesus, this is the enemy’s hour, when darkness reigns. We who suffer, and our suffering seems to us meaningless, and vain, and poorly done; we who struggle, pinned and wriggling, under our crosses; we who fight daily battles whose import we cannot understand; be with us, help us to be with you. You whose spirit intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings, hear the words we do not know how to form. Speak them for us from the cross, to the Father that you, like us, can no longer see or feel.

Lead us to the unimaginable resurrection.

13 Comments on “Ghosts”

  1. Maggie L says:

    My Holy Weeks seem to be weeks of spiritual attack as well. Thank you for this prayer as I fight the darkness today

  2. Christine says:

    This is the first post of yours that’s moved me to tears. Thank you for this.

  3. Rose says:

    Thank you so much, Steve.

  4. Gavin says:

    Kinda agree with you about Holy Week. Usually the din peaks about Wednesday (Spy Wednesday) and then gradually subsides. This year it’s been your basic brain fog and accumulated feelings of abandonment and minor but vexing frustrations. One example: my computer sound card broke down again this week for the second time in recent months. Also, reduced availability of friends is in the forecast to some degree (but my mind magnifies it greatly).

  5. Anne says:

    Thank you. I’m so relieved that i’m not the only one who struggles with darkness in Holy Week. Of course, Good Friday isn’t a day for joy and happiness, but I’m not sure I can face the Vigil tonight. Might just go quietly to early Mass on Sunday. Maybe it’s just all too emotional, but what kind of a Catholic am I, if Easter is too much for me?

    Delighted to have found your blog – love the way you write.

  6. amy says:

    This is beautiful.

  7. Jess@Cathofeminism says:

    Very well said. Peace be with you.

  8. California Jack says:

    Thank you for this.

  9. Rocky says:

    Powerful, Steve. I see so much in it. I really do catch myself projecting onto others what doesn’t belong necessarily to them, but I do nothing about it. I weep for the relationships never developed because of it.

  10. David says:

    So true. Don’t be ruled by the past! The past can eat you up. Without God, face it: your future will inexorably shrink before you, and you will end up as nothing, in a sad little box, with nothing but your dead past, gnawing at you forever. But now we have a future – God loves us! Don’t be afraid of the truth. God can heal us and set us free from our paranoia and hatred and lies. There’s nothing magical about it. You have to sincerely, determinedly, sometimes courageously, choose to pursue truth and goodness. Do, and the Lord will reveal himself to you. Don’t, and watch your future disappear. God bless you now and forever, Steve

  11. Aaron says:

    I used to go to the big crucifix in a church near my home and talk to the crucified Jesus. I would scream at Him at times to vent my anger and cry at times because of sorrow and anger. I have not gone there in a long time to speak alone with Him. It might be time again.

  12. Cletus says:

    Hi Steve. I haven’t been reading you for a while and today I needed to hear your perspectives so I’ve been catching up. This post brought tears to my eyes because it was what I needed to hear today. I woke up feeling down and like my problems were too heavy to carry today. Your words of handing it over and the description of the cross you were looking at provided me the shot in the arm I needed today.

    I continue to pray for you and I’m grateful I can come here and get the boost I need. Thank you.

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