In The Footsteps of John Mark

Barnabas wished to take John (named Mark) with them also; but Paul held that they should not take with them the one who had left them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the ministry. Acts 15:37,38

I�m only obscure to you. I have spoken in front of crowds of thousands, have had my words punctuated with applause, not directed to me of course but to God. I have traveled the back roads of Bosnia, and for awhile it seemed there was nowhere I could go, and not be recognized by someone who knew me or knew of me.

But now some five years after leaving that behind I realize that I am obscure, even to those who once sought me out, who felt a few words from me could lift them out of a present trouble or point them in the right direction. I realize, in a way that only someone who has experienced what I have can, that it wasn�t me that they sought but something that I symbolized.

Now in a self-imposed exile I travel a few feet from the churches that I once served in, no one knows who I am. Like the resurrected Christ, I am no longer recognized, so my friend I am wrong to say that I am obscure only to you, but I am also obscure to them and perhaps worst of all to me.

They thought they knew me. They trusted in the words that I spoke with great force and even more considerable certitude, and I spoke with a great sense of having figured it all out. There were grays in life, but I thought I had put on special glasses that allowed me to pinpoint the black and white even in the gray areas of life.

I thought I knew myself. I thought that after spending nearly ten years of intensive introspection I had figured out who I was. I realize of course that I had, but I wore blinders that kept me from acting on that knowledge and plunged headlong down a road that I knew was not totally mine.

Recently while sitting in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City I reflected on that, the nudity of the church. I remember the beauty that captivated me as a child as I sat in the church of my youth. The smell of candle wax, the faint smell of incense, the flowers, the bright colors of the stained glass windows, the statues and the strange words that the priest spoke with great authority.

In my youth all of this affected me greatly. It was another world that existed alongside this world and indeed a choice lay before me, which would I choose?

I was torn between both, but like the curtain of the sanctuary that was torn in two at the death of Christ it seemed that Vatican II also removed that distinction. God was now accessible, no longer removed and residing at a distance. God had become one of us.

There was only one world, the one that we all live in. The distinction between the holy and the secular was a facade. All of creation was holy and the handiwork of God.

The seminary that I taught in for two years in many ways was symbolic of that, the doors of the seminary residences all opened outward. There were no walls surrounding the seminary property. The whole place spoke of openness to creation and the world at large.

I returned there a few years ago to find walls now surrounding the campus. The openness was gone.

I have seen the church nude; I have changed the candles, put incense on the hot charcoal, changed the flowers and repaired the broken glass. I have sat in a meeting where an Archbishop told the members of a seminary faculty that they were forbidden to discuss among themselves the case of a priest who had been accused of seducing a seminary student, finishing his remarks with, "now I think I'll have a drink."

I have sat in meetings where all the dirt of priests was discussed and people threw their hands up unsure of what to do? Priests who were alcoholics and had repeated failed whatever treatment programs they were placed in, priests who openly lived with their male lovers, priests who had female secretaries or business managers who were inseparable and of priests who seemed to enjoy the company of young people too much.

I have also worked intimately in the formation of priests. I am very aware of who is attracted to the priesthood and all of the motivations that move someone to enter a seminary. I have encountered men who had absolutely no faith in God who have been ordained, and have know men of great faith fail in the enterprise.

Sitting in the pew at St. Patrick's Cathedral I thought of all of this, but I also thought of the faith that I have experienced from countless people that I have had the pleasure to have met. People who strive with all of their might to live out the gospel. I have known people who make great sacrifices so that the gospel might shine forth in their lives.

The priest from another country was preaching a barely intelligible homily now. He has made his sacrifices, I thought, but so have we.

Then Paul and his companions set sail from Pathos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however left them and returned to Jerusalem. Acts 13:13

Sitting in the military barracks of TUSLOG Detachment 74, there was little to do. I had ended up here, because the enlisted man at the replacement station in Frankfurt, Germany had suggested that since I was coming from Florida and it was 25 degrees at the time in Frankfurt that I might enjoy being stationed in Turkey instead.

Whats it like? I asked.

Just like Florida, and besides its a hardship tour, so you will only have to stay there for a year. Then you can go back to the States.

Why is it a hardship tour?

Because guys cant bring any dependents, but you dont have any, he said looking down at my paperwork that he had in front of him.

Thinking it sounded like a good deal and a nice twentieth birthday present, I told him I would go. Now looking out of the barracks window at the snow falling steadily, I realized that he had been less than forthright. The snow made the gray drab walls of the room I was in seem even darker and the illumination of the single bulb dangling from the middle of the ceiling did little to lighten up the room. The only gleam came from a series of nude centerfolds that my roommate had plastered to his side of the rooms wall. The naked women were our constant companions in this base, which lie deep in the Turkish countryside, far from everywhere.

It was here that I came fresh from a conversion experience that had taken place just before leaving the United States, it was here that I came unsure of what I would do with my life. It was here that death would confront me for the first time as a possibility and that I would learn to pray with the desperation of someone condemned to die.

My existence on the base was of two sorts. My friends and I drank a lot, sang and partied late into the evening, but while they slept off the hangovers that we shared, I arose early to trek with several others to travel into Istanbul to the Italian consulate and attend Mass there. I confessed rather freely on a hard wooden kneeler to the kind Italian priest who understood nothing of what I said, but always graciously gave me absolution. I received communion and received a peace and since of belonging not unlike what I had experienced the night before, in the bar.

The night experience was all about returning home to a normal life to what all of us perceived as a heaven on earth. Here at mass I knew that I was also celebrating something that pointed beyond my present situation and God forbid if I never returned back home, at least I would be assured of going where all of the rest of my family and friends would eventually end up. They both had their respective comforts to offer, but I never suffered a hangover from attending mass at the consulate.

My life in Turkey was like walking a tightrope, I suspect in retrospect, walking a thin line between youth and adulthood and trying to balance the world on my thin shoulders. The big questions of life seemed to be written in the sky overhead questioning me with every step that I took as I walked from the compound containing our barracks to the hill where the bunkers containing nuclear warheads lie a mile up the road. The slowness of the day seemed replete with moments to meditate.

A friend would arrive at the supply warehouse that I usually manned alone, hand shaking with a letter from home. Shes cheating on me, he said fighting back both anger and tears of defeat. She was the woman he had married two weeks before the military had sent him here, the letter he held was from another friend of his, the wife of the man his wife was cheating with.

I felt sorry for him. I thought of the last woman that I had loved. We never agreed on anything so we slowly drifted apart, but there were times of desperation where we could have easily had been married with little reflection. I could only shake my head in disbelief and offer; maybe the woman is mistaken.

There were no women on this base, except for the naked photographs that wall papered almost every room. The military at the time considered the environment to harsh for females. It made for much loneliness and a lot of talk of what it would be like to be out of the place.

I had been there four months when on one very cold night sitting in a room where we received secret messages from Italy (in many ways our only contact with the outside world), late into the night I sat a desk illuminated by lights from a console, to the right the ever present stack of magazines of naked women, in my hand a small olive drab green Gideon Bible, that had been given to me two years before when I boarded a train to Ft. Dix, NJ from the Jacksonville, FL train station.

Somewhere in the midst of that night, between half asleep and a dream. I opened the pages of the scripture and came upon the red lettered words of Jesus, Where your heart is, there will be your treasure be. The only problem is that I misread the text, it actually took another ten years before someone pointed that out to me. The text actually says, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also, and the funny thing was that I realized what I treasured was life, something that had always kept me from seriously considering the priesthood, because it seemed very dead to me.

From that moment I began focusing on the possibility of being a priest. I wrote letters to all the priests I knew and asked for advice. I started a lengthy correspondence with a Franciscan who I had come in contact with after filling out a tear off card that the Protestant Chaplain had given me, and I started listening over and over to a series of tapes that the Chaplains assistant found left from a previous Chaplain (a Catholic priest), had left behind. They were tapes of talks given by Archbishop Fulton Sheen to priests.

Over the next months I listened to those tapes over and over. They inspired me, and they filled me with fear. For they set out a path from which there was no turning back. If I set out on this journey and became a priest, I would be one forever. For Sheen on one of the tapes in the series entitled Judas about ex-priests seemed to indicate that sorry lot was all headed straight to hell. Nedstat Counter