Saturday, June 26, 2010


I am certain that in a lifetime of being Catholic, many people have had one or more rather odd or disconcerting confessions. So, I suppose what happened to me with a priest I shall call Fr. Dan might be typical enough, but for me it has been a unique experience. I have been fortunate in having mostly really good confessors, even those whom I have not known and those who have laughed at me. (I suppose I would laugh at me in the same cases, as well.) This particular confession took place at a retreat I attended that was conducted by Fr. Dan, so, except for our interactions at the retreat, he was unknown to me and I to him. And confession with him took the oddest of turns.

The topic of the retreat was Franciscan spirituality, a popular topic in my part of the world, where the missions here were established by the Franciscans. Our local retreat center is run by the Franciscans, and the convents here are generally Franciscan. So, here I was, an SFO (third order Franciscan) candidate, at a Franciscan retreat center, spending a weekend immersed in learning more about Franciscan spirituality with a Franciscan priest. What could be better? Well, actually, a lot.

At the very first session, Fr. Dan presented a part of St. Francis's bio. In doing so, he interpreted it somewhat differently from what I was used to and made a pronouncement that floored me, kept me puzzled all weekend, and caused me to talk to him separately.

"St. Francis," he said, "never really heard a voice telling him to rebuild God's church. He just thought he did. Obviously, it was something he was thinking about, something that he thought should be done, and so he 'heard' in his mind the words that led to his rebuilding not only San Damiano but the more abstract 'church'."

Say what? St. Francis was confused about what he heard? Convinced that if St. Francis said he heard a voice he really did hear a voice, not a little bolstered by my own experiences and readings of the experiences of St. Theresa of Avila, I approached Fr. Dan during the break and asked him whether he thought that God ever speaks to people in a voice.

"No," he responded. "That's not the way God works."

But what about all those times in the Bible when someone heard the voice of God? Was it only in their minds, too?

"Yes," he said.

"Don't you think that God can choose to speak in a way that people hear?" I asked.

"No," he said curtly. "God is not capable of that."

I do not remember much of the rest of the retreat. In fact, I missed a portion of it because a friend who speaks only Russian had a stroke and I am the only local "family" that she has so I spent some time with her doctors and hospital staff, translating for her. Fr. Dan seemed to understand the urgency of that and forgave my absence for a few hours. While I had difficulty understanding his position on whether or not God speaks to people (ever), I found Fr. Dan to live up to his reputation as charming. Though there was not much of substance in his presentations, there was an obvious attraction between him and the participants. I felt the attraction, too, except for the nagging concern over his comment on the weakness of God and the mistakenness of St. Francis.

The retreat ended with confession and Mass. Mass was fine; Fr. Dan celebrated a lovely Mass. Confession, though, as I noted at the beginning of this post, took the oddest of turns in a way that I could not fathom and still cannot. I related a Jonah-type experience (I do encounter these unwished taskings from time to time that I sometimes try to sidestep initially), in which I had just given in (I always do; when God wants something, God gets it -- at least from me) but was still working on those sticky details, the ones that are along the lines of "Oh, God, do You really want me to do that? Please, not that!" I did not get far, however, when my tongue stopped working. Literally. I could not say another word. I just looked at Fr. Dan silently. Now, typically, one would expect the priest to take over, ask some questions, pull the details out of me, or at least say something. Fr. Dan, however, seemed to have also been struck dumb. He just looked at me. We looked, and we looked. Silently. Maybe for as much as a couple of minutes. (Time passes slowly when you are just looking and not talking, yet wanting to talk.) It was all very strange. Finally, he silently made the sign of the cross over me, and I walked away.

That was over a year ago, and the matter still puzzles me. Were we really struck dumb in some modern version of the meaning of that expression, or had I done or said something wrong? Was there something I should have done that my inexperience precluded me from doing? Why could I not talk? Fr. Dan was a charming priest in general. Disagreement on one small matter (well, maybe not that small a matter, considering that I do hear, aloud, something that seems to be a voice that gives me tasks me that I could never dream up or even want to carry out) should not have created such a barrier. Moreover, why did he not speak? I am inexperienced, but he has been a priest for many years. Certainly, he has heard more complicated things than I was relating.

I have no explanation for what happened. I do not pretend to understand it. I do, however, remain troubled about it. I suppose, though, that if God wants me to understand it, He will send along an explanation at some point in some form. Until then, I simply furrow my brow and continue down that path, you know, the one along which God pushed Jonah.


  1. Elizabeth, your story is quite interesting.

    I believe God indeed speaks through people in what the Catholic Church would explain as an interior locution. I prefer to label them as spiritual locutions. It's like a telephone connection between heaven and earth.

    I would describe it as a union between God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit which join together as the Trinity and then embrace the heart and soul of an individual with divine love through prayerful communication.

    In my circumstances, God has gone a step further and connected my locutions with signs and wonders.

    An interesting case in point is my miraculous photograph of a statue of Archangel Michael. A rainbow appeared indoors around the statue at the Church of St. Michael in Netcong, NJ.

    The spiritual locution and photograph is a result of my divine encounter with the Lord.

    For additional information and photographs regarding my testimony, please visit the following links:

    As far as confession is concerned, it's not easy to find a priest who is gifted with the ability to discern your particular situation and then supply the appropriate response or guidance on the matter.

    It took me quite some time before I finally found a priest that could provide guidance and supply support related to spiritual matters of importance.

    As a result of daily prayer, God directed me to Father Richard Tartaglia of St. Mary's Church, Denville, NJ. Father Rich is now my spiritual advisor for over 15 years.

    For additional information on Father Rich, please visit the following link:

    I hope that readers of your blog would find my testimony helpful.

    God bless,


  2. Thank you, Loci, for those links. I have been following your blog, "Angels, Wonders, and Miracles of Faith." Yes, it is indeed difficult to find a spiritual advisor in such cases. I had a wonderful elderly priest who helped me, but his order (Franciscan) thinks he should slow. (He is in his mid-80s.) He is not quite ready to do that, but they are forcing the issue. They reassigned him from being a very effective retreat center director to a position as chaplain at a retirement community. As a result, he has moved, and I have lost the person to whom I could turn for discussion spiritual phenomena of the like you describe. Now I am searching. I have a lead on a priest in a nearby town (about 30 minutes away). I don't know if he will take someone outside his parish, but I have lost nothing by asking. Thanks for your comments. I hope others will find their way to your sites.

  3. Elizabeth,

    Thanks for sharing your experience, I enjoyed reading about it. Part of the enjoyment comes from the ability to relate I think.

    I once encountered a Franciscan retreat where Buddhist thought/idealism was the main topic of presentation. (Learning about Buddhism isn't necessarily a bad thing, as I have a particular interest in Asian culture. However, wasn't sure it should be the main theme at a retreat?) Also, a priest once told me he didn't believe in Hell, and that Hell was the misery we created for ourselves during our lives. This was said to me after I attempted to share my story with him, and there was a moment of stunned silence. :-)

    It's very comforting to receive some sort of affirmation from others regarding our spiritual experiences, and knowing that we are not alone. Perhaps you fell into silence with the priest, as you were not supposed to say anything to this particular man. Perhaps a moment of "not casting your pearls" was being impressed on your heart, and into the situation. I do feel that it has been shown to me a few times to be careful who I share certain things with. However, at times we so desire to share with those who we think should understand?

    My prayer for you is that you will find a spiritual advisor where a mutual, fruitful relationship would be shared. May God richly bless you in this area.

  4. Thank YOU for sharing, Cheri -- and for your prayer. That would, indeed, be wonderful!