This is the final installment of a 4-part analysis of the book In Sinu Jesu: When Heart Speaks to Heart—The Journal of a Priest at Prayer. The book is credited to an anonymous Benedictine monk but is publicly known to be by Father Mark Daniel Kirby OSB, founder of Silverstream Priory in the Diocese of Meath, Ireland, as was shown in previous installments. Click here for Part 1, here for Part 2, and here for Part 3.
Priesthood as a Means of Closing the Father Wound
To be chosen, set apart, and given secrets—how attractive this prospect must sound to seminarians and priests reading In Sinu Jesu, and especially to those with father wounds or feelings of inferiority. It is especially they whom the book seeks to reach, as we shall now see.
From the start of In Sinu Jesu, Father Mark Daniel Kirby is candid about his personal need for inner healing. He prefaces the book’s first message by noting that when, in 1987, he first received a divine call to imitate the beloved disciple St. John at the foot of the Cross, that need prevented him from fulfilling God’s desire for him: “There were too many obstacles in me, too many infected wounds, still waiting for the healing that had to come through the hands of Mary and by the precious Blood of Jesus” (p. 1).
Kirby’s reference to the Catholic spirituality of wounds is of special interest to me because it intersects with my own area of expertise. My 2012 book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints explored the spirituality of wounds from the perspective of saints who suffered abuse. I went on to examine that same spirituality on an academic level in my dissertation on Magisterial teaching on redemptive suffering; it was for this analysis, undertaken under the direction of Dr. Matthew Levering, that I was awarded a canonical doctorate in sacred theology (University of St. Mary of the Lake, 2016).
Based on my doctoral research, I can therefore say that the spirituality of wounds that the author of In Sinu Jesu places in the mouth of Jesus Christ is categorically different from that which is typically found in Catholic spirituality. From St. John of the Cross to Pius XII, and from St. Teresa of Avila to Henri Nouwen, Catholic authors have historically approached the topic of woundedness from the perspective of the priesthood of the baptized. On this understanding, Jesus permitted himself to undergo the wounds of suffering unto death so that, rising, he could heal us all from the wound of sin.
What differentiates In Sinu Jesu’s spirituality of wounds is that it approaches woundedness from the perspective of the ordained priesthood. Specifically—and quite disturbingly, given the abuse crisis within the Church—the author presents, through the mouth of Jesus, a spirituality that portrays the priesthood as a means of gaining providential closure from father wounds and other effects of past trauma.
Kirby’s “Jesus” says, “I desire to fill My Church with spiritual fathers by healing a great number of wounded sons among My priests. I desire the reconciliation of sons with their fathers, and of fathers with their sons. Through this reconciliation the wounds inflicted on the souls of My priests will be healed, freeing them to enter fully into My love for the Father, into My obedience to the Father, into My glorification of the Father” (p. 173).
It is Kirby’s own experience of such “reconciliation” that provides the model for such healing. When he asks “Jesus” why he went through so many “false starts” prior to discovering his true vocation, he hears in response, “These were all an attempt to escape from the pain and inner confusion that had been inflicted upon you as a child. I allowed all of these things to befall you; I allowed you to make mistakes and to knock at the wrong doors because, by this, I was preparing you to accept My plan for you. I humbled you so as to make of you an instrument for My use” (p. 242).
At one point, “Jesus” informs Kirby that many priests are actually unable to practice “spiritual paternity” properly because they bear father wounds of an ancestral nature.
So many of My priests are retarded in the exercise of their spiritual paternity because they are wounded in their identity as sons. I am about to heal many of My beloved priests who bear, deep within their souls, the wounds of a sonship that did not unfold as I would have wanted it to unfold because of the sins of fathers, and this over many generations. [p. 173]
This claim—that the “sins of fathers” dating back “many generations” could impede a priest’s ministry—requires a level of theological nuance that is absent in Kirby’s text.
Could the message simply refer to the practical effects of ancestors’ sins as they have their collective impact upon the upbringing of children? For example, children who grow up in a family where there is drug or alcohol abuse will feel the effects of such an environment and are more vulnerable to developing such unhealthy habits. Likewise, parents who suffered unresolved trauma may, in their parenting, pass on the effects of such trauma to their children. If that is what the message means, then it is perfectly orthodox to say that Jesus did not positively will such trauma and that he wishes to heal those who suffer from it.
However, the message’s reference to generational sin dovetails with a relatively recent (late-20th-century) movement in which Protestants—and, later, Catholics—began to speak of “healing the family tree.” This movement propounds what prominent exorcist Father Rogelio Alcántara, in a speech to the 2018 International Association of Exorcists Congress in Rome, accurately describes as “a ‘novel doctrine,’ an invention, that represents a grave danger for those who want to accept divine revelation as presented to us by the Catholic Church.”
Alcántara observes, “If by ancestral sin we mean the sin of ancestors that is transferred to the current generation, it does not exist, since the only sin that can be transmitted through generation is original sin.” And he warns, moreover, that “the so-called prayer for healing of the family tree leads people to seek the reasons for their suffering outside themselves. This in turn prevents a true process of psychological help that could heal the individual.”
The spirituality that Alcántara warns against was the basis of a 2011 book by Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee Fr. Yozefu Ssemakula, The Healing of Families, that was denied an imprimatur by the diocese’s then-ordinary, Bishop Gregory Parkes, due to theological errors. It is therefore disturbing to see an un-nuanced statement in In Sinu Jesu that lends itself to this same problematic concept of generational sin.
Returning to the message Kirby relates concerning how priests with father wounds are to be reconciled, “Jesus” says, “Those who will be healed in this way”—that is, healed of the effects of generational sins— “will become fathers of souls. … O My priests, I call you to Myself in the Sacrament of My love. There I will heal you of those childhood wounds that have impaired your response to My Father for too long.” (pp. 173-74).
There is no question that Jesus, really and substantially present in the Eucharist, can heal all wounds, including those dating from childhood. However, the promises that Kirby relates, depicted as coming from the mouth of Jesus, suggest that Silverstream Priory is a privileged place where a priest who has father wounds can be made whole. This suggestion should give the reader pause.
Given that Kirby’s revelations began prior to Silverstream’s founding, the two are inextricably linked. For the monks within the isolated situation of the monastery, separating them will be nearly impossible. Moreover, as was discussed in part three of this article, Kirby, as the founder and superior of the monastery as well as a known mystic, holds a level of authority over Silverstream’s monks that is not only canonical but also psychological and spiritual. It is likely that they will see him as quasi-infallible.
As a survivor of childhood abuse, I am keenly aware of the extent to which people who suffer from such wounds desire to be healed of the painful effects of trauma, and how difficult it is to acquire such healing. I am therefore concerned that such alleged revelations could attract emotionally vulnerable men to Silverstream who might become spiritually harmed by an atmosphere in which they feel enormous pressure to accept allegedly divine claims that appear to run counter to what the Church believes—including the implication that they suffer from the effects of generational sin.
Victim Souls Begging Jesus to Wound Them
A final concern regarding In Sinu Jesu is the mechanism by which Jesus is said to heal spiritually wounded priests. According to the book’s messages, Jesus heals them through inflicting new spiritual wounds upon them—making them victim souls.
“When you come to adore Me,” “Jesus” says, “allow Me to unite you to My victimal priesthood” (p. 75). “I will mark you with My own wounds. My wounds, now glorious, are the authentication of your priesthood. Every priest of Mine is called to bear in his own person the mystical imprint of My wounds, for they are the glory of My eternal priesthood” (p. 76).
Certain aspects of this spirituality are recognizable from Sacred Scripture and tradition. St. Paul cited his own experience as an example of how the Christian should be “crucified with Christ,” dying to self and living for God (see Gal 2:19-20), with words that inspired centuries of commentary from Church Fathers, Doctors of the Church, and other great spiritual writers. In the modern era, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., encapsulates the interpretive tradition in the third chapter of his spiritual classic The Priest in Union with Christ. There he writes that all Christians are called to share in Christ’s victimhood, “but especially the minister of Christ when he says in the name of Christ: ‘This is my body.’”
With that said, it is important to note how the messages that Kirby relates concerning priestly victimhood diverge significantly from the mainstream of Catholic tradition. In Sinu Jesu repeatedly insists that (1) the priest must be not only victimized with Jesus but also victimized by Jesus—actually “wounded” by him—and (2) the priest must actively seek to be victimized in such a manner.
Such assertions sound startling even in comparison with those of the famously antimodernist Garrigou. The Dominican theologian was careful to note that the type of victimhood that the priest should ask of God was not any special sort of wounding but rather an acceptance of the sufferings of everyday life in union with Christ.
“Every priest,” Garrigou writes, “should ask for the grace to be a victim in the way God wants him to be, to suffer patiently whatever God has willed for him from all eternity, so that he takes up his cross each day not simply as a faithful follower of Christ but as a priest standing in the place of Christ himself.”
Garrigou does note the possibility that a priest may be called to become a victim soul—that is, to make a “vow” of victimhood. However, he emphasizes that such a vow is the exception rather than the rule, and he warns against the “danger” of making it without proper discernment.
“This vow,” Garrigou writes, “must never be made except under a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost; otherwise there is the danger of undertaking an extremely painful way of life to which one has no vocation, and so of being unable to bear all the subsequent afflictions. That is the natural result of presumption in making the vow.”
Garrigou’s treatment of priestly victimhood is thus balanced and nuanced in a manner that is dramatically different from that of In Sinu Jesu. The messages of In Sinu Jesu instead treat the priest as a “supplementary humanity” in which Christ lives as a “hostia perpetua”—a perpetual victim (p. 95). Priests are not only to seek wounds but even to beg Jesus to wound them:
In the spiritual battle that is coming, only those wounded by Me will emerge victorious. This is why I call all My priests to seek and to accept the healing wounds of My love. … I would wound each one again and again with My burning love so as to purify the whole priestly order in My beloved Church, and present it to the eyes of the world as a victimal priesthood made holy in the holocaust of divine love. …
Let each one beg Me to wound him, for in wounding My beloved priests, I will heal them, and in healing them, I will sanctify them, and in sanctifying them, I will offer glory to My Father and fill the world with the radiance of My own Face and the love of My own Heart.
One passage epitomizes the theological problems with such language. “Jesus” tells Kirby, “It is in my suffering priests that I live my victimhood and bring many souls to salvation, who, were it not for my Passion continued in my priests, would be lost to my Love for them. I will to save souls through the sufferings of my victim priests” (p. 262).
The teaching of the Church is that Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection are the means of salvation—not Jesus living his victimhood in suffering priests. Christ’s sacrifice is made present in the life of the Church by means of the Eucharistic sacrifice. Although priests, like all the faithful, can unite their sufferings to the sufferings of Christ, this is a participation in Christ’s saving work.
It therefore seems strange for Christ to wish to save souls by living out his victimhood in suffering priests. This suggests that his passion, death, and resurrection were not sufficient to merit salvation. It also suggests that Christ’s suffering in his priests is more efficacious for salvation than the re-presentation of his Paschal Mystery at every Mass.
And again, for me as a theologian and as a member of the faithful who wants Catholic religious orders to avoid enabling the spiritual abuses that have happened under such charismatic, quasi-mystical priest-founders as Marcial Maciel, Thomas and Marie-Dominique Philippe, and Carlos Urrutiguoity, these un-nuanced words credited to Jesus set off alarm bells. If Father Kirby is in the place of Jesus to the monks under his authority, and “Jesus” is telling him to tell priests that they are to beg Jesus to be wounded, what does that mean for the spiritual life of Silverstream Monastery?
I am not implying any sort of nefarious intent on the part of Father Kirby. The history of religious enthusiasm in the Church, as documented in Father Ronald Knox’s Enthusiasm, shows that even leaders with the holiest of intentions may promote practices that are spiritually harmful. My concern is that no monk (or any human being, for that matter) should ever be in a position where he is made to feel that his spiritual growth depends upon his suffering new “wounds.”
Conclusion: In Sinu Jesu in Light of the CDF’s Norms
I would like to conclude by listing three issues I have raised concerning In Sinu Jesu that, in light of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s official norms concerning discernment of presumed private revelations, indicate a need for caution.
First, the CDF norms state that “positive criteria” for the discernment of presumed private revelations include “habitual docility towards Ecclesiastical Authority.” Kirby, however, is on record saying that “the artisans of the reforms of the late 1960s dynamited the Roman Rite.” As was noted, such an attitude directly contradicts the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI in Summorum Pontificum and the letter to bishops that accompanied it.
In the same blog entry, Kirby derided a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis, calling it a “sad affair” and a “painful exercise in reaching people than a stretching heavenward in anticipation of the Kingdom of God.” Such a superior attitude towards the Holy Father’s style of worship may be the norm on traditionalist blogs, but it is far from the reverence that saints and bearers of approved visions show to the holder of St. Peter’s office.
There is therefore reason to question whether Kirby bears “habitual docility” towards ecclesiastical authority.
Second, the CDF states that “negative criteria” for the discernment of presumed private revelations include “doctrinal errors attributed to God himself.” The present analysis has identified several messages of In Sinu Jesu that lack doctrinal nuance, and at least one that contains an outright error. As was noted, Kirby attributes to Jesus the claim that “only” an ordained priest can provide the “consoling and adoring love” that delivers Jesus from sorrow (p. 156). This is a serious error; it should have been caught and corrected before In Sinu Jesu received its imprimatur.
Third and finally, another “negative criteria” cited by the CDF concerns “evidence of a search for profit or gain strictly connected to the fact” of the alleged private revelation. The Silverstream monks themselves provide evidence of this in their selling In Sinu Jesu at their bookstore and volunteering to visitors (or at least to Inside the Vatican editor Robert Moynihan, as was noted in part two) that the book was written by one of their own.
Father Mark Kirby’s blog entries on Vultus Christi show that he is capable of excellent spiritual writing. If, rather than publishing a book of alleged messages from Jesus, he had chosen instead to publish personal reflections on adoration or reparation, he might have composed a worthy addition to the Catholic spiritual tradition. But since he did publish what he asserts are authentic private revelations, his book is necessarily subject to the higher level of critical scrutiny that is invited by such a claim. It is my hope that, given the foregoing analysis, he will at the very least revise In Sinu Jesu to remove its problematic elements.
The author would like to thank William Doino Jr., Dr. Robert Fastiggi, Dr. David Lafferty, and Dr. Clare McGrath-Merkle for reviewing and commenting upon this article prior to publication.
Image: A Young Benedictine Monk Kneeling. Jean Léonard Lugardon (1801-1844). Source: https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.143660.html.
Dawn Eden Goldstein, S.Th.D., is the author of several books, including The Thrill of the Chaste and My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. She has taught at seminaries in the U.S., England, and India. Currently she is writing a biography of Father Edward Dowling, S.J., who was a spiritual adviser to Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson.