You Are What You Were, When, Again

If I think back on it, it was at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma in 1979, when I first saw Dr. Morris Massey and listened to his presentation entitled, “You Are What You Were, When.” This will date me, but I watched it on a 16mm movie projector with three big reels that we had to replace to complete the long film. The occasion was a seminar by the US Army Chaplains stationed at Ft. Sill, OK.

These days, all you need to do is go on Google and look up Morris Massey. Here is the Youtube site. I believe he has a new, updated version of the Original presentation which I saw, way back, when.

His premise is, what you are is set in stone as you first acquire your values of good and what is bad, as you grow up in your early years. We don’t ditch those values when we get older unless there is what Dr. Massey terms a Significant Emotional Event (SEE) causes those values and learned behaviors to change. How we cope with whatever life throws our way is determined by what we learned as a child and as a youth growing up. Significant Emotional Events are the death of a loved one, traumatic health problems such as cancer and stroke, divorce, having children, getting fired. The list is endless, it seems. It is what we learn from these challenges to our status quo that cause us to change to something better than before.

I thought of Dr. Morris Massey during one of my Lectio Divina sessions (Philippians 2:5) when I asked myself, “how do I have in myself the mind of Christ Jesus?” If I need to convert my life each day to make more and more room for Christ inside me, then what is there needs to have a Significant Emotional Event for me to break the stereotypes of my youth as to what a relationship with Christ is and replace those values from my youth with those new ones that are more mature and have the weight of many years of experience behind them.

I would term this Significant Emotional Event a conversion of heart to grow ever deeper into the Mystery of Faith. When I was a child, I thought the things of a child, Now, I think like an adult and have put away childish ways. Being a Lay Cistercian has been such a Significant Emotional Event for me, gradually, imperceptibly replacing old values of Church, Christ, God, Holy Spirit with a more dynamic approach to my relationship with the Father, one that involves love as it’s core. I realize that these shocks to my stereotypes come frequently and are prompted by my willingness to let go of the past in order to grasp the future. It is a future that is informed by the heritage of the past, a future that is the sum of who I am and who I wish to be, not one created by me but informed by God.

Look at the youtube video above to get a flavor of how people change their values and replace the old one with new ones. Remember the story of Ozymandias? Listen to it in this podcast.

Sic transeat gloria mundi


Here are three examples of how a traumatic emotional event (SEE) can cause us to change our behaviors.

1. The Conversion of St. Paul. Read St. Paul’s account of his conversion and think of the lightning and his blindness as a Significant Emotional Event. I am adding the whole Chapter 9 for your reading. God had to get St. Paul’s attention because he had been zealous in persecuting the Church and now he changed the purpose of his life completely. Unless there is a jolt to the system, as Dr. Moris Massey suggests, we will continue to use our past experiences as the basis for our judgments and motivation. If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got. The Holy Spirit is speaking to the Church Universal and each one of us. The key is not to dwell on the darkness and the shadow of death but to allow the light of Christ to shine before all. St. Paul did this and so too do all the Saints

CHAPTER 9 New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)
The Conversion of Saul
9 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision[a] a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul[b] and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul Preaches in Damascus for several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 All who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” 22 Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus[c] was the Messiah.[d]

2. The crisis in the Catholic Church. This second example of a Significant Emotional Event happened to a whole Church. I refer to the crisis of infidelity by priests and Church officials. This was indeed a shock to the whole Body of Christ.

The topic of the crisis in the Catholic Church was one of the sessions in our Lay Cistercian retreat in February 2019. In my small discussion group, we talked about how the sexual abuse by clergy and its cover-up caused many to think about leaving the Church. Our thinking was that the crisis affected all of us, even though only a small percentage of people were guilty of these crimes. We thought we should follow the advice of St. Benedict in Chapter 4 of the Rule where he says to place your hope in God alone. Only the Holy Spirit can solve the sinfulness of the Church and keep it on the path of truth.

To me, it is like shaking a rug to get out the dirt. We need to re-convert ourselves to Christ. Some people will leave the Church, some will remain. Hopefully, those who remain will be centered on Christ, the only source of the way, the truth and the life. We must not condone evil, but replace it with goodness. This is the conversion of the heart that must be accomplished by both the Church Universal as well as each one of us individually. It would be so easy to cast the first stone and blame people for the crisis. It is mercy that we should seek, first from God, then from those who are victims.

We can use this evil event as an occasion for transforming out collective and individual self to God or just complain that the human race is evil and it is business as usual. One way is avoidance and the other is redemption.

There has been a significant movement to reclaim our heritage in the Church.

3. Lay Cistercian Spirituality. For me, the Lay Cistercians have been an opportunity to convert my own life from whatever I was to where I want to be. Silence, Solitude, Work, Prayer, and Community have shaped who I am, not like St. Paul being hit by a lightning bolt, but most definitely by the fire of the Holy Spirit. Like the prime exemplar of humility and obedience to God’s will, Our Lady, it takes a “Let it be done to me according to your word” to become aware of the Holy Spirit. In the Upper Room, the Spirit descended like tongues of fire over each of those present. This was the gift of Faith that can come only from God and not from anything we do. Prayer is the occasion where we respond back to God that we indeed know that God is God and we are the ones in need of daily conversion of life.

Where I was in my spiritual journey is not where I am now, but it is because I can go back in my life experiences and identify where the Spirit was present (even though I was unaware of that grace) that makes me joyful.


  • Like Mary, we all must be open to the fire of the Spirit in humility and obedience to God’s will, to be able to recognize that the Holy Spirit is alive in me, and also the Church Universal.
  • God will not leave his Church to be abandoned to the Devil. The gates of Hell will not prevail against it.
  • The Significant Emotional Event of the current crisis of Faith needs to be addressed and we need to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness and do penance for our sins. The very Early Church had crises like we do, maybe even more devastating. Many people became heretics, many people were martyred for their Faith.
  • I am not a Roman Catholic because of the Pope, nor any Bishop, nor any diocese, nor any parish. We must place our hope in God alone as our Center.
  • I am a Lay Cistercian because I wish to have a greater capacity for God (think of a balloon blown up and filled with the Holy Spirit).

Praise be God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology

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