Thursday, January 31, 2008


I consider myself a careful optimist. That is, if someone asks me if the glass is half full or half empty I would first ask whether it was a glass of barium or a dirty martini. But fight it off as I may, I have had this nagging feeling of optimism lately. It may just be this glorious frigid weather we are having, but this positive sensation is as persistent as a February cold.

I must say the whole thing is aggravated by those who were once sure footed peddlers of doom and gloom who kept us sensible and hard working all of a sudden pointing out rays of hope for the future. Because of them I have been forced to think that perhaps this nagging hope was not contained to my little world – birds of a feather and all that rot.

In a letter to the editor of Priest magazine this past month, Fr. John Koelsch took hard working, dedicated pessimists to task, telling them to wake up and smell the incense. “The American Catholic Church (sic) some 70 million strong in over 18,000 communities is arguably the largest group of actively practicing Catholics in the world. Yes, Mass attendance has declined, but it still averages three or four times that of most of the world’s Catholics . . . we still “luxuriate” in priest-per-people compared with other countries (especially the so-called Catholic ones.)”

He makes some further points. Scandals and defections are not nearly so bad as they had been in the time of some of the reforming saints. In fact, there is hope in that despite the various Church scandals the faithful, who have their eye on what is of true importance have contributed each year, “to the largest and most developed Church institution in the world (our universities included among them.) The survivability and continued response of our people is unequalled anywhere.”

A further troubling factor is our seminaries. Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR writes, “I visited three seminaries recently, filled with seminarians who are clean-cut, dedicated, enthusiastic and loyal Catholics . . . The good news is that we are improving from the roots up. Every priest and every Catholic layperson should be glad and rejoice. If I had the time, I would write a book in response to “Goodbye, Good men!” It would be called “Welcome, Good Men!”

It seems the number of seminarians is on the rise and I grudgingly report a growing satisfaction with my own seminary – and might even say it? Can it be the dawning of . . . pride? Is that too much?

Believe me, I could come up with pages of issues that my cautious heart would like to see fixed in the Church. But despite the patches of chilling snow that still lays on the ground, it seems that a new springtime in the Church cannot be stamped out adequately. One cannot stamp out a crocus without ten glaring daffodils popping up elsewhere. Especially with younger people – around forty five all the way down, among those who practice the faith there seems to be a hunger and a cry for serious Catholicism, for orthodoxy, for challenge, for boldness of witness and practice. It is becoming harder and harder to be an honest pessimist.

The glass may only be only half full, but I think it is a martini.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


There is a guest blog today. C.K. who has guest blogged here before sent this along for my reading and I requested permission to post it. I hope it you get something out of it.

A psychology book I was reading online elaborated upon the assumed superior status of the psychotherapist vs. his patient. This is just the opposite in confession: the priest may be a greater sinner than the penitent, but this is of no consequence. The authority to absolve is not based on the merits of the priest. It is an undeserved grace of God, just like the forgiveness that the penitent receives. Both parties can greet each other in perfect humility, without the stigma of “mental illness” being applied only to the “patient”. We meet as equals, in a sense, in that we both meet with the same disease of original sin. It is possible for a therapist to treat a patient smugly with his own pet theory or worldview (I have even heard of a psychologist encouraging multiple personalities because of the notoriety it earns him). But a priest meets you with truth that even he must accept with obedience. He gives something that he doesn’t just accept from a book, but believes in his heart. In confession, a free, unselfish love can be given to a stranger that a therapist cannot give to a patient he has known for years.

If a person suffers from schizophrenia, he is justifiably grateful to the psychiatrist who prescribes the right treatment to silence the voices in his head. But the patient can be made “well” without being made happy. Everyone needs meaning and purpose in life to be happy, and many people with no detectable neuroses (Carl Jung said one third of his patients were in this category) are seeking peace of soul from therapy and anti-depressants. To paraphrase Fr. Mitch Pacwa, religion may be the opiate of the masses, but it sure beats opium. Can anyone really say that they expect to have a session with a psychologist and leave his office with a prescription and say to himself “Wow, now I have a reason to be happy for the rest of my life.” But I really think that’s what people expect from therapy.

What if you could offer the wretchedness and misery of your whole life to God and be absolved of it in a instant even though you don’t deserve it, and to go basking in the glow of unconditional love…that sounds like something a person could get happy about. To be able then to go one step further and be united to perfect love in Communion as a promise and foretaste of the perfect love, joy, and beauty that can one day be yours. But this is the more challenging route. Making peace with God requires the ultimate blow to the ego, the submission of your will. You have to force yourself through the neck of the bottle, so to speak, and arrive at the other side, converted. You have to stop torturing yourself with false guilt (it’s my fault my brother drank himself to death) and own up to the real spiritual cancers (hate, lust, greed). You have to stop silencing the voice of your conscience with TV, music, and internet and face your sins and place your trust in God over the things you fear but can’t control.

So many of my friends have an obsessive fear of illness, and I think this really points to the ultimate fear of death. Recently I was watching one of those old Technicolor films where the Christian Roman soldier goes bravely to his death rather than deny his faith. In a second, all the reasons to do this filled my mind: for honor, for heavenly merit, because denying my faith is out of the question, but all of these reasons filled me with repulse. But then I thought what about for love of God? In an instant I thought, “Oh, must I only die once?” Love of God is the only antidote for a fear of death. And it’s the only reason to be happy for the rest of your life.
Just some interesting quotes:
"One of the founding fathers of psychology, Sigmund Freud, is quoted saying, 'Catholics don’t need me; they have their little black box.' He was referring to our confessional." Found at
"One of this century's most famous psychologists, Carl Jung, noted that, even tho the area where he practiced was mainly Catholic, most of his patients were Protestants or Jews. He surmised that on a human level, what others achieved in psychotherapy, many Catholics realized just by going to confession."
"He quotes famed Swiss Psychiatrist C. G. Jung: 'During the past 30 years, people from all the civilized countries of the earth have consulted me. I have treated many hundreds of patients, the larger number being Protestants, a small number Jews, and not more than five or six believing Catholics. Among all my patients in the second half of life . . . there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding, a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age had given to their followers, and none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook.'"
One more here.

Monday, January 28, 2008


WARNING: If you have not seen the movie “Atonement” and plan on seeing it, you may want to skip this post.

So, as you might have guessed, I did see the movie. It left me feeling sad. Not boo-hoo sad, just dispirited sad. (I tend not to get too boo-hooy) None-the-less I had a hard time shaking it. Those of you who have seen it know that the main love interests are never granted their happy ending of “ever after.” With his dying thoughts the young soldier clings to the words, “come back to me,” and the idea of the house by the sea with the woman he loved. But as it was (this is your LAST chance to stop reading) they both died during the tragedies of war. Heavy hearted I walked away from the theater. That night I ruminated on the sadness and “utter destruction” of any redeeming shred of hope that might pervade. But in the end, the only hope came from a made-up story. Hardly satisfying. One had only to remember that it was a fiction of a fiction.

Surprisingly it was not until Monday that I was released from this spell. It was during a funeral of all things. I was preaching on hope and the Pope’s encyclical, “Spe Salve” when it dawned on me that the movie was exactly what this encyclical fights against. It perfectly exemplifies the horror of life without “the great hope that cannot be destroyed even by small-scale failures or by a breakdown in matters of historic importance.” These two particular characters never show a jot of a greater understanding of hope other than what they had in each other (and one of them aptly notes that he is not sure that the whole thing, held together with spit and promise, could stand based on one stunted, amorous night in the library.) In this, their only (shaky at best) hope for life is a total loss and “their passing away thought an affliction and their going forth from us utter destruction.” (Wisdom 3:1-6,9)

In an odd turn of events, the only ones that had any eternal hope are two of the worst of the antagonists! They are the only ones that presented even a jot of faith (in that they were married in a church and one of them seemed to give an expression that we might interpret as remorse) and thus are at least presented with the possibility of the Great Hope and chance of repentance.

In some book on hope somewhere upstairs in our library was written that even for the Christians that knew the smokestacks of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, there was still hope. One’s body could even be destroyed, but not Christian hope as it promised that life continues. As the rite for Christian burial states, “Lord, for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended!” But without God and that solid hope we have a glimpse of the meaninglessness of death (and subsequently life) where hope becomes only about fulfilling personal desires. “Let me put this very simply: man needs God, otherwise he remains without hope.” (para 23)

Consider the story of St. Josephine Bakhita from paragraph 3, “The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited. What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father's right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God. She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”. On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter's lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.”

Without God her story would have been a stark and dismal as the above movie. Who would want it? “I have seen that all perfection has an end, but your command is boundless.” Psalm 119.


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND: "On the whole I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? . . . It is madness to wear ladies' hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews." from Annie Dillard's "Teach a Stone to Talk" Thanks to BC for that one.
QUOTE II - (In reference to yesterday's post and Rob's comment) "They wish the universe to be fitted into their own petty store of words and pitiful framework of ideas . . . they want it to be explained even to stupid people, in terms that all can understand. They diminish the world to a nutshell." from Jane Rogers' "Promised Land"


Frank sent this link to a video in about a young Christian artist. It is almost too incredible to believe.

C sent this in about a program called "Endow" and wonders if anybody has any information about it. "Founded in 2003, ENDOW (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women) is a Catholic, non-profit organization that is dedicated to offering classes and developing study materials based on the teachings of the Catholic Church for women to use in small study groups. The ENDOW program is designed for today's "women in the pew', women who are neither theologians nor philosophers, but are faithful wives, mothers and career women."

This is perhaps not in keeping with the general direction of this blog, but I thought I'd share it with you anyway. Fr. D sent this in. "I haven't laughed so hard in some time. Live TV is a dangerous thing," he said. In a similar vein my cousin sent this link to some videos about flying with the Blue Angels. The first one is interesting. I recommend then skipping to the third one if you watch no more of it.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


When Fr. Raymond Brown was challenged about some of his early works on Scripture he said not to judge him by those words, that they were written twenty years ago and he has evolved since then. Bear that in mind with what I am about to share with you. It is a though in process and I think I like it but have not thought it entirely through.

When I decided to offer myself to the priesthood there was a lengthy application process part of which was meeting with a veteran priest for an interview. This took place in the basement of a building on the campus of John Carol University. In a cramped office an older priest with mussed hair and wearing a sweater just a wee bit too tight around his expanding horizons asked me this question, “So (at the time) Mr. Valencheck, you want to serve God. Tell me about Him.”

Mind you I had an active relationship with God. I prayed daily, went to mass most days, discerned His action and calling in my daily life, had conversations with Him, believed in Him, was willing to go into full service to Him, but I had difficulty answering that question. Not, I believe, because I did not know Him, but because I knew Him in a way that is difficult to put into words. (I ask the same question of couples preparing for marriage now telling them that they will have smaller versions of themselves asking them, ‘Who is God,’ and that they need to develop a vocabulary to answer that question.)

Now I can tell you all kinds of things about God. He is a distinct mode of Being. “He is that about which nothing greater can be thought.” Trinity. Unity. Of divine simplicity yet three hypostases or persons – One is essence distinguished in persons by relation, and so forth and so on . . . But does knowing this lead me into a deeper relationship than the type of relationship that I had with Him before knowing these things? In some ways yes, but in many ways no.

In the pre-Vatican II mass there was a complaint that many people did not understand what was going on because it was said in Latin and the priest faced the same way as the people. But if they were thoroughly confused and absolutely lost why would any sane person go to mass? Why would anybody recommend it? SOMETHING must have been engaged. Perhaps it was a connection with the mystery that spoke in the depth of the heart: that which is exceedingly difficult to put into words but which is none-the-less there. It was a contact with that mystery that was perceivable though perhaps its inner mechanics was not.

But to this perceived alienation to the mass it was thought to make the mystery more accessible, a laudable thing to do. So the language was put into the vernacular, the priest turned to toward the people so that every action could be seen, and other innovations were sometimes added in an effort toward full disclosure such as using glass chalices so that people could see the wine turned blood.

Yet there was not the grand, “Aha!” moment in the Church. Granted, there are many factors for people seemingly understanding less about their faith and lack of die-hard adherents, but one might be led to think that if the meaning of the mass were indeed more apparent we would in turn be much more excited about it, understand it better, and be much more open to share it.

But perhaps we have over explained the unexplainable. We try too hard to show the un-showable. As a result instead of engaging the mass on a deeper level one might inclined to think, “I saw, I heard, I got it,” and fail to explore the mystery. Because of this I have always wished there was a way to have a hybrid mass that combined elements of both ways of celebrating the mass, but that won’t be and so it is not an answer to be much explored.

I am glad the older form or our mass is offered as I have always gained a tremendous amount from it. I’d like to think that way most people experience mass today could be celebrated in such a way that the mystery could be injected back in more suitably. While it was more difficult to pray the older mass rubrically, it is equally hard to pray the mass today with the same mystery. It requires silence, careful choices in music, delicacy in the way it is celebrated, and maybe (I believe more than maybe) at least some dabbling in Latin.

It probably can’t be done over night or exclusively. It takes a long time to be weaned off a sugary diet to something more substantial to the point where you like it. (I’m trying to do that with my coffee at the present.) But once you develop that taste you rarely want to go back.

Friday, January 25, 2008


Upon this Rock I will build my Church!

If that was a bit much for you, this will repair the damage!


Jay announces that Catholic Carnival 156 is up and running!

This week is Catholic Schools Week. Please pray for the future of Catholic education in the United States as well as that they might be truly Catholic.

This tag made it over from Uncle Jim at A Second Chance:

Rules:1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages). 2. Open the book to page 123. 3. Find the fifth sentence. 4. Post the next three sentences. 5. Tag five people.(Though I am going to cheat and say tag yourself as he did.)

I am so thankful that I was close to a decent book! This is from Thomas Dubay's book, "Fire Within".

From page 123 beginning with the third sentence: "If the reader recoils at the thought of much solitude and at the unappealing prospects of fitting it into a crowded schedule, St. Theresa is an understanding mentor. She adverts to our needing to learn to like and appreciate being alone with God, and she is mindful that we need to get used to it, that it does not come easily at the outset. Determination is therefore in order to see to it that first things do come first, that we are prepared to provide the suitable time and place for growth to happen."

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Here are some more general symbols to be found around the cemetery and what they mean.
Anchors, when they are not denoting a seaman means hope.

Angels – rebirth, resurrection, protection, mercy.

Broken or draped column – Early death or grief.

Female figure – grief, sorrow.

Garland – Victory over death.

Laurel Leaves – Triumph

Lily – purity, chastity

Obelisk – Rebirth – connection of heaven and earth.

Sheaf of Wheat – Old age

Sleeping Cherub – Innocence usually found on a child’s grave.

Three steps – Faith, hope, and love.

Torch – Immortality – (inverted – Life extinguished.)

Wreath – Victory.

For some odd reason the Freemasons have a lot of graveyards hereabout. They are marked by the compass and square joined together representing the interaction between mind and matter. Often the letter G is found at the center. Some say it stands for God, other say geometry. As Catholics cannot be Freemasons, they should also not be buried in such cemetaries.


From the unconfirmed rumors department: It has been passed through the grapevine that our new bishop (mind you, this is only clerical gossip) has commented that it seems we do much more music here than that to which he has become accustomed. There may very well be truth to that. There has been a push to keep music pretty well going particularly through the entire communion rite from after the “Ecce” until the “Oremus” for the prayer after communion.

C. came to visit yesterday. (I think she is becoming a contemplative though she is fighting it.) She had to visit another parish for some reason for Sunday mass. “It drove me nuts,” she reports, “the music never stopped. There was not even a moment of silence. Even when the lector was walking up to do the readings the played an interlude.”

Kind of sounds like the academy awards.

I suppose that is how many people style their lives: with a constant sound track. In the morning the telvision set goes on. In the car, the radio is on. Walking about or exercising, the Ipod is plugged into the ears, at grocery stores music is piped in. In restaurants they have televisions squawking. Outdoor stores have seemed to pick up on all of this and now blast music out onto the street. The JCC where I work out has different radio stations blasting in every room. Then there are cell phones at every moment of every day. Grrrrrrrr.

When I was afforded the opportunity to visit the Vatican, (at the time) Archbishop Broglio kindly arranged for me to have mass with John Paul II in his private chapel. (WOW) Before we walked in he was kneeling at his prie-dieu and had been there praying before the Blessed Sacrament in silence for at least an hour before we walked in that being his routine. When asked what he had to say to Jesus all that time he once responded, “Very little. I spent most of my time listening.”

That is the purpose of silence. To listen. To listen to what rises in our hearts and minds when the constant bombardment of noise stops flooding our ears. When we stop producing sounds ourselves and “be still and know that I Am God.” What rises to consciousness? Blaise Pasquale said, “Most evils come into the world because human beings cannot sit still in a chair for thirty minutes.” This can be a scary place to go. It is here that we face our true selves and find out if we are comfortable with ourselves or not. It is where we stand before God without distraction. In this way silence is a place as much as a quality of sound and it is only accessible to the still and attentive.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


A couple of days before he was supposed to teach, J. fell down the steps and broke his leg and so was unable to give his presentation on the Creed to the people at RCIA. Far too late to enlist someone else to throw something together I took it upon myself to have the session. Of course that meant exploring in depth my own thoughts on the Creed, a process which turned out to be extremely beneficial.

There is a great wisdom in the repetition of the mass. One may fall into saying words by rote, but occasionally you are struck again at the profundity of those words. I suppose (it would be better for someone else to speak as to the accuracy of this statement) it would be like a married couple that got caught up in the business of life and then one day one of them looked at the other and realized how much love was still there and decides to act on it and appreciate the other better. Priests too can unintentionally fall into routine even with the Eucharist. As Fr. Groeschel mentioned on retreat, “Look at a good priest reserving the Blessed Sacrament. Does he look like he is putting away the King of the Universe?” (Shudder.)

A kind parishioner gave my sister and I tickets to hear the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus perform Joseph Haydn’s “Mass in D minor” shortly after this RCIA session. Hearing the words of the creed and understanding them in the sense of not only understanding the Latin but also understanding the deeper meaning of what was being said sent chills up my spine and gave me goose bumps. It struck me that I was not just hearing great music, but the basic core beliefs of my faith were being presented in a dramatic fashion.

As it turns out, Franz Welser-Most, the conductor, is a practicing Catholic and makes sure that all know what is being said and that it be performed with the passion that the composer intended. And what did the composer intend? The concert notes say this about Haydn, “Hayden was deeply devout, and the firm statement of belief at the start of the Credo has the stamp of sincerity.” All this combined to make the evening a deeply spiritual and moving re-awakening for me.

What a glorious thing it would be that what was said about Haydn would be said about us; that in our recitation of the Creed there would something of a stamp of authenticity about it. Perhaps consider, especially in light of our immediate preparations for lent, really praying the Creed one night. Not just pray through the words but slowly enough so that you can determine what is being said and what that means to you. Then the next time at mass recite the Creed with sincerity. Look for it to come to bear that stamp of authenticity.

Monday, January 21, 2008


It will confuse the laity.”

This sorry excuse for a reason is trotted out of its stall every now and then to justify doing something stupid in the Church. One reason I was taught that it is imperative that the tabernacle be moved away from the sanctuary was because, “It confuses the laity. After all,” it is reasoned, “Jesus is here and Jesus is there and that is very confusing.”

Yes, I remember being thoroughly confused growing up. Many a night I spent crying into my mother’s bosom, “But Mom, how could Jesus be in the tabernacle AND on the altar of sacrifice at the SAME TIME?!” It was almost as harrowing as seeing Santa at the mall asking me what I wanted for Christmas and then seeing another Santa immediately after asking for change for the poor on a street corner. The scars have still not healed.

Actually, do you want to know what confuses me? Going to another parish and the priest instructing me that we do not genuflect to the tabernacle here, we only bow to the altar. The altar is where the action is going to be, where Jesus is going to be present. It would “only be confusing” to genuflect toward the tabernacle.

Of course what is actually a cause for misunderstanding is bowing to a symbol of Jesus (a great one perhaps, but a symbol none-the-less) while completely ignoring is actual presence. It is like upholding abortion by stating that you are only upholding the basic human right to choose thereby preserving an aspect of being human instead of an actual human.

We were talking about some of the changes in the liturgy that may or may not be up and coming. “And also with you,” may be replaced with the more accurate translation, “And with your spirit.” “This is the Lamb of God,” may be replaced with the more accurate translation, “Behold the Lamb of God!” and so forth. The comment was made that this will “confuse the people!”

Confuse? Did they not hear of 1965? That was confusing.

What we are dealing with now are challenges, not confusion. And in cases of true confusion it is an opportunity for catechesis not an excuse for unwarranted creativity or pandering to an imagined collective low intellect.

(Was that harsh?)


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT CAN BE FOUND: “When you consider that women have been treated as property it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton

QUOTE II – “Now our society is deranged. (We do not mean to be harsh. We are killing our children; if we are not deranged, we are something much, much worse.)” From an article in the Catholic World Report.


No news to share came in this week so here is an excerpt from a book I finished reading on retreat.

Our earthly worship environment should help us see what we can’t see. It should strive to imitate its heavenly counterpart, which we glimpse through Revelation. Too often our liturgical art, music, and architecture bow to utility and economy, when they should bow to the transcendent. John’s vision (in the book of Revelation) inspires us to rethink the ways we design our churches. The visible should be a vehicle for the invisible, lifing our senses a taste of the glorious mystery in which we partake, filling our beings with reverence and awe, lifting our minds and hearts to heaven.” From Scott Hahn’s book, “A Father Who Keeps His Promises”.

Just one more:

The most convincing reception of the work wick perhaps be this: That in such a church, before such a work, a young pagan can kneel and pour our his whole heart. Then the artist will know that God is truly served by him.” Archbishop Christophe Schonborn, O.P.

All that being said, here are some pictures of Saint Augustine in Larchmont where Fr. B and I visited. There is something about the building that draws one in and invites him to be quiet and pray. It is friendly toward devotions with a number of shrines and candles to light. Inside its walls one is transported to a different realm far more conducive to spiritual endeavors. All that is required is that one steps across the threshold from the loud and busy world into this sacred space.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


I'm always telling people to go on retreat or to find a good spiritual director. But I know finding a good retreat or to discovering a good spiritual director is easier said than done. I almost would rather not go on a retreat than attend one that makes me angry or feels like a complete waste of time. I don't need counseling for my inner child or art class, I need to be challenged and enlightened in my faith.

That is why I like going to Trinity retreat house so much. Unfortunately it is for priests only or I would recommend you all going there. It is run by the Diocese of New York and has a couple of outstanding priests as retreat masters; Fr. Gene Fulton and the inestimable Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR. These retreats are nectar for the soul and recharge me for my ministry.

This is Trinity Retreat Center.

From the road it is a somewhat unassuming place. There is no great sign or tar parking lot. In this quiet spot each morning I would wake up and pray the Office of Readings before starting the retreat day.

They day began with meeting all of the other priests in the refectory for breakfast. Soon the last of the coffee is finished and the dishes taken away and we head for the chapel for Morning Prayer and the first conference.

After the conference there is a short break. Sometimes I would write, work on homilies, take photos or just walk about.

Mass comes next. We would meet in the room you see below and vest. I was chosen as choir master and so would pick a song and we would sing and head in to the chapel through the door to the right of the fireplace. It is a very modest but serviceable chapel. The youngest person according to ordination is celebrant for the mass working up the ladder each day (I never seem to make the cut) though Fr. Groeschell or Fr. Fulton would give the homily, which was the length of another conference.

Lunch came next naturally. Afterwords Fr. B. and I would pray Daytime Prayer and then take a constitutional around town, walking for several miles, stopping at St. Augustin Church to pray and light candles and then heading off to the business district to have a cup of coffee and exchange thoughts on what had been talked about that day. Others stayed about the house and read as you see below. Contrary to popular belief, this is not Fr. Schnippel.

Though I always had great intentions, I always seemed to fall into napsio divina after the long walk. But upon coming out of my deep closed-eyes-prayer I'd take up reading. Among other things I finally got around to reading Pope Benedict's Spe Salvi. Fr. Benedict said, "Wear good shoes. It's a long walk through that document." And it was. But it was worth it. Wow.

Below is a view of the sound from out my window. About ten swans seemed to meet there every morning to decide where they were going to be stationed that day I guess.

All gathered in the chapel again for Evening Prayer and another conference as smells of dinner drifted into the chapel from the refectory. It is always enjoyable discussing priesthood with priests from other dioceses. New ideas are uncovered and of course ecclesial gossip is shared.

Below is the bridge that crosses the sound leading to Trinity.

This guy was at the edge of the bridge - a show off begging to have his picture taken.

The hour or so after dinner was always an opportunity to go to confession or have a private meeting with Fr. Benedict or continue your prayers or reading. Below is one of the nearby parks that one could walk to on a constitutional to think and pray.

Then there was Holy Hour at which we would also pray Night Prayer and have another conference. The celebrant for Holy Hour is generally someone who does not get to be celebrant for mass and for this I qualified. It was a great honor - and being that I am not allowed to use incense at St. Clare anymore it was a pleasure that it was de rigour here.

Below are the offices, bookstore, and Fr. Groeschell's room in an outbuilding on the grounds.

After the singing of the Salve Regina we retired to the refectory one last time to talk about the day over wine and cheese. It was in this setting that I snapped this candid shot of Fr. Benedict.

Each year I make sure that we always take at least one turn around this house. I wish I could run into the people who own it and they volunteer to give me a tour. It is quite an magical building and ignites the imagination. Here is one of my favorite details located just off of the courtyard. It is a carolon. Notice there are almost two full octaves of bells. I hope they play them from time to time!This if Fr. B and I down by the sound. I must admit that we did not socialize too much at night during the wine and cheese sessions. Instead we engaged in a bloody, knock down, drag out, life and death game of Scrabble.

It was funny, but at the end of the day it did not seem I could get done all that I intended to do. The day was more packed than the schedule seems to indicate. But I came back refreshed and eager to share the insights that were given to me by these holy men, in particular Fr. Groeschell. What did we hear and pray about? Oh, if you read this blog or come to my masses you'll absorb much of what I did.

I encourage you if you are a priest to go on retreat! It's not about you, it's about the people you serve. Encourage your priests to be loyal to their retreats. As it is imperative that our teachers who take care of our kids take refresher courses, as medical personnel who take care of our bodies need to keep updating their knowledge, as even boiler workers must take classes from time to time to keep their licenses, so priests, who are charged with caring for souls, need to do have their own batteries charged!