The long and winding road

No, this isn’t about a Beatles’ song…..but it is about an experience of this past weekend that I thought worth sharing….I had a chance to go visit some family and friends in North Jersey. Saturday was a real “washout” with heavy rains and very damp and cold weather…..we also turned our clocks back to standard time so I knew that daylight would be shorter come Sunday….well Sunday arrived and after a day of cold and rain, the sun was shining brightly but the wind was blowing a cold and biting wind……The Spirit drew me out of the house and into the throes of a great late autumn day…..the sun warmed my face as the biting wind made a winter coat, gloves and scarf a necessity…..and what did I find….yes, you guessed it….a long and winding road….it must have been a service road at some point in history and it served me well on Sunday…..

It was great walking in the wind and the sun…..the air in my lungs brought in new life and a fresh way of seeing things…..leaves blew off the trees like dandelions in a summer breeze and I felt the hand of God overshadow me and “blow me over” with the winds of November… was also All Souls’ Day and I began to think about all those who I no longer have physically with me and by God’s grace and the Spirit’s Wind, I felt their presence with me.  As I walked I prayed for and to these women and men who were and are such an important part of my life and I thought of how they brought me to this long and winding road today…..through prayers, through mentoring, through listening…..through bringing the Word of God to me in their love for me. Together we walked that road and I felt so energized and thankful for the gifts I had received over the last decades.

As I walked along, I thought and prayed for all those who journeyed with me through my vocation “calling” discernment period and I was filled with gratitude, joy and a desire to do the same for others… is amazing what the “wind blows in” on a windy November Sunday.  I realized that I never walked a long and winding road alone…..because the Spirit was and is there to journey the road of discerning God’s will in my regard everyday…..and even when the crunch of the leaves underfoot match the beauty of the leaves blowing in my face.  I wish you a Sunday like that this Autumn.  Godspeed!

breaking out of one’s shell

I visited a relative who is in his 50’s these past few days and suffered a stroke a little over a year ago. I must admit it jarred me to be so “up close” to a person who is experiencing difficulties “breaking out of the shell” that he is in, almost literally, since the stroke.  He cannot talk and  is paralyzed on one side, yet he is totally cognizant of what is happening around him and has full use of his intellect.  He can think of what he wants to say but cannot express it…..he is literally locked up in a body that is keeping his mind a prisoner….He  wants to participate in the world around him and yet he can’t.

As I was driving home, I was thinking of him and how hard it must be for him to negotiate his way through a day….and then I began to think of it being similar to trying to break out of my shell and proclaim the kingdom of God in word and sacrament when I am bound up in the shell of my self-centeredness.  I know what I want to say and proclaim about God’s love, mercy and goodness in the world and yet, at times, my “shell” keeps all these good tidings inside of me for fear of being either politically incorrect or offensive….and then I think about a great homily I heard the other day about Jesus coming to set the world on fire, ablaze with the flames of destruction so that something new can come into being…..

All seemed to come together for me in the car ride home… my relative who can’t express what he wants to say, I often let my feelings of insecurity and brokenness keep me from setting the world on fire with God’s love…..I want to, yet I don’t because I feel as though I am in some shell that can’t be broken.  I admired my relative for his tenaciousness in trying to get his points across and for not just wallowing in self-pity.  I realized that many of my “only if I could” were mere excuses for not daily answering fully God’s call to me to proclaim God’s good news in the way I live…..I knew what I wanted to say and I had the grace of Providence to say it… relative taught me a valuable lesson yesterday… let go and let God do with my life as god wills…..after all isn’t that what Jesus and we pray every day…..give us this day our daily bread to YOUR will may done on earth as it is in heaven….I just have to “crack open” that shell!

In God’s waiting room?

Last Wednesday one of the simply professed Norbertines had a trip to the Emergency Room at the local hospital with what turned out to be a serious eye condition… while I was in with a directee for Spiritual Direction, the Prior came to the office and told me about this Norbertine’s trip to the ER and suggested that I get there as soon as possible.  It was near the end of the session with the directee so when I finished I went to the ER room and stayed with the confrere until it was determined that surgery was required and a trip to a hospital in Philadelphia was necessary.  I accompanied the Norbertine on his “journey,” but while I was in the ER with the confrere, an older gentleman came to the cubicle where we were sitting as asked if I would come next door to talk with his wife of over 60 years who had been battling cancer for 13 years.   I forgot to mention that since I was in a hurry to get to the ER, I still had my Norbertine Habit on when I went to the hospital so when the older gentleman saw me walk in, he knew that I was probably a priest.

He came to the cubicle and called me out into the corridor….I left the confrere in his cubicle, and the older gentleman began telling me about his wife and that the doctors had done pretty much all they could do, and now he told me that she needed me more than them at this time…..I was really humbled to hear him say that…..and it gave me a great appreciation for my vocation, my calling to be a priest ready to serve those persons God placed before me.  I went into the ER cubicle where his wife was lying on in  bed and her eyes lit up and she gave me such a big smile and held my hand as she began to talk with me about how much she was loved by God.  She asked me to pray with her and to anoint her if I had my “oils” with me and since I did, I anointed her as she lay there with her eyes closed and a huge smile on her face. She and her husband kept on saying how I must have been sent by God right at the moment she needed me the most…and as I left her room, I began to think that maybe God sent me to her when I needed her the most.

It was a transformative experience…..and gave me a deep appreciation for the call to priesthood and service….and I must admit, it also showed me how important that white Habit of mine could be at times.  I began to think that the ER was really God’s waiting room where one encountered the Supreme Other in the persons waiting to be “waited on”!

By the way, the Norbertine’s surgery proved successful!

The dying colors of autumn bring life

In the past four days, I have attended two funerals, one of which was for a woman who was only thirty-nine years old.  Yesterday, was another funeral and today marks the twenty-sixth anniversary of my mother’s death.  I took a walk outside to ponder these three events happening so closely together because it seemed to me that God was trying to speak to me in some way about the meaning of death.  I know that with the novices and those in Formation, I often speak with them about the kenotic self-emptying and self-death that we must all experience in our journey to live religious life in a community setting.  But was there more in the message?

As I walked outside along the roads and trails on the Abbey grounds, thinking about my recent encounters with death and my mother’s anniversary, I was struck by the light of the sun reflecting on the dying leaves of autumn as the chilly wind brought them to the ground.  I was struck by the beautiful colors that surrounded me in all the foliage.  The leaves and bushes were ablaze with bright colors of orange, brown, yellow and red….certainly not the colors of death but of glorious life.  The message came to me about the seed having to die in the ground in order to bring forth life and I was enveloped in a deep sense of calm and heart peace.  Autumn, usually associated with the “dying” of  things, really is ablaze with life.  No one, to me it seemed, could walk these trails and roads and not feel the vibrancy that God was painting on the leaves…..death has no victory for believers and autumn’s colors are only one way that Creation gives us this message.  Though the wind be chilly and the leaves be falling, the brightness of the sun on the beautiful colors surrounding me made me think only of life, even the life that comes from one’s death to self.  Most assuredly for me, this walk in the woods was God’s prompting me to see the message in the medium.  The bright colors, though the product of a darkening day and chilly wind, are really reminders of the life to come….it was all making sense to me especially when I came to the tall wooden cross on the hill by the roadside, framed in a beautiful blue sky!

I walked and sat and mindfully became present to the beauty around me.  In doing so, I opened myself to the dying colors of autumn that bring life….God’s beauty revealing his everlasting love.  I would like to invite you to come walk our Abbey grounds if possible and see the life-giving colors of the Spirit that cover our property.  If you can’t I strongly encourage you  to take a walk in the woods somewhere near your home and experience the glorious colors of a dying season radiating the warmth of God’s love.   To quote the hymn of St. Francis, “it is in dying that we’re born to eternal life”!

In the kitchen

As a young man growing up in the row houses in the river wards along the Delaware River in Philadelphia, I always remember that the kitchen was the heart of all family activity.  The “living room” was more of a display room or kept for “special company”, but the kitchen was always full of people and activity.  It was the real center of the family… soon an anyone walked into the house, the first place everyone settled in was the kitchen. The coffee pot was put on the stove and in a few minutes, relatives, friends, and neighbors were chatting about what was going on “in the block” and in the parish.  Stories were shared and laughter as well as tears were always a part of the gathering.  The coffee pot itself became sort of a sacramental, holding the fluid that would flow the bodies of all present and make us one family…..

I thought of this last Sunday when the community was having dinner.  One of the novices cooked dinner and then all who were present for the dinner began the clean-up IN THE KITCHEN. As the dishes were washed and the leftovers were put away for the next day, stories were shared and we all worked together as a family would, taking the time to share with our other family members a joke, or a special story from the past, or even an encouraging “hurry up” so all could get back to the football game.  It was “communio” being realized and lived and not just being read and talked about.  It was a special time when we all felt close to each other and had a strong sense of that fraternal bond that held all of us, novices and professed, in a family.  It was a special evening for me because it brought back good memories to me which I shared, but it was also a great example for me of the future of our community, working together, having fun, and sharing that fraternal road of community living in a real and practical sense….the Rule and the Constitutions of our Order made alive….as we all gathered and shared our lives IN THE KITCHEN.   Did you ever experience this in your kitchen?

Settling in

The “new” Formation year is beginning to “settle in” for all of us involved in the Formation program.  The Theology students are all settled in their classes in Chicago at CTU, the simply professed are in their ministry assignments, the second year novice is pursuing philosophy and theology classes in preparation for his M.Div. program at CTU in Chicago and the novice is settling into the rhythm of the novitiate program here at the Abbey and with the INSEARCH program (that I explained in my last entry).

Last Saturday, the Formation community was actively involved in the ABBEY FAITH AND MUSIC FEST that was hosted here at the Abbey along with St. Norbert’s parish.  It was a truly great day, the highpoint for me was when the Abbot, right before the final blessing at Mass, asked for all those in Formation – seminarians and those Sisters in Formation – to come forward and receive a blessing.  That was a grand experience, but after that blessing, the Abbot asked for all the young adults attending the Mass who are thinking or discerning a vocation to the religious life or priesthood to come forward for a blessing and over FIFTY young women and men came forward to be blessed.  It was a most inspirational moment for me and a moment that signaled to me the vitality of religious life among our young adults in our Faith Tradition.  To come forward amidst the couple of thousand people attending Mass and declare publicly that the idea of serving God’s people in this unique way was ruminating in their souls was a profound sign of hope for me.   It stopped me in my tracks, so to speak, and I think it had a great impact, not only on all those present, but also supported those already in Formation, knowing that there were others “backing them up from behind”.

Perhaps the thought has crossed your mind that God is calling you to serve the People of God in this unique way as a priest or religious…..I would ask you to let those thoughts germinate in your mind and pray with them to understand the will of God in your regard.

The Abbey Fest was a great day and impacted all present.  If you get a chance, check out the pictures on our website or on You Tube.  It was a God-blessed experience.

And the Discernment continues….

Last Thursday, I spent a great day with the novices from our REGION 3 Formation group as they began their annual INSEARCH courses.  These courses are held every Thursday during the year in order to provide an interaction in dialogue and discernment for the novices from the different Congregations and Orders.  Besides the academic and spiritual side of the courses, there is also the socialization that takes place as the novices get to know one another.  Some are from places as distant as Mexico and some as close to Paoli as West Chester and this diversity of cultures allows for a genuine integration of spiritual, cultural, and theological perspectives.  It was great just to be with them and feel their energy and enthusiasm for this “new life” that they are beginning.  It gives great hope to those of us who have been around for awhile to see such joy and vitality in the newer faces of those entering religious life.

This year we have added a number of “immersion experiences” where the novices will spend several days together analyzing and synthesizing materials presented to them by Sister Mary Craig, OSF, on the Fundamentals of Religious Life. It looks to be like a great year for those in Formation.  Of course, this is in addition to the courses that each of the novices will take in their respective religious communities bur I just wanted to share with you the truly heartfelt happiness, joy, and eagerness of these “newer faces” as they enter more fully into the discernment of God’s will in their regard.

It gave me a day worth remembering and it renewed in my the enthusiasm of  my younger days in religious life.  It has been great talking with our novice, Jeff, about the experience because he really felt connected to the others in the group…there are twelve in all and he looks forward to his time with them.

Now, everyone here at Daylesford is getting ready for our Abbey Fest that is taking place this Saturday, September 20th.  It begins at 10 am and lasts until 8 pm and it features six Christian Rock bands, Matt Maher, and  ends with Mass and a Eucharistic procession. If you get a chance stop on out – we are at 220 S. Valley Road in Paoli, PA.  Have a great day and God Bless!

An Introduction to the Formation Community

As the Director of Formation, I would like to introduce you to the Formation Community here at Daylesford Abbey.  The Formation Community is composed of those men who are currently in the Formation Program from the beginning of their Affiliate Status through their Solemn Vows and Ordination.  Currently, we have six men in our Formation Program, learning to journey, together and individually, discerning the will of God in their regard.  We have two men, Fraters Gerard and James,  studying in Chicago, IL at the Catholic Theological Union, two priests, Fathers David and William,  in simple vows doing their apostolic ministries in the context of Abbey apostolates while still in Formation and we also have a first year and a second year novice.

During the first year of the novitiate, the novice, Jeffrey Himes, who received the Norbertine habit on August 27th, just yesterday began his studies on the Rule of St. Augustine, the History of the Order, and Religious LIfe in the 21st Century.  In addition to these courses, Frater Jeffrey will also be a part of INSEARCH and that is an intercongregational program for candidates in formation for all religious Congregations and Orders in our Region of the Religious Formation Conference, a national organization helping candidates in Formation to discover their call to follow what they believe is a call to community life in a religious Congregation or Order.

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks for Frater Jeffrey, but now he is settling into the rhythm of Abbey life.   Along with Frater Jeffrey is Frater Samuel who as a second year novice will continue his philosophy and theology studies in preparation for his entering full theological studies next year. Also, later this year, Frater Samuel will take on an Abbey apostolic assignment in order to familiarize himself with the various works done in the Abbey.

Under the direction of the Novice Master and Director of Formation, along with the Formation Committee, these men continually pray, live, and work together towards seeking the will of God in coming to a union of minds and hearts along their journey. It is a fantastic and exciting experience, no doubt with its “ups and downs”, but formation affords all the candidates an opportunity for self-growth in their spiritual lives.  It is great for me, as their Director, to journey with them in this adventure.

From time to time, you’ll be hearing from me on what these men are doing and how their “routines” are helping them in the journey of self-discovery.  Have a great day and God Bless!