Hospitality and God: Good Hosts / Good Guests
Encounters with God are necessarily transformative
Loving God leads to loving Neighbor
Considering that this week’s 1st reading from Genesis comes immediately after the account of Abraham encountering God, who offers him a covenant that would immediately result in his name being changed to Abraham and a promise of becoming the Father of Nations through which salvation would come, “Salvation is from the Jews” John 4:22; we should take a moment to consider Abraham, his transformative encounter with the Lord and the nation formed as promised.
The original name for the people we now call Jews was Hebrews. The word "Hebrew" (in Hebrew, "Ivri") is first used in the Torah to describe Abraham Gen. 14:13. The word is apparently derived from the name Eber, one of Abraham's ancestors. Another tradition teaches that the word comes from the word "eyver," which means "the other side," referring to the fact that Abraham came from the other side of the Euphrates or referring to the fact Abraham was separated from the other nations morally and spiritually.
Another name used for the people is Children of Israel or Israelites, which refers to the fact that the people are descendants of Jacob, who was also called Israel.
The word "Jew" (in Hebrew, "Yehudi") is derived from the name Judah, which was the name of one of Jacob's twelve sons. Judah was the ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel, which was named after him. Likewise, the word Judaism literally means "Judah-ism," that is, the religion of the Yehudim. Other sources, however, say that the word "Yehudim" means "People of God," because the first three Hebrew letters of "Yehudah" are the same as the first three letters of God's four-letter name.
But Abraham is not just a physical seed, the great progenitor of a great nation of and under God. The Psalms succinctly characterize Abraham in three words: “the LORD’s servant.” He is a model of one “whose faith and actions were working together”James 2:22. Jewish and Christian theologians agree, Abraham is the Father of the faith, the first Jew. Abraham is the one who breaks with the pagan deities of his age and embraces monotheism; he becomes the first great missionary God.
In the First Reading from the Book of Genesis, 3 men, strangers, visit Abraham, the friend of God. Abraham addresses the leader of the group, whom he does not yet recognize as the Lord; in the next two verses he speaks to all three men. The other two are later Gn 19:1 identified as angels. The shifting numbers and identification of the visitors are a narrative way of expressing the mysterious presence of God. This is, at its heart, a story about faith in action, about hospitality. It is about Abraham faithfully loving others as God loves him.
Today’s 1st reading also comes immediately before the story of Sodom. There we meet the same three men who have taken shelter in the house of Lot, a relative of Abraham. Sodom and Gomorrah became types of sinful cities in biblical literature. Is 1:9–10; 3:9 sees their sin as lack of social justice, Ez 16:46–51, as disregard for the poor, and Jer 23:14, as general immorality. This is, at its heart, a contrasting story. It is a story of the abuse of hospitality. Faith has been forsaken. Selfish and self-serving desires have replaced love of God and neighbor. What we read about in this story, is how sin and opposition to God makes us incapable of real hospitality, of even recognizing Holy encounters, let alone being able to be transformed by them.
Hospitality is a very important element of life in the Middle East and two of today’s readings deal with aspects of hospitality. The second reading deals with being willing to sacrifice, an integral part of what it means to love God and Neighbor, and which is often a necessary component of hospitality.
The purpose of God’s covenant is not merely to bless Abraham’s family in a hostile world. Instead, he intends to bless the whole world through these people. This task is beyond the abilities of Abraham’s family, who fall again and again into pride, self-centeredness, foolhardiness, anger, and every other malady to which fallen people are apt. We recognize ourselves in them in this aspect too. Yet by God’s grace, they retain a core of faithfulness to the covenant, and God works through the work of these people, beset with faults, to bring unimaginable blessings to the world. Like theirs, our work also brings blessings to those around us because in our work we participate in God’s work in the world.
In Romans 4, Paul emphasizes that Abraham is father of all who believe—both Jews and Gentiles. As father of believers, Abraham sets a pattern for all believers to come. He is a paradigm of faith. He walked by faith. But faith, to Abraham, was more than an attitude of trusting God; faith was also an action. Paul in effect says to the Romans, “You’ve got to do things Abraham’s way, or you have done it the wrong way.” Paul then cites Genesis 15:6 in support of his argument: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” In Paul’s view, a right relation with God comes by faith, by trusting Him as Abraham did. His was a pilgrim attitude of relying on God and His word.
In the Gospel reading Jesus visits the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It’s our understanding that he is no stranger to the house. It seems to have been a place where Jesus could go to when things got too difficult for him in nearby Jerusalem. It also speaks of hospitality but from a very different perspective. It addresses our hospitality toward God, being in God’s presence in our in our hearts spiritually, but also in our ‘faith filled’ homes and at Church, in God’s house. It speaks of reverence before all else in the presence of God. But it also speaks of the way in which human persons ought to receive each other, with reverence for each unique human person who images the God of all creation, in whom the likeness of God is to be found.
In our very action-oriented society we may tend to sympathize with Martha slaving away in the kitchen while Mary seems to just sit looking dreamily into Jesus’ eyes. The situation may look less than ideal but we must remember that the purpose of the story is to help us get our priorities right. It is significant that this story immediately follows the story of the Good Samaritan. The former story began with the abstract concept of “loving one’s neighbor as oneself”. The story reveals that a real neighbor is one who shows compassion in deed for a brother/sister in need.
These stories brought together; the good Samaritan, Mary and Martha, Abraham’s feast and the utter wretchedness of Sodom and Gommorah – help us to understand more deeply how our faith reveals to us the full beauty of creation and creator, which is transformative and moves us to actions of appropriate love. These stories also speak of or infer how sacrifice and suffering can be an integral part of hospitality, loving God and Neighbor. But this sacrifice and suffering, reflective of the nature of God’s love for us, isn’t demanded. We are invited to follow God’s lead, to live and love and worship as we ought. We are invited to choose to love, to choose to sacrifice, to choose to suffer – if and when it serves the good, the true and the beautiful.
We can view our suffering as a contribution to the completion of Christ’s work in the world, insofar as we are members of the mystical body of Christ the Church. When we suffer for the sake of others, in service of the things that God has called us to do, then we are participating in Christ’s redemptive suffering—mysteriously completing the work that Christ began on the cross. Not that all our suffering should be viewed in this way, since as Peter reminds us, “If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps” 1 Peter 2:20-21.
Choose to let God transform you through your encounter with God at Mass. God’s great feast to which you have been invited.
What a day today has been! The sun was absolutely brilliant and its warmth was cast upon us without reserve! I wore only two shirts and no sweater! The monastery was buzzing with the presence of visitors throughout the morning and the monks were all about the grounds as they prepared the house to receive two more postulants (guys who are certain that God is calling them to leave the work and worries of the world behind and enter into a hidden life of prayer for that very same world.
There may be many in the church who are worried for it's future, especially here in Ireland, and yet, this community of men give testimony to what can only be called a revival! A revival of faith in Ireland where a community of young women, the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother, have opened a house; where in recent years the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal have opened new communities; where Cistercian College HS of Roscrea is experiencing a resurgence! Not only here, where the roots of the faith go deep into the heart of the country and the soul of it's people, but also in the land where so many from here went as missionaries and immigrants... America.
If the Church was in danger of irrelevance, empty pews and the mass exodus of our youth, we wouldn’t be witnessing revival across the land and beginning with our youth! We wouldn't see 25,000 youth at the National Catholic Youth Conference every other year; you wouldn’t see exponential growth in Steubenville and Lifeteen Youth Conferences if our youth were abandoning faith. Neither would you see explosive growth in ministry across the nation at College Campus’s, ever increasing numbers of students attending the FOCUS SEEK conferences every other year. We see this kind of hunger for transformative faith in the youth and young adults of our own diocese, in the response to campus ministry efforts, especially at UF and UNF, as well as the increasing numbers of Campus Ministry / College graduates who are not only continuing to grow and live their faith, but are also generating new and exciting forms of fellowship and making their presence known in our parishes.
NO! The gates of hell shall not prevail, revival is afoot! Christ is at work! Where hope has never failed, the Spirit is calling forth new life! The story of how I came to know of this hidden oasis of peace is almost as interesting as the experience of being here. These Benedictine Monks of Perpetual Adoration at Silverstream Priory are part of the tip of the spear that the Holy Spirit is using to tear at the vail of despair in the world... we know this by their fruits! They have welcomed me in as a brother and offered me their home as mine, for this all too brief a time and my heartfelt words of gratitude could never be equal to what is felt. They asked for nothing as compensation for their hospitality or for their time to teach and guide me. They give freely, as the Lord blesses them freely. Yet, (there is always a but), I will contribute to their financial needs and at risk of seeming too bold... I would invite you to pray about offering a little of your own treasure to them, in thanksgiving for what they have given me and which I will surely pass on to those I serve!
Information about this community can be found at https://www.cenacleosb.org and Guidance for giving financial support can be found at https://www.cenacleosb.org/help/
Above all, please continue to pray for the monks as I will, and for the people of Ireland who are now looking out to world and asking for the children of their missionaries and the spiritual children of their Priests, to heed the call of God and come home to Ireland and take up the banner of Christ.
It was a beautiful Lords Day here at #SilverstreamPriory which is nestled in the rolling hills of County Meath! I never imagined that so many of you would take such a keen interest in my retreat and study among these amazing, hospitable, generous, humble and faithful Benedictine Monks.
Cheer along with me in thanksgiving to God, who resisted blessing me with an early morning nap today, and instead, awakened me with the rising of the sun (seriously, 430 AM!) and made it so that I was ready for Mass at 6! After which I eagerly anticipated fresh fruit and hot coffee for breakfast, to accompany reading a few more chapters of that ever more engaging book, 'Mass in Slow Motion'. As I read this book, I am often struck by the authors wisdom and find so many inspirations for future sermons!
Some of the folks from the area joined us at this mornings time of prayer which was followed by Mass. You'd think that would be sufficiently satisfying for a good morning, but there was yet more to count among the many blessings! I'm not only mastering the mechanics of Latin ecclesial language , but also really beginning to grasp the flow and meaning of the words. This is as well true with our psalm prayers! Although this took all week and was mostly accomplished in prayer alone, I was, finally, able to fully participate in the time of praying the psalms and not just spiritually enter into the celestial beauty of the chanting Monks! Topping off the morning, there was a gathering with the visitors for coffee and treats in the Gatehouse. Among the folks today, was a local Curate (Pastor) who joined us after the celebrations in his parish, while on his way to lunch with his folks. He, dressed in his Roman Collar and Cassock, gave me visions of myself in the months ahead, and was a lively Irish Priest of just 6 months less than I, and full of love for his people. He's also at one of the most historic church's in Ireland... which I'll be adding to my list of adventures and experiences to have on my next trip to this wonderful oasis of peace.
After feasting on the culinary works of Dee, the 'outdone by none' cook of the monastery... I went for the usual walk about the grounds. The sun was bright when it boldly broke through the billoughy white and grey mixed clouds which seemed to be in a constant race to reach the islands edge, moved as they were, by the slightly cool wind that filled the lungs with refreshing purity and scents that danced as they passed through your nose. I was inspired to take my book, aside the pond which was busy with scittering instects and the graceful decent of the odd birds which only slightly disturbed the watery world.
Later, in the afternoon, I was able to accomplish almost a full run through of the Mass that you and I are all at least acquainted with, if not actively participating in it's celebration every Sunday... but this time, I was 'celebrating' in Latin! So, that was cool!
Well, the sun is down and I'm as yet in my chair writing for you. I'll pray that God allows me to have a full sleep in the shortened hours ahead.
Well, today has been more like what the locals might say is a typical day on the Emerald Isle, at least where the weather is concerned! It was a bit chilly, damp cold really, with bouts of rain and bursts of sunshine. I chose to wear a lighter sweater today, having been convinced that the Irish version of florida warmth would last until my departure next week! I chose poorly! This was the perfect day for bringing in some dry wood to make an embracingly warm fire in the hearth, settle back in a big wing chair while sipping hot tea and snacking on Scottish shortbread.
I say it was the perfect day for such a joy, but lacking the hearth and the wood for hearty fire in the 'gatehouse' for guests... I settled for turning up the heaters and sipping tea with shortbread, while settling into a comfy high back chair and reading an engaging and humorous little book (humorous in the way only the wartime English can be humorous), entitled 'The Mass in slow motion' by the Rev. Ronald Knox. His wit and insight intertwined like a Celtic knot, with his love of God and being God's servent, draws you into a world otherwise beyond your reach, and helps you to understand the majesty amidst the simplicity of the celebration of the Mass prior to the changes of the 1960's.
Reading and staying warm weren't the only endeavors on for today, of course. And, since it's been less than hospitable outdoors, this seems a good day to share with you all, what an average day here at the monastery tends to involve! An inside peek you might say!
Everyday, I wake up at about 4:30 am with good intentions to attend a 'private mass' of one of the monks promptly at 6 am. I accomplished that goal, once! Yet, I refuse to give up. After a time of prayer, or rather more accurate to say during the time of prayer, I am carried peacefully back into blessed sleep. I might add, my nights and ealry morning naps have been filled with dreams, in Latin! At 645 the bells are rung letting the community know that prayers will be in 15 minutes. We all gather in the Oratory for Lauds in Latin, which is to say, morning prayers which are chanted by the monks and to which I join my spirit and allow the words to soak into my soul as a soft rain nourishes a parched field of grain reaching for its life source. I should say, since you may not know, these prayer times are patterned after the Jewish practice of blessing the day at regular intervals by taking time to prayer the psalms... eventually, all the psalms! Monastic communities have been praying in this way since the 5th century, I believe, and Priests make promises to pray these same 'blessing hours' everyday.
After prayers, the 'Great Silence' of the early morning hours ends and the monks are either doing their work or having class. I of course do the same. I may have 'Mass Practice' in the morning, the afternoon or both, for about an hour or more. Before practice, I spend time learning the Latin vocabulary as well spending time studying the 'rubrics' (instructions for the actions of a priest during Mass).
There are times of the day when the Monks gather for their time of prayer, during which I would be studying or having my own time of personal prayer. However, at 1045 am we come together again for chanted prayers which are followed by Mass. It's at this time that we usually see folks from the local community come to the Monastary as well. After Mass, I read until Lunch.
Lunch and Supper are a treat! The bell rings and I emerge from my guest area where I am greeted by a cheerful monk who escorts me into the monastery dining room. We stand, greet Father Prior, who then leads serveral minutes of prayer before we all pull out our chairs and are seated. The meals end in the same way, all of us standing up behind our chairs and offering prayers of thanksgiving. During meals, one of the monks serves as the lector and one serves the meal. The lector begins with a short scripture reading, and then he continues to read to us from one of various possible books, as the other monk serves the meal. We eat in silence, savoring the gifts of the earth set before us (yes, one time there were peas and no I did not eat them... although I gave thanks to God on behalf of those who love peas)... and the lector continues to read until we have finished eating. The main meal of the day is lunch, and I assume that's because the day begins at such an early hour and so ends the same.
The afternoon is much like the morning. There are times of prayer, times of work, times of study, times of reading. Vespers are at 5 pm and Supper is at 630 pm. Compline is at 745, afterwhich 'the great silence' begins and continues until after morning prayers. On occasional evenings there are community activities, and the 'Great Silence' begins after those. I can't speak for the monks, but as for me, the day ends before the sun goes down... because good intentions inspire great expectations to be up again at 430 with plans to attend the Mass of my teacher, but if I'm being honest, with much greater anticipation of a blessed nap that includes dreaming in Latin!
Living among the cloistered monks, although not within their enclosure, and generally following their daily rhythm of prayer and work, allows for a prayerful 'diving into' the life of the Church at prayer. Doing so, in a Benedictin community #SilverstreamPriory, dedicated to Adoration of our Lord and reparation and prayer for Priests which is also immersed in the richness of the centuries old language of the Church... allows me to 'breathe in and savor' it's beauty, to enter into it's history and yet be deeply mindful of the Church of today, to which I have been blessed to be called to be a servant. To do so in Ireland, a place with a great history of faith which the faithful and their Priests carried to the corners of the world, just as Christ commanded... defies description which might be adequate to the experience.
These are pictures of the Altar at which I am learning to celebrate the Mass of Usus Antiquior (Extraordinary Form), as well as sights that bless me throughout the day. I might add, despite the reputation of Ireland for grey and rainy days, the Lord has richly blessed me with amazing sunshine and fresh breezes, full of singing birds, bouquets of aroma which come from so many flowers and a prevailing peace.
Update for the avid followers of my adventures in Latin... I am now proficient! Meaning, I can say the words in the right way and with the right meaning, still takes the better part of 3 hours to celebrate the Mass! And No, it's not because I preach to long... which maybe I do, on occasion - or so I've heard! AND I am having such a spiritual time of renewal at the monastery, I've decided to return to Scotland and live the life of an ancient Celtic monk on the top of a mountain... where you are welcome to join me for Mass (Tridentine of course) at 8, 10 and Noon on Sundays and Daily at noon.... LOL just kidding!
I am enjoying learning the Usus Antiquus, Latin is easier than I expected (but no grammar test please). It's awesome praying the Monastic Diurnal (other LOTH) and (chanted angelically by the monks), which I'm beginning to be able to follow with mind and not just spirit! It's a blessing to take it all in and learn in a place of prayer and silence (except for the 100s of crows who weren't told this is a monastery ... :) jk, they sound great... although the monks chanting sound better!)
Keep praying for me! While I was in England with the Friars of the Renewal at St. Pio Friary, Fr Glenn Sudano CFR gave me a great idea... pray for the gift of tongues... specifically Latin! :)
Walked into the village yesterday, had tea at a very nice Tea House where I learned to read the paper on a stick! Bought some Bassett All Sorts, mmmmm, and spoke with some very friendly Irish folks!
Doesn't sound like much does it! And yet in the silence of the inner hermitage, even as you wander about world, it is in the peace of this abode with Christ that the world and all within it is so much more beautiful and alive.
Third Part: Shhhhhh… enter into the sacred silence.
Trust and obey! Trust and obey! Those words slide so easily off the tongue, just like praying the Lord’s Prayer at Mass… right! But it’s actually living those words, that’s the part we struggle with… well not me of course, I’ve always rivaled the angels with my angelic behavior! Just ask my mother! Ok, at the risk of having one of my siblings decide that this a good time for a brutally honest comment made for all the world to see… I’ll come clean! My behavior may not always have been ‘angelic’, but, I can honestly say that because of the nature of my conversion and the path that God subsequently called me to walk, I quickly learned what it meant to trust and obey God. I learned the importance of listening and following. I’d like to say that I’ve completely trusted, been unfailing in my obedience, listened with laser like focus and perfectly followed… but, if it were true then I would be a Saint… which, clearly, I’m not. Siblings, remain silent!
It was the end of January of this year that I was invited to be the Pastor of Immaculate Conception Basilica and called upon to trust and obey our Bishop. It was during the month of February when much prayer and discernment was necessary if I was to see clearly, the way forward. In March I began to act on what I’d been able to clearly see, and sent emails to Craig Lodge community in Scotland, the Franciscan community in England and the Benedictine community in Ireland. March was also a month of waiting. Waiting with patience, with trust, and with an inner peace that deepened with each passing sunset even though nobody was answering my emails! Monks and Religious, always so engaged ‘ora et labora’ they need signs on the walls to find the computer room! I may be jealous… a wee bit perhaps!
Each part of this journey depended on the successful arrangement of another part, which meant it all had to come together slowly and one piece at a time. Week, after week, after week! By mid-April it was all taking shape with minor adjustments and in the first week of May everything was set. When I say that all was set in the first week of May, I mean I was set to fly to England on May 8th and the final details for this pilgrimage of prayer, study and renewal were worked out on May 4th! I know what you’re thinking! Truth is, I wasn’t worried, and to be quite honest… I’ve gotten very accustomed to God’s sense of timing which is often not even remotely close to being ‘comfortable’ but never fails to be perfect!
Mary was happy that I would be going to Scotland, and this would be the beginning of the journey. Yes, it’s true, the Mother of God would be a very special part of this trip… but I meant Mary, our student living and serving at Craig Lodge for the year! Be patient, we’ll get to the Blessed Mothers role in all this! From Scotland, I planned to travel to England where my friend, Father Gabriel Joseph was serving the Lord. He was happy to hear I was coming to visit… well, he never said that, but we’re just going to assume that he was filled with joy! From there, I would travel across the Irish Sea to the Benedictine Monastery.
I’d like to help you understand the ‘tone’ of this journey. The ‘tone’ is very important. It’s borne of the spiritual movement conducted by the Holy Spirit, just as a musical ‘tone’ is borne of the orchestrations by the conductor, of the instruments in a grand symphony. In the experience of the journey just as with the experience of a symphony, if we are to fully encounter the beauty and the richness, even in the subtlest part of the movement, it’s essential that we submit freely to the waves, the spiritual or musical ‘gulf stream’ as it were, and allow it to draw us into its depths.
The flight across the Atlantic was a time to separate. A time to leave behind those day to day concerns that often tempt us to sacrifice our restorative solitude of prayerful encounter with God, and instead to begin to follow the interior path toward that inner sanctuary of contemplation. Arriving in Scotland with greater peace, more able to walk at a slower pace, and allowing the Holy Spirit to enliven the senses, I was ready to begin to discover and receive. The time in Scotland was very much about bringing greetings, offering support and sharing with Mary about her experience… but it was also about history. It was about piercing the vail of this present moment and peering into the past. It was about encountering ancestors of blood and of faith. It would be a reminder of the question, ‘will you die for them’?
Then, as I travelled the countryside by train on my way to England I was able to process, to more fully receive the gifts of the previous three days in Scotland and prepare for the next encounter with the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit through the Franciscans of St. Pio Friary. The time at the friary would be about reflecting on my own past, my path to the priesthood and a reminder of the joys and sorrows experienced during those years long gone but still living in me. It would be a time of healing and freedom. It would be a reminder of the question, ‘will you live for them’?
On the train once again, through England and Wales I contemplated the revolutionary transformative power of the Gospel of our Lord. I literally embarked upon the Sea, on a ferry across the Irish Sea and gazed for hours into the beauty of the great expanse and wondered about the secrets held within the grasp of its depths. The previous days had been a continuing journey within the inner sanctuary, to a destination that was just over the horizon. In the distance of the depths of the soul, just coming into to view was the hermitage within, the place of adoring worship where you gaze into Christ and he into you, being carried into the nothingness of divine union.
The prayer and study during the experience of the monastery would be a reminder of those first days, weeks and months of my conversion experience. It would be an encounter with the liturgical past of Church at worship and the priesthood through the ages. It would be a reminder, that I must decrease and he must increase.
Shhhhhh… enter into the sacred silence.
Second Part: With the eyes of Faith, beginning to See
Always an important part of discernment is to ask others for their insight and advice, and then to totally disregard everything they tell you! He said, tongue in cheek! But really, sort of true in this case! I sought the advice of those who know where and how to learn Ecclesiastical Latin and to celebrate the Usus Antiquus form of the Mass… folks who are always genuinely overjoyed to answer that question and uninhibited in the way they share that joy with you!
It's not often that we see that kind of joy expressed when folks talk about the Ordinary form of celebrating the Mass… but, let’s be honest, how often does anyone get excited about the ordinary things in life. We should, really. Most of us live most of our days in the miraculous moments of ordinary circumstances. When you read the Gospels, Jesus isn’t often (might be never) approaching anyone while they're engaged in heroic extraordinary moments… but rather encounters us in ways through which he tries to teach us that it’s in the ordinary moments that we are called to live extraordinary lives. Just like in Eucharistic Celebrations, where God takes ordinary people and ordinary bread and wine and makes them extraordinary, transforms them. So really, being fully alive in Christ is to recognize that the visible might seem ordinary but with the eyes and ears of faith, we see and hear the invisible and the extraordinary. In this, we are indeed transformed.
Anyway, enough with the homily and back to the story!
After sincerely letting the voices of others pour living waters of wisdom into my discerning heart and mind, along with my own research and careful consideration of the ways and the circumstances in which I prefer to learn… I let it all swirl around within my prayers and looked for the hand of God pointing me forward… or slapping me gently because sometimes I’m not really paying attention even though I think I’m paying attention. You know, it’s like when you look at someone when they're talking, and suddenly realize you have no idea what they said or, when you’re reading Scripture and realize that you should go back 3 pages because you got distracted! Sorry, I'm sure that never happens to you, does it!?!
Well, since you were paying attention, you’ll remember that I mentioned that God was working things out all at the same time. While I was busy getting advice, doing research, praying and of course doing the ‘spiritual work’ all while being fully engaged in the work of ministry, God was helping our Campus Ministry team plan a retreat. There’s no doubt that we needed God's help, because it was going to be a bold step in faith and an approach we had never taken before. I can’t lie to you, (well, I could, but that'd wrong). I was very nervous about the whole thing and ready to pull the plug, if and when it was necessary! The whole time, conventional planning wisdom was screaming, pull the plug… but the Holy Spirit was whispering… trust me! You know that feeling?
There's no doubt, when you trust God, the results are great, and sometimes even mind blowing! Again, from the ordinary to the extraordinary! No less true on this occasion! We trusted. I trusted. It was awesome. Blessings flowed for everyone involved, but something very special happened on the Friday evening before the retreat began and it was the key moment that set the pilgrimage plan in motion! We had two Dominican Priests leading the retreat. They were studying in Washington and were associated with FOCUS Ministries (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). Part of their ministry was to lead retreats for college students. It was there that I met Fr. Colm, an Irish Dominican from Dublin! Are you beginning to see?
Fr. Colm and I chatted politely and just as most conversations between strangers with a common bond, we began to talk about more meaningful things, and then the moment of Grace arrived when I shared about my quest! “You know”, he said, “there’s a community of Benedictine Monks who have a priory, just north of Dublin. They’re exactly what you’re looking for!” Hmmm… to be honest, in my soul I knew in the slow motion – last forever of that moment when he said Benedictine Monks…that that was it! Words are wholly and completely useless when trying to explain complex spiritual realities but imagine in the sort of freeze frame reality of the moment that various threads of your life and prayer, desires and interests, dreams and inspirations are suddenly and beautifully woven into a tapestry that becomes a picture worth a thousand words from the hand and mouth of God.
Path determined. Details, to be worked out at a later date! Tongue in cheek, again! I mean sure, I had some things to do, but I’d be stealing credit if I said I went on to work it all out on my own. As usual, God was going ahead of me and had already been working things to this end!
By the next day I had found the Priory on the internet, gotten the contact information and eagerly emailed Father Prior of the community. Then I waited, and waited, and waited. You know, in the busy ‘let’s get it done’ way of the world (even in ministry at times) we expect things to happen like tumblers clicking on a safe as you turn the knob in the right combination. Monks don’t work that way! To be honest, I’m glad they don’t… but, in the moment, not so glad! Right?!
Of course, I couldn’t just sit idly by, so I started looking into all the other amazing things that needed to be worked out. Not the least of which was how this trip could be what the Spirit of God wanted it to be… which wasn’t just about study. It would be about visiting and supporting one of our students who had graduated and had been led by the Holy Spirit to do a ‘spiritual gap year’ of service in Scotland… at a place that I had been aware of and been interested to spend time at, which, also happened to be in the very same area of Scotland where a part of my family roots are traced all the way back into the 6th century!
That’s not all! I knew that God was also calling me to reconnect with a friend who had been in Seminary, in ministry and in community with me far far away and a long time ago, and was now the Servant (sort of like in charge) of a community of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in England! All of this, wrapped up neatly in a personal desire I’d had for many, many years, to visit Ireland and Scotland, not just as tourist but as a pilgrim. A pilgrim who could walk the same paths, breathe the same air, see the same vistas, engage the same heart… a pilgrim who could, in union with Christ, encounter the ‘soul of the early Celtic Church’. Encounter the land of those Saints who gave the world so much in a time of great need and the great darkness of the 5th through 11th centuries.
For 30 years the ‘peregrinate pro Christ’ (Pilgrims for Christ, the Saints of the Celts) have inspired and amazed me!
First Part: But not the beginning!
This is a story, a story which fails at being brief despite the authors best intentions. In the beginning, it seemed to be a personal story that wouldn’t be of great import or interest to others, but one fine day while on this journey the author and your humble servant, had the happy occasion to discover a rare blessing… an internet connection! O happy day! Feeling inspired and impulsive, he posted a note on Facebook. Crazy and unexpected, folks seemed to appreciate an opportunity to peer into this pilgrimage adventure, of sorts. The following day became like the previous, in greater number folks expressed a desire for more of the unfolding story! Well, one post become six. Now, the pilgrimage is at its end, but the story needs a beginning even though it isn't really the beginning of the story. The heart of the story, really, is that sometimes when the journey doesn’t seem to make sense… stay calm, trust God and go where the Spirit leads!
The beginning begins with a story that belongs to another. And as stories tend to do, beget new stories in the lives of others, our pilgrim was invited to become the writer of a new chapter in what was already an epic story of a parish community, an epic which began almost two centuries ago. So, the stories converge and give rise to the one herein told about a priest on a pilgrimage who desires to pray for himself, the faithful, the mission, the ministry and to discover the joys ahead.
Friends, I’m pleased for you to share this part of the journey with me. This is a journey that both began decades ago and yet is being guided at one and the same instant into the past and the future to be embraced, albeit a wholly unexpected turn with a wholly unexpected future. As a Catholic you will know and understand that once a year Priests are moved about between parishes as needed and hopefully as often as we pray it would, the Holy Spirit seems to will a particular kind of move. Our protestant friends will not be so familiar with this manner of moving the members of the Clergy, but certainly all can see, should they care to look, the ‘humiliating’ nature of what seems to be, from the outside, a game of musical chairs with its attendant randomness. And yet is made possible by the beauty of humble obedience to the will of God made manifest in a Bishop and which may not, at the end of the day or next month for that matter – ever actually make sense to the one being sent.
Such was the case for this Priest, your humble host and pilgrim. Invited as I was to become the pastor of so great and storied Church, itself recently raised to a Basilica. A parish of strong traditions and even stronger roots in the hearts of its faithful spiritual children who through the ages ensured it would presently be a home to the faithful as much as it was for them. A parish where these same faithful are and have always been, sacramentally reconciled to God with more frequency and greater numbers than any other in its diocesan family of parishes. As well, it is where the Mass is still celebrated from the High Altar, weekly, according to the Extraordinary Form of the Missale Romanum of 1962! This unique feature of this unique and extraordinary Church is the beginning of this story, the pilgrimage prompt you might say. You see, what you don’t know is that I am a new Priest albeit not a ‘young’ one. I’m also a ‘convert’ of sorts. A convert who's best friends are the great saints of the past whose stories spiritually formed me.
But I am also very much a Catholic of Vatican II inspired by St. John Paul II. And that my friends, means I don’t own a Cassock, I never learned Latin, never experienced the Tridentine Mass and never ever imagined I would ever, EVER… well, you get the idea! What's a priest to do… well, Keep Calm, and Learn Latin! But where, how, when… Keep Calm and Pray! Wait, no… how about telling the Bishop how there must be someone else, much better suited and much more ‘seasoned’ than I! Yep, seems the obvious thing to do, right? Nope, it was a conversation that ended with being joyfully told, ‘I have the utmost confidence’ in you! So, okay, back to Keeping Calm while praying and learning Latin.
Fr. Blair Gaynes has been in the Diocese since 2008.