The Comforting Bond of Silence

silent-prayer-and-reflection-in-catholic-church     I have missed all of you as I did my annual eight-day silent directed retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in Milford, Ohio.  The Retreat House is located on the banks of the Little Miami River and provided a great environment for reflection and prayer.  I consider myself to be very fortunate in that I have taken an eight- day silent directed retreat in 29 of my 31 years as a priest.  One of the other years (1994) I did the 36-day silent directed retreat following the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola who founded the Jesuits. A silent directed retreat, as the name implies, capitalizes on one of the greatest tools of prayer, namely SILENCE.  During a directed retreat you meet with a director for 45 minutes or so each day.  That session obviously involves talking.  The trained Director suggests scripture passages to read and pray with, but the passages are related to issues in your life that you wish to focus on or the director suggests that you focus on.  Silence is merely a tool to help with that focus.

Most directed retreats are done with 20-30 others who are following the same prayerful pattern.  Without speaking to the other retreatants, there almost always is a bond of support that forms and in many ways, in the absence of conversation, the others’ presence is magnified.  This bond of silence can be very comforting.  Mass is offered everyday and obviously there is not complete silence during this time of prayer, but meals are eaten in silence and all other activities are done to preserve silence.  Reading, time in the chapel in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, working out and any other form of prayer are also done in silence.

Bellarmine Retreat House in Barrington is one of our neighbors and is staffed by Jesuits and those steeped in Jesuit spirituality.  I would encourage all of you to take advantage of the many retreat options provided by Bellarmine, particularly silent directed retreats that can be as short as 2-3 days.  There are retreat houses all over the world, and certainly many in the United States, that offer silent directed retreats run and staffed by not only Jesuits, but Franciscans, Benedictines, Dominicans and Carmelites (just to name a few).

I encourage all of you to consider a retreat of any kind, but particularly a silent directed one. Try it!

The second part of my time away was spent visiting 12 parishes in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.  This visit was to be the first leg of my sabbatical that I have postponed, but I was welcomed with so much enthusiasm in Pittsburgh that I decided to go ahead with my visit there.  Pittsburgh is well under way with a diocesan-wide planning and collaboration process called “On Mission for the Church Alive,” similar to “Renew My Church” here in Chicago.  They have done an excellent job of informing parishioners of the realities of everything from population trends, Mass attendance, building locations, finances, every demographic trend and statistic available, conditions of buildings, staffs, priests and other factors.  They have taken the time to inform parishioners, to educate them and to listen to them.  I was most impressed with the prayer events and the formation sessions led by Vicariate level leaders as well as the Bishop.

I have to admit that I bragged a lot about Holy Family and came away from the experience, as I so often do, feeling fortunate that we have created and maintained a very vibrant experience of Church here. Thank you – every one of you – for your dedication and commitment to making Holy Family the unique community of faith that we are. We can always learn more from other churches and dioceses.  I have to admit one of the biggest insights from Pittsburgh came from Fr. Steve Kresak who is the pastor of Holy Apostles, a new parish formed from four previous parishes in the Carrick and Baldwin areas of Pittsburgh.  Before the major planning of bringing these four communities together, Fr. Steve organized social events so the people could get to know each other.  Now there remain four worship sites, so the church buildings didn’t close, but the offices are located at one site, the previous St. Albert the Great.  The community has come together and I sensed a great sense of unity as I met with staff, Parish Council and Finance Council. They all pointed to the importance of getting to know each other socially before they entered into major planning and consolidation.  We here at Holy Family will not be asked to participate in consolidation efforts such as those in Pittsburgh, but we can all learn more about sharing resources.

Pittsburgh seems way ahead of the game in its thorough planning and prayerful efforts to create a sustainable, vibrant church and I thank Fr. Sam Esposito for introducing me to so many staff members and priests that made my visit to Pittsburgh so insightful.

I will be doing more traveling this Fall because a part of my sabbatical plans included weddings in other areas of the country, but following Labor Day I will be home a bit more.  Please keep my mom, Pat Keehan, in your prayers as she navigates her declining mental health.  I REALLY appreciate the outpouring of concern and prayers from so many of you.  Thank You!!!

We are all turning our prayerful attention to the Houston, Texas area and the devastation and flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey.  We will have a collection box in the center aisle of church this weekend where you can place a donation that we will forward to Catholic Charities in Galveston/Houston.  If you would like to make a donation, you can send it directly to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, 2900 Louisiana St., Houston, TX  77006 or make a check payable to Holy Family with Catholic Charities Houston on the memo line. Let’s all pray for our neighbors in the Houston area.