A Reflection for Holy Week

The last couple of years I have been privileged to spend the Triduum at Mt. Irenaeus living in community with the Friars and other guests as we celebrated the liturgy together. This year that will not be possible and that’s weighed on me. I will miss that very much. This morning I got an email message from Fr. Dan Riley, OFM who is the founder of the Franciscan Mountain Retreat and a good friend. Like everyone else Dan’s concern is for those who are working on the front lines, for those suffering, dying, losing loved ones and everything else that goes with this. This week is celebration of the passion like none in recent memory. I have spent more time praying this month than any month in recent memory. Sometimes I despair and wonder if my prayers benefit anyone or anything. Then I hear of advances and answers to prayers for others and I think maybe they are. I hope you enjoy Fr. Dan’s reflection.

Happy Birthday Fr. Dan

This is about a day late, because it was at Mass this morning that I learned that this is the birthday of a beloved Friar and the protector of Mt. Irenaeus, which has become my second home in the past eleven years. Sixty-eight years ago William Francis Riley was born and raised in Rochester, New York. He often speaks of his public school legacy but eventually he would find his way to St. Bonaventure University and graduate from there and later become Fr. Daniel P. Riley, OFM.  If he hadn’t disclosed his age at Mass today most folks would think they were talking to a man twenty or thirty years younger. He has a vitality that is unmatched and a personality that attracts others easily. I first met him nearly eleven years ago when I began attending Mass at Mt. Irenaeus. I had been away from the active practice of my Catholic faith for nearly thirty years at that point. One Sunday morning in February 2000 I called the Mountain and learned how to get there. My wife and I made that first trip and it’s one that I’ve been making nearly every Sunday since. Dan has been so much a part of that journey. It was his vision to build this off campus retreat center in the hills of Allegany County in Western New York. Mt. Irenaeus is almost thirty miles from the campus of St. Bonaventure University.

From my first visit to the Mountain I felt welcomed and ultimately attracted but it was something Dan said early in my journey’s there that made me realize that I had finally come home. Mt. Irenaeus is home to many people like me who are looking for a place apart a place where solitude and the Gospel are celebrated. Mountain spirituality welcome all who come there and all are transformed by the hospitality that knows no bound. Everyone regardless of spiritual tradition is welcomed and they all know it soon after arriving.  This video embedded here was made a couple of years ago and it pays tribute to this wonderful man who is a brother and father to us all.  Happy Birthday Fr. Dan! We love you.


In the woods..

Today I went to Mass at Mt. Irenaeus and it was a lovely day to be sure. Blue skies with temperatures hovering around 65F at 11:00am when Mass started. The chapel was full of young men from St. Bonaventure University. The celebrant today was, Fr. Dan Riley, OFM. There were a number of young folks and a theology professor and his family from nearby Houghton College too. Several Secular Franciscans were there and then some other visitors. Fr. Dan’s homily challenged us all to lead but at the same time to keep our ego out of it and instead to follow what Christ said in today’s Gospel, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

I liked that verse and the theme of Dan’s homily because it seemed to resonate with what I’ve been reading in the Educational Leadership course I’ve been taking at St. Bonaventure University this semester. Leaders who aren’t servants aren’t usually very effective leaders or their power is only contained in their ability to force or control what a person does. Real leadership that really changes people and paradigms comes from servant leadership like that practiced by Jesus in the Gospel.

After Mass and Brunch I took a walk up to the top of the land at Mt. Irenaeus. I was going to walk the labyrinth, but since there already some people doing that I thought I’d walk up to Naomi’s knoll, from there I walked along the “Hope” trail until it intersected the “Peace” trail. Eventually my walk led me to one of my favorite places at Mt. Irenaeus and that is La Posada. La Posada is the most primitive hermitage at Mt. Irenaeus and it’s about a ten minute walk from nearly all the other buildings. I like to visit there. It’s like visiting God’s own house. I went inside, read the reflection book which contains the thoughts of the dozens of people who have written reflections of their stay at Mt. Irenaeus. Then I sat in a soft chair near the center of the cabin and in no time I was asleep. I slept in this place for almost forty minutes. It must have been what I needed. I’ll be back to La Posada but I carry her in my heart wherever I go.

La Posada is symbolic of the place where Jesus was born. It seems fitting that this small hermitage named for the birthplace of Christ would be one of my favorite haunts.

Dan Riley, OFM

I’ve seen this video a few months ago, but tonight I came to it off a Twitter feed from St. Bonaventure University. I first met Dan Riley in the winter of 2000. I came to Mt. Irenaeus in search of I don’t know what. I had been leading a Fellowship of Christian Athletes huddle and I was looking for something more. Coming to Mt. Irenaeus was a stretch as I’d been away from the active practice of my faith for almost thirty years at that point. I’d become disillusioned with the a church that didn’t seem to live up to its mission, at least in my own eyes. I’d read Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen and was an occasional visitor to Abbey of the Genesee, but I was not a regular communicant until that Sunday in February 2000. I don’t know if Dan was the celebrant that first Sunday, but I met him very soon after coming to Mt. Irenaeus and I distinctly remember that it was a homily by Dan on Holy Thursday night of 2000 that brought me back home. His manner bespeaks a man who is the epitome of what it is to be a Franciscan. Fr. Dan taught me how to be holy by being wholly myself.

This video pays tribute to Dan and the sharing of these students demonstrates that Dan’s ministry transcends generations. Recently he was honored by St. Bonaventure University with the Gaudete Award. It’s the highest award given by St. Bonaventure University. I saw him on campus on Thursday and he was as warm as ever.

Regina Fratrum Minorum

Regina Fratrum Minorum is what is written on the lintel above the entry into this small side chapel which is adjacent to the University chapel at St. Bonaventure University. Translated literally I think it means, “Queen of the Friars Minor.” Mary held a very special place in St. Francis of Assisi’s heart and it’s depicted in this mural behind the altar in this small chapel. I used to come here and sit when I first moved to the area in 1979. I loved the quiet and peace and I always felt very secure in this chapel. Today when I was on campus at St. Bonaventure University waiting for the staff of Graduate Admissions to return from lunch I walked into the University Chapel and then here.

Today was a homecoming and an epiphany for me. Yesterday, I formally applied for admission to the University and today I met with the head of the department I will be a student in. I wanted to stop by admissions too and make sure that I was covering all the bases. With some extra time following a great lunch at Cafe La Verna I stopped by this chapel and sat where I sat so many years ago and thought how much my life had changed and how grateful I am for the direction it took and continues to take. I thought too of the Franciscan influence in my life and how these men and women in brown had so deeply influenced my life. I began my formal education at St. Pius X School in Delevan, New York in 1957. Fifty-two years later I’m in the process of application at St. Bonaventure University. How much my life has been formed by Franciscans.

Today, as I walked about the campus I discovered that I knew many people.  I met Dr. Gibbs who will be in charge of my education here. At Graduate Admissions I met Tina Dewe,  a woman whom I still owe an airplane ride. I talked to  Br. Ed Coughlan and Fr. Dan Riley.  In fact Dan Riley has more to do with me being at St. Bonaventure other than my wife and daughter than probably anyone else I know.  It was a homily on Holy Thursday night nearly ten years ago delivered by Dan that brought me home to my roots. Although the experience of a student is new, the surroundings are old and familiar. I did get to sit in St. Joseph’s Oratory for the first time in my life. I’ve passed it many times throughout the years and been intrigued but never had a chance to venture in until today.  St. Bonaventure has always held a special place in my heart. I remember sitting in study hall at Archbishop Walsh high school and looking south at the orange tile rooftops. It was here that I attended basketball camp in the summer of 1970. It was here that my wife and I came on our first date almost twenty-eight years ago. Here it was that our son Devin began to play organized basketball in  Butler Gymnasium.  Here we’ve come hundreds of times to watch the Bonnies basketball teams.  Now,  my daugher and I are students.   I stopped by the bookstore to pick up a t-shirt that says St. Bonaventure University.  I look a bit more official.

A blessing

Today I made my way along a number of different roads and routes to Mt. Irenaeus. I haven’t been to the Mountain in a couple of weeks. Last week I found myself in Washington, DC and at a bookstore in Dupont Circle at 11:00 AM. Today, the air was sunny and warm as I pulled off Route 1 in Friendship, New York and turned on to Hydetown Road. I drove very slowly along the the dirt road as I made my way to Mass. Lately I’ve been intentionally driving slower and especially on my way up to Holy Peace Chapel. As the liturgy started and Fr. Dan invited us to listen to the lyrics of Cyprian Consiglio as he sang “This is who you are.” Mass began and I listened to the readings and Fr. Dan’s homily and as rich as all of it was, it was the moment when Fr. Dan related the story of how all were truly welcome in this place. Dan said, that earlier this morning as he had been preparing the chapel for the Eucharist that two members of the Baha’i and Muslim faiths had been here praying and that their presence helped to consecrate this place. He explained that they were neighbors and had been here before. Dan’s complete acceptance of them and their faith tradition reminded me why I drive thirty miles to Mass most Sundays of the year. Thank God for Fr. Dan Riley and for the Franciscan Friars of Holy Peace Friary who open the word of God for us.

They sure as hell love each other

A tourist says to his guide, “You have a right to be proud of your town I was especially impressed with the number of churches in it. Surely the people here must love the Lord.” “Well,” replied the cynical guide, “”they may love the Lord, but they sure as hell hate each other.”–taken from “Selected Writings of Anthony De Mello.” by William Dych, SJ.

I’ve written before how much De Mello’s words touch me and this short story is a good one. How often do we hear of religious people full of intolerance for each other. This morning at Mass I witnessed an unusual event. Fr. Dan Riley, OFM who was our celebrant began the Eucharist this morning by inviting us to say our names and then told us that at some point during the liturgy we would break so that some late arriving guests could join us and then we’d sing “Happy Birthday” to one of them.

He began with the sign of the cross and then followed the Introit, the Kyrie, the Gloria, the first reading and the psalm, Following the psalm, Fr. Dan heard the guests arrive and then he walked out of the chapel to greet them. As we sat there waiting for the Mass to resume I thought of how much Fr. Dan’s actions were like those of Jesus. He didn’t wait for them to come to him, but went to them, met them when they were still aways off and brought them into our midst and then we sang Happy Birthday to Maurice. Dan’s actions speak louder than any words he could have spoken this morning. He was Christ to us and to the late arriving guests. The love in the chapel was palpable this morning and it touched us all.

The guest was St. Bonaventure University basketball player, Maurice Thomas, and his family. We all got to meet Maurice and his family and we all experienced love first hand. There was much love there this morning and its an event I won’t soon forget.