This afternoon I returned to Mount Irenaeus for the first time in over three months. It’s been the longest absence in the past twenty plus years of my life. It was Sunday March 8, 2020 when I last walked the grounds here. That Sunday was the first time that we didn’t share a hug at the sign of peace and when we began social distancing. How quickly the pandemic progressed as quickly moved into shelter in place and then life as we knew it began to recede. Today fully three months later I was able to return to one of my favorite haunts as a I walked the Mountain Road.
Three months ago the ground was covered with snow. Today the snow is gone and I was surrounded by green grass and a forest canopy of leaves. There was a quickness in my step as I moved along the trail praying the Franciscan Crown Rosary that I had begun this morning at home in Franklinville. A deer darted out of the woods to my right as I walked this familiar trail that took me eventually to a clearing and the hermitage of La Posada.
Much has changed in three months besides the beautiful flora. We’ve lost over one hundred sixteen thousand of our fellow citizens to the ravages of Covid-19. I’ve emerged from an episode of depression in the early days of the pandemic. There was a time I had given up hope. Despair tugged at me. From early March until now there is one constant and that is the daily recitation of the Franciscan Crown Rosary. The daily rhythm of this mantric prayer sustained me and kept just enough hope in me to press on. There were times when I doubted it was doing any good and questioned my recitation. Along the way I’ve come to believe that there is power in recitation of the prayers and an effect on my world and the world around me that I’m frequently unable to fathom.
Today while I walked along this trail in the woods I thought of the words of Thomas Merton. “My Lord God I do not see the road ahead.” Along the road there has been the deadly pestilence that has not come near me. Globally there have been the ugly horror of racism and and a reaction to it that seems to be bringing change. Just yesterday the United States Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ Americans can not be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. That’s a huge win for many folks. In the midst of this pandemic there has been light and hope. For that I’m grateful.
In a couple of hours I’ll be driving to Mt. Irenaeus. It’s become a second home for me in the past fifteen years. Today they are celebrating their thirtieth anniversary. I’ve only been involved there for fifteen of those years. Nonetheless, there will be many familiar faces from all over the area and from all over the United States and maybe some other countries too. The Mountain as most of us refer to it is one of those unique places where the spirit of God transcends everything. It’s peaceful and though there is a chapel it’s not “church” in the traditional sense of the word. It’s really community and everyone involved there is a member of the community. Though its roots are Roman Catholic and Franciscan and their mission statement proclaims that they are “Joining with Jesus Christ in Making All Things New,” they welcome everyone regardless of faith or not.
All who participate in the mission of the Mountain join with Jesus Christ in “making all things new” by creating and nourishing a community that transcends a particular place, opening to all peoples, ages and cultures.
Today I’ll be actively involved in that transcendence as we celebrate thirty years of life and ministry at the Mountain.
Tonight I am a guest at Mt. Irenaeus along with about fifteen St. Bonaventure University men, four friars and a couple other men my age. Men’s overnights at the Mountain are times for sharing, forming and bonding with other men. I’ve been on several of these overnight retreats in the past ten years. Each time I’ve found peace, friendship and insight. I volunteered to drive three young men from campus to The Mountain. As we began our journey it began to snow quite hard and I worried about getting us there safely. My prayers were answered as we soon left the snow squall and had a leisurely drive. Tonight my life is richer because I accepted the invitation to be part of this gathering. I’m grateful to be a part of university life. Activities like this keep me young. I’m grateful too for the opportunity to spend a quiet night at one of my favorite places. Whenever I come to Mt. Irenaeus I feel as though I’m back home. Thanks be to God!
Today one of the scripture readings at Mass was the 63rd Psalm. Today’s Mass at Mt. Irenaeus was offered for the repose of the soul of Rachel Kotula. Rachel was the mother of Br. Joseph Kotula, OFM who rose to read this psalm today. As Brother Joe read the responsorial psalm his voice cracked at times. I’m sure it was because he loved his Mom and I know that he loves God too! Br. Joe is very human person and it was he who helped me to feel at home when I first came to Mt. Irenaeus thirteen years ago. It was Joe who helped me to discern my Secular Franciscan vocation. He is one of my dearest friends. Psalm 63 is one of my favorites. It is a Psalm of David when he was in the wilderness of Judah.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water. R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary
to see your power and your glory,
For your kindness is a greater good than life;
my lips shall glorify you. R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Thus will I bless you while I live;
lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name.
As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied,
and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you. R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
You are my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to you;
your right hand upholds me. R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God
Today was bitter sweet for me at Mt. Irenaeus. It is the Feast of Pentecost and I got to read the first reading for the Mass. It’s always an honor to be asked to do that and since the celebrant, Fr. Bob Strusynski, OFM was celebrating his last Mass at the Mountain it was deeply significant. I’ve grown to love Fr. Bob in the past almost dozen years since we first met at Mt. Irenaeus. He’s quiet, thoughtful and scholarly. He’s has a Ph.D. in theology and his homilies always reflect that scholarship. Soon he will be retiring to Butler, New Jersey. I’ll miss him very much. Today’s homily was typically about love. That’s often the topic of Fr. Bob’s talks. In the last couple of days I’ve finally come to understand at least intellectually what Franciscans mean when they speak of poverty. Poverty is ultimately about love and relationship. Forgiveness is in there too as God is always doing everything to bridge that gap that separates us from his love. Fr. Bob ended his homily with one of my favorite quotes from PierreTeillhard de Chardin,
“Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Thank you Fr. Bob for helping me to know more about love and specifically God’s love for me. Peace!
Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.– Rumi
I got to Mt. Irenaeus on time today but the liturgy had already started in the Friars garden as Fr. Dan Riley, OFM was leading those present and the other friars in prayers, blessings and incense. Dan reminded us that we are conjoined and consecrated by all creation and that it all is the Body of Christ. That simple yet powerful reminder is why I make the trek of 30 miles each week for Eucharist. Liturgies at the Mountain are more than typical “McChristianity” that is the norm in much of the world. At Mt. Irenaeus each of us is blessed and reminded of that blessedness each week. Dan’s homily invited us to think of ourselves as co-creators of the Body of Christ. We are invited to a feast at which we are both sacred creator and consumer. There is no one in this creation who is greater or less than another. This intentional hospitality is what draws those who journey each week to Holy Peace Chapel. I am drawn by that not so strange pull that animates my life. What and where it is leading now I don’t know but I have every intention of following.
Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States and for many of us it has many meanings. My earliest recollections were trips to my grandmother’s home and dinner with all the cousins. Later in life it was dinner at Mom’s. Still later it was turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing in US Navy chow halls. Those years made made me long for the earlier ones. Eventually I got married and thanksgiving meant dinner at our home. My wife was the hostess for our extended families and our children. Grandpa Joe says grace and then we all dive in for turkey, corn, all the trimmings and pies too.
I woke up early this morning and began reading Gratefulness.org which is one of my favorite websites on the entire Internet. I started tweeting and sharing some of their links and stories about the positive effects of Gratefulness. I dozed off again for a few hours and then re-awakened around 8:30AM. to my surprise a couple of those tweets were retweeted and the circle of Gratefulness was extended to at least 2300 others and God only knows who else will retweet again. This demonstrates the power of gratitude and social networks.
Today I’m grateful to God as I understand him and to my lovely wife and children which now include our lovely daughter-in-law. They are tangible evidence of his love and abundance. I’m grateful for my co-workers who continue to inspire me each day. I’m grateful for their patient encouragement which inspired me to return to college a couple of years ago and to graduate in May 2011 from St. Bonaventure University at the top of my class. I’m grateful to my boss, Michelle, a beautiful lady who supported me through four internships and continues to lovingly mentor me. I’m grateful to all the lovely ladies, Jessica, Greta & Katie who took me on as an intern along the way. I’m grateful to my professors and fellow students who encouraged a reluctant student to find my way. I’m grateful for the many Franciscan mentors who help to animate my life each day.
I’m grateful for my Mom who never gave up on me and continues to buoy my spirit when I get blue. I’m most grateful to my wife who has truly been God’s agent in my life. She continues to provide inspiration, love and an occasional kick in the butt to keep me on course. My blessings are so many this day that I cannot count them all. I’m closing this post with one of my favorite prayers that hangs on the wall at Mt. Irenaeus
It is not you that shapes God
it is God that shapes you.
If you are the work of God
await the hand of the artist
who does all things in due season.
Offer Him your heart,
soft and tractable,
and keep the form
in which the artist has fashioned you.
Let your clay be moist,
lest you grow hard
and lose the imprint of his fingers.
Today is a day of retreat at Mt. Irenaeus. I’m leaving soon because I promised to help out and I’m sure it will be a restful day. I haven’t been on a retreat since February. I’m overdue. In our highly connected social whirl it’s good to get away for a time apart. A time off the grid. There was a time I thought of being a priest and though I’m glad my life took another direction there is still this ever present longing for union with God. One of my best friends and former spiritual advisor used to love “The Hound of Heaven.” That poem along with Merton’s writings have formed and informed my life.
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains, but where shall I find my help?
From you alone, O God, does my help come, -Psalm 121:1
I’m walking on Peace Path. Only sounds here are my footsteps and an occasional bird chirping. I’ve walking more lately on my visits to the Mountain. I feel drawn more to solitude. It is inviting me and I’m trying to listen. Today is Trinity Sunday.
I’ve been away for a couple weeks but my heart is always here at the Mountain. Here I find the peace and solitude that sustains me each day. It was here that I came back to the active practice of my faith eleven years ago. I’m walking on the Mountain Road now as I blog with my iPhone. It’s Fathers Day and I have been fortunate to have two men I called father. One was my biological and the other was a stepfather who loved and cared for me as his own. Now, I still have Our Father who us in heaven and earth. I walk with him now on this road and each day in my life. The older I get the more I am aware of his loving presence.