Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Genesee of A Soul

                                                      Fr. John Denburger  Bamberger
The scent of fresh baked bread embraced me as I entered the lobby of the Abbey Church and it only furthered a sense of home for me. Not only was there immense comfort spiritually and a great feeling of peace in the surroundings alone, it was quite appetizing too. I know it’s said 'we do not live on bread alone', but if you ate this bread it may be a point up for debating!
Despite my feelings of inner comfort and peace, I too felt a bit imposturous. Although I am usually extremely extroverted and one who talks WAY too much, I felt silenced in the face of this place. Even the creaking of the floor made me feel like I was far too loud to be there.  The bread store was closed, the porter’s door was too. I took notice of some clip boards on a table, there were two. One was designated for Confession, and the other for Spiritual direction.
The Confession sign-up sheet had the date written with a corresponding time and also listed the priest “on duty” for each day. All of them were strangers to me. I looked at the sheet and decided upon a 2:30 pm time slot on Monday. There was a priest’s name listed there, Fr. John Denburger. The last name had been crossed out and the name Bamberger had replaced it. In my immaturity and private thoughts I couldn’t help but think of hamburgers, and then the scene from The Pink Panther movie, where Steve Martin attempts to pronounce hamburger with his French accent humorously flooded my mind. If you haven’t seen the movie my apologies, but it is quite a funny moment. I was also fasting that day so perhaps my immaturity can be excused and blamed upon a moment of great temptation. Though, unbeknownst to me at that time I was about to confess to the “Big-Mac” of monks!! 
I headed back to Bethlehem house and prepared to go to sleep awaiting my Confession with an anxious and joyful anticipation.
                                                                            *    *   *
I was happy to have found a companion at the retreat house, his name was Patrick, and though mindful of our shared need for solitude and silence, our conversation somehow only furthered our experience of solitude and did not veer us from our personal paths sought that week. He agreed to walk with me to the Abbey for my Confession and said he would be in the Abbey Church praying during his time of waiting for me. I assured him that I had a confessed a week ago so this would be a “short one”. Was I ever wrong!
I entered the same lobby embraced by the beautiful scents of home. This time the Bread Store was open and there was more quiet activity around. The porter door was open, though no one was there. I did not know where to go for Confession, here was far different than home. No polished priest with a fresh black pressed shirt and Roman Collar, No red and green light, no line, just a check list and an empty wooden chair.
I caught notice of an elderly man perusing some books. He was disheveled, yet radiant. A little rugged and bearded, wearing tarnished clothes suitable for work. I remember looking at him and saying to myself “Gosh this guy looks like Padre Pio”, not that I have ever seen Padre Pio, but, I mean, based on the photos I have seen this guy could have indeed played him in a film or something.
Anyway, my Confession time had arrived and I had no clue what I was doing and did not want to bother anyone, I took a long shot and interrupted this man and his reading. “Excuse me sir, I’m looking for a Fr. John Bam-ber-ger, or something,” stumbling appropriately on every syllable of this lengthy name. “I signed up for a Confession and I'm not sure where I have to go to meet him."”  He became a bit more engaged for a moment looking up from his thoughts with a bit of heightened curiosity saying “Oh, yes, that’s me!”. He shook my hand exchanging some formal yet extremely guarded pleasantry and led me behind the bread store to a small room with a window. The anticipation of a joyful confession was overtaken now by a bit of anxiousness. How could this small, old, working man monk priest make me feel so tiny?
I compensated for any discomfort by over talking before the Confession began. He was not having any of that. Though he was curious to know briefly about me and my reason for retreating, and what I was looking for, he too was rather quick to get things on track. "Now, now, your Confession."  I looked up at him blankly. "Go ahead" he said invitingly.... 
At this point I was sweating. Arguably this room was quite hot, but suddenly it felt much smaller than it had when I first got in there. Fr. John gazed reflectively out the window to his left, his face filled with a peaceful intensity and his hands folded restfully. My thoughts raced. "How am I gonna tell this priest, who is like my Nonno's age all the horrible things I've done? Oh my God, he is going to have a heart attack or something when I talk about fornication! Breathe, Catherine, breathe, all of that was long ago, confessed, just give him a general idea of where you've come from, where God has brought you, why you're here, and the current sins and temptations... you can do this God is good" And just like that familiar words flooded my mouth. "Forgive me Father, for I have sinned"....
I began my litany of sins, eyes rather downcast, voice slightly softer than my jovial over talking. Fr. John remained quite stoic and collected.  I would look at him from time to time, perhaps for a reaction of some sort, or for a disciplined dialogue, as any good father does.
 Though I did not know this priest before me, I knew I could expect sound penance and well-grounded counsel.  My anxiousness lifted throughout the length of litany. I was aware that I needed this honest shedding. Fr was patient with me, he had a way of making everything I said seem important and significant, but he was also collected and stern enough to not allow me to veer off from what really mattered.
At one point he interjected and said “Why would you ever do such a thing?”  Such a simple question, yet it still remains with me. It was a moment that I was able to reflect upon my actions; even those not deemed mortal sins, with a greater sense of accountability. When I attempted to rationalize them to him or offer some sorry excuse, there was none.
 “How many times did you do this, you know it is important to say that too…” I counted using my fingers, a custom I had acquired from my childhood, and clearly not gotten rid of, as if I was releasing each of those moments with the abrupt point of my shaky fingers into the mercy of God. Layer upon layer the onion was being peeled away.

 “Sorry Father, I can’t remember”. I felt like this was my first Confession, It was very different than any of those I had made before. His counsel to me was direct and precise. Most of it profoundly communicated through the silence of his listening. Though extremely spiritually green and still a stumbling sinner, I was open. I knew I came to the right place where God had wanted me, 250km from home, in the middle of nowhere, spending my March Break with a bunch of praying monks.
“Make a good retreat now!” he said, and I exited the room, heading to the Abbey Church for my penance and then to find my walking companion.

My Confession was obviously much too long. No sign of Patrick and in a way that was important too. I needed to be alone with God, to digest Fr. John’s words. I paused before our Lady of The Genesee before departing the Abbey. It had grown to be my favourite spot on the Abbey grounds. I knelt and said nothing. I gazed up at the statute of Mother Mary engulfed in a feeling of consolation while simultaneously spiritually shaken.

I began walking back to Bethlehem through the grassy path. I could not get the Confession out of my mind, and Father’s words continued to linger.

 I began to realize that the fluffy spa like feelings of a spiritual retreat were not meant to endure. If this was to be the place of reflection for greater clarity and honest discernment, then rightfully so some healing and a wrestling of wills was to be had. 
 It was time to be shaken. It was time to face the Cross.



Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Genesee of A Soul: March Break With Monks by C.C.


March Break With Monks '12


Prior to March Break middle school hallways are sheer chaos, this is what it often feels like in anticipation of one week off. Teachers pleasantly passing one another discussing their holiday plans of lavish vacations or just looking forward to quiet days spent with their families. Some friends of mine often gave their time to more work, more students, and more teaching during their break. These were those who were always "on". I admired them but I knew in so many ways it was time for me to log off.

I selectively shared my March Break plans with some coworkers. Here I was a young woman heading off to a monastery with a bunch of monks for the March Break, how does one ever share this casually in passing?  There is no simple way to present it. The length of morning chatter in the narrow hallways not quite long enough to ever communicate the truth of it all, nor is it easy water cooler conversation. Mindful of my position teaching in the Public School Board I also didn’t want to pierce that political line and cause discomfort. There always seems to be a public silence around the sacred; lingering somewhere between timid false ignorant humility and a fear of radical over-zealousness. At this time in my spiritual life I just wasn’t ready for the questions.

I was so desperate for this time away. I was not running from anything but running toward God. I had undoubtedly given my time off to feed the emptiness of sin before: the parties, the resorts, the lust, all of it now were memories of a life I no longer lived, but one that very much lived in me and served as a reminder of God’s radical love and transforming merciful grace.

I owed everything to God and I had a lot of time to make reparation for.  A one week retreat would only be grazing the surface but I so desperately needed it so that He could dwell deeper within me, or rather, so that I could find Him already there.

I packed simple for retreat, I mean not as simple as a walking staff, and I did have a couple bags for my journey. I figured I would want to be comfortable, I was also mindful of the fact that I was going to an environment with many holy celibate men. I made sure to bring modest clothing, although conversion is a lengthy process and at this time in my life I admit that while my heart was undergoing some serious transformation, my closet needed its own conversion. I opted for sweats, soccer track pants, and some hoodies.

I left for Genesee in the afternoon following Mass in the morning and a brief lunch with Carmen. Then I was off, I drove blaring some new Bruce Springsteen music as if hanging on to some sense of noise before the apocalyptic foreign silence of retreat.

The drive was smooth and liberating. I could not deny the inner peace and excitement that overtook me in anticipation of this retreat, yet there was some fear too. Fear perhaps of the unknown spaces that would open up within me, or of what God was asking of me. Peace was greater than this fear though and that is what kept me willing and open.

I crossed the border with ease, although the U.S. customs man did look at me like I had three heads when I told him where I was going. I was used to crossing the border for teacher’s college some years prior, but I’m sure seeing a young woman driving a two door Honda Civic, saying she is heading to a monastery for the week seemed rather misplaced. Surely, more women of my caliber were seemingly flooding the border in pursuit of the latest U.S. shopping rates and such, I was in pursuit of God.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Genesee of a Soul

One sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak.” (G.K. Chesterton) 

God on the Greyhound 

It was a late night in December 2010, I was aboard a Greyhound bus from Toronto to Buffalo, NY to catch a red eye flight to Boston, to then return home for Christmas driving a U-Haul rental truck with a man I had met on YouTube that spring. This may sound like some segue into a romantic comedy and perhaps it is fitting that way. In hindsight everything has a way of appearing more pruned, calm, and collected. There is a certain liberated clarity we can look upon the past with and enter into it not in a spirit of dwelling, but of immense gratitude. It becomes then a classroom for us of a school we have already graduated from yet perpetually an eternal student of. 

The past lives with us; not as a weight, but as a reminder of where we have come from and helps us to define our present purpose. It keeps us humble. Everything with any value tends to work out that way. As a phoenix arises from ashes, we too are invited, by remaining attentive, to arise from our own ash and interior desolation. 

I did not fully recognize the weight of my own ashes until I was given the grace to see just how much darkness surrounded me. Though this sounds poetically similar to the lyrics of Amazing Grace, I must in fact acknowledge that this is a truth I have lived. Any pattern or likeness to another's journey of being captivated and transformed through faith by the loving embrace of God is reflective of a fundamental truth; of God's tireless pursuit of us all and our human ignorance to flee the authenticity of where and to Whom we most belong. 

 I don't seek to convert anyone or impose values and beliefs. The last thing I seek to do in this is offend anyone. If it convicts you it is the work of God's grace. If it angers you, what a blessing, and if it moves you, in that I'm pleased. 

Anyway, Back on the bus.

 I was a bit apprehensive about riding a Greyhound, I'm not one usually filled with fear but just recently in Canada a man had beheaded someone aboard a Greyhound bus, so my usual gazing out the window and peacefully nodding off was out of the question. I was definitely wide eyed and attentive to everyone and every movement. I wasn't without comfort though. I had a met a young girl and her brother prior to boarding. She asked to sit with me. She was very polite and pleasant. She was extremely modest in her dress and delicate, wearing a skirt that was floor length, but not frumpy. She radiated a beauty I couldn't describe, but was drawn to in curiosity. She spoke with prudent chattiness and I could feel my fear aboard the bus begin to dissipate in the light of my new pleasant companion. We grazed over the formalities of initial conversation before things became far more imbued with great meaning. I peered over toward her brother who was seated across the aisle and just behind us. It was night so most the bus was in darkness, some asleep, and based on the sounds coming from the back of the bus, some were drinking their way through the night. Her brother had the light on above his head and I could see that he was reading. In the dim bus light I noticed he was also wearing a Roman Collar, and peering down to his reading material I could see he was immersed contemplatively in reading the Bible. Peace overcame me at once. I humbly asked the young girl if he was a priest, and she softly shared that he was studying to be one and in the seminary. This intrigued me. She then said that she was also discerning Religious life herself, but was still high school aged so had some time before the community she was feeling called to would be open to her more seriously.

It is amazing how God works. Sometimes in the most intricate subtle ways and other times He makes Himself very apparent, but He is always at work. God showed up on the Greyhound that night and I was all ears. Four months earlier I had begun an honest stumbling toward the Catholic faith. I was Baptized and Confirmed as Catholic but lived most of my young adolescent and adult life in the shadow of a pre-converted Augustine, (more on that later)... I'm not really  one for labels and find the term conversion to be used far too loosely, (and yet not taken seriously enough) but I had in many ways experienced what I can only refer to as the beginning of a radical transformation. 

The tone of our conversation became much more relaxed. I asked her where she was going. She told me that her and her brother were heading to a retreat to pray with monks and be in silence. As much as I was converted this idea was alarming, yet made me curious. “Real monks?" I questioned. "Where is this place?" She then rambled on about waking to pray at 2:00am and walking to the Church with a flashlight in the dark of night to join the monks in their Vigils. She assured me she would be walking even in the cold of December, even through the winter snow of Upstate New York (which can be quite unforgiving). 

Our time together was cutting short. The Buffalo airport was in sight and I was getting ready to depart. She told me she was going to a place called Genesee. She scribbled down her email, and contact information, I did the same, and we prepared to part ways. 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Merton Conference Memory '13

It seems I will be writing about Fr. John Eudes for a bit. It would probably bother him to no end.

 In sorting through some of the memories and things from the past years I came across a piece of writing from a kind gentleman named Max, who I met at the Merton conference in Connecticut.

Max was a recent convert to Catholicism , he knew of Fr, I never really understood how, but while Fr and I were walking about the grounds of Sacred Heart University many  would flock to him and sit with him. I realized that Max had a lot of love for father.

Anyway , we hung out and prayed a lot, gathered in a small group. And on one particular morning prior to Mass we were gathered together and realized we were nearly late for a Mass Fr was to be presiding!  In any event, the rush of it all resulted in me having to help this elderly monk get ready.

Max , unbeknownst to me sat observing (quite beautifully, I came to learn)

When I returned home , he had emailed me this description.

It is sitting with me differently now that Fr. Has passed and I'm grateful for it. The moment itself didn't strike me while in it as this powerful, but it is something amazing to bear witness to how the simplest things communicate something beyond us and have a capacity to be as a grace for another.

"His face browned and creased with time, revealing German and Irish stock that had moved to Kentucky generations ago, He interrupts the conversation: “I need to get to Mass.” She helps gather his things. Her midnight hair falls softly off her shoulder as she reaches to hand the monk his cane.

We begin, unsure of the best way to the chapel, past the green lawns, the deep purple blossoms. His steps are careful, but impatient.

Entering the side of the chapel, John Eudes hurries into the sacristy. We help with the vestments: he is not a tall man; the alb is too long. She finds a shorter one. The monk slips into the alb, pulling his Trappist hood out fully. The alb is the proper length, but the black scapular makes the collar sit too tight. She unsnaps the top button. We find a cincture to pull sides of the alb together, but it still falls apart at the unsnapped neck.

Catherine is concerned. She fusses over him. There are layers upon layers of tenderness. She chides him for being scruffy and disheveled. Her hazel eyes flash. He laughs, somewhat embarrassed by the attention: “only a woman would pay attention to this kind of detail.” Her gentle fingers straighten the collar, delivering a blessing to the priest. He is her teacher. She is his daughter. But this is not complex: loving kindness.Spiritus Sanctus. His gentleness meets hers. The young woman is radiant; the monk beams. The light shines from within. It fills the room.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

On suffering by C.C.

I wrote this for a family a while ago going through a tremendous ordeal. It returned to me today again. 
May it be of comfort.

Lord, may what You send to us in this suffering have us know the love of Your Cross and nearness. It's weight upon us is always heaviest in the places we love the most, this instructs us in Your love and teaches us somehow; the suffering in union with You, even in the obscurity of pain that it unfolds with , You promise us Your nearness.

It is true that You give grace to Your children at their time of suffering that is unknown to us all,until the weight of the Cross is felt upon us.
You supply our need with comfort and consolation unfathomable.

Even as we must grieve and appear to grow weary, we are never without Your sustenance , for we remain most Yours, and You, ours.
Even if our gaze toward Heaven trembles , even if we do not understand, all of Heaven bends to greet us.

You provide for all Your children, always. Help us always to know these ways, give us the clarity of grace we need so to endure what comes.
And in this witness of another's Cross we can be stirred to an empathy, to a charity and love that helps us serve You, that helps us become a hand of brief consolation,a humble aid of grace, while ever being mindful of our nothingness and the "Vale of tears" we too walk .

Keep us ever weighted by Your Cross so to be most exalted in Your love alone,
And help us Lord to comfort another in their time of sorrow and anguish , that our shared union in love with You may bring them the comfort of Your presence, and help us to grow in the knowledge of Your closeness all of our days.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Desolation in Edmonton by: C.C.

The aching of Your nearness is the tragedy of feeling You gone. You live in me uninvited,  Sweet Visitor, I've neglected Your welcome. Crushed my spirit with Your majesty Then released it into the shackles of your freedom Freely bound, lovingly harnessed, an untamed heart deadened and alive again at your touch Since You , I roam from tomb to the third day  Painful hope , desert of despair , narrowest of ways .. burning in worship  Flamed in grace Consumed by Love . I remain Yours ,but how You're mine weaves into the places and spaces that I tend to forget this belonging Shattering every truth I thought of You ,
wisdoms born from my empty designs,
life formed from the clay of my own mind  My highest thoughts proved worthless by Your  observations in me  You have searched me without warrant I was long surrendered before you forced entry . was inevitable I'd let You crush me  Disarm me of myself I've consented to Your building of me  Yet, you work in darkness  Hidden designs blocks made of materials I can't name But beg of me to trust the unseen builder Secured in the work that I am of His To You I offer this messy glory This praise I make with screams of silence The lingering of Your nearness in this absence.

Friday, June 7, 2019

"Feed My Shepherds" by : C.C.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter,“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”Jesus said,“Feed my lambs.”Again Jesus said,“Simon son of John, do you love me?”He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”Jesus said,“Take care of my sheep.”The third time he said to him,“Simon son of John, do you love me?”Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time,“Do you love me?”He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”Jesus said,“Feed my sheep.” 

Here Jesus approached Peter with this question after he had been fed. Practically speaking everyone is best on a full stomach, but metaphorically Jesus’s presence, and time with Him was complete nourishment, time for Peter to revisit and have greater introspection on Who this Man was that shared his company, his attentiveness, and growing affection. Peter was fed before He was asked about how he loved Christ. To me this is not accidental or even unintended. Only when we are nourished by the Lord’s love, when our priests are fed and nourished deeply before the Lord, can they offer the sheep anything to eat. The abundance they can give comes from the primacy of their undivided love for Christ. It is intended to be the most important. It is emphasized by Christ three times, yes, as reparation for Peter’s denial of Christ, but this repetitive question is the ongoing one that must face the priest daily. 

If we love Christ, and we love the Church then it is to our priests we should offer the most attentiveness of our prayer, of fasting, reverence, and of honest help, even in the spiritual sense, to help keep them fed. The job of the "lay-man" becomes utilizing their gifts and pursuit of sanctity to help the Church thrive by allowing the priest to be a better Christ. 

And in priestly formation and preparing men for the priesthood it becomes most essential too, to help deepen this experience of love of God, to uphold the inward preparation as vital to the life of the Shepherd, for only from this depth can they be fed, and can they feed perpetually. 

The witness of a reverent, holy man of God, who lives the priesthood authentically, the Priesthood of Christ, with integrity, and sacrifice, and holy love, transforms souls, and gathers the scattered in a way like no program, no app, no new series can. The tragedy of what has gone on in some seminaries is exposing a very core problem. While naturally the anger seems to be at the harm that was caused by these men, if we love Christ, and we love the Church, we would see the importance of preserving Christ’s priesthood as it was intended, not seeking to destroy it. Which seems, at moments to be what is happening in response and angst that we are currently facing. The priesthood is Christ's and it remains pure as Christ's to the measure that we keep it His.

That some live like they are their own, is not the reality of an error in Christ, but the fault of consenting to sin, the reality of superficial love of Christ. Because to one who loves much, then obedience is a sweet burden. 

“Feed My Sheep” has seemed to become the most important and the most primary. Of course, this is essential, people in the pews, people knowing Christ, bills paid, diocese’ thriving. But the sheep and flock are only as good as their Shepherd. And the Shepherd is only as good as his love for Christ. And the Church first and foremost is for salvation, and the food we need to eat is Christ. 

So as the Bishops and priests and the Church at large in North America fumble around trying to make amends for the horror caused by the evil that has seeped through the cracks, there has seemed to be little mention of upholding the priesthood of Christ. The focus is on making reparation for evil, which is undoubtedly necessary, but more emphasis on Christ and keeping the priesthood holy will lead one to help reform the deeper problem much more thoroughly. Because in looking to the priest we will arrive at the sacredness of the Eucharist, the necessity of Christ, there present! We will stare it's absence from the life of the Church in the face, and we will begin to recognize that in being obsessed with "retaining people" we have made a performance out of what is most holy. We have made a "star" out of the priest who no longer, at large, thinks looking to Christ is the deepest need, but rather it is to keep people "happy" and present. It is diluted. Slowly sin trickles in. 

Where there is lack of transforming love for Christ there is disobedience, there is moral apathy, and complete disregard for good. 

There are subtle ways we have begun to starve our priests, with an over-attentiveness to business, failing to walk with them in the early years of their vocation, closely, being sensitive to their spiritual needs and the opportunities that they must have in order to thrive and be fed, This obviously must come from them to some degree, and from their own love of God, but it is not easy, nor is it something that is always the case. The formation years expose young men to a very confined fraternity, companionship, rigor, and routine that aids balance and helps navigate things, even in the spiritual sense. Frequent opportunity for spiritual direction, confession etc. It is laid out for them, it is necessary that this continues to keep them nourished and close to the love of Christ. 

The current climate of the Church at the core exposes the starving Shepherd. We know how to get to the peripheries it seems, but do we know how to preserve the centrality of Christ in the Church? We are called, in my opinion to look deeper here. It is time to look at ongoing formation more deeply and severely. Even when we gather priests, from what I've most heard, it is always centralized on going out, building up the Church, while this is a valid part of the priestly labour, there is evidently more need to focus on the interior, the spiritual life and ordering this in the life of the priest. It is more than numbers in pews. 

Look what the Lord did with His first disciples...thousands of followers followed a few holy men, by their love, their obedience, they gathered. And so it will be with us. Or otherwise what we gather is only another form of scattered and lost sheep, under the guise of holiness with a diluted discipleship, compromising the Truth of Christ’s Church. 

“Do You love me?” 

Nothing more will suffice to live the fullness of life in Christ. Give me a poor Church an empty Church, over a Church filled to the brim empty of God.