Travels Near and Far

by Fr. David May

I’ve been on the road a little more than usual lately. The first half of May I traveled to Calgary, Alberta, with Fr. Kieran Kilcommons to give retreats to the priests of that diocese.

Our theme had to do with Catherine Doherty’s vision of the priesthood in its conformity to the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ. That may sound a little highfalutin, but we talked about our own experiences as priests in living out, or trying to live out, this spirituality.

It ended up being a very down-to-earth retreat, one that seemed to be appreciated by our brothers from the diocese of Calgary. For Father Kieran, it was a bit of a homecoming, since he was born and raised in that diocese.

In any case, the retreat gave all of us an opportunity to reflect on our experiences as priests in quite diverse circumstances. Yet I myself felt that we were sharing in an experience of Christ that was fundamentally the same.

Our theme included such topics as: The Cross is Our Resting Place; The Cross: Goal of our Life; Your Presence, Father; Mary in the Life of Priests; Talk to Us about God: Preaching the Word, and Prayer of the Heart.

We also brought along with us gifts of Catherine’s book on the priesthood, Dear Father, which was also much appreciated by many who were there.

Priests as a group are not always easy to speak to, especially about spiritual things, and particularly about the priesthood itself. We priests can feel we have heard it all before, and now we have to hear it again.

There may have been some of that at our retreat, but we told stories to illustrate our points, and after enough years of being a priest, you end up having quite a few stories to tell. They seemed to enjoy the stories.

We also had the opportunity to do it twice, since the group was divided into two, meeting at two different locations. I think we both were encouraged by the receptivity of this group of priestly brothers. There was a simplicity of faith, not always a given with every priestly group.

A couple of weeks after returning home, I found myself planning another trip, this time to Winslow, Arizona, where we have had a house for 65 years.

Yes, this particular mission, so beloved by Catherine because of the identification with the people among whom we live, is only 10 years younger than our original foundation in Combermere.

Our directors determined that a priestly presence would be of help to the house at this time, even for only a week. So, I travelled down to Winslow via Ottawa, Chicago, and Phoenix.

This little trip in the summer, or near the beginning of summer, reminded me of another trip by bus and train some 40 years ago, when I was a seminarian and had been assigned to work at our house in Winslow for that summer.

I have many memories of the wonderful time I spent there, and I brought those memories with me when I travelled to Winslow this year.

I’ve only had time for a visit there of a week or so, maybe three or four times in the last 40 years.

But there is something so deep in the relationship with our friends in Winslow, that it was as if nothing had changed in 40 years; or better put, it was as if one could pick up a conversation of 40 years ago, or 30, or 20, and resume as if it only happened yesterday.

Certain friendships are like this, and I don’t know why except that there is some kind of bond in the heart that is beyond time and distance and is part of eternity.

You are always together with friends such as these, and you carry one another in prayer, without necessarily saying a lot of prayers (even if you do pray such prayers). Your love is your prayer, and love does not come to an end, so neither does your prayer.

In any case, it was good to see old friends and to make new ones.

One particularly moving moment was meeting again with a group called the Covenant group. These men have stood by one another for as long as 50 years in some cases. They meet to pray together, and to share spiritual conversation; and at the heart of this are brothers who support one another and are true to one another through thick and thin.

They know that life has its ups and downs, and that we are not always everything we would like to be. So, to keep a covenant you have to have forgiveness, and mercy for one another, and yet call one another to the truth.

It was as if I had been attending their meetings since my last visit to Winslow. I felt welcomed as a brother, and was able to have the joy of celebrating Mass with them, hearing confessions, and enjoying the meeting together, both the prayer meeting at the beginning, and the time for reflection afterwards.

Interesting that places as diverse as Calgary, Alberta, and Winslow Arizona, both gave evidence of the power of fraternity in the Church, whether clerical or clerical and lay together. Of course, in the latter instance it is the madonnas (women staff of MH) who have laid down their lives year after year in Winslow.

All sorts of programs have been tried, but the greatest of these is simply to love and be present to the people.

Once in a while, they’ve been able to have a priest living in the house or a layman, and one can see the advantage of this in many ways, that is, to have all three groups of Madonna House present.

But whatever is possible personnel-wise, what matters most is the love that we share together as we try to live the Gospel and to be the Gospel.

My week in Winslow very quickly came to an end. I was once again touched by the warm hospitality of the people of that town.

Whether in celebrating Julie Lynch’s renewal of promises on June 8 in the parish chapel followed by a celebratory breakfast, or in visiting a neighbour, 91 years of age, who took it upon herself afterwards, unbeknownst to her worried daughter, to go to the grocery store in her own car to buy us a big, juicy, sweet watermelon; or enjoying a trip up Clear Creek on the boat of close friends the afternoon before leaving for Canada, we touched together a reality that always stands the test of time: to love one another as Christ loves us.

Now I’m home again, that is to say, back in Combermere in my poustinia, writing a Restoration article for the September issue. Summer is just beginning here as I write this, even though it will nearly be over by the time you read it.

We’re still celebrating our 75th anniversary throughout this year, including this month a big open house for anyone of our friends who would like to come and share it with us.

I feel blessed to have touched this last couple of months the peace and consolation of the Gospel shared generously by so many who have gone before me.

Our world is in a precarious state, it goes without saying, but there is a strength that endures, greater than any precariousness of the world as we know it today.

It is the strength of the Gospel shared in simplicity, sustained by prayer, and incarnated day by day in a thousand ways, most of them hidden and carried out in obscurity but having great power, all the same, to help save this world from itself.