Saturday, December 31, 2011

End of Year Reflection

         It is New Year's Eve day and I am getting ready to meet a friend who is visiting from Australia. It is his first time to visit Boston as he completes his round-the-world trip touring Jesuit communities on his sabbatical year. I look forward to my time with him because he is such a lovely man. I have been waiting all week long to spend time reviewing my Christmas cards to honor and pray for each person in my life who holds a special place. (I even pray for those who send online greetings and for those for whom I did not get to send a card.) Now is the right time. Now is always the best time.
          I just finished directing an End-of-Year Christmas retreat with a good friend and we are pleased with the outcome. Most of the retreatants left Eastern Point with a wide smile on their faces and a jubilant jump in their steps. We tried to modify the traditional retreat by extending the Christmas graces with some festive activities and some relationship building while providing greater space for silence and freedom. While for some it was a deviation from what they knew and expected, most let us know of their deep-felt pleasure of ending their year this way.

          I tell God I am blessed every day to be able to work and live in Gloucester's retreat house. I enjoy it. I am changed by each retreat because I become a kinder, better man. I find this work makes me better able to reveal my care for others more openly. God helps me love more easily. While the beauty of the ocean is breath-taking and the landscape work grounds me and helps me search for natural beauty, it is the lives of others that inspires me to want to live each day to the fullest.

          I've had one of my best Christmases in years, if not the best. My soul is very light and happy and my heart beats with great fervor. I'm grateful for all the miraculous work God has done with me throughout the years. At times, my heart feels ready to burst open because of the great goodness I see in others and it hurts when I see someone in deep pain. Mostly, I'm grateful for the love I am given by many. I merely want to return that gift abundantly to them and to God.

          I am overjoyed at the goodwill I experienced with my family during the holidays. I am grateful for the desire I feel in wanting to spend time with them. I cherish the fraternal care I receive from brother Jesuits and our Ignatian companions, especially the pilgrims from our journey to Spain. I'm honored to receive great friendship and revelry with my new friends on Boston's North Shore, especially from the choruses, and of course, I am extremely enriched by those who share their stories of faith at the retreat house.

          My longstanding friends remain my longstanding friends because I like them and they are nice. To honor my 50th year of life, celebrated around Thanksgiving, I was in touch with many high school classmates and childhood friends. I even connected with my high school teachers because they did remarkable work preparing us for life and I am very appreciative of their skills in forming us and guiding us in those initial steps of life. Yes, it has been a good year and a good life; all I have to do is look around me and be amazed at the good people who are part of it. God has been more generous to me than I deserve, and I spent time in prayer telling God that my heart is so moved by the goodness I receive.

          As I review my Christmas cards, I am touched by the many stories told to me from friends and loved ones. I am honored by the friendships, some of which are difficult to maintain because of distance and time, but we persevere because our stories together are worth holding up to the Lord.

          Mind you that many of these stories are filled with heartache, loss and suffering, and they are filled with perseverance, bountiful grace, and hope. I find it a great grace to be able to hold these stories in silent respect. I want to hear more of these stories because it helps me grow in compassion and care. The key to my response is a loving presence - just being silent with one who is suffering and in pain.

          I find it quite extraordinary when someone honors my experience by letting me know they feel what I am feeling. Everyone's story needs to be told, heard and honored. Everyone needs to be seen. I gain greater insights and understanding when I allow others to feel - and feel what they are feeling so I can experience being in the place of another. It is risky. Compassion is risky because we risk being hurt in the process of showing solidarity, but it is the place in our hearts where we are moved to greater love for one another. For me, the risk is worth it.

          I am convinced that Christ's compassion can change our world. It has mine. If we can hold one another's story more reverently, it will create an environment in which less hurt and harm is created. It will create a world that is more sympathetic, understanding, and tolerant. It will help a person feel connected and become more whole. We live in hope that people can see themselves as more beautiful gifts to themselves and to others.

          We hold quite a gift in our hands. Christ has blessed us with the gift of compassion and he needs us to work with him to transform the world. We cannot put a stop to all the nonsense that creates more suffering and sorrow, but perhaps we can lessen the insanity when we hold one suffering person in front of us. We give them an incredible gift of solidarity and understanding and it eases pain. We live in hope that this goodness will be remembered and passed onto others and that life will be built up rather than destroyed. Love and compassion will reign. It will have the first and last word, and it is good for us to see it in the midst of ordinary life.

          I am content at this end of the year to spend time in silence at this beautiful retreat house to remember your life and to present you to God. Thank you for who and what you have been to me. May God bless you now and in the coming year with spiritual (and financial) prosperity, good health, and a great deal of hope.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Christmas Season

I am still thoroughly enjoying the Christmas season. This year has been my best Christmas in many years. All of those little things seem to be going so well. This is a year that I will cherish for a long time.

I said Mass on Christmas Eve at a MetroWest parish to assist a good friend. I was glad to help him out. Following those two Masses we visited a mutual friend who married into an Italian family. We therefore had the full seven course fish (including lobster) meal. The generosity of this family was super-abundant.

During one of the conversations, a young woman approached me to tell me how grateful she was for the simple homily I gave at Mass. She said that it spoke to people of her generation. We were able to talk about what moved her. I was touched that these words helped out a group of people who seldom feel so connected with the larger church.

The next morning I visited my mother and siblings. We had a nice roast beef meal and a nice time having our traditional Christmas food. My brother and his girlfriend showed up, which was a pleasant surprise. I played Wii with my niece and in one of the games I held my own against her. My thumbs don't work as quickly as hers. She is always helping me out and dragging me to the right places. It was fun to play in a game where I was not the anchor weighing down the progress of the game.

I then spent an evening dinner with friends in Rockport. Their son and daughter were with them and it was a pleasure to have a nice evening with them. They are very generous and loving people. I even attended breakfast the next morning when other mutual friends showed up.

All in all, it was lovely.

I spent the following days preparing for the End-of-Year Christmas retreat, which is going on right now. The Lessons and Carols needed major effort and I think it came out well. I love singing Christmas carols and we seldom get to sing them unless we are at church for daily Mass. The End-of-Year retreat is always a special time to unpack the gifts of Christmas and letting the season unfold over the octave. Too many people see Christmas as only Christmas Day. In this retreat, we get to enjoy it and let the words of Christ speak to us.

Two particular treats for me was being able to watch "Going My Way" with Bing Crosby as the priest and "The Polar Express." I have developed into a Bing fan because he sings so effortless and beautiful words sail out of his mouth. It is amazing how he technically does that. "The Polar Express" was likewise touching. I will never look at a single jingle bell in the same way. This fall, I've been able to see movies that I've never been able to afford myself time to watch previously. I loved "Gone with the Wind." I saw "White Christmas" for the first time last year. "The Bishop's Wife" was also fun and stellar.

As much fun and imaginative that the movies are, real life is even more unbelievable. Newspaper articles are filled with surprising stories of events you wouldn't think possible. Sometimes just having a simple, uneventful life is worth more than a life of adventure.

This Christmas, as Bing sings in "White Christmas," I am just counting my blessings. They are very many.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Crawling Ants

Yesterday and today, I was a bit amused at the sight of small ants in my room. Not many were there, but I thought they would be long in hibernation by December 22nd. The warm weather must have awakened them from their slowed-down hibernating state.

I guess they came inside on my clothing. I was fortunate enough to do some outdoor work both days. It has been downright balmy at a time when the earth is typically frozen. The soil is still warm and loose.

The warm temperatures inspired me to get outside and cut down some trees and vines that have gone wayward. I used the brush-mower to cut down vines that have entangled themselves around each other. They encroach upon a pathway with thorny pickers. I mowed down a patch twenty-five feet wide and fifty feet long. I did not want to go overboard because I tend to bite off more than I can chew. There's tons of work to do around the retreat house and I have to be patient with myself because I want to do it all quickly. There's plenty of time to savor the work.

Today, a friend came over to cut down some trees that we problematic. Vines crept up tree upon tree creating a thicket of a mess. It was a lot of work to cut one particular tree down because the vines would sting us. It does open up the area to light and air.

Unfortunately, yesterday was the day of the year in which the shortest amount of daylight is seen. The early sunset curtails my activities even though I have boundless energy. I sleep so well at night and I want to do more, but it is coming along fine. I have all winter to clean things up and get them ready for a beautiful spring.

Today is the first day of winter. Only three more months until spring. Hurray!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Messiah Concerts

We performed our Messiah concerts last night after months of rehearsals. Our conductor, Sunny Pryor, was very pleased with the results. Both churches were jammed packed and we had to stop selling tickets because we ran out of seats. The sound was crisp and the 18-piece orchestra was well-trained.

The Honors Youth Concert did a fine job singing. These boys are girls range from age 9-16 and are drawn from the North Shore communities. We were impressed with the clarity of their voices and the precision with which they hit their notes. Their parents were beaming with pride as they watched their sons and daughters perform.

The soloists were a soprano, tenor, and baritone. They were terrific. One piece was stunning, "The Trumpet Shall Sound," which announces the Resurrection of Christ. The baritone has great energy and it was wildly matched and exceeded by the trumpeter. I'm still blown away at the excitement of it.

One of my favorites is still "For unto us a child is born." Handel certainly favored the alto sections and our women rose to the challenges easily. It is an incredibly fun piece to sing, and yet the meaning that is conveyed in words and music brings many to tears.

I was fascinated as I watched people close their eyes and absorb the music or they thumped their head to the music or they just sat there smiling or with their mouths agape. The spontaneous applause at the conclusion told us that we did an admirable job.

Chorus North Shore is 140 strong. With such fervor, we must have shaken the rafters of the churches. It is a tremendous grace to sing with people who enjoy their avocation. The more I sing, the more confident I am and the more intrigued I am with musical arrangements. Music is opening new channels of enjoyment.

Afterwards, a number of us retreated to a friend's house where we had plenty of munchies before we sang carols. What a blessing to know people who love to sing and bring beauty into the lives of others. Bravo!

Monday, December 12, 2011


To see photos of ocean sunsets, please click on the link below:

Pics of ocean sunsets

Friday, December 9, 2011

Russian Icon Museum

The Russian Icon Museum in Clinton is worth the trip. Clinton is a small town fifteen miles northeast of Worcester, Massachusetts. It sits next to Central Park, which is America's oldest public park. It contains a world class exhibit of Russian Icons that is professionally displayed. It appears to be well funded. The entry fee is only $5.00.

I was pleased with the layout and the professional courtesy I received. The main exhibit spans three floors with the top floor designated as the main exhibit hall.

A new wing off the main floor expands the space for the permanent collection. The lower floor contains a small exhibit room, individual research caves, a lengthy conference center, and a Russian tea room. The main floor has the exhibit hall plus a well-stocked gift shop and a new wing designed for temporary exhibits. The staff and docents were very welcoming and kind. The museum is handicap-accessible.

Since it was the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, icons of Mary dominated the space. I was impressed with the number of programs offered for feast days and the Advent/Christmas seasons. I wanted to see the subtle differences in the icons between the eastern and Roman churches.

In some icons, the Christ-child appeared as a man in smaller form. Some appearances showed his legs, while the Roman church covers his legs. Sometimes he is holding a scroll or book, while in many western icons he is holding a globe. The Russian icons don't appear to have the subtle face halves that are customary in the west.

I was surprised to learn that Catholicism reached Russian in the 10th century. Shortly afterwards, Muslims pushed north from the Ottoman Empire to extend their reach into Russia. When I asked about some of the general historical events in Russia and Europe, I was disappointed in the lack of conversation with the staff. The staff could say something of the particular icon, but could not go more broadly than that. I was looking for some variations in the eastern and Roman traditions and the depth of knowledge of either tradition was superficial, however, it did not diminish my very positive experience of the museum and the courteous staff.

Two of the most enlightening icons about Russian religious sensibilities were "The Last Judgment" and "The Ladder." So many stories are being told in each icon. They are rich and filled with activities that inspire a person to do good deeds and they caution the observer to stay away from evil thoughts and deeds. Both illustrate how the forces of good and evil are at work in the battle for a human soul.

Afterwards, I spent the afternoon at St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. I was able to attend a few liturgy of the hour services that celebrated Mary. My conversations with the monks showed me how good God is to us.

Then I went to visit friends from the area in Rutland. I haven't been in Rutland for over a decade. It is a charming town. We had a nice dinner and conversation about prayer and Ignatian Spirituality. It was an Advent evening.

Quite nice. I have nice friends. Everyone I met yesterday was so happy and lovely.

Russian Icons

To see photos of Russian Icons in the Clinton Museum, please click on the link below:

Pics of Russian Icons

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A full Week

One of my regular practices is to pause during the day and ask the question, "Where were you, O God, in the morning (of afternoon) of my day?" I always enjoy the answer. I am less surprised than when I first began doing it. In fact, I come to expect God's nearness in certain events, but all the same it is nice when God confirms it.

I had a pleasant time visiting family on Thanksgiving Day. I enjoyed the Friday after Thanksgiving for a couple of reasons. First, I attended my first-ever Black Friday venture. It was quite pleasant because I went to Home Depot - one of my favorite stores. Among my small collection of purchases was an artificial Christmas tree that was reduced by $110.00 to $45 dollars. I bought the last one with the multi-colored lights.

It is my first bought Christmas tree. I was in the habit of merely getting a pine branch and decorating it because it meant I did not have to store many tree ornaments and a single strand of light would work well. It always fits a small place. However, since I have such a large room, it beckons for a tree that speaks of fullness. I am still able to collect pines and place them in my fireplace. I still decorate those pines with lights. I also like getting a strand of purple lights and pink ones to keep the Advent feel about the commerical Christmas season.

One of my first jobs was at Mr. Christmas where I assembled tree branches. It was not a happy job and I lasted only two weeks because I was going out of my mind in boredom. It hurt when the crossing branch whipped around the main stem. I recall proudly hitting a high of 2,200 branches a day during one of my first days and being scolded for not reaching 2,500. I don't recall any reason why I would stay at that job.

The second reason I enjoyed last Friday was that I could get outside to do some landscape therapy. The weather had better beautiful the entire month of November and yet I could seldem get outside to do any work. On this pleasant 60 degree day, nothing could stop me. The retreat house was quiet and the air was fresh.

I knew this day would be the calm that precedes the storm.

Saturday was the first day of our concert with the Cape Ann Symphony. It was quite festive. We did a good job, and I think we improved for Sunday's concert. When I stepped into Fuller Auditorium, I recalled that the flutist and principal cellist were married a year ago. I bought them a small cake so they could celebrate the fact that someone else remembered their first anniversary.

As soon as the retreat ended, priests from across the country began arriving for their annual retreat. We look forward to this retreat all year long because these men value the time to be with the Lord with the gifts of comaraderie and Ignatian spirituality to guide them. We are grateful to journey with them and listen to their stories. They inspire us.

As the retreat ended, I donned colorful clothing and headed to nearby Rockport where I would join he Dock Square carolers at the arrival of Santa Claus for the tree lighting ceremony. The entire town showed up. It was quite an extraordinary event.

My heart was warmed when I saw so many children lining up to get a glimpse of Santa, but what was surprised me was the expectant looks on the faces of adults who still feel Santa's magic. People want to be seen and heard by Santa. They want his jolliness in their lives. They want to touch the hem of his garments. Yes, people still believe and they become much happier people.

Yes, I feel content today. I'm in a loving Christmas spirit. Thanks, Santa. Now let's wait for the advent of our Lord.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Eve

Today is a fine day. Many people will be jumping into their cars or into planes to head out for the Thanksgiving holiday. It really is a splendid holiday. The fact that people want to be with each other is a real good sign that we have to take care of one another. These relationships are what really matters in life.

I love the month of November. It is often warmer than people think of it. The daylight is shorter than most months, but the warm air still makes me feel like there is much life to live before the winter slumber. It is a great time for reflection, hiking, or landscape therapy.

Today was a wild weather day. Strong winds at high tide made the surf rise nearly to the service road. I slept in until 7:30 a.m. as I just listened to and watched the waves crash before I got out of bed.

The staff worked for half a day. Within 15 minutes of their departure, the winds ceased and the rain stopped falling. It became eerily silent in the house. I lit a fire and watched it burn. The winds returned to batter the house again. I just sat and ate a pomegranite since it is regarded as a holiday fruit. The taste is quite nice, but I don't like eating those tiny seeds. Actually, there isn't much of a fruit to it. I watched the fire for an hour or so since I could not get outside to do any landscaping work. I can't wait to get some greens for my bedroom fireplace and for the wheelbarrows.

I was able to get caught up on a lot of loose ends. I still have many emails to write, and I have lots of retreat and household chores. It is nice to have a few days to putter around and get things done without a time hassle. 

We sing with the Cape Ann Symphony this Saturday and Sunday, then we direct a retreat for priests. At the end of that, we will carol in Rockport on December 3rd and then we perform Messiah on Dec. 10th and 11th.

I like that my to do list is getting smaller. I have much for which to be thankful and I'm spending my day remembering so many people who have graced my life or passed through this retreat center. All is good.

Concert: Come hear us sing!

Sparkling Holiday Pops
Beverly High School Auditorium Friday, Nov. 25, 8 pm
Fuller School , Gloucester Saturday, Nov. 26, 8 pmSunday Nov. 27, 2 pm 

Just a quick reminder that the Cape Ann Symphony will be bringing their always popular Sparkling Holiday Pops Concert toBeverly High School's auditorium* on Friday, Nov. 25, and to Gloucester's Fuller School Auditorium on Saturday Night andSunday afternoon.

And Boston Pops soprano Kristen Watson will join the symphony this year with an exciting celebration of Holiday Music at Beverly High* and then join the always popular Cape Ann Symphony Singers, directed by Wendy Betts at the Fuller Auditorium concerts.

The program includes favorites old and new, including selections from the Nutcracker, Leroy Anderson's Christmas Festival, WinterWonderland, Handel's Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah, to name a few. The celebration will end with the symphony's traditional Carol Festival Sing-Along.

So please join us for lots of fun. For tickets click here or call 978 281 0543.
For more information about the concerts and the Cape Ann Symphony click here.

*Due to space limitations at Beverly High the Cape Ann Symphony Singers will not be performing there. But the Beverly program has been modified to include more solos by Ms. Watson and extra pieces by the symphony.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Photos: Miscellaneous from the North Shore

To see photos of late November days in Newburyport, Gloucester, and Essex, please click on the link below:

Pics of November on the North Shore

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Souls of the Just

“The souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them… They are at peace… In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble.” (Wisdom 2) 

As I begin prayer this morning, I fix my eyes upon a late-surviving hornet. It is darting about - caught between the window pane and the screen. It keeps walking on the screen trying to get out and in spite of my efforts to lift the screen and send it to freedom, it can’t see the way. It is drawn to the fresh air, but I think it is using its last energy to become free. Now it is slowly flying around the room – not rising above a foot. It seems restless and uneasy. It hovers close to me but does not land. I raise the screen higher, but it climbs further away from the opening. I think it is looking for a place to die. I can’t help it get to the open air. I hope when my time comes, I am at peace and can see the way that Christ holds open for me.

I extend my prayer through walking through the woods I have diligently cleared this year. I promise that I will walk to enjoy my handiwork and I will refrain from attending to additional work. This is difficult because I see much more than can be done. I notice the berries of the bushes and trees and note that every bush and tree has something positive to offer – even if it is located in the wrong place. Red berries are a striking contrast to the fading greens and yellows. Orange nuances peek through the fallen browns. Blues and purples are largely gone from the landscape.

My walk extends to the rocks at the far end of the pathway that leads to the ocean. I admire the stacks of logs that I split earlier in the week as they wait a year to season themselves for the fireplace. I settle upon a cluster of rocks perilously near to the rocky cliffs. Though foolish, I feel safe. I nestle in to shield myself from view.

This cluster of rocks is about the same place where I prayed the Meditation on Hell as a novice. The crashing waves seemed harsh and hostile in the January cold. I feel safe and secure at the very same place now. The autumn temperature is a surprising 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

November is the month we remember the dead. I attended two remembrance services for the dead this past week and the reminder of death pervades the land. A friend wrote to me to tell me that the dead are alive to us because they are in our memory. “The souls of the just are in the hand of God...”

My friends words are comforting and I believe them and yet I sit upon rocks that preexist my arrival for hundreds of thousands of years. So many people have come to these rocks to pray and meditate. I think about the people of a century ago who we no longer hold in our memories. Yes, I believe God remembers them, but are they really alive to us anymore? How long will I be alive to others especially as I have no descendents?

My pondering puts me back to God as the center, source, and end of all life – even that wayward hornet on my window sill. Focusing on God in this way makes my cares go away. If God is my primary relationship, I place other relationships in perspective and if any tension that exists, it is certainly lessened. It helps me to realize that people are typically trying to do what is good and right – even if it conflicts with what I want.

A recent prayer of mine is that God help me each day choose to act in a way that is kind and loving. I used to say, “make me a kind and loving person,” but I realize that is a negative evaluative statement about who I am. If God can help me respond lovingly each time a person crosses my boundaries, I will become that kind and loving man I hope to be. It helps me see everyone as a fellow sojourner – not as a threat to my safety, dignity, respect, or esteem. I pray that God graces me abundantly.

And so I sit here leaning against a boulder warmed by the sun. The sun warms my right cheek as I sit and breathe in deeply. Time is passing and I enjoy my frivolous waste of time. The ocean has no pleasure boats speeding through the waters. The horizon remains quiet. The wind ceases to be. Birds are not flying; insects are silent; mammals have settled in from their feeding for the day – to return at dusk. I hear a few hammers of builders in the far background and their noise is not intrusive. I’m glad to know they are renovating someone’s home. May the residents enjoy their craftsmanship.

Though I sit here alone, I realize how easy it is to think of God and the creation of this world. It is far too easy to think only of God and not of Christ. When we think of Christ, we too often see him as only transcendent and not as a human.

I think of being alone. How nice it would be to have someone with whom I can share what I see and feel. Just as the waves are caressing the rocks below – almost tenderly, I think of how nice it would be to have someone caress my face. I do not lament it. I only know that love is shared when it is received. I want to share this view with others.

As I desire this, I experience Christ coming down to the rock where I am seated. He takes a seat, but he is not alone. With him is his friend Ignatius and a few other men. I look back to see Peter Faber, Juan Polanco, Nicolas Bobadilla, and Robert Bellarmine. I am startled by Bellarmine’s appearance because he always seemed remote to me. Arrupe arrives.

Many more unnamed Jesuits come and sit on those rocks with me. Some are missionaries; others are retreat directors; still others are teachers; most are unnamed. They acknowledge me in silence and come to peer out into the ocean and to see what I am seeing and to feel what I am feeling. Though I realize everyone sees something different, I am glad to share this with them. These men arrived to be in solidarity with me and for me. They arrived because I invited them to be a part of my experience. I want them to see and experience the good I am noticing. I pray that I learn how to keep myself open and to let Christ open me up more widely to them.

The world rotates on love and affection. I pray asking God to help my actions be loving and kind. I know this is the way to happiness and freedom. I want God to blow open my window to the world so I can engage in it more freely. I can’t be like the hornet that can’t make it to that open space. Failure to do so means death. I want to fly through that window of God’s love. Freedom is life. I want it.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Last Wednesday, I attended a service of prayer and song to remember "All Souls" Day. We remember all our loved ones who died within the past year. The service was set at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Rockport. It contained a photo-projected slideshow, chant-like singing and poetry reading. The congregation was invited to join in. It was a lovely evening of prayer.

I noted how strikingly it different from a Catholic service. We have a form and ritual that brings comfort and expected familiarity. We petition God to remember those who are alive in our and God's memory and to help us with our grieving. Above all, we are free to call upon the name of God to be with us and our loved ones.

Yesterday, I attended an ecumenical "Service of Remembrance and Hope" at the 2nd Congregational Church in Beverly. It brought together people from many faith traditions to collectively grieve with one another. The service was well done with a rite of lighting candles. It brought in much poetry and prose to remind us that the dead are alive to us in our memory. At the end of the service, tulip bulbs were distributed so worshiper can plant them in remembrance of one who died this past year.

The service was profoundly moving for the congregants. Most were friends and relatives of patients who died in the area hospice programs. The staff members led the service.

I was part of the choir that provided the music. We had two well-trained cantors to lead the singing. The setting sun provided reflective light for the service. Many people were reminded of the fragility of life. Very many shed tears because of the loss they continue to feel. It was a helpful way of grieving socially.

Again, I am thankful for our Catholic tradition. Our liturgy gives me comfort. The dead are always in our consciousness because we pray for them at Mass. I can never move away from our Mass as the source and completion of our worship. I wish more people could have the tradition that we have.

Reading scripture is fundamental to my prayer. Speaking about and learning from Jesus Christ is crucial to me. He is the one who makes sense of my questions of suffering and sorrow. I am proud of my faith.

I'm very glad for the services that were recently held and yet it makes me cherish my faith all the more. Christ is the alpha and omega and the source and summit. I'm glad that our liturgies encapsulate his essence well.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

First Frost

This morning saw the first frost in northern Massachusetts. This means Indian summer can now occur and I think we will have it tomorrow when the temperatures will reach into the low 70's. It is unusual that we had snow before the first frost, but in Gloucester we were untouched by the snows that fell a week ago.

Yesterday, I took a chance and planted a number of spring bulbs. It is very late in the season to do it but the soil is still warm and wet so they may have a chance. I normally would not try it at this late point in the year, but we just had some major stumps removed from the two new flowerbeds that it gave me an opportunity to quickly plant them in the loose soil. Planting in the future will be much easier because those stumps are gone.

Most of my week was dedicated to digging up roots. I extracted at least  16 of them. The lawn will be much easier to mow next year because it will be so smooth. The funny thing is that I can't show anyone the results of my work because what I do is no longer there. I tell them I do invisible work. I removed what shouldn't be in place so when they look, they don't see anything except a land that looks as it ought to be.

Yesterday, two friends from the Spain pilgrimage came for a visit. They brought their shitzu, Pedro, and two dogs they were pet-sitting. They enjoyed racing over the expansive tracks of the retreat house. They tired themselves quickly. It was good to see Joe and Jeanne again. They are such kind people.

Three friends from Australia visited. I gave them a tour of the house and property and then attended Mass before dinner. We had a lovely visit with them. The community remarked that they had one of the happiest dinners in a long time. It was relaxed because none of the community was on the retreat team. The spirit was fun and free. We enjoyed each other.

We are gearing up for our concerts. Our first one is in three weeks; the second is in five weeks. We will be ready.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My trophies

These are my trophies. Many times I have removed entrenched stumps from Eastern Point's laws, but these five were intractable. Yesterday, I committed my efforts to removing one of them and since the soil was loosened by the recent rains, it only took me an hour each to remove one. Encouraged by the first removal, I was determined to persevere with the others. The blasted things were still growing even though all other living things were entering into their slumber.

I will let these stumps dry out for a few days before I burn them in the fireplace. I will savor the moment of seeing these roots go op in flames. Each of them will make for an interesting log to burn. They gave me such a difficult time throughout the year. They were the cause of the major vine systems leaping off the bushes into the tall trees. The vines choked the trees and made the property look jaundiced. Even after I cut down the bushes, I could not stop the stumps from growing and since they were green, they were more resilient. I was losing the fight.

Yesterday, I won.

To the right is a photo of what the property now looks like. You can't tell where the stumps were. Most of the work that I do is invisible to most people because they only see how the land ought to look instead of how it appeared with unruly stumps sticking up all over the place.

Surely, but slowly, the land will speak for itself and will return to its original glory.

I am sore and aching in new places. I can feel muscles developing in unusual places, but the pain feels good because it was well-earned. Rising from bed this morning was slower than most mornings.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blustery Halloween

I do enjoy Halloween. I enjoyed it long before it became a highly popular commercial holiday. I have my bedroom fireplace decorated with orange lights and many pumpkin shapes. Orange is my favorite color and autumn is a splendid time of year. All the colors dazzle brightly before they gently give away to winter's brilliance.

I am recovered from my jet lag, but I desired to remain in bed this morning because it was a soft, leisurely day. I was on call to say Mass, but in the end, I was not needed. The other mass I was to attend was cancelled because of the snow. I used the morning profitably by cleaning up emails and doing some paperwork. Nothing seems to be pressing my schedule.

Yesterday I went to Logan airport to collect two pilgrims from their return trip to Spain. I missed them. I think they were on a later flight that was delayed.

I enjoyed being at the airport, however. I watched all the smiles as travelers were greeted by friends and loved ones at the terminal. One woman sobbed when her male friend arrived. Another woman rushed to greet her husband, but was stopped abruptly when she saw her two daughters holding up a child-made welcome-home sign. Others were silent as they approached each other and kissed tenderly. Many beautiful expressions of love are captured at the terminal. It is so nice to have a happy face greet you when you return.

Back at the retreat house, I'm happy to say we did not receive any snow, but the waves are very active. I just want to lazingly flit away the hours as I watch them roar and crash.  The sun is strong but it is cool outside. It will be a good temperature for an hour's worth of outdoor yard clean-up.

Next weekend, I'm happy to host the Jesuit provincial of Australia. He will visit other Jesuits who are studying and teaching in the U.S., but they will come visit the retreat house because they've heard so much about it.

Life feels good. I'm still thrilled with the graces I received from the Ignatian trip to Spain. I keep thinking I see my fellow pilgrims wherever I go. The mind plays tricks all too often. I'm just blessed that Christ can save all these things in my memory.

I tallied 2,810 photos that I took on the pilgrimage to Spain.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Seraphim Singers

Please join the Seraphim Singers at 8pm on November 5th at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Central Square for the first concert of our 15th anniversary season.

 An American Sampler From the colonial era to the present day, American composers have bequeathed a rich legacy of choral music. Exploring the breadth and depth of this tradition, the Seraphim Singers, with organist Heinrich Christensen, presents works by Billings, Chadwick, Ives, Copland, Persichetti, and a newly commissioned work by Carson Cooman.

Jennifer Lester, Conductor with Heinrich Christensen, Organ 8:00 P.M. Saturday, November 5, 2011 St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Central Square 838 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge Directions and parking information:

 Argento Easter Day
 Billings O Praise the Lord of Heaven
 Bradbury Seek ye the Lord
 Chadwick Benedictus, Op. 6
 Cooman Exaltation (world premiere)
 Copland Four Motets
 Dutton Let the Bright Seraphim
 Ives Sixty-Seventh Psalm
 Persichetti Mass for Mixed Chorus
 Sowerby Magnificat in E minor
 Stevens An Epitaph for Sara and Roland Cotton
 Whitacre Lux Aurumque

 Tickets: $20 Adults / $15 Students & Seniors, available at the door using cash, check, or credit card.

 Visit for additional details.


Some of us pilgrims were beginning to lament the short duration of time left to us on this pilgrimage. We rose early and packed the bus before heading down for a hearty breakfast. Breakfast always has lots of meat and cheeses. I will become a short-term vegetarian when I get home just so I can offset all the protein I took in.

The morning was foggy because of last night's rain. We were happy for the rain because all the children were forced to be inside with their parents. Thus, we were able to sleep. The fog against the mountains conjured up mystical times.

The bus ride to Barcelona normally is a short trip, but we were heading into rush hour traffic, which is much later than ours in the States. We also suffered delays because of a traffic accident that slowed movement for at least 8 miles. We were happy though.

Once we arrived in Barcelona, we headed for the Jesuit community residence of the provincial staff. A parish church was getting ready for its daily liturgy. The main church housed the sword that Ignatius lay down at Our Lady's feet at Montserrat. We had Mass in the St. Ignatius chapel and was the celebrant. We shared our major graces during the Mass.

We then drove down La Diagonal, one of the main thoroughfares in the city. Las Ramblas intersects the road as it makes its way to the Meditteranean Sea.

Along the route, we saw houses designed by the famed architect, Antonin Gaudi. We then visited a Gothic church where Ignatius taught school children the catechism of the church. It was a relief to see a Gothic church after seeing so many Baroque churches. It was simple and elegant. It did not show a triumphant, other-worldly Christ, but one who was revered for his fidelity to God. The softness of the lights revealed human emotions of the saints. I took a photograph of Anthony Mary Claret whose feast day it was.

As we made our way to Las Ramblas, several of us stopped into a restaurant called Compostela because we liked the named. When we were ushered into the far back room, we saw all the other pilgrims at other tables. We enjoyed another meal together before setting out into the deluge of rain that washed the city.

We made it back to our hotel to dry off before dinner. I laughed when I saw my room. Each room of the trip for me was very comfortable and spacious, but this one was so small that I could sit back on my bed sideways and touch the opposing wall with my feet. It was a hoot. If I tried to sit in the bathtub, my knees would hit my chin. I have never been so scrunched, but it was the most comfortable mattress of the trip. If only air had circulated so I could breathe.

We met in the hotel's bar for a glass of cava (champagne) and then had tapas at a nearby restaurant. It was terrific because we did not feel like eating much. We all thought we would have a short meal and retire early. We had so much laughter that we stayed an obligatory four hours. Mariana finally found her cell phone. Everyone was celebrating and wishing each other well as we were returning to our separate lives.

Joe and Jeanne and Gene and Mary Ann were the first to part from us. We were sad to leave them behind - but they were spending four additional days in Barcelona.

The flight back to Boston was thankfully uneventful. Others had to catch connecting flights. When I returned to Gloucester, I went to chorus rehearsal. No coherent words could come out of my mouth, but I went. When I returned home, I went to bed - missing my friends.

Our Last Night Together

To see photos of our last night together as pilgrims, please click on the link below:

Pics of Barcelona's Last Night

Photo: Barcelona and Sagrada Familia

To see photos of Barcelona and Sagrada Familia, please click on the link below:

Pics of Barcelona Set 1

Pics of Barcelona Set 2

Pics of Barcelona Set 3

Pics of Barcelona Set 4

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Inside the Montserrat Basilica

We had an early rise this morning to attend vigils at the Basilica before breakfast. We thought we might as well catch the liturgy before the hoards of visitors took over the basilica.

Breakfast was filled with meats and cheeses and lots of protein. We were stuffed to start the day.

We went through the church through a path that led behind the altar and up a staircase to see the statue of Our Lady of Montserrat. (Montserrat means serrated or sawn mountain.) Ignatius prayed in vigil to Our Lady after he lay down his sword and clothing to take on a pilgrim’s life. He went to the Benedictine monastery to confess his sins. He was beset with scruples and confessed his whole life’s sins – often going back to a confessor when he forgot to mention a particular sin. He stayed in prayer and vigil before Our Lady as he reviewed his history. Eventually, the priests told him he would have to move on.

We had Mass at a chapel behind the main altar. We could see the backside of the Madonna as we sat in the congregation.

Since fog covered the mountains, we all wanted to get outside to see the spectacular site. I wanted some private time so I walked a path that seemingly led to nowhere. After 35 minutes of walking and no sign of a map, I turned around. I went to my room to read, but I fell asleep for 10 minutes. I did not feel refreshed, but it was time for lunch. I only had time to look at the gift shops.

I went back to my room after a very tasty lunch. I was going to read for ½ an hour before I trekked to the top of the mountain, but I fell asleep for two hours. I was annoyed with myself for wasting the day. All my fellow pilgrims journeyed to the top of the mountain and I wanted to be with them.

We then attended vespers again and had a hearty dinner. I went out for an evening walk and came back to update my photos. I only took 208 today – a slow day.

Photos of the Montserrat Basilica

To see photos of the Montserrat Basilica, please click on the link below:

Pics of Montserrat Basilica Set 1

Pics of Montserrat Basilica Set 2

Outdoors at Montserrat, north of Barcelona

Today we pilgrims ventured to the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat just north of Barcelona. From the mountains, we think we can see the city of Barcelona and the Mediterranean sea. We arrived in the afternoon and we pleased with the mountain shapes. We were all hungering to get out for a walk.

Most of us took the funicular to the cave where the Madonna was hidden to preserve it from the invading forces. However, none of us knew when the invasion took place or who sent the invading armies. Anyways, the Black Madonna was recovered and restored to her rightful place in the Monastery Basilica.

First, we took the funicular down the mountain to get to the cave. Most of us were hoping that the funicular meant air gondolas, but that was for pilgrims from the train station below to arrive at the monastery. Those of us with vertigo really did not have to worry about heights. The funicular traveled slowly, not too steeply, and we felt secure because land was all around us.

Afterwards, we took the funicular to the top of the mountain to see the sweeping vistas. We did well in negotiating a combination ticket to get both trips at the discounted rate. The trails at the top led to various hermitages along the way. Mountain climbers had finished their climbing and were returning to their lodging. They had long ropes around their necks as they clomped down the trails with great speed.

Several pilgrims saw a type of goat at the mountain’s crest. They called them antelope and they yet may be. On the photos at the monastery we only saw various pictures of goats.

Few of us went inside the Basilica because we were saving it for Sunday. As the sun was out brightly, we didn’t want to miss a chance at mountain climbing. Some of us did make it to vespers where the Boy Choir sings.

Dinner at this hotel “Abbas Ciscneros” was first class and it ended with a dessert slice of ricotta with Montserrat honey drizzled over it. Though it was good and fresh, some pilgrims desired more so we went on a quest for helado, but no tienda was open by the time dinner ended.

Our search led us to an exciting walk in the dark where owls were hooting. We could not see much of Barcelona below us because the mountains were in the way, but the darkened path trails made every step of the way an adventure. We returned to the hotel and readied for sleep. It did not come for many because teenagers where playing on the swing sets until 1:00 a.m. I watched the BBC news and CNN.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Photos: Montserrat

To see photos of Montserrat from the outside , please click on the link below:

Pics of Montserrat Set 1

Pics of Montserrat Set 2

Pics of Montserrat Set 3

Pics of Montserrat Set 4

Zaragosa and beyond

We left Javier Castle bright and early. As the warm sun crept over the mountains, its rays made the hard stone castle look warm and soft.

 This was our driving day. We passed through the dry Aragon region and eventually ended in Catalan, which also is fiercely independent. The Basque separatists have decided to lay down their weapons to push for peace with the larger Spanish realm; the Catalans, though they don't advocate violence and are fully incorporated into Spain, retain a stiff attitude towards their identity.

 Along the route, we saw the Camino de Compostela with its signature icon of the scallop shell of the pilgrim. We traveled loosely the Camino Ignacio. Our arrival is Zaragosa took our collective breath away as we looked upon the Zaragosa Shrine to Our Lady of Pilar. It was set behind Roman ruins providing a contrast with its Baroque style.

Our Lady of Pilar is known for her appearance to the pilgrim James seven years after the death of Jesus in Zaragosa. James is said to have traveled to the ends of the earth - meaning northwest Spain and Our Lady appeared to him to encourage him on his journey. Mass was going on at the basilica. I think some Mass or Marian feast is always occurring. Many priests are on hand to hear confessions or to say Mass.

The traditional action of the pilgrim is to kiss the marble piece dedicated to Our Lady when one arrives, which we did. One is not to take photos of anything while Mass is occurring. An exhibition of Goya's works are at the shrine. A nearby museum contains more works.

The Cathedral is nearby. It is a place of many weddings. The Plaza Mayor is hopping with townspeople out for celebrations. Many wedding photos were being taken in the Plaza. Some of us pilgrims took a break from photography to eat a light lunch before we boarded the bus for a five-hour drive to Manresa.

The trip had more interesting scenery as we traveled through various landscapes and saw various fruit tree orchards. We remained south of the Pyrenees by 80 miles. The Pyrenees in winter is an attractive place for skiers.

 We arrived at Manresa at evening's first light. We became excited to see the River Cardoner where Ignatius found a cave opposite a hospital to spend some quiet time. He remained there for eleven months.

The shrine to Ignatius is set over the cave where he stayed. I had the great and awesome privilege of being the primary celebrant at the Cave. I'm astounded. My heart was elated. We had lovely singing by Marybeth Joyce andcred events of Manresa. We will return to the cave today to take some photographs and to spend some Euros on po Joe Castelano. Frs. Mark and Ed concelebrated. Clare gave a terrific reflection on the sastcards.

Dinner was at the Hotel Pere III where we are staying. We were about to burst for all the food and wine we consumed. All of us pilgrims were dragging. I wish everyone a rejuvenating rest so we can continue our pilgrimage with joy and energy tomorrow

Photos: Zaragosa and Manresa

To see photos of Zaragosa and Manresa Cave, please click on the link below:

Pics of Zaragosa Set 1

Pics of Zaragosa Set 2

Pics of Zaragosa Set 3

Pics of Zaragosa Set 4

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Photos: Pamplona and Xavier Castle

To see photos of Pamplona and Xavier Castle, please click on the link below:

Pics of Pamplona Set 1

Pics of Pamplona Set 2

Pics of Pamplona Set 3

Pics of Pamplona Set 4

Pamplona and Xavier Castle

We said goodbye to our four days in Loyola. We were told the Provincial of Catalan is marketing the Camino de Ignacio as a different devotion to the Camino de Compostela.

The bus is really very comfortable and Jose, the bus driver, is very cautious. He whizzes through small side streets with ease. We did have to stop for a bathroom break. All the pilgrims seem to gravitate to the gift shops and everyone picked up some sweets and biscuits. We all assembled onto the bus and took off toward nearby Pamplona before we realized Marge did not get on the bus. We turned around to collect her. She was embarrassed. She was right near the bus when it took off without her. She thought we were playing a joke but twenty minutes later when the bus did not come back for her, she was getting worried. She was very calm and pleasant about her experience. We laughed.

The bus ride was very comfortable, but our tour guide thought it was necessary for her to tell us everything she knows about the area. We could have used a respite and tried to tell her that, but subtleties don’t carry well across cultures.

We arrived in Pamplona, the site of the running of the bulls. We had Mass at the Redemptorist church right next to the spot where Ignatius was wounded. I spent a great deal of time in the perpetual adoration chapel where I offered my woundedness to Ignatius’s wounds. I asked him to intercede for me. More on this later because it was my most significant moment on the trip.

We went to the Plaza Major for lunch. It was a great time. Conversations are deepening and bonds of affection are increasing. The Plaza is the main gathering spot for the townspeople. I wish we had lunch during the siesta time. We spent a leisurely lunch in the Plaza and then when we went to shop and tour, the shops were closing down for siesta.

We then boarded the bus for Xavier Castle, an hour’s drive away. It was exciting to tour the castle and the basilica. The old Xavier cemetery and the sister’s hermitage were moving. The nuns were praying the rosary in old creaky voices.

The castle had a great diorama of Xavier’s life. It contained copies of major art pieces as well. The crucifix of the smiling Jesus was a huge attraction for us pilgrims. We ended up taking many photographs of each other because we felt rather free from our schedule.

Dinner was a highlight. We had libations, cheese, peanuts, and Xavier chocolate before dinner. The hotel is very old with old, but reliable fixtures. We felt like we returned in time to a place of civility and relationships. We loved the dinner of swordfish and white asparagus. Dinner lasted so long because we are really enjoying each other’s company.

Tomorrow, we are off to Manresa.

Arantzazu and Olatz

A day of rain but it doesn’t bother us because we had three great days of sunshine in a very rainy climate. The rain helped us to stay close to home and rest, but we still managed to get out a fair bit. In the afternoon, I walked into Azpeitia to get some cheese, port, and single-malt scotch for the pilgrims.

We began the day by going to Our Lady of Arantzazu, high up in the mountains north of Loyola. Ignatius went there to pray and to offer himself to Our Lady. The place became a pilgrim site when a young shepherd boy discovered an apparition of Our Lady in a Hawthorne Tree. Aranzatzu is a phrase that asks, “Is that really you?” The boy asked Our Lady that when he saw the vision; she confirmed it. Pilgrims have sought out the place for her intercession.

Ignatius had to see the site as well and spent a good deal of time there to ask for her help. The area is mountainous and it would have been an arduous journey for Ignatius with his limp. It is possible that he approached the shrine on a mule. Even that would have taken a several day journey.

The architecture and artwork inside the shrine is quite striking. It is modern architecture that stuns a pilgrim because one expects the usual pious images. The vivid colors and jarring images show the brutality of the crucifixion, the social justice efforts of a global society, the sweeping hope of the resurrection – all set amid the steel, iron, and marble that was dug out of the mountainsides.

After an afternoon walk, I set out for Our Lady of Olatz nearby to Loyola. It is said that Ignatius would often turn his eyes towards Olatz to be in her memory. Olatz is a hermitage and monastery less than a kilometer from the basilica.

As I journeyed on foot to the shrine, I arrive a few minutes early. I had a chance to converse with a Basque who would often slip between Spanish and Basque language. He chatted with me by using his hands and we communicated for a whole 15 minutes. He spent time in Detroit and Chicago earlier this millennium. He told me of the effect the European Economic Union had on Spain – mostly positive, but the U.S. dollar didn’t fare so well. He was delighted to tell me about the nearby buildings.

We had Mass at Olatz and then we had dinner back at the Hotel Arrupe. Afterwards, I gave a slideshow of the photos I had taken to date.

Tomorrow onto Pamplona.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Day in Azpeitzia

This morning, we pilgrims journeyed to the Magdalene Church that was built in the Fourteenth Century. Facing the church, on the other side of the road, is the Magdalene hospital, where Ignatius lived when he returned from studies at the University of Paris in 1535. The outer part of the building remains – just as it was when it was founded.

Ignatius arrived here in April of 1535 and stayed for three months. He spent his time catechizing the youth and providing spiritual direction in the hospital and church. He also begged for alms so he could continue his ministry. The window to the room Ignatius stayed is still visible, though it had been boarded up.

We had Mass at the hermitage. To my right, as the presider, was an image of the body of Ignatius as he lay on a sofa while his leg recovered from his Pamplona injury.

The town of Azpeitzia was founded in 1310. The Monastery Real de San Sebastian de Soreasu was donated to the town by King Fernando IV through the town charter. The gothic-styled monastery church stood next to a massive toward, possibly a Templar fortress. A statue of San Sebastian pierced with arrows highlights the ornamental Baroque altar-piece that contains many saints.

A side altar is dedicated to Ignatius in 1743. The Chapel of Solitude is done in a classic Renaissance style and has much ornamentation to it. A large dome in the center of the church is copied after the Pantheon in Rome. It is supported by four pendentives, adorned with relief figures of the four evangelists in sandstone.

The church was the family church of the Loyolas and was attended by the many rich families of Azpeitzia. The baptistery was built in 1701 but contains the font where Ignatius of Loyola was baptized.

After touring the central marketplace of Azpeitzia, I walked back to Loyola with my friend, Joe. We made it in time for a full lunch – the central meal of the day. Afterwards, I caught up on some emails and then began a trek up the mountain behind the basilica and castle.

Sheep roam the hillsides and some donkeys can be found as well. At the top of the foothills is a prayer space that overlooks the basilica. The road up to it is winding and grass-covered. It is quite quiet. I imagined that Ignatius played there as a boy with his boyhood friends and siblings. After his call, I imagine that he marveled at the works of God as he sat in silence. It is easy to let my imagination soar towards the heavens; I imagine Ignatius did exactly that. The beauty and magnificence of God is all around.

From there I strolled the gardens in back of the basilica. A modern statue of Ignatius as a beggar to Our Lady of Arantzazu provided a striking contrast to the castle and shrine. The wide-open grounds reveal the changes of the autumn foliage. It makes it very peaceful and serene. Early on, Ignatius must have had the capacity for reflection and solitude.

After my stroll, I caught up with some friends and we, as a whole group, had dinner at the hotel. The pilgrims are most impressive. They have led exciting lives and had done some enormously important work. I admire what they have been able to do and the family systems that made them successful.

Afterwards, we shared photographs and retired.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Full Day in Loyola at the Basilica

After a nine-hour sleep, I awoke to a dark sky at 6:00 a.m. In fact, the sun did not rise until 7:45 a.m. Birds began to chirp around 7:00 and rooster crowed around 7:30. The day’s activities start late around here.

Breakfast was great. I had coconut yogurt on my granola. I love coconut. A breakfast bread with jam, fresh fruit, including kiwi, juices, pound cake, and croissants were the other components of my breakfast. Mmm. It was a good way to start the day. 

The Hotel Arrupe has its own kiwi garden in the back lawn. We started with morning prayer and then began the tour of the basilica and castle. Actually, I was interested in taking pictures so I did not get to pay too much attention to the soft-spoken tour guide. Mostly, the museum has buttons that can start an audio show in each room of the museum so many of us thought we would come back later to get an informative earful. 

The basilica fronts the Loyola castle. The castle shows the rooms where Inigo de Loyola was born in 1491 and the site of his conversion that occurred during his convalescence from his wounding at the Pamplona battle against the French. Ignatius returned defeated to Loyola where he lost his status and livelihood. 

 The room next to his conversion contained the books he read during his recovery. I found that fascinating. “The Life of Christ” and “The Lives of the Saints” were two of the books at his disposal. One of our fellow pilgrims remarked that she gazed upon the ceiling because Inigo must have spent much time looking heavenward during his period of daydreaming and wondering. 

 I enjoyed imagining what Ignatius was like pre-conversion. I wondered if I would have liked him. As a wealthy man, he probably wouldn’t have bothered with me unless I was to buy him a beer or whisky. Azpeitzia is fairly small so he was well-known throughout the town. 

 The castle and basilica were constructed with the materials from the nearby mountains. That is certainly sensible. Multi-colored marble makes the place lively with its architectural design. Sturdy wooden timbers are taken from the nearby hardwood forests. 

 We celebrated Eucharistic liturgy in the chapel of his conversion. The chapel was redone in 1985 when it was simplified. It formerly contained over 200 relics of Jesuits saints and heroes, but it was whittled down so the focus was on Ignatius’ call by Christ to be a disciple. 

 After lunch, we had a leisurely afternoon until we gathered late afternoon for a meet and greet of other pilgrims in our group. We spoke of graces that we received thus far during the time together. 

The evening was free, but with dinner at 7:30 p.m., one cannot do too much afterwards. Several of us strolled along the river near the castle after dinner. Tomorrow, we head to Azpeitzia, a five minute drive from the Basilica. We get to see the city where the young Inigo was raised and formed.

Photos: Bilbao

To see photos of my trip to Spain, please click on the link below:

Pics of Bilbao Set 1

Pics of Bilbao Set 2

Pics of Loyola Set 1

Pics of Loyola Set 2

Arrival in Spain

Our pilgrimage to the Ignatian sites to Spain began with a two-hour travel delay as the plane arriving from Air France was scheduled to be late. No one minded. We had additional delays getting to Bilbao because the group was split into two as the planes going into Bilbao were much smaller. What to do? Have a croissant in Paris. Not a bad way to begin a trip.

Bilbao has 600,000 residents in the central city. Including the suburbs, the population exceeds one million people. It has an industrial background. Most of the architecture, including the Guggenheim, incorporates metals from the area to celebrate its past.

Bilbao lies on the northern seacoast of Spain touching the Atlantic Ocean. It is a mountainous area as the Pyrenees extend into the Basque region. While we were welcomed with bright sunshine and a cloudless day, the area is known for its rain. The area’s vegetation is lush and the place is picturesque as the mountains provide a frame for the city’s increasing modernization. It is nestled between the Asturias region to the west and the dray Aragon region to its east.

Spain entered the EEU in 1985 and benefited greatly from the economic infusion. Bilbao recently had a reputation for being an industrial city tarnished by its waste. It is not a modern, thriving city that reveals its edginess.

We arrived in the city on a Sunday afternoon. Most residents of the city will return home after lunch to be with family and friends. They enjoy a relaxed afternoon, but many can be seen going out for dinner again before the workweek begins anew. The shops are closed on Sundays so many people engage in simple leisure activities. As we arrived at the Guggenheim Museum, a weekend-long festival was ending, and many people lulled around the area and enjoyed a stroll along the promenade along the riverfront.

Bilbao’s mascot is the Cat. Directly in front of the Guggenheim Museum is a massive (50-foot?) steel and flower cat statue.

From the museum to the city’s southern side is the Father Arrupe bridge that leads to the Jesuit college of San Sebastian.

We arrived late to the Guggenheim so I spent the little time we had outside the museum to take a few photographs. The inside seemed to have architectural display, which was interesting, but the real story of the museum is its iconic outdoor structure. It was made to represent the industrial past while shaping a future that is formidable and bold.

In the center of the city is a large statue of the Sagrado Corazon (Sacred Heart Statue). Catholicism has been a major trait in forming the Spanish people over the millennia.

From Bilbao, we travelled through Izquieda down to Azpetzia, where Ignatius was born. We met our tour guides: Jose, the bus-driver, and Teresa, the tour guide. We began the tour on Teresa’s feast day, Teresa of Avila (south of Madrid.)

The Basque language that is spoken in the area has survived for 2,000 years. It endured and was largely untouched by the Roman occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. The Romans settled into the lower regions while the Basques remained high in the mountains. The two cultures seldom touched. The Romans opened roads for commerce and military exploits. The Basque language has a cousin that is found far away – in the southern part of Russia. The language is now taught in the region’s school systems.

In Azpetzia, we arrived at the Hotel Arrupe where we unpacked for our four-night stay, had Mass, and enjoyed a leisurely dinner. Most of us were in bed by 9:30 p.m., which means I could not stay up to watch the internet version of the Patriots win over the Dallas Cowboys.

However, I did venture out into the Loyola Basilica to listen to an organ recital by Mario Ciferri. It was the Twelfth International Romantic Organ Series concert. He played Liszt’s Orpheus, Brahms “Schmucke dich, o liebe Seele,” Bossi “Stunde der Freude,” Ritter’s “Sonate n. 1 op. 11 d-moll, Karg-Elert’s “Harmonies du soir,” and Tournemire’s “Improvisation sur le “Te Deum.” Most pilgrim’s did not know this was going on. It was a rare treat.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ignatian Spain

With 26 Ignatian friends, I leave this afternoon for northeast Spain to walk in the footsteps of Ignatius of Loyola. As I am able, I will post photos to this website.

We will fly Air France to Paris, then board another plane to Bilboa, Spain where we will stop and visit the Guggenheim. From there, we will head to Loyola - birthplace of Ignatius. Later on we will visit Xavier Castle, Manresa (site where the Spiritual Exercises were written), Monserrat (where Ignatius made his general confession), and Barcelona.

Vaya con Dios!
To see photos of fall in New England, please click on the link below:

Pics of fall in New England

Sunday, October 9, 2011

October morning

Breathe in. Slowly and deeply – with a long sustained breath. Hold it. Breathe out slowly and completely. I have often uttered these words in a retreat center to help center a person as he or she begins prayer. O.K. Now repeat it. Breathe in slowly and deeply. Don’t rush it. Take a long deep sustained breath. And now release it at the same measured rate. Just breathe. One more time. Breathe in slowly and deeply. Hold it! Breathe out slowly and completely.
This morning the Spirit of Christ seems to be asking me to engage in this pre-prayer exercise. It is as if Christ is saying, “Everything you taught retreatants, it is now your time to practice for yourself. Let me take care of you today.”
I sit in an Adirondack chair outside the retreat house, mere feet from the oceans. The sun is strong with a few high wispy clouds that would dare not block the sun. The temperature is already 82 degreed Fahrenheit with an almost-still sea breeze that brings with it faint trace of salt. I wonder where the retreatants are. As I look around, I notice a retreat director in another far off chair napping, but retreatants cannot be found. I feel presumptuous to take one of these choice seats, but all the chairs remain empty. I let myself indulge in this rare pleasure. I always forego these simple pleasures so that retreatants can have the best views of the ocean. Their absence reminds me that the invitation today is for me to sit and enjoy. I won’t even worry about the sun on my neck’s nape because I probably won’t burn.
Near to me are tall sea grasses that are like dried reeds. They sing a rhythm worth hearing. They clank against one another to make their chime-like noises. I’ll listen because they want to play for me. A white butterfly sits on the goldenrod, but doesn’t seem satisfied for too long. She jumps from one to another and I wonder if she is feasting and cannot get enough of the fruits. Ah, a second one just came along and they flew off in a spiral together. Their pleasure is being with one another for the moment. Behind the goldenrod are tall beach grasses that have lost their green lushness and have become strikingly white. They sway as they provide a contrast to the bright yellows in the foreground. Nearby are delicate yellow flowers with small petals. Three yellow butterflies are flittering away their morning by sucking up the juices of the pollen.
I feel good. I feel as if times is standing still for me to exist in a temporal eternity. I feel good.
A number of ships are in the harbor. A small yacht has docked in Brace’s Cove and the sailors are napping sans shirts. They don’t want to go anywhere. Why would they, after all? These days are made for soaking in the day’s magnificence. Three swans approach the boat. They were once timid around people but now see them as a source for their food. The sailor get up and grab their cameras because the birds are so close to them. I cover my neck for the sun is warm.
Single-mast sailboats dot the far horizon. They move slowly and with great grace. If I didn’t feel invited to stay where I am, I’m sure I would be walking out toBrace Rock that is accessible in low tide. It is monolithic and it looks pristine because of the recent rains. One day soon, but not today, I say. I will come, but today, I just want to look at you. The small tide-pools are still. They look warm in the late-autumn sun, but I’m not to do anything today except to behold the beauty around me. A yellow butterfly lands on the armchair and I notice the delicate detailed wing-lines. Hardly a sound is made around me, except that of nature’s movements. I am reminded to breathe.
A neighbor’s dog makes a solitary bark and tiny swallows chirp as if they are now awakened in springtime. A bumble-bee’s buzz provides a bass chant. I find my eyelids growing heavy as if I’m going to nap. I breathe.
Soon it is time to rest. Today seems like a respite from the year-long preparation for winter. We are given a delight to enjoy on this Sabbath so we can carry on in the days ahead. The flower beds are begging to be turned in so they can get their rest. As they slumber, other autumn plants poke their heads out to say,“Hey, I’ve been here all along, but you never noticed me. It’s my time now. Look at me. I’m brilliant.” They are so right. Even as the seasons change, life merely is expressed in alternate ways. Just as I say that, a religious sister walks by to pick up a stick. She has to try three times to get it. I don’t get up to help her – because she hasn’t asked for my help, but she perseveres and uses that discarded piece of wood as her walking stick. She smiles and is on her way. Life will do what it needs to survive. Life always wins out.
This is the type of day I would typically want to be working in the gardens or clearing the bush, but that must wait. After a nine-month effort, the gardens and lawns are beginning to speak for themselves. The land is saying “Thank you. You have freed me and I can breathe again. I want my splendor to shine forth. Today, I gaze upon to delight in them. As I walk through the property, yes, more can be done, but in its due time. It is time for me to look at my work alongside of Christ so I can see what he sees and hear what he is saying about the results. I think he wants to delight in their glory.
I heard a homily today that talked about the afterlife. The priest said, “Don’t pay much attention to this life for it is not good. The next life will be better.”This life is all we have. We don’t know anything about the next life except that Christ promises us eternal life with God. We had better live this life as fully as we can. We are given all of this to enjoy – even though we have lots of suffering.
I read a quick story about the difference between heaven and hell and I am changing the content of the tale a bit. Hell is like a rich banquet with lots of tasty meats, fresh vegetables, and sticky desserts. It is meant for us to eat like an Italian abbondanza. However, our hunger is too great and our arms are outstretched in front of us and though we can grasp all the food we want, our arms are locked and we can’t bring it to our mouths. Heaven is different. Actually, it looks the same. We are all seated at a large table in a massive banquet hall. The same food exists. God wants us to indulge as lavishly as we can in God’s generosity. The difference is that when we reach for the food, we give it to one another to eat. We are all satisfied.
I try to remember this because when I go through periods of self-scrutiny, I am reminded that the way out of my doldrums is to care for others. This keeps me open to their needs and somehow someone pays attention to my needs. I have to always go against my natural inclinations, which is to withdraw into myself, in order to achieve happiness and contentment. I make myself open to others’ care when I first care for others. How paradoxical.
I am letting God behold me. I have to imagine God is sitting forward and looking intently at me and saying, “Wow! I created you. I shaped you. I laughed with you and cried with you. I find nothing more valuable than spending time with you today. From your first rising in the morning, I look upon your face and notice how beautiful it is. I want to remember your face all day long. Breathe in my spirit because it is life. Spend time with me today because it is my delight.”
When God greets me like this, it is easy for me to tell God how I feel. I offer up all my emotions and thoughts and God simply accepts them. I present both my positive and negative feelings because that is who I am. God listens with great solidarity. I feel like my voice is heard – and everyone wants to be heard. I feel like I am seen – and everyone wants to be seen. I feel like I am touched – and everyone wants to have the intimacy of God’s touch – or that of another human being who loves you. All my senses I offer to God and my senses feed my feelings. My feelings feed my thoughts. My thoughts and my heart compels me to act. Who am I striving to become? Today, I merely want to exist as a beloved one of God.
But, once I am heard, I ask God,“What are you feeling today? What is going on with you? I want the mutuality of our friendship. Give me the grace to know what is happening with you today. Let me listen. Let me gaze. Let me behold you. I want nothing more.”
We rest together. The butterflies still flutter about; the sparrows still chirp, the waves roll up and down against the shore; and the flowers begin to embark upon their long rest. All is good. All is very well. For now, I’m going to sign off and spend time with God mutually beholding one another. I need it. I want it. I want to say to God,“You are awesome, but I know it will only come after God says to me, “You are awesome, and I just want to marvel at you. You take my breath away.”
And so I breathe.