By the time you read this, I will have completed my annual retreat. Unfortunately, this year it was not made at a Trappist Monastery, as has been my frequent custom. In fact, the monastery that I have visited for the past 40+ years—the Abbey of the Genesee in Piffard, NY—is not receiving visitors at this time due to Covid-19 restrictions. Many of the Trappist Monks are elderly, some even infirm, and I can understand their caution in not accepting retreatants at this time. Maybe next year?
This does not mean that I do not take my annual retreat seriously, despite the unusual circumstances. I have told some that my first month in my new rectory was like being on a 30-day retreat already. The rectory had no TV or internet for about a month after I first moved in. Moreover, in my last assignment I lived with three or four other priests. Suddenly, I was all alone. I knew hardly anyone in this new assignment. People were (and still are) wearing masks so I could not see their faces or observe their expressions. Attendance at Mass was unprecedentedly low. I, for a time, felt like St. Thomas More all alone in the Tower of London awaiting execution. Thank God I was able to keep my head through it all!
Two of my priest-friends, who usually go on retreat with me, joined me this past week in my rectory. We prayed together, watched some pre-recorded spiritual talks on video, offered Mass and enjoyed some camaraderie and fraternity. Everyone knows how unusual 2020 has been, and making an annual spiritual retreat was not exempt.
As I related in an earlier bulletin message, I now have a small chapel in the rectory for prayer and reflection. I am really never alone with Jesus here in the Blessed Sacrament. No matter what part of the day it is—even on those nights where I may have some difficulty sleeping—I can make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament for some peace and solitude.
As Advent progresses, please remember to be counter-cultural and not be celebrating Christmas before it is time to do so. Advent is for spiritual preparation to watch and wait for Jesus. It has been a blessing for me to begin this new liturgical year with some time for prayer and reflection.
The Trappist monks, who begin their daily prayer with Vigils, get up when most of us are still sleeping (3:30 AM) and keep watch for the Lord Jesus in communal prayer. It should be a consoling thought that there are contemplatives throughout the world like them who pray for us and the world. Despite their mostly hidden lives, they are active in prayer and manual labor (ora et labora). The monks at the Abbey of the Genesee have supported the monastery by baking bread (Monks’ Bread) and other baked goods. Maybe you would like to check them out online: (https://www.geneseeabbey.org/ or https://monksbread.com/)?
Besides the opportunity to pray and worship with the monks, I will miss not being able to bring home a few loaves of Monks’ Bread this year!
Oh well! My stomach does not need the additional carbs anyway.
Fr. Ed Namiotka
Some of the Monks' Bread products