I am writing this letter to you while I am on retreat with the Trappist monks at the Abbey of the Genesee in Piffard, NY. I have been coming to this monastery, on and off, since I was 19 years old.
This year, however, it was a bit different.
Since many of the monks are elderly, all visitors are required to wear a mask when attending Mass or at times of prayer. For me, it is uncomfortable attempting to chant the psalms throughout the day while wearing a mask. Masks limit my breathing (which you know I have had a hard time doing lately) and can lessen my intake of oxygen. I complied but did not enjoy it. My usually frequent communal participation lessened, as I found it much easier to pray alone without a mask.
Next, since the retreat house had been closed throughout the pandemic, there is currently no cook for the retreatants. Each of the houses on the property is responsible for itself. While it is more inconvenient than anything else, this is a different situation than in past years.
I also had been able to interact with more of the monks in previous years, even having helped in the bakery, but this was not to be the case this year. Only one day during the retreat was a priest available for the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and there were no optional conferences of which I was aware.
Lest anyone think I am complaining, I look at it as par for the course with the many things that have been going on in the world. Things have certainly changed as we encounter various restrictions on our activities and behavior. This virus has often caused separation and isolation of peoples, rather than bringing them together.
My two priest friends and I have been able to offer Mass and pray together, but it was more in the guest house than in the monastery with the monks. Yes, the experience here this year was unlike the decades of retreats I had attended here in the past.
Nevertheless, know that you are remembered in my prayers and Masses, and I am feeling better and growing stronger each day. I just can’t believe how long is seems to be taking for me to recuperate completely. I know that I still am not there yet!
The bakery here at the monastery is still open and I plan to bring a few loaves of the Monks’ Bread home with me. What started primarily with their raisin bread has morphed into many different varieties over time. Each monastery supports itself in various ways (making vestments, producing honey, making caskets, etc.) and the Abbey of the Genesee has done this with its bakery.
Many years when I have made a retreat here, I have tried to visit the abbey cemetery to pray for the deceased members of the community. Since it is November—the month of the Holy Souls—this would be most appropriate. I hope to do this before I leave.
See you when I get back!
Fr. Ed Namiotka
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