It’s hard to believe that the time has come once again for my annual retreat. I’ll be going to the Eastern Point Retreat Center in Gloucester, Mass., for the fourth year in a row. This Jesuit-run facility is in a beautiful oceanside setting. The retreat directors are well-seasoned and helpful. The other retreatants are most supportive in their quiet, prayerful presence. I look forward very much to the experience during which you will be in my daily prayers.
We had a special treat in our house this week: a visit by Father Valentine Handwerker, a priest of the Diocese of Memphis, Tenn. I first met Val when he was a seminarian at the North American College in Rome. I had the privilege of being one of his mentors during his seminary years and came to know him quite well.
Val and I have kept in touch over the years. Our contacts became more frequent during the renovation project at Sacred Heart Cathedral. That is because the lead architect for our project also led the earlier renovation of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Memphis, where Val is pastor. Val was kind enough to share their experience with us in many helpful ways.
In the renovation process, Val and Father John Mulligan became good friends. During Val’s visit, the two of them spoke with enthusiasm of reuniting in Seattle this coming January, when pastors of cathedrals from dioceses all over our nation will meet to share ideas and enrich their ministry.
In my prayers this morning, I was thinking about my relationship with Val over the past 33 years and about the pleasure it has been to watch him grow from seminarian to the dedicated, generous minister of the Gospel he is today. That reflection during prayer time left me happy for him. It also left me grateful to God that in God’s own good providence, I was able to make a contribution to Val’s growth along the way.
I suppose that’s because all of us have a deep desire to pass on life to others, to be generators of new life. The most common and deeply beautiful experience of that desire comes to those who give birth to children. But, there is also a spiritual generation of which we are all capable, and that carries with it a deep sense of gratification. It is that beautiful grace that I experienced on the occasion of Val’s visit.
The visit with Val, itself a gift, was a lovely complement to an experience I had just a few days before his arrival. That was the joy I had of presiding at a Eucharistic Liturgy at which my friends, Ida and Bob McVeigh, celebrated 50 years of marriage. In the presence of their five children and their spouses, several grandchildren and some longtime friends, Ida and Bob renewed their marriage vows and exchanged new wedding rings.
It was a celebration of great joy. One could see it in Ida and Bob as they re-expressed their love for one another and took clear and deep delight in the presence of their remarkable family. One could see it in the family as they surrounded their parents with love and warm filial affection. I felt privileged to be a part of that wonderful expression of love. It helped me to understand a little more about the married life. And, in God’s gracious ways, it helped me more deeply to appreciate my own vocation.
If the idea appeals to you at all, you may wish to spend some quiet time thinking about the theme of generating or passing on life. Who are the people you think of as having helped you to grow and mature through the years? How did they do that for you? Who are the people whom you have helped or are helping to develop and flourish? How do you try to do that?
Peace to all.