I am spending most of today at Notre Dame Retreat Center in Canandaigua, where a group of our priests are making their annual retreat. I joined them for lunch and will remain for dinner. After dinner, I will sit in on the evening conference offered by the retreat director, Bishop William Skylstad of the Diocese of Spokane, Wash.
At the moment, I am sitting on a bench absorbing the beauty of the magnificent lake and gentle hills that stretch out before me. The only sounds are those of the mild breeze and an occasional outboard motor. I see some of the priests enjoying the grounds, but hear nothing from them. The afternoon is unscheduled, and the retreatants are invited to reading, rest and quiet prayer. The men easily and happily follow the invitation.
I am delighted that Bishop Skylstad is with us to preach the retreat. He is a seasoned pastor, having served as bishop in Yakima and Spokane, Wash., for a total of 27 years. Bill is also a popular retreat director. As I recall, we needed to book him for this retreat more than three years ago. Since he signed on to be with us he was elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. When he was elected, I wondered if he would be able to keep this commitment, given the heavy extra responsibilities connected with his presidency. I am grateful that he has. My intuition is that he does so out of a deep respect for his brother priests.
To be with Bill and our priests on this splendid day is a foretaste of some of the significant events that fill my calendar for the remainder of June.
A week from today, I will fly to Chicago for the annual spring meeting of the USCCB. I’ll return from that gathering on Saturday. On the following Monday through Wednesday, the priests and pastoral administrators of our diocese will gather in Corning for our annual convocation. You may recall that the convocation, originally scheduled for the week after Easter week, was postponed because of the death of Pope John Paul II. On Thursday following the convocation, I will be going to New York to join the bishops of New York state for a two-day meeting.
Such a range of meetings in so short a time is a bit unusual. I am glad that it doesn’t happen that way always. It’s good to have some between times to absorb it all. Having said that, I add that I rarely, if ever, go to such sessions without experiencing enrichment at the hands of those with whom I share the love and exercise of ministry. There is a life-giving power in the witness of faith and service they offer. And, there is good strength and wisdom in the experience they share.
I always return from such experiences with a deeper appreciation for the communion of life that is our church. Honest discussions we have about theological and pastoral questions and challenges allow me to share what we are trying to do in our diocese. They also remind me that there is always something important that we can learn from our sister churches.
Please pray for all who participate in the meetings I have mentioned. We are aware — just as are the priests here on retreat this week — that if our work is to bear fruit, it must be rooted in faith, nourished by prayer and ordered to the glory of God and good of neighbor.
Peace to all.