It has been good, very good to spend these months on sabbatical. And it will be good, very good to be back home.
When people ask how the sabbatical time has been for me, my reply is usually only one word: extraordinary. I had spent many months planning and arranging details of the time, but my experience has far surpassed anything I had hoped for.
The ‘pre-sabbatical’ days following Easter were a significant beginning. I spent the week immediately after Easter at a retreat for priests in the US.. Then a few days break before the OLV parish pilgrimage. While the small group of four did end up in the Holy Land, the real pilgrimage was experienced by the 30 friends who did not make it past gate E27 at Changi before being returned home. What we saw in those people, in the midst of the trauma they were enduring, was nothing less than a real experience of Christian community. They were living in the midst of confusion, uncertainty, distress and unfulfilled hopes. Yet they stayed together as a community sharing their pain. In this uncomfortable and unwanted place, God did not miss the opportunity to work powerfully. It is evident to all of us who followed their journey through those days, that despite missing out on the pilgrimage, they were on THE pilgrimage. I was delighted to have the company of some pilgrims for the last days of the journey in Rome.
When the pilgrimage finished late in May I began my own sabbatical. For the first months I lived with the de la Salle brothers community in Rome. There was good rest for me in these days, and it was a luxury to be able to read and reflect in a (relatively) disciplined and uninterrupted environment.
In early June I moved to the Liturgical Institute in Chicago where I began their post-graduate programme in Liturgical Studies. This time (until late July) was intellectually challenging and stimulating for me. The courses on The Liturgical Movement, Sources and Methods in Liturgical Studies, Church Art and Architecture and Liturgical Inculturation were both sound and inspiring. I was fortunate in those days to have not only good teachers, but a wonderful community of Faith to live and work and pray with. Technology has given us the means to stay well connected on our own web-group.
There were many books and resources referred to in the Chicago studies that were outside the requirements of the course, but that I knew I wanted to read. The month from late July gave me this opportunity back with the de la Salle brothers in Rome.
I spent last week at the Rimini Meeting. Yesterday I heard some of the Meeting statistics. 800.000 people passed through the entrance gates over the seven days of the gathering. They spent the days from 11am till early morning open to the full beauty of the experience of Faith. They heard speakers, passed through exhibits, and ate and drank and prayed together with one single aim: they had experienced a desire for something greater than what the world offered them, and they were open to an experience and encounter with something more. The vast majority of those present were young people. The expectations and fears of the world had not yet dulled their passion for life. It was significant that 3000 people in their 20’s had paid for what they saw as the privilege of working as ‘volunteers’ for the week. Some of these had travelled from other countries to spend the week cleaning toilets. During these days their joy at giving a week of their vacation, and paying, to be a part of this great event of faith.
These past four days have been a different kind of experience of retreat. With 450 others I have been in a mountain village in the Aosta region of Italy. The input sessions each day are filled with explicit, clear and robust challenges to greater faith. It is remarkable to share this experience with so many (again mostly young) and faithful (Faith – filled) Catholics.
Yesterday morning we travelled together to the Mont Blanc region. After spending all of each day (and much of the night – the night retreat inputs began at 9.30pm) in intense reflection together, it was a delight to head for the hills – but not just for a day off: For much of the journey we were in silent prayer – even as we all together, in single file climbed slowly, very slowly to 2500metres. There we celebrated Mass before a good lunch with wine (I am not sure who carried all the bottles!).
Last night (after the 9.30 session in the hall) the party began and people from 70 countries sang each others songs in nine languages. At 12.30 someone stood and we prayed the Memorare and once again there was silence.
I am grateful to many people for this sabbatical time. Bishop Barry Jones gave approval for the time this year (and shorter period next year when I will continue the Chicago studies). The parishioners of OLV have been generous in so many ways. I am very grateful.
And I want to make special mention of those of you (some I know of many others I do not know about) who have journeyed with me on this blog. I have appreciated your company, support and prayer very much. Every time I make a note on the blog you are in my thoughts and prayer. Several times I have offered Mass for your intentions.
We will keep each other in prayer.