sabbatical update

Jul 3, 2024


These sabbatical days have been more full than I had anticipated, and very satisfying. This week I am leading a retreat for a contemplative community of  Augustinian nuns in the north of Italy, Mestre, not too far from Venice, and the regular routine of these days is providing a chance for a bit of a breather, a break, supported by the contemplative rhythm of life in this community. Today we are half-way through the week-long retreat. Keep us in your prayer.

A month ago I arrived in Assisi where I am living with a Franciscan community. The faithful Franciscan community life of these men has been a great gift for me. I spend much of each day at language school, joining the community for prayer, Mass and meals. When I leave Mestre on Saturday I will return to Assisi for the month of July before spending August with friends in the north of Italy.

One of the great gifts for me in the Franciscan house is the friendship of and conversations with the friars. While my Italian language is very poor (that is an understatement) it is extraordinary how the beauty of faith can bring people of different languages together into a life-giving community.

And there have been a few wonderful and unexpected encounters in recent weeks.

On the first morning of language school a month ago I entered the class to unexpectedly find someone I knew from study in Chicago fifteen years ago. Until his departure a week ago we would chat every morning over coffee before school in the main piazza of the town. Then one Saturday we, with one of the Franciscans, went up to Francis’ hermitage (Eremo delle Caciere). It’s a beautiful and peaceful spot, and one of my favourite sculptures is there: a life-size depiction of three of the first Franciscans at prayer. Two are actively praying, pondering, thinking, discerning… and Francis is stretched out on his back, hands behind his head, just being.

There’s a good lesson for me in that. It is difficult for most of us to truly relax. Easier to fill our minds and our days with good activity. But sometimes, often, at least every Sabbath and especially on sabbatical we need to be more still and more silent and do more nothing.

It was a delight to spend a Sabbath afternoon a couple of weeks ago with three New Zealand Marist seminarians who are studying in Rome. I enjoyed their company and the inspiring conversation. Keep them in your prayer too.

And then quite unexpectedly I ran into a young priest I had met by chance in January in New Zealand. He is completing studies in Rome and returned yesterday to the US. He invited me to an evening drink with three friends of his, another priest and two women who are visiting Assisi with a pilgrimage of young people from their home diocese. The company and conversation was once again inspiring.  Keep Jim and his friends in your prayer. They are doing great work.

And many of you have asked how the Fifth Gospel Project is going. I’ll give an update on this next week but in short it has been an overwhelmingly inspiring experience for me with more than eighty personal experiences of God being shared. At the moment I am putting the finishing touches to the collection and it should be ready for the publisher next week.

My first task each day here in Mestre is to celebrate Mass for the sisters and the parish community.  It is late afternoon as I write this update and now I need to prepare a homily for tomorrow’s Mass for the Feast of Thomas the Apostle. You can read what I am thinking at this link.

I consider Thomas to be the model of Christian maturation. He was able to be honest, expressing the fact that he was not prepared to believe simply because others told him of Christ’s resurrection. He needed to experience Christ for himself.

That’s what I’m like. I need to experience Christ.

Happy Feast Day to all of us who seek to mature in faith.

Saint Thomas….Pray with us!



  1. Was pondering on St Thomas when I saw your email. He is indeed a great inspiration to us all! You are in our prayers here as are the retreatants and seminarians and the friends you have encountered .Lord increase our faith!!!

  2. Thank you for sharing so much of your Sabbatical Days. They are inspirational as was the Pilgrimage I was on back in 2008 ,I think, and you were our Pilgrimage Chaplain — Going to Assisi was so inspirational and still is with me even now as you recount your visit to Francis’ Hermitage.

  3. Lord increase our faith indeed!
    What interesting reading, your accounts of your experiences are so inspiring, thank you.
    Prayers for you and the others for whom you’ve requested prayer.

  4. Wow what a blessing this is turning out to be for you John, a grace filled time full of friendship old and new, immersion in the beauty of art, and history, with a bit of learning to add to the mix,.
    Praying for all you have asked for.


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