Saturday, May 13, 2017


This past week, from Monday through Thursday, I directed a retreat for a group of elderly Sisters of Charity at their retirement facility, “the Villa,” in Florham Park, N.J. These sisters, whose mother house at Convent Station is across the road from the Villa, were my elementary school teachers for eight years. So whenever they ask me to do something for them in return, I automatically agree. I confess, though, that I’d forgotten what actually happens when I preach a retreat at the Villa.

Although these women, many in their 80’s or 90’s, do not see themselves as saints, they certainly walk in the footsteps of the “holy women” of every age. All of them suffer from the normal infirmities and limitations of old age, and many suffer from heavier crosses such as blindness, deafness, or confinement to a wheelchair. Most of the women I spoke with knew that their “work” at this stage of their life is to pray, and pray, and pray some more. “What else can I do, right?” was a phrase I heard more than once.

One sister, in the course of  speaking with me about putting up with her limitations, casually mentioned, “Well, I’m over a hundred years old, so sometimes I find it hard to concentrate on my prayers.”  Another began describing her closeness to Christ, when her eyes suddenly filled with tears and she apologized, “I’m sorry, father; the rest is so personal I can’t really put it into words.” I swallowed hard at that one.     

So, what actually happened, of course, was that these beautiful daughters of the Lord gave ME the retreat. In their spiritual conversations with me, they overwhelmed me with their humility, their patient acceptance of their infirmities, their insights into the spiritual life, and their closeness to Christ through prayer.

I wonder how many of the commuters who drive past the pretty buildings on Park Avenue in Florham Park every morning realize that they’re passing by a spiritual powerhouse more powerful than any atomic energy plant. Behind the trees and the shrubs and surrounded by neatly trimmed lawns, the sisters are praying for their families, for their former students, for the commuters driving past, for the Church throughout the world, for people in war-torn countries. Their list has no end.

To all of our mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, to all those who serve in the role of mother for someone, especially for the holy women of the Villa, each of whom has served as a mother to hundreds or thousands of children over the decades, have a blessed Mother's Day!

And the same to Our Lady of Fatima, as we celebrate today, May 13, 2017 the 100th anniversary of her first appearance to the three children in the Cova da Iria. (Here's a six-minute video on Fatima)

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