From the fall of 1996 to the spring of 1997, I had the absolute grace of spending a year on retreat, high on a hill of over 400 acres of field and forest overlooking the Lehigh Valley. Along with my class and other seminarians from NJ and NY, we were invited "into the deep" of our walk with God; an unprecedented opportunity for silence and reflection, and the time to probe into the mysterious call to priesthood. It was called the "Spirituality Year" and was part of the seminary formation for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
It was a defining year for me, and helped so much in my discernment of God's will for my life. Looking back now as a husband and father, I can see how the moments of quiet and prayer that called me into the seminary in 1993, were now preparing me for the unexpected turn away from a call to priesthood. Men come and go in this discernment, and in my mind it is always a win/win situation. You ask the question head on, you "taste and see," and you grow from the experience, no matter how the end of that discernment spells itself out. To this day, I feed on the formation and the spirit of my time at Mary Immaculate, and St. Charles in Overbrook.
Just a month ago, I heard that Mary Immaculate Center, that place of deep peace and prayer, was closing its doors. The land and all the structures on it, including an incredible chapel built in the 1930's, is up for sale. Needless to say when I read about this transition, it hurt.
Thoreau once said "We need the tonic of wildness... At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature."
I could say the same for the acres of wildness at Northampton, without, in the corn and bean fields and dark woods below the hill, and within, in the shadowy stillness of the chapel in the wee hours of the morning, when only the sanctuary lamp flickered. I could almost hear the Divine Heart beating with an unfathomable love for me.
Last month I called a friend, a classmate who experienced the year with me, and who also felt the call out of the seminary. We came home again to Mary Immaculate, and with me was my wife and baby boy. We spent hours taking pictures and walking the halls, while a heavy rain fell outside and soaked the fields and the trees. The video above is my thanks for the time that I was given at Mary Immaculate. Please pray that it remains somehow untouched, in good hands. In the heart of the Church. We need this "out of the way place," this wilderness for the body and the soul, lest we forget who we are and where we are going.
The most generous choices, especially the persevering, are the fruit of profound and prolonged union with God in prayerful silence. - Pope John Paul II