On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a rainy and dreary day, I was driving home from Buffalo. I had spent Thanksgiving and the day after with family and friends in the Buffalo area. As I approached Batavia on the Thruway, I thought of the Trappist Abbey, Our Lady of the Genesee, at Piffard and decided to take a detour and spend some time at the Abbey. What a pleasant few hours that was!

I arrived about 10 o’clock in the morning and spent about an hour sitting quietly, praying in the chapel. Sitting in the dark chapel and focusing on the Lord’s presence in the tabernacle was a beautiful and relaxing experience.

As I was leaving the chapel, I encountered Brother Christian, a native of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Syracuse. He has been a Trappist monk for 64 years, but maintains a lively interest in the Diocese of Syracuse and our neighboring dioceses. We spoke about some of the challenges facing the Church in Upstate New York.

Following our conversation, we walked to the kitchen where the abbot, Dom Gerard, was busy preparing the noon meal while another brother was busy at work making bread. Doesn’t everyone love Monk’s Bread? In addition to their familiar Monk’s Bread, the monks now make a variety of other breads, biscotti, and fruit and nut bars. I can personally attest that they are all delicious! The bakery is the primary source of income for the monastery. For the monks, prayer, living in community, and work are primary obligations.

I have visited the abbey at Piffard several times. The first time I was a sophomore in high school and our parish priest took a group of us to visit the monastery. Through the years, I have made many retreats there and always enjoyed the quiet peacefulness and pristine beauty of the abbey and its grounds. More importantly, however, than the beauty and peacefulness of the monastery is the consolation that comes from knowing there is a group of monks praying for us and for the needs of the Church.

I stayed longer than I expected, completing my visit by praying Sext (part of the Office said at the 6th hour or at 12 noon) with the monks. As I left the monastery with some bread and biscotti, I could not help but think what a wonderful gift the vocation of the Trappist is for the Church. I also thought of the numerous religious communities that I have encountered throughout the years and, in a special way, those with whom I work here in the Diocese of Syracuse.

The Sunday before Thanksgiving I had an opportunity to visit St. Andrew’s Hall, the novitiate of the Maryland and Northeast Provinces for the Society of Jesus. St. Andrew Hall is located near Le Moyne College and serves as a residence for about a dozen young men thinking about life as a Jesuit and the priests who live with them.

Jesuit Fathers and Brothers are in every work of the Church throughout the world. They make a special promise to go wherever the pope needs them and there is no area in Church life where they are not involved. Here in our country we think of them mostly as teachers and professors in our colleges, universities, and high schools. However, they are also parish priests and hospital chaplains and missionaries, both at home and abroad. I thought of the many Jesuit Fathers who have influenced my life throughout the years and who are always available for spiritual direction and Confession for many priests and religious here in the Diocese.

I thought, too, of the Franciscan Conventual Fathers and Brothers who serve at Assumption Parish. Formerly they served at many parishes and areas in the diocese. I remembered the Sisters St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, who staffed our schools and hospitals down through the years; the Sisters of St. Joseph, outstanding teachers and parish ministers for so many parishes; our Dominican Sisters on Court Street who continue to pray for us and the works of the Church throughout our diocese.

In this Year of the Family I thought about each of these religious families and how each makes a wonderful contribution to the Church in our diocese. In my recent pastoral letter, Enriching the Church: The Role of the Family in the Life of the Church of Syracuse and Beyond, I talk about enriching the Church through family life. The detour I took on my way home from Buffalo last week and the thoughts that followed my visit to Our Lady of the Genesee Abbey reminded me that another aspect of family life that builds up the Church is the vocation to the Consecrated Life.

As you prepare for Christmas, take a moment to thank God for the religious men and women who have walked with you in life. Thank them for their witness and for all they did for you, not least of which are the many prayers they offered for you. If they have gone before you into eternal life, remember them in prayer. If they are still living, why not send a Christmas greeting or call them to express your gratitude? I bet even an email or Tweet would be appreciated! I know I intend to make a phone call or two!

Let’s not forget the religious men and women we have known and pray that others will join them in the Consecrated Life. The Church needs to be enriched by their life of prayer and dedicated service.

If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.

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