FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 26th AUGUST TO 3rd SEPTEMBER
The Log returns this week after a summer break. Towards the end of August, I took two weeks to myself, the first of which I spent on retreat at Kinnoul in Perth. It was a private retreat during which, for most of the time, I was in silence, and walked the very steep hills round about, but at meal times I shared very good food and spoke with the other people who were there, some of whom were on retreat, others who were on a holiday-cum-retreat.
There were a few ladies who, I think, were regulars at Kinnoul, one of whom was Downs Syndrome, and she took expert charge of handing out and taking back the books we used for Morning and Evening Prayer. There were also four staunch Catholics from Burnley with broad Lancashire accents, two men and two women, who combined joining us for Prayer and Mass with doing a bit of sight-seeing in the area. They sounded like characters from Last of the Summer Wine, even though that was set in West Yorkshire – but they are near enough to each other and the accents are very similar. One of the men used the first meal time to ask everyone in turn if they were Catholics, and if they weren’t he would suggest that they might decide to become one before their week in Kinnoul was over. When he asked me if I was a Catholic I told him I was a Passionist priest and he could work it out for himself.
Among the others there was a young woman from Sweden. She was a Lutheran and she spent her week reading the Gospel of St. Luke together with a Commentary on the Gospel of Luke. She came away with some nice insights into what is sometimes referred to as the Gospel of compassion and mercy. Another woman was a convert to Catholicism and she wanted to delve into St. Paul to satisfy herself that he was more than just a misogynist. She read the Acts of the Apostles and the Letter to the Romans and by the end of the week she had decided that she liked St. Paul very much and that he wasn’t really a woman-hater after all.
There was a couple who were both Protestants. She was using the week to dip her toe in the waters of making a retreat as a prelude to perhaps, if she liked it, making a more full-blown retreat sometime later. He was an Evangelical who, in a very nice way, wanted to know if we knew the Lord Jesus and were saved. There was a man who worked for a Catholic Organisation dedicated to justice, peace and non-violence, but he had some issues with the institutional church and indeed with any institutionalised religion, and maybe even a few issues with God, but he was hanging in there. There was also the abbot of a Cistercian monastery who was getting away from the noise and disruption of construction work going on in his own monastery, so that he could quietly prepare himself for the General Chapter of the Cistercians, scheduled to take place in Assisi shortly afterwards, with over 200 Cistercians from all over the world expected to attend. When people saw his religious habit, they kept asking him if he belonged to the same order as Thomas Merton. Patiently he would reply that he did, telling me that he got asked that question all the time.
Finally, there were the members of the Redemptorist Order who live at Kinnoul and who made us very welcome, along with two Sisters of Mercy and other staff members. There exists a friendly rivalry between the Redemptorists and the Passionists as our founders were contemporaries of each other in 18th century Italy, and engaged in the same kind of mission. Obviously, it was a great act of humility for me to spend a week in a Redemptorist Retreat.
So, there we were, a great variety of religious all-sorts, exchanging views and sharing conversations, which I think is wonderful. It reminded me of Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed, that grows into a huge shrub, and then stretches out its branches to provide shelter for all; no judgement, no exclusion, no condemnation; just welcome, acceptance, and appreciation of the richness of difference, the church at its best. I really enjoyed it.