Saturday, April 27, 2013

Two Fires

Right now, unattended, two fires are burning on the property. One is the campfire, where we burned our sins written on little slips of paper, an then made s'mores. The other is an alcohol and slat fire burning in a casserole dish in the grotto.

Sue and I just did a confirmation retreat for two teens who missed their regular retreat. I've never done a retreat for just two before! Lucky for us, they were engaged and willing to share when the occasion demanded it.

I smell of smoke. It really got in my hair I guess. I kind of like it. I like the earthy, salty, smoky kinds of prayer experiences. And sticky s'mores with ashes stuck in them. And those stupid cheap blue ballpoint pens that you have to force to write. And scraps of magazine clippings on the dining room floor. And pans with cold pizza cheese burnt onto them. It all spells teen retreat to me. It's me, being about My Father's business. It's the mission I'm given here. I'm glad to be here. It's like Catholic Heaven.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Piece of April

We had a few cool things happen this weekend. One picture is worth a thousand words, so I am saving about two thousand word here.

We had our second annual Couples Night. Sr. Sue cooked, since Diane couldn't make it. After the meal, they had a presentation from Don and Chris Paglia from the Archdiocesan Family Life Office.

During their presentation, the four of us pictured here washed all the dishes and pots and pans, which was quite a job. Then we had mass. and ended with wedding cake. Everyone had fun. We thought they'd never leave!

The other cool thing was the monthly Girls Cenacle meeting. We made "Spirit sticks." Usually the girls get to take their crafts home, but this time I needed them for our Pentecost mass next month at the Motherhouse. I promised to give them back to the girls if I get them back afterwards.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Santa Fe

This is different, because I'm not at Trinita at this moment, but I'm feeling the connection. I'm in New Mexico on a semi-religious pilgrimage with a friend, Nancy S. We've had some really cool experiences at three different churches during this Holy Week.

I won't describe it  all here, just one moment. 8:00 am Spanish mass at the basilica of St. Francis in Santa Fe. A beautiful Easter mass, a packed Cathedral, two baptisms.  After all  the rituals of oil and water and  candles and clothing, the parents carried their babies slowly down the central aisle,  holding  them up to be blessed by the assembly. As I watched Nancy trace a cross on the baby's forehead, I felt the communion of saints. The link between a community of faith in Connecticut and one in New Mexico. The reality of the mystical body of Christ.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Here Come the Turkeys

An oft-quoted description of the Catholic Church: "Here comes everybody!" Yup, and Trinita is a microcosm of the Catholic Church. Throughout the year, we have all kind of folks coming and going.

Well, except in January. It's a quiet month here. We've had some snow, and rain, and wind storms, but not a lot of action. Except for the turkeys. They come every day. 

Today we had an interesting break from cold bleak gray. It rained, then shot up to the 50s, and the sky turned blue. I looked out my bedroom window this morning and could count twelve of them over by Cabin One. Usually they are just poking around looking bored and brainless. But not today. Half of them were fanning their tails and rushing each other in feathery chest bumps. I was almost tempted to run out there and yell at them to break it up.

Ha. Maybe I get bored in January, too, if I am ready to discipline a flock of half-grown turkeys! Well, the break is over. Tomorrow, a big group of teens is coming from St. George in Guilford. It will be fun!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Who We Met in the Parking Lot

Not our parking lot at Trinita. But that's where we started.

It's the Year of Faith! It's also (next month) the one hundredth anniversary of a perpetual novena to the Holy Spirit, prayed by the Missionary Cenacle Family. I'll tell you now: it's the Holy Spirit we met in the parking lot. But wait til you hear what he said!

Last month at our Christ the King celebration, we talked about a plan to have a procession from Trinita to our parish church, which is 3.5 miles downhill in the center of New Hartford. The purpose would be to celebrate the Year of Faith and the centennial of the perpetual novena. Now keep in mind that by the time we brought up this idea, we'd been talking in large and small groups for awhile and folks were probably getting saturated with proposals and projects and the like. Not everyone was very enthusiastic about the procession idea. Someone said, "Why don't we just wait and see what the Holy Spirit wants us to do?"

Well, a few of us have decided to go ahead and plan a procession, without waiting to see what the Holy Spirit wants. I have done a lot of discernment work over the years--both for myself and helping others discern. I have also done my homework on discernment. I know, you just can't always know what the Holy Spirit wants before you start something. You just have to go with your gut sometimes!

So my friend Nancy S and I decided to walk it ourselves this morning just to see what it was like. We set out at 9 AM, and it was sort of snowing and pretty windy. Oh well. We had a good time, talked about all kinds of things, noted danger areas and areas where a group could pull over and say a prayer every so often. It's pretty clear that we're going to go ahead with this procession idea unless we find out it's not allowed. (Even on Saturday mornings, there is traffic on Town Hill Road.)

After an hour and fifteen minutes, we rounded the last bend and arrived in the parking lot of Immaculate Conception. And just at that very moment, Father Iain was climbing out of his car, books in hand, heading toward the church. We stopped him and told him our big idea. The first words out of his mouth were,"Do you plan to carry anything? I think you should carry fire. And then, when you get here, we can light a fire!"

Yes! The Holy Spirit wants us to have this procession! With fire! What are the odds we would stumble into the parking lot just at the very moment Fr. Iain pulled up? He lives in forty minutes away, lest you think he was just stepping out of his own rectory or something. That moment was what I call confirmation. So, we're going for it. How much more clear can the Holy Spirit be?

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Last Day

This is the last day of the month. It's also (almost) the last day of the liturgical year. It also feels like the end of our season for giving program, as December is a pretty light month for us and we don't host groups in January.

What is life at Trinita like this moment? Pitch black outside, though it's only 5 pm. Little flakes of snow have been wisping down all afternoon, so things were getting whiter outside my window, until it became too dark to see. The Christmas decorations are already up, because we had Girls Night Out last night. The MOMs group is eternal, I guess, no matter what it's called or how often they get together.

Dottie led the meeting last night. The theme was Hope. Like with a capital H. Yeah, I needed to here it. I will never adjust to the long dark days of winter in New England. And it's not even winter yet!

What are the signs of Hope in these dark days? We had many trees cut down a few weeks ago. I am sad to see them gone. I've known some of them personally for decades now. But a few days after they were cut down, a friend of Trinita showed up with fifteen blue spruce saplings. He planted a symbolic Christmas Tree farm next to Cabin 3!

The best sign of life and hope here at Trinita is not the trees, however. We had our annual Christ the King celebration this past Saturday. At the end of the day, we had mass in the Lodge as we always do. At the mass, we received four new candidates into the MCA. And even more momentous, five women made their Act of Consecration and became full members of the MCA.

So even though the weather and the dead trees have me down, I must confess that there is plenty of new life here. It's the end of another year. But the Year of Faith is the beginning of a great new year.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Fence

Many years ago, the Panagakos family lived here and maintained Trinita. The only program we MSBT did here was the Summer program. We had not yet begun to invest much in keeping the place up, so Bill was always only one step ahead of all kinds of imminent disaster. The volunteers were often drafted into spontaneous work crews.

When my brother Matthew served here in 1987, the imminent disaster was the pool fence. It was sagging and rotten in places and a real safety hazard. Thus the Fencing Team was born. A number of MCVs spent hours digging post holes and replacing the fence. My brother had learned how to put in a fence from my father, a Missouri farm boy. However, the work crew was not well disciplined. In fact, someone on the team with no prior experience began giving conflicting directions to the others. 

The Fencing Team got cool black t-shirts with a special design,and the new fence held up well enough to keep the kids out, but you could tell by looking at it that it had "issues."

When I arrived here, I wondered if the current pool fence was still the one my brother helped erect so long ago, because it sure looked that old. While advocating the need to replace it to a visiting sister, I reached over and snapped the top off one of the planks to show how rotten it was. We finally got a new fence. Men and teens from our two neighboring parishes came to help Vinnie put it in last year, and it looks great. But the bare wood needed to be stained.

Last weekend, Carolyn from Oswego and Benito and his son Nick from Hartford came to help stain the new pool fence. We had a great time Friday night. A night hike! A campfire and s'mores! And some of that firewood was from the old pool fence. Seriously. We've been burning it a little at a time for fire wood since last year. I think about the pool and the kids and the summer sun while I watch those old fence posts burn.

Sr. Susanne and I, Carolyn, Benito, and Nick became the new Fencing Team. We stained the whole thing in four hours. It was funny how we fumbled around and talked a lot at first, but soon, we fell into a rhythm and just knew what to do without much need for talking. We worked together, each in his or her own special style. A fence is something to divide, it is a barrier. But like everything else around here, a Trinita fence doesn't divide, it brings people together.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Three Meals

As I was preparing to go upstairs to begin the day, I had to stop because someone was already coming down the stairs. It was one of our visiting sisters, coming to report that she was having peculiar symptoms and probably needed to go see a doctor. After some calls and some negotiations, we figured the best shot was for Patricia to take her. I went on to Morning Circle and a few other tasks. Around 10 o'clock I noticed I was really hungry. Oh yeah.... I forgot to eat breakfast! I grabbed a bowl of cereal.

Father Charley miscalculated and had not yet returned from his errands to celebrate mass for 11:30. After waiting 10 minutes, we decided to have a communion service, so I got up to explain our change of plans. As I was still speaking, he pulled into the parking lot so we switched back to plan A. As soon as mass was over, I took Eduardo and Ernesto down to the pool for training in how to use the sump pump and a few other chores. I left them to their work and came back up the hill to my office to make phone calls.

Top on the list: what is up with Sister's health? Some cell phone calls to various folks, the upshot being that she's on her way to another doctor so we just don't know. I guess the good news was that the first one had not sent her to an emergency room. By then it was time for pool duty, so back down the hill I went.

What a great day at the pool! Sadly, it did not last. I had to return to negotiations and phone calls related to Sister's health and a few other things. I started to realize I was hungry. Oh yeah.... I forgot to eat lunch. I found some leftover grits in the fridge and microwaved them. Yum. Then I saw it looked like rain, and Blanket Time was coming soon. I sat on the front porch to work on a rainy day plan. Before I finished, Natalia came to tell me that three of the families, all related, had just learned their mother/grandmother was dying back home in New York. They naturally wanted to go home.

More negotiations, phone calls, and hugs while people cried. We cut short blanket time, cancelled Supper Circle, and piled the three families into two vans. Including bags of sandwiches and food prepared by Sr. Nancy and Sr. Marion. Cecily and I drove them to the Waterbury Train Station. As I was driving back to New Hartford I noticed I was hungry. Oh yeah.... I totally missed supper. But I had to stop at WalMart, PriceChopper, and Home Depot before getting back to Trinita just in time for 8:00 Family Gathering, presented by Nancy. I actually grabbed a bowl of chicken nuggets and wolfed them down before having to lead the group in "I am a Pizza."

I know this is a long post, but the day was not finished with me yet. I had to go to the Lodge after the meeting to tend to some business, then back up the hill to redo all the Peer Group and Blanket Time assignments. Just as I finished, Nancy called me to say the toilet is plugged up in Cabin 2, and where is Vinnie's cell phone number? Oh wow. I am happy to report that Father Charley has just fixed the toilet. 

I should go to bed now. I am really sleepy. But... I'm hungry.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Night Before

It is warm and peaceful now. All the volunteers are back from their big day off, after a week of training for the summer program. Lights are on everywhere, but other than that, there is no sign of life out on the grounds except for the usual mob of moths flocking around the spotlights.

I am pretty sure we're ready for the Summer Program to begin. A friend dropped by to visit tonight as we were doing some finishing touches on props for the family gathering tomorrow night. She has been a part of Trinita's life since she came here as a child with her family. She dropped by to share with us about her recent mission trip to Tanzania. She presented us with a beautiful gift of a wood carving of Jesus as shepherd, reminding us of 2008 when our summer theme was "The Lord is our Shepherd."

This carving is a beautiful sign of how love received wants to be shared. Colleen, and Karen, and the thirteen Missionary Cenacle Volunteers who have come from all corners of America to serve with us, and so many others who serve with us in so many ways, are all moved by this desire to give, to love, to be a part of something meaningful.

Tomorrow, the bus arrives. There are still some messes to clean up, some chores to do, some groceries to buy. But tonight, as I walk around in the peace of the warm night, I feel only gratitude. I think we're ready.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Emerald City

We had five seniors from the parish church down the hill arrive for our "How to Stay Catholic" workshop. The whole thing was an experiment. We usually call something like this a "pilot project" because it sounds more professional, but we've been testing a lot of new ideas in recent years.

We fed them blueberry pancakes which we made right before their very eyes on an electric griddle set up at the table where we ate. Then we herded them into the Meeting Room for the content.

Now I'd like to point out that in the meeting room, directly behind Nancy and me, were two life-size cardboard cutouts: Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West. They were decorations from our volunteer party and are waiting to go back into the attic. The funny thing about life here is that surreal little moments like that tend to go unquestioned. People who call Trinita home just take stuff like this in stride. In fact, some of our local friends use the expression "Trinita Moment" to describe an experience that would fit in with our general ambiance and style of operating.

So as our teens wrote letters to themselves during the final reflection activity, I and Glinda and the Wicked Witch all gazed fondly at them and wondered what the future holds for them. Trinita right now is in the full flush of an intense spring green. Welcome to the Emerald City! But alas, no one stays here forever. We have known these teens for years, and now they are leaving home and entering adulthood. Wherever the Yellow Brick Road takes them, I pray they always hold onto the Catholic Church as their home.

Monday, April 30, 2012

How to Stay Catholic

We're going to give a workshop for graduating seniors in a few weeks called "How to Stay Catholic." It's kind of bold, I know. Like we've got a recipe, and if you follow it, you'll never let go of your faith. Well, of course, we don't exactly. This is one of those "what the heck, might as well give it a try" kind of projects we dream up when we're sitting around chewing over some problem or issue while peeling apples or something. We've just got to do something, anything. Anything is better than nothing.

No one else is feeding them pancakes and telling them the magic formula. So, let's us do it! How bad can it be? At least it will be fun, that's guaranteed.

Because it's here. We have that room full of beat up old couches. It just is more fun, automatically, in the room with the old couches. In February, we had 20 married couples in there for mass. They renewed their wedding vows. It was really special, seeing their faces, all those couples, our friends, renewing their vows all at the same time. And then we had cake!

And then in March we had thirty 2nd graders and their moms and/or dads crowded in for a First Communion retreat. That was a really fun day! We did our "Two Tables" presentation and did crafts and sang "His Banner Over Me" and watched "Grandma's Bread."

And this past week, we had a pot luck for our Mom friends. Good food, just hanging out together until... well, I am not sure when they left. I went down to the Cenacle to go to bed at around 10 PM.

We still have work to do preparing this workshop for the seniors, finding a fun way to present some parting words of wisdom. But I am thinking that the way to stay Catholic is to participate in stuff with people you love. Fun stuff, especially. It's got to be more than just making it to mass once a week. 

Friday, January 6, 2012


This being January 6, I found myself reading the definition of the word Epiphany. Well, I know it's the day we celebrate the arrival of the magi to see the baby Jesus. But what does the word mean?

It's not a bolt of lightning that strikes from a cloudless sky. It's more like the unexpected breaking through of the sun on a cloudy day. No one has an epiphany who sits passively at home. You have to have been working, searching, wondering. The seeker finds. The explorer discovers. The moment, the form, the face of the discovery is what is unexpected.

Last night, we had adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Although we've put invitations in local parish bulletins before, almost no one ever comes to this. Usually, it's just the four of us MSBT sitting quietly in the meeting room for an hour. But last night, to our surprise, we had five guests join us.

It struck me that our guests came from three different parishes. I visualized a map, the diverse directions that they had come from, the different roads they had traveled. I wondered what had drawn them each here on this particular night. Why now? Why these particular folks? I can't know the spiritual roads they traveled to arrive at Trinita. But I am sure Father Judge would say it was the Holy Spirit who dragged them here by the hairs of their head!

As I sat there pondering these things, I had an epiphany. Father Judge, when he blessed this mission back in 1923, said he wanted Trinita to become a light shining on the hill. Last night, I realized that our guests were really travelers, and Trinita in this moment was more than a light shining on Town Hill, it was the Star in the East, guiding these pilgrims to their own unique encounter with God-with-us.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fish Crossing

Every year, as is our custom as Missionary Servants, I make an annual retreat. A week of silence, prayer, and reflection. I generally take long walks every day, and I see many things. Almost always, one or two images from this week of walking makes such an impression that it continues to bob to the surface of my thoughts the rest of the year.

Here is the moment that won't leave me alone this time around. I am standing on a muddy sidewalk in Pennypack Park, wet from the steady mist, my glasses speckled with water. I am looking down into the palm of my hand at three tiny silver fish. I can feel them wiggling in my hand.

I keep remembering that moment: seeing the fish flipping around on the sidewalk and bending over to pick them up, admiring them, and then tossing them into the creek. There had been flooding rain, and the creek had overflowed, stranding many little fish on the wrong side of the sidewalk as the water subsided. They were just trying to get back where they belonged.

Was this the most important thing God had to show me while I was on retreat? I spent several minutes rescuing fish, then I sat on a nearby park bench to rest. A man walked by and took up the same mission soon after I sat down. There was just something irresistible about the tiny fish struggling to go home.

Meanwhile, back at Trinita, we are in full gear for the Fall, plowing away at a number of labor-intensive projects such as confirmation retreats and other programs. I squirm as I realize how little time I have left to finish my readings for the upcoming Women on Wednesday group, the calls I still need to make, and there is that stack of letters I need to take care of that I almost forgot about. My immediate conclusion, when the image of the little fishes pops unexpectedly to the surface, is that God is reminding me to be attentive to the little unexpected encounters of the day despite my absorption in my latest big projects.

But maybe that is not the reason I keep remembering the moment. Maybe, God wants to remind me of something else. That I am a little fish, struggling in the palm of God's hand. And if my life really does depend on accomplishing the impossible task of swimming across a sidewalk, then don't worry. In some crazy, unexpected way, I am going to get where I need to go.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Green Tomato Pie

Nothing says Fall has arrived like setting up for that first mass in the Lodge for St. George's confirmation retreat. I decided to turn on the heat, which meant closing all the windows. Which meant unblocking them first, since they don't stay open on their own. The Lodge windows, left to their own devices, simply slam shut if you are bold enough (and tall enough) to try to open them. I am sure there's a metaphor there, but I can't be doing all the work here--you can figure it out for yourself, no doubt.

Something else says Fall, at least here at Trinita: stunning fall colors. Yellows and reds and oranges all blowing in the wind, swaying in the breezes. But not this year. This year, we get drab brown instead. Might as well be back home in Louisiana. We have been getting so much rain, the leaves are simply molding and shriveling and dropping despondently to the ground. This is seriously messed up, in my opinion. But there is not a thing we can do about it. Rain, followed by torrential rain, followed by steady drizzle, followed by thundershowers, and so on. The fire pit looks like a pond. We had water coming up out of the ground in our storeroom off the cenacle.

Last week, we had twenty teens here from various Cenacle Family missions. Our annual Be Fire Teen Conference. We hiked into the woods on Saturday night, some of us carrying benches to install at trail's end. It was fascinating. Super humid, so that every breath created fog. Super-saturated, so that depressions became swamps and ditches became babbling brooks. I saw individual droplets of moisture floating in the beam of my headlamp. I saw salamanders tucked in the roots of trees. We clambered over fallen trunks and rocky brooks, finding alternate routes to avoid the worst sections. I laughed to myself, remembering how last year at this time I had packed a fire extinguisher in case our prayer-fire caught the dry leaves on fire.

Yesterday, I surveyed Nancy's garden and realized we could never eat all those tomatoes, even if they do have a chance to get ripe before a freeze finishes them off. I found a recipe and made green tomato pie for supper. Honestly, I did not have much hope for success. I have never made it before. Mama used to make them, but the last time I had any was decades ago. The very concept of green tomato pie is crazy. But when I took my first bite, the flavor flooded my mouth and transported me to my childhood. Success!

Fall is here, wet or dry, colorful or drab, and we just do the work we are given to do, regardless. But now I have a new way to enjoy the fall, no matter what it looks like out there. Green tomatoes have a special, secret beauty all their own.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday So Far

It's pouring rain outside. The first Blanket Time of the week is going to be inside. But it's OK, because it's finally cooler. I think the heat wave is over for the time being.

After morning circle, Christine and I took charge of a screaming toddler who did not want to go to babysitting time in the Lodge. The three of us rode around on the golf cart for awhile, up and down the hill to the pool, making donuts around trees, rode underneath wet laundry hanging behind Cabin 3, picked a green apple from a low branch without even getting out of the golf cart, and so on. Eventually we were able to rejoin the others in the Lodge, who were clearly having a great time.

It's raining less hard. After leaving the boy with the babysitters, I went to BJs to pick up apples, ice cream, peanuts, and more apples. We have been eating tons of apples this summer. Last night, I used an apple slicer to quickly core and slice enough apples for everyone at the Family Gathering to have a slice. It is supposed to represent love and joy. After the meeting, a few moms came up to try out the slicer on the remaining apples. A new toy for the kitchen.

After I got back from BJs it was time for mass in the Lodge. I helped Maria Lauren sing Spanish songs I never heard before. Talk about faking it! But the chorus was about how with love and humility, we can move mountains.

It's only drizzling now. I've rung the bell and the volunteers are hunting down their families and settling down for blanket time. After the service was over in the Lodge, I felt a great weariness. Too many days of not enough sleep, fatigue can come out of nowhere and hit me like a ton of bricks. I took a nap!!! 3o minutes! During lunch. So I ate a peanut butter sandwich when I revived and went up to prepare for movie time.

Blankets on the floor. Lights off. All the sofa cushions scattered around the floor. Finally, I get to sit and watch Toy Story 3. The same toddler who screamed in my arms for the first twenty minutes of peer group was now running around and messing with the guitars after the movie got underway. Fortunately, this time his mom was there to take him in hand. Siena and Christine gave out popcorn and juice boxes to the moviegoers and peace and harmony reigned.

I think it has quit raining. After the movie, I took out crayons and paper to the pavilion for a little extra fun during snack time. At some point I noticed a bad word in very large letters chalked on one of the wood pillars on the pavilion. A souvenir from last week, and how did we fail to notice it sooner? I found a wet rag and cleaned it up.

The volunteers are all well seasoned by now. The kids this week have a lot of parental supervision. It's amazingly calm.

I am thinking about Heidy from Week 1. And Sonia from Week 2. And DiMarco from Week 3. Whether a group is calm or fractious, we take them all here. We try to show them a good time. And we try to reflect God's love, as best we can. I know I have failed in that regard many times. But Monday so far, or the program so far, or my life so far, I think on the whole, all is well.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Week Zero

A few days ago, Cullen asked me if it was Wednesday of Week One. I did not think this question odd. Time flow during the summer program is different from normal time. One day here is like three regular days out in the real world. We live so much life from morning to afternoon to night that it is easy to lose track. So I replied, "Yes, it's Wednesday, but this is Week Zero. We don't start counting the weeks until the first bus arrives."

Well silly me. He meant which week in Christian Prayer, not in the Summer Program! OK, in that sense, yes, it's Week One!

But we are still living in Week Zero now. It's an odd time. Waiting for the first bus of families to arrive. The bus broke down. We were expecting them at 5 PM, but now we expect them at 10:30. And we are out of mode, out of sync, unsure of where to situate ourselves. I sat at the firepit until the air got too chilly, enjoying the eerie quiet. Everything is perfectly ready. Except there are no families. After weeks of preparation, chaos, and even a little stress, to sit at the fire pit in solitude with nothing to do is ... almost unsettling.

Soon enough, it will be over and Week One will begin. Is it some kind of materialistic American compulsion to be constantly on the journey, engaged in some activity at every moment? Maybe that's why this unexpected time feels like we've sailed the ship off the edge of the earth. We're.... we're... not on a schedule right now! We're lost! Adrift in another dimension!

OK, it's not really that bad. But I can see the wisdom of having healthy portions of Ordinary Time in the liturgical calendar. Every moment does not need to have a theme and a color. Ordinary time, the in-between time, Week Zero. It's actually kind of cool.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Chili and the Doctrine of the Trinity

Yesterday morning, as I was making pancakes for the eleven girls who spent Friday night with us, people began showing up and unloading amazing amounts of equipment on the Arts and Crafts parking lot. I kept looking out the kitchen window as I flipped pancakes, wishing I could go down and watch them set up booths, decorate them, and start chopping up their meat and veggies.

Our first annual Chili Cook Off was underway! Pretty soon, you could small bacon frying, and other mysterious scents, all the way up the hill at the main house. By noon, all twelve entries were ready for sampling and the public spread out eating, talking, and sipping beer and lemonade. Kids were playing on the playground equipment. Old folks were sitting in the shade enjoying some luscious music. Singer/songwriter John Mayock filled the air with some really great sounds and made the afternoon just perfect. Not to mention blue skies, puffy white clouds, and cool breezes.

Oddly enough, a reporter from the Winsted Journal showed up. He began circulating and asked everyone the same question: "What makes a great chili?" I was advised by Nancy and a few others to be prepared. He was not asking questions about Trinita itself. Soon, he was overcome by the tempting smells and sat down to try some chili, so I parked myself at the same picnic table and introduced myself. Sure enough: "In your opinion, what makes a great chili?"

Ha! "Chili is all about relationship. All the ingredients work together, they have a role to play, but they remain distinct. That's what this whole experience is about. I look around, and I see all these people, many of whom I know, and I think about how we are all connected to each other, we support each other. That's what happens when people come here to Trinita. It's our mission...."

And so on. Today is Trinity Sunday. Across the world, good Church-going Catholics are being actively encouraged by their priests to avoid thinking about the most foundational mystery of Christianity. It is the only mystery, of all the great mysteries of our faith, which is treated like an incomprehensible intellectual puzzle instead of like spiritual food to nourish our souls. The worst homilies of the entire year are given on this Sunday: it's quite a distinctive mark of this great solemnity.

Why? Why can't we savor a delicious mouthful of really good chili and think about the Trinity? Three persons in perfect relationship. No one dominates the other. No hierarchy. No bland homogeneous generic broth. No, the Trinity is spicy and exciting, a food adventure for the soul.

THAT is the image and likeness we are made in! We are made to be in relationship, and we hunger for it when we aren't. If we can own the mystery, we can fill that hunger.

I was not allowed to eat the chili yesterday until after two o'clock. I smelled it, I watched others eating it and listened to the chefs discuss secret ingredients. Finally, I joined with four other judges and, almost ritualistically, we began sampling each of the twelve entries. I savored every mouthful. And I can safely say, I have not had that much fun reflecting on the Trinity in a long time.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Drains to Ocean

I am in California. And in a way, so is Trinita. I packed up lesson plans and supplies and skit props for a family retreat based on our 2008 summer program, "The Lord is our Shepherd." So here I am, enjoying the hospitality of Josie Morales in not-so-sunny California. (I never heard of "June Gloom" before. Apparently it's the West Coast's pathway to seasonal affect disorder.)

It is always a privilege for me to spend time with MCA in other geographic areas. I am fascinated by the way the Missionary Cenacle charism is expressed differently in different places. I was especially moved when I saw the two huge canvas banners unfurled at the parish hall where we were gathered this weekend. On one side, our three founders smiling down at us. On the other side, a painting of what was clearly the mission cross at Holy Trinity, Alabama. Almost life-size! Perhaps only half a dozen of the 150 attendees have actually been there, but they all know Holy Trinity and want to go there one day.

I went for a walk in Josie's neighborhood, a quiet suburb in the midst of Los Angeles urban sprawl. The trees and ornamental plants are all so different! And the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood is change of pace from the rather homogenous environment around Trinita. Then a street draincover caught my attention. "No dumping. Drains to Ocean." Cool! I never saw that before! I have seen "Drains to River" before. But Drains to Ocean? I guess that's the ultimate!

And suddenly, I felt like a little water drop, circulating around on my long and convoluted journey to the Ocean. So much life has flowed through Trinita, brought by so many folks for so many years. And I packed up a suitcase with some of that Trinita-stuff and carried it here and let it out. At the MCA Pentecost retreat, everyone got a little training in how to run a family-based program Trinita-style. Trinita's style, however, is just one expression of Cenacle Family "style" of carrying out the Church's mission. And whatever I let out of the suitcase has now got mixed in with the California MCA style.

I don't know what will flow from my work here this weekend. The various little drops of water get mixed together, but ultimately we are all flowing to one destination. Drains to Ocean.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Peaceful Night

There is something about living where you work. It's hard to get out of work mode when it's all around you.

We've had a lot of activity here in recent weeks. More than usual I mean. To start off, we all went to Philadelphia to meet with the staff of the other two retreat centers. We three centers compared notes and shared stories and took counsel on some issues of common concern. It turned out to be fun, to tell the truth.

Then we gave a retreat for the St. Mary Magdalen youth group. That really was fun. The kids and their chaperones have a good community, and it is pretty stress-free. The weather was nice for a change, and we got to have a campfire. Everyone ended up sitting around the campfire talking and laughing for awhile. It was a good time.

Then..... the tag sale! Wow, what a huge amount of work that was! I have to say, I did not do too much of the prep work, but I can vouch for Patricia and Ellen and Vinnie and squadrons of volunteers tromping around for days in advance. Well, I did bake a lot of pumpkin bread for the Trinita Teen bake sale. We had friends come spend the weekend, both as helpers and for a little social time.

And this past week, we had a special lunch for area priests and DREs. Patricia cooked this great chicken parmesan. We had dessert and coffee in Arts and Crafts and slideshows running in the Lodge on laptops. And again, after weeks of gloom and rain, that one day was gorgeous weather.

This weekend I have devoted to preparing materials for a Pentecost retreat I'll be helping with for the MCA in California. So I have been pretty much slaving away, grinding out lesson plans and outlines and so on.

This month, really, looking back on it, I can say, has been crazy busy. Holy cow. And it did not help that it rained almost every day.

But today... At dusk, I went out and sat on the back steps and just soaked up the peace and quiet. Living where I work can be really hard. But today, it just seems cool. Wow, I get to live here, at Trinita! It could not look more beautiful than it does now. It is a peaceful night.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Word Work Two

Another Mission Planning Council meeting tonight. Nancy S ran most of it, because we are going to have a chili cook-off in June. I am trying to picture people strolling around the property eating chili, live music playing, the smell of spices in the air.

Before we got to the fun part of the meeting, I did a review of how our Council fits in our five-year plan. We have a new member, and we're half-way through our five years, so a review was in order.

I pulled out our old newsprint and sprinted through a summary, tossing newsprint into a heap behind me as I went along. Half the people there have just heard all this a month or so ago, and half had not really seen this stuff before. So I was torn between Brevity and Clarity.

I'm n
ot sure who won that battle. But the winning visual was the newsprint of all the changes we've had in the last two and a half years. If you look at all the words, it's not brief. And it is clear that we've seen a lot of change in a short time. Not all of it planned or necessarily what we wanted. But the sight of all those words scribbled on the newsprint seemed to catch everyone's attention. So I guess Clarity won.

Maybe it's my interest in history, but I think it's just as important to look back as it is to look ahead as we carry out our mission here. Or anywhere. All those meetings and agendas and minutes and summaries, and even all that newsprint, it all adds up to something. We gain confidence and focus by keeping in mind that the words we spoke last year, and the years before, have born visible fruit. We said these things, then we did these things, and here is where it has taken us. Now what do we say? And where will it lead us?

Who can know? But, at least, I think at least I can count on a chili cook-off happening in June.