Tuesday, September 7, 2021


When I was younger, my motto was "go for it!" As I have gotten older, my motto is becoming "let it go." 

For most of my life as a priest, I had a beard. I grew it the second summer after I was ordained when I made my first of five backpacking trips to Taize, France. For the first forty years, it was dark brown. When it started turning gray, I tried to "hold on" to it by dyeing it. I don't think it fooled anyone but me. When I retired, I finally got up the nerve to "let it go." I shaved it off. I could never get used to it being gone, so last year I let it grow back in all its whiteness! I learned that I did not have to let go of my beard. I just learned that I could still have an old-man beard, but not a young-man beard! It was never a matter of giving up my beard altogether, it was just a matter of adjusting to reality.  

When I retired, I was adamant that I was not going to sit down in a rocker and die. I wanted to do something new and interesting rather than cling to my old jobs or try to repeat them in another location. I made a clean break. I resigned from my job as Director of the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates that I had created at Saint Meinrad Seminary fourteen years earlier. Next I stopped writing my weekly column in The Record, called An Encouraging Word, after fifteen years. 

I did not "retire" in a traditional sense. I re-created myself. Instead of working at the seminary, I started volunteering in the poor Caribbean country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Instead of writing a weekly column in our diocesan paper, I started writing my own blog by the same name - An Encouraging Word. For a while, I did keep on conducting a few local parish missions and leading priest convocations and retreats mostly in Canada and the United States. 

Last year, after 12 trips to the Caribbean missions, I decided it was time to stop and find something closer to home, especially after COVID and a major volcano eruption. COVID also stopped me from booking any more parish missions. It hurt, but I re-invented myself once again and started my most recent project, turning  my old Saint Theresa Grade School in my home parish, that had been closed for twenty-eight years, into a new Saint Theresa Family Life Center

Last week, I decided to "let go" of one more thing. After doing over 160 priest retreats and convocations in 9 countries, and cancelling 4 more because of COVID, I still had one on the schedule - one in the Honolulu, Hawaii. At first, I said "yes" to their invitation for the spring of 2022. I bit the bullet last week and told them that I did not think I could honor that request after all. They persisted and tried to book me for 2023! At that, I was tempted to delay a decision until I realized, as painful as it was, that it was now time to "let go" of doing priest retreats and convocations altogether. I know in my heart of hearts that it was a good decision. 

In all of this, I have learned two lessons. (1) Sometimes, it takes more courage to "let go" than to "hang on." (2) I learned, as well, that "to let go" does not mean "to quit." It simply means opening oneself up to something new, something more age appropriate and something different. My new project at my home  parish is another great outlet for my renovation creativity, my parish revitalization training and my love for preaching. It's more distance-appropriate for my age.  It is a chance to give back to the people who gave so much to me! It excites me! 

“Today expect something good to happen to you no matter what occurred yesterday. Realize the past no longer holds you captive. Let the past go. A simply abundant world awaits."
Sarah Breathnach

“I can no other answer make but thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks.”
William Shakespeare

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