DIDN’T CATCH MUCH, EXCEPT A GOOD REST
Vacation 2011 is now a thing of the past, history. For all intents and purposes it ended last Tuesday when I left my “sanctuary” in Northern Michigan after 31 wonderful days, glorious days really. My final Mass at St. Francis Xavier parish in Petoskey was Saturday night a week ago. In one sense they will be relieved to see me go as my presence was accompanied by unusually hot and humid weather for the most part. But in another way, they expressed their gratitude for my presence in many ways and I toward them. It is too bad I was not there for this week-end and the Gospel story of the storm at sea. The family who make me so welcome race every year in the Chicago to Mackinac race sponsored for the last 103 years by the Chicago Yacht Club and during this year’s race, on a late Sunday night offshore the Petoskey area a strong line of thunderstorms came through, capsizing one boat with the loss of two lives of crew (six survived). It was the first time in 103 years that there was casualties of the race. My friends took every precaution, lost a little time to the finish, but survived whole and in tact.
Tuesday I fulfilled a promise I made to a friend of mine from papal visit days to see him in his present assignment in Scandinavia. He was expecting me the day after Christmas last year but you may recall the two major snow storms which hit the east coast closing the airports on the day after Christmas and delaying our reunion. He is presently in Stockholm and I spent about four days with him before flying home today to a meeting of the bishops of Florida, an annual early August event which always marks the end of summer for me. We spent little time in Stockholm itself as I have been there on three other occasions. I was amazed at what the very, very small Catholic Church is doing there and throughout Scandinavia. All Nordic countries left the Catholic Church en masse following the reformation. Priests were driven out of the countries, Churches and monasteries were claimed for the new state religion which was and is an expression of Lutheranism and the Church became an entity of the state, or an official religion – the one thing which drove our ƒorefathers and mothers to come to America to avoid interestingly. Practically no one attends Church in those countries and our Catholic Church has had to maintain a low profile. However, Norway, Sweden and Denmark along with Finland and Iceland are experiencing a significant growth in immigrant Catholics and the Church is growing with a good number of people in attendance. The Cathedral in Stockholm has been enlarged to accommodate the growing number of people attending Mass and the Jesuits also have a parish in downtown Stockholm, largely prevented by the government from having a physical presence which but still hidden away as it must be is stunning in its simplicity and beauty.
My friend took me to Uppsala which is home to one of the if not the largest Churches in Scandanavia. It was indeed beautiful and home to the grave of Dag Hammersoldt who was General Secretary of the United Nations during my younger years. However, the real miracle is that a stone’s throw away from the primatial church of Sweden, the government last year gave the Jesuits permission to open the first Catholic University in all of Scandinavia since the reformation. It also means that the government will pay for the education of those who attend what is called the “Newman Institute.” It was so exciting for me that a place under the patronage of Blessed John Henry Newman could begin to recreate his mission and provide an intellectual atmosphere for the study of philosophy and theology. I am sure it will bring many converts to the Church in the months and years to come. Pope Benedict XVI has often said that the Catholicism of the “masses of people” may be ending but the new Springtime for the Church will begin with a smaller core of people who understand and embrace the faith with greater knowledge, understanding and will. If he is right, Sweden may be Europe’s trial balloon. Only time will tell.
Seeds of faith was what I experienced. Planted but not yet sprouting. Full of hope for the future.
Now it is back to work. I meet with all our seminarians on Tuesday night at the Bethany Center and will quickly discover what has been awaiting my arrival. The month off was something of an experiment in what my life might be like after retirement, how I might fill my days and nights and care for myself. It will never be the perfect laboratory because my host family and their children include me in almost everything they do. It was, however, the first time in my life I took a month away and I already miss it. More will appear here in coming days, thanks for your patience with me during my absence and sometime in the next few months I will produce my 500th blog entry. Special thanks to the Farrell family, Bishop Bernard Hebna and Father Dennis Stilwell who made these weeks a relaxing, wonderful experience.