The week before Christmas, I visited five priests at Nazareth Home and was amazed to find that it took two hours. It was delightful. Lingering always seems to have that effect.
As a society, we don’t seem to linger much anymore. We are fast-paced, efficient, and packed to the brim.
I grew up with lingering. Clearly symbolic and filled with great memories was our front porch in the summer. When you live in a row home, as did most of the families in my northeast Pennsylvania coal town, the front porch became the center of summer evenings. We’d gather on Mahanoy Street in front of our 11 and-a-half foot-wide frontage so that our living room seemed to stretch out into the street.
My mom and dad would sit on the chairs on our little porch, and many of dad’s fishing buddies would come and talk to them and to the neighbors who had similar porches and just a thin rail separating our properties. In this lazy time, one of those buddies (who seemed so old to me but likely was in his 30s or 40s) would join the kids in tossing a football in the middle of the street. It was great fun. And when darkness spread, we’d be ready for bed — especially in the summer when you knew you could get up the next morning and do whatever you wanted — no school and no homework. We just lingered!
When I visited the priests at Nazareth Home, I lingered. It started as a typical, hectic day near Christmas with a Holy Hour at home, meetings in the morning along with mail, e-mails, and Christmas cards to open. At noon we had a great Christmas luncheon with the Chancery family. This one was special because our Vice-Chancellor, Norma Merrick, had urged us to dust off our baby pictures and bring them so we could guess who was who. (I was two or three years old in my photo. It features my mom and oldest sister Rose on our back porch, with me balanced on the railing.) The pace of the luncheon was just right, and I believe we did more lingering with each other than in the past.
Then I went to the Passionist Monastery for a Holy Hour of adoration and confession. This practice is in its third year. At Lent, the Dominican fathers of St. Louis Bertrand invite diocesan priests for lunch, followed by a Holy Hour and confessions, and at Advent, the Passionists on Newburg Road host this event.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation also requires a bit of lingering. To confess your sins, you need to stop and reflect, which requires that prayerful pause that I always enjoy. For some reason, I especially enjoy doing this in church with others present. No words are exchanged, but a community of the weak about to be shriven forms. It is great, and it takes lingering.
After that, I traveled to Nazareth Home with nothing else on my schedule for the next two hours. I was completely free to linger as long as the priests I was visiting wanted to linger, and I was not disappointed. As I visited, I experienced a rich tapestry flooding my memory that reminded me of my days as a parish priest when I lingered in a hospital room or nursing home, and those visits were a regular part of my schedule. How beautiful were those experiences.
Each of my visits to the five priests was unique and enjoyable. I related a bit about what I had been doing, but mostly and delightfully, we broke open a chapter or two of their lives. We have great men called to the priesthood, and each one is unique and interesting. We lingered. As if designed by Currier and Ives, those two hours also were peppered with visits by Girl Scouts from St. Francis of Assisi who, with their fine leaders, were there to carol. I think our paths crossed four times in those two hours.
Early in my priesthood, I worked with a Trinitarian Sister Francis Regis. I will never forget her stories about the pastor in the parish where she served as principal. He smoked a big cigar, and each week the same ritual occurred. He would come to her office and take a seat near her desk, take a puff or two on his cigar, pause, and say: “Now, Sister Francis, tell me, how are you doing this week?” He really was into lingering. I know that she was telling me this story so that the young priest I was — a driven, type A, social worker — would not forget the importance of lingering.
Christ comes to those who linger, and so the new evangelization bids us to spend time with each other in Christ’s name.
The new evangelization also calls us to “pray first,” and so I have scheduled a series of Eucharistic Holy Hours for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty during the next six months. Each event features Mass, followed by a Holy Hour on a Saturday morning. You can find the schedule at www.archlou.org/liberty. Please join me in praying for efforts to rebuild a culture favorable to life and marriage and for increased protections of religious liberty.