After over a year of not seeing one another, I was grateful for the opportunity to visit recently with my good friends Suzanne and Brayton. Our friendship goes back more than 25 years when I would stop at Agape during my visits home to the States while working as a La Salette Missionary priest in Argentina.
Agape has always been a place where I feel renewed in my priesthood and my gratitude for serving our Church, even with its countless faults and challenging limitations. In this visit as well, we shared at the Eucharistic Table as well as the dinner table, as we delighted in a delicious vegetarian meal prepared by Dixon, a two year resident of the Agape Community and Matthew, a young neighbor doing a summer internship.
However even amidst the meals and the Mass, I knew I wanted to visit the hermitage up on the hill behind the Saint Francis House. In my experience, Agape would not be Agape without the opportunity for visitors to have a stay at the hermitage, even if for a brief time, which was my situation.
The recent focus of Agape’s efforts is to prepare for this year’s Saint Francis Day: “Listening to Native Voices: Standing Rock is everywhere.” It is very sad and depressing to see how we seem to be stepping back instead of forward in “caring for our common home” as Pope Francis state in his encyclical, Laudate Si. Combined with the tragic lack of political leadership in our country today, this backward step makes for a very foggy future with much darkness and death all around us. But there is always a bright light shinning from that little hermitage up on the hill.
When I arrived, it felt so good to climb up to the prayer loft, although the July noon day sun had made it uncomfortably warm and a bit sweaty. Gazing out the loft window, there they were, so visible, the two tree trunks growing from one common trunk and root system. Do they symbolize Jesus and me, Agape and me, darkness and light? I don’t know. I just know they are in relationship.
That is the key word, relationship. This hermitage helps keep me in relationship, the human with the Divine. If separate, I die, but growing side by side, I find so much life, love, hope for the future, in this space to be celebrated in silence and solitude.
When I climb the ladder up to that little loft in the hermitage, and I gaze upon that icon of Jesus, whether it is by daylight or candlelight, I know from deep within me, we are not alone. Christ our ever Faithful Friend is there to guide us, to prod us, to fully accompany us on the rocky road ahead.
There is an old song that says: “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.” I firmly believe the prophetic call of Agape for justice and non-violent love cannot exist without the hermitages and chapels on their beautiful property. It is like a horse and a carriage, and sometimes I don’t know who is pulling who. We cannot be in this epic struggle today without the firm guiding hand if Christ in a countless variety of ways. All I can say is: I thank You Lord for Agape, but also for that little loft up on the hill.