Christmas Carols Illumine Midwest Retreat

The Annual Day of Recollection, conceived over 15 years ago by Deacon Ed Gronkiewicz, KM as a way to begin the New Year on a firm spiritual foundation, was held once again at the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood. At Ed’s insistence there has never been a cost to attend; rather, attending members and their families and friends are asked to bring an open and attentive heart.  This year brought our largest attendance, of nearly fifty people, coming not only from Chicago, but from the Milwaukee and Columbus regions and from the American Association in Chicago. 


The theme for the day was “Revisiting Our Christmas Carols - Revealing Their Hidden Theological Truths.” The rector and staff of the Shrine agreed to leave the beautiful Christmas decorations in place one more day for our program, contributing greatly to the theme. Chicago Hospitaller Rick Klein, KM, Fra’ Tom Mulligan, Joan Trandel, DM, and their committees did a masterful job of ensuring all details were well covered. 


The first session of the retreat began with the Rev. Richard Fragomeni, noted theologian, homilist,  professor, and rector of the Shrine, at the piano leading the singing of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Remembering that “Bethlehem” means “house of bread”, he reminded us that this hymn really speaks of the Eucharist, God’s gift and plan of sustenance for us, as we truly receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ in the Eucharist. We are to approach the altar silently and reverently as we are freely given the wondrous gift of Christmas at every Eucharist. As the bread and wine are transformed, so we too are transformed by the nourishment from the “House of Bread,” the presence of Christ who lives within us. A period of silent meditation followed.


We opened the second session singing “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” We learned that the essence of this hymn is we must work at hearing the angels no matter what is going on in our lives. Noise, electronic devices, social media, all compete for our attention. Other voices may only sound like angels; the tempting by Lucifer, is one real example often forgotten that we need to be aware of. Our hearing must also encompass discerning, while ignoring all the miscommunications of life. As Father pointed out, another name for sin is “noisiness.” The angels tell us to listen as they proclaim a time coming when there will be peace. They bring messages of glad tidings into the midst of our personal and corporate darkness, reminding us to look ahead to peace and rest, as they are gifts from God.  We then can become immersed in the peace and presence of God which enables us to handle whatever comes our way with joy. It is in the silence, in the gift of the Eucharist, that we can find joy, hope, and rest.


The third session, following lunch, began on a different note. Father Fragomeni referenced a Sufi poem, the title of which translates to “The God Who Only Knows Four Words.” Roughly translated, the four words mean, “Come, dance with me.” We are invited to a divine dance from life into eternity. First, we need to know the steps, by handing ourselves totally over to God, by allowing God to take the lead, by falling totally in love with God. Second, we must practice the steps, trying not to take the lead. Time must be intentionally set aside daily for silence, for Scripture reading and meditation, prayer, and practicing the steps. And finally, dance well! Learn not only to dance with God, but to dance with one another as the love of God and the love of neighbor are indistinguishable. Remember, it’s not “Dancing with the Stars.” It’s dancing with The Star, our God.


The day ended with Mass celebrated by Father Fragomeni, complemented by the beautiful music of Healey Willan’s Missa Sancti Johannis Baptistae provided by Paul French and the William Ferris chorale. This was our spiritual energizer, our special way to begin the year together.