Praying with Priests: Fr. Fred Pausche

Praying with Priests: Fr. Fred Pausche

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Hi I’m FATHER MICHAEL Denk, the associate here at St. Gabriel and I’m actually privileged to interview my pastor, Father Fred Pausche, who has been the pastor here for 26 years. So thank you for this opportunity Father Fred.
FATHER FRED: Thank you Michael, it is my pleasure.
FATHER MICHAEL: Father Fred, give us a little history just about how long you’ve been a priest. What your different assignments have been and your background.
FATHER FRED: Well I grew up in a normal Catholic family. Only child and Catholic school, grade school. Went to seminary after the 8th grade, so I went to Borromeo High School, College, and St. Mary’s Seminary. And ordained in ‘78. So it is coming right up on 39 years in March. And I’ve only had three assignments. I was at St Augustine’s in Barberton for 5 years. And St. Ambrose in Brunswick for 7 years. And 26 years here. So it’s been kind of simple, but good.
FATHER MICHAEL: And you are from which parish?
FATHER FRED: I grew up at Our Lady of Mt. Caramel in Wickliffe.
FATHER MICHAEL: And that is where you were baptized?
FATHER FRED: No I wasn’t baptized there; I was actually baptized at St. Jerome. The early years were there in Cleveland, but we moved to Wickliffe in time for me to start the first grade. I went all through Mount Carmel from 1st grade on. So I did make my first communion and confirmation at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. And really was very close to the parish until I was ordained and sent forth.
FATHER MICHAEL: One of the things I love to ask priests is what was your first memory of praying or an experience of God?
FATHER FRED: Well as a child, I don’t really know that there that there was anything really extraordinary. We had common practices like praying before meals, praying at night. I remember having a little prayer corner in our home and that was important to me. And I remember—I was embarrassed about this at first, but when I went into seminary I found that it was very very common–I remember playing priest as I was just a little child. We would do things like pray the rosary on Sunday evenings. We would watch Bishop Sheen. Those kind of things. My parents were by no means overly involved, but very faithful Catholics. We never missed mass on Sunday that was never even an option, a question.
But, it was pretty typical of the day growing up in the 50’s. It was nothing that I would say was that noteworthy until I went into the seminary in the 9th grade. It was certainly the grace of God and certainly the formation program itself and I think my desire too, that it really started to make a lot more sense. Prior to that as a child growing up in our Lady of Mt. Caramel serving mass was extremely important to me. At that time, we had tons of kids and we were allowed to begin serving any time after you made your first communion. So if I recall, I got in there right away even at the end of 2nd grade. Learned all my Latin (had no idea what it meant) and passed the test and served as often as I could. Certainly in the day school we went to mass every day, but it was very very common that I would serve another mass. And I was one of the altar boys that they knew they could count on if they were ever in a pinch and needed someone to fill in. I served a lot of weddings and funerals, a lot of special events. And consequently became very close to the priests in the parish. And they were very very good to me and very much an influence in my life as I was growing up. But my point is this— that there was just a real attraction to the mass, to the Eucharist that I didn’t understand at the time. It was something very holy. When I did serve mass, and this is perhaps what motivated me to do it so often, there was a feeling that I can’t describe. I honestly don’t think I ever served mass because I wanted to be acknowledged or seen. I just felt an attraction to the holy.
FATHER MICHAEL: Wow
FATHER FRED: Even though it was in Latin and I didn’t understand a lot. But I learned a lot about it. I remember being so fascinated with it that I wanted to learn as much as I could about it. And I considered myself, even as a grade school student, rather expert in the rituals. I mean I knew every little move and every little thing. I didn’t always understand the why, but I was very very much attracted to it and became like a master of ceremonies at the time. Someone that kind of helped other servers and so on. And that I recall was a very important part of my prayer life. Although it didn’t kick in with the deepest meaning at the time. It was very meaningful to me. So I would say that I had going for me when I went into the seminary.
And then I would say I went into the seminary in the 9th grade. And almost immediately, I came in at the tail end of the old days so to speak; I entered the seminary in 1964. The Vatican council was still going on. The changes in the liturgy had not been made yet. Vatican council thinking had not been implemented yet. I felt kind of benefitted from that, because I think I benefitted from the tradition of the church. And I was well prepared for the changes that were coming. Part of the tradition was, at Borromeo high school, there was a rather rigorous spiritual formation program. We used the Ignatian exercises. I don’t know that I understood them as that at the time.
FATHER MICHAEL: What does that mean for people that don’t know?
FATHER FRED: Like the particular Examen. We started off with regular prayer. The day began with Morning Prayer. There was always at 12 or 12:15 there was always the Angelus, where wherever you were you just stopped and the bells would ring and you would pray the Angelus wherever you were. If we were together we would pray it together. We would come to chapel about 12:15 and do the particular Examen for mid-day. Obviously we would have mass every day. It was early because of Eucharistic fast at that time. In fact on Sunday we had to have 2 masses. The first mass was kind of a quickie, what they call low mass at the time, so you could receive communion, then go to breakfast, then come back for the solemn mass at 9:30, but not receive communion.. It was kind of crazy, but that the way it was. And we did evening prayer. Compline. The evening Examination before the end of the day. As well as other devotional prayers, rosaries and everything. Every night there was time for meditation. Meditation, if I recall—and this was so many years ago–was7:15. It was either meditation period or spiritual reading period and then study hall would begin at 7:30. Those are the kind of things that became the routine of the day. And gradually started to kick in as just a part of the normal routine of the day. Probably one of the most meaningful or impactful things in the seminary, the seminary high school at the time, was the annual retreat. And there were a couple days of recollection along the way, but especially the retreat. Because to my knowledge I don’t recall ever being on a retreat before. They were silent retreats lead by a retreat master. They were right at the seminary, because again when I was at seminary high school we had 300 students. Usually an outsider who came in and gave the retreat in the typical way with several conferences during the day and other time for prayer and so on. But it was silent, so one of the great retreat activities that we would have was, it would be a good time to shine our shoes, clean out our lockers because you couldn’t do anything else. Nevertheless it was a time of really trying to understand the meaning of prayer and the spiritual life and so on. That was important. I remember always, I don’t remember the retreats real well, although I do remember some of the retreat masters to this day. I only had four of them through high school, but I do remember a couple of them at least. I remember being so impressed by the retreat experience. It was very very helpful and added a lot to my spiritual life– I felt.
Those are some of the initial things that started moving my prayer life along. As I went into Borromeo College and to the major seminary those things continued, changed with the Vatican council, took on different forms—age appropriate forms— they were less rigorous and scheduled and more in terms of “you know you need to do these kind of things.” So anyhow, those were some of my early recollections of developing a prayer life.
I also remember, in the high school seminary, how valuable it was to have a spiritual director. Father Joe McMahon was the spiritual director of Borromeo high school at the time and we met with him regularly. He would give conferences but he would also meet with us individually. That was very very helpful. I had great admiration for him and did until his dying day. He was gentle. He was really a good shepherd. He helped me understand the difference between saying prayers and praying. And that was kind of a major insight in my life. That I really wanted to move to that whole thing of praying.
FATHER MICHAEL: Tell me a little bit more about that. How did he help you with that?
FATHER FRED: He didn’t abandon formal prayers. And he didn’t in any way minimize their importance. But if I recall, he helped me understand the importance of prayer as dialogue and conversation—which it really wasn’t for me. It was just going through exercises and doing this and doing that. And I wasn’t really feeling that sense of dialogue with God. Even though we spent time in meditation that was the morning thing. Every morning when we went down to chapel there was a time of meditation and I remember one time he described it as, “This is a time to fall in love with God.” I thought, the only thing I’m falling, is falling back asleep.” I didn’t quite get it. But as time went on I started to understand. That is when it started, at least initially, it is still a little bit of a challenge for me to just be in the presence and allow God to speak and for myself to be as present to God as God is to me.
Those were some moments that I remember, again, those were many years ago, so… I haven’t talked that for a long time, but it is funny how those things have stuck with me. Because they were really long time ago–50 years ago at least! I do look back on those and say I remember those, if I could say even vividly sometimes. Borromeo high school was really a funny thing. Because when I look back on it I would say “I could never do that again.” The way it was structured and how rigorous it was and everything. And I look back on it as one of the happiest times in my life. I was so at peace, so comfortable, and so open to do whatever they wanted us to do. Whether it was crazy stuff like Saturday night study halls, or big callouses on your knees because of the wooden kneelers Or just living at the whim of a bell. Which constantly your whole life was dictated by bells. The 5 minute the2 minute—you better be there. But it was the way it was, and I was so happy there. I have to believe that that was God’s grace affirming in me that he wanted me there and that this was right. Because I know–even though we started out with 120 in our class in the Borromeo high school– I know for a lot of guys it was pure torture. And they were good guys; they are good guys. They were bright. They are good people now, but perhaps that obviously that wasn’t God’s call and I will say I wasn’t one of the brightest. I didn’t think I was any flash in the pants by any stretch but the fit was really right. It was the spiritual life that really helped that fit.
FATHER MICHAEL: It seems like from a child that fit was so natural the attraction as you describe it. Almost like you’re just drawn to that mystery from the time that you were a child and not able to describe it.
FATHER FRED: I couldn’t describe it but I was drawn to it.
FATHER MICHAEL: That’s very interesting. It sounds like you just were surrounded by it at home, church. You were just involved.
FATHER FRED: Yes, yes.
FATHER MICHAEL: What was (they called home the primary church), what was that like in terms of praying? Did you pray alone or with your family?
FATHER FRED: The only time I prayed with my family was before meals. We never prayed after meals. I don’t know why I always prayed after meals when I went into the seminary. So before meals. My night prayers seemed to be on my own but with my parents even when I was little and they were the typical, “Bless mommy, bless daddy, bless…” I don’t remember praying a lot on my own but I do remember having that prayer corner.
FATHER MICHAEL: Do you remember what that was like?
FATHER FRED: A card table in my room with a tablecloth on it and religious stuff that I would rearrange a candle or two, a statue, a holy card or whatever. My mom would usually bring in some flowers from the yard and ask if I wanted them on there and I would. I do remember that. I remember exactly where it was located too because that is kind of funny because I hadn’t thought of that in years. Don’t remember that very often.
FATHER MICHAEL: It seems like you really experienced that closeness of God at the Mass which I think not all kids might experience. Some kids are bored by going to Mass. You seemed to want to go.
FATHER FRED: I was really attracted to it. And again at the time, it was before Vatican Council changes. One of the things at the time is you were not even allowed to touch the chalice or the paten, could do the cruets, you could do the books, you could do the candles when you processed but you were not even allowed to touch it. Only the priest could. And every once in awhile when you were pouring the cruet or something like that, you would accidentally touch it and I just remember a feeling like, “Oh my gosh I think I just touched God” you know Mike. I don’t know that I verbalized it that way but it felt that way and it didn’t leave me when I just glanced by it or just touched it. But it was that kind of a thing where mysteries are really a good word. There was a lot of mystery there. I don’t ever, ever recall taking it for granted or not wanting to serve. I mean, it was always a real driving force in me that I really wanted to serve mass. I always felt comfortable in that setting. I always felt, you know, that it was really right. And I really honestly believe, again, it wasn’t for any false reason like I wanted people to notice me or anything like that. I just really wanted to do it.
FATHER MICHAEL: So what was your call to the seminary? Was it just that natural flow of being the emcee?
FATHER FRED: You know that’s a good question. My parents never pushed it except, and this wasn’t pushing it at all, because I grew up in Wickliffe we passed Borromeo periodically. And I’d say, “What is this?” and they would just tell me what it was at the just time a place where young men prepared for the priesthood. From a very very early age I wanted to go there and I had them take me there a couple of times. Can we drive through and can we take a look and through school there were some tours and things like that. So that was a little bit a part of it. The whole mass was a big part of it but one of the things that I really will credit as an awakening of my call was in those days if you served a funeral, funerals were always at 9:30. If you served a funeral, you went with the priest to the cemetery. I would go, as more often than not, with the pastor, Monsignor Andre, to All Souls Cemetery and in the car we would talk. And you would wear your cassock and surplus and you had to bring the incense and holy water and everything and that’s why the servers had to go, and I can’t remember if it was always one or two servers, I do remember that I got out a lot of school. We didn’t get back until a quarter of twelve, it’s funny that I remember that time, but we talked a lot. And again, I don’t think he ever pushed it but I don’t think he ignored it either. I think in his own way, he saw something there that I didn’t see or could put my finger on and so when it came time to choose high schools, I was pretty convinced where I wanted to go. There was just no doubt in my mind.
FATHER MICHAEL: So over that transformation of that structured prayer in the seminary and really going through the bells kind of being your guidance. I know a lot of priests have that struggle from transitioning from seminary into priesthood because then there are no bells, there’s not as much structure. So what was that change like for you in your prayer life or what was it like to enter into being a priest and now touch the chalice?
FATHER FRED: Well like I say, there was a lot of change and sometimes change is a little rocky, it’s not always a smooth road of progress. So when prayer times were not as dictated, by the schedule of bells or whatever, I found myself sometimes realizing that my own discipline and initiative were lacking. It was easier to fall asleep and to fall in love. It was easier to take shortcuts and again it was something thanks be to God there were spiritual directors and people to try to keep me on track. When I was ordained and went into my first assignment I felt renewed again spiritually. So there was that renewed better for the spiritual life but there was also the tremendous excitement of finally being able to be involved in ministry and be overly involved, active. When I look back at the kind of schedule I kept as a young priest, especially my first assignment even in my second assignment, it was you know off the charts. I went to everything. I was open to anybody. I remember scheduling appointments until eleven o’clock at night and I felt that was really the right thing to do and I felt like I was really there to serve. Consequently I wasn’t seeing what was lacking. I developed kind of a personal philosophy that when you’re saying “Yes” to everything you’re saying “No” to some things and I didn’t see that at the time. Just how good it is I’m saying “Yes” to everything ______________ and probably you were too. So consequently there wasn’t enough time to just sit and pray. I struggled with liturgy and the hours. I tried to do it because it was my commitment and obligation. I did it. I do it. It’s a little more fruitful now that it was at the time. It was hard. Some hours were better than others. And some because of my flutter of activities just never quite made it. And I still have residual effects of that even in my own for like now that things are normal to me. Morning is my best time and I came to the realization that if I don’t get a good amount of prayer done before I leave the room in the morning it may not get done. So I just have to live with that. So that’s why it takes such an extraordinary amount of time in the morning before I have to be somewhere because there’s things I know I need to do. At least Morning Prayer, some kind of meditation or whatever it might be. Try as I would mid-day prayers, as easy as they are and quick as they are, just never made the radar screen that often. I really like evening prayer, but again that was a busy time and many times I find myself saying evening prayer with night prayer. It’s kind of messed up and I guess I came one time to the realization that I don’t want to pray because it’s an obligation. I understand the intent of making prayer an ongoing part of your day and that is what I wanted to do so I still struggle with that. My best time is morning time; but my other really best time is night time and I really try at night. In the morning I take some time for prayer but some of it is just in the routine of the morning and that’s helpful to me. But at night I really do like to shut off the lights, have a candle and just quietly pray and then just end with night prayer. So that’s the positive of my life. The struggle, the challenge is extended time. I continually try to say/try to make a holy hour part of my life. I struggle with that, really struggle with the discipline of that but I keep trying. And again I go by the principals a half hour is better than nothing, 15 minutes is . . . you know that kind of thing. I’m just on the road, I still have a lot farther to go but I struggle with it. And of course there are times when I feel things are really moving along well, and other times I’m really not doing this well at all and it maybe for a lot of reasons, some that I can understand and some that I necessarily just can’t understand.
FATHER MICHAEL: I love that phrase that you said that “Sometimes it’s easier to fall asleep than to fall in love” it is really good. Well you talked about that awe or the attraction you had to the Eucharist you know I think it is an awesome part of our prayer life. What was that like for you then to transition from serving and then all of a sudden being the priest?
FATHER FRED: Well, I’ll tell you a little story that is very, very meaningful to me and that I really so longed to celebrate mass the first time for every time. I will always remember my first mass of thanksgiving during Holy Week, the Chrism Mass (and really my first mass of thanksgiving was on Easter Sunday) and it was typically a big deal. My classmates had all been ordained by that time because I was ill for two years so they were all there and lots of priest friends were there. I was so shook that day and the reason why, I wasn’t nervous about how to do it, I was pretty good at liturgy and pretty good at rubrics and rituals and such, I wasn’t at all nervous about that. I was just overwhelmed by the magnitude of what it was all about. And I was just shook to the point where I was saying, “Can I do this?” So my friends, my classmates in particular, would come in. “How are you doing? How is it going?” They’re yukking it up and everything. I said, “I’m really shook.” “Ah it’s a piece of cake, don’t worry about it, it’ll be fine just do it.” So one priest that I felt particularly close to came in, we talked a little bit and I expressed that, coincidentally it was at the time of Father Pilla (Bishop Pilla) and I expressed how I was feeling. And he said, “Freddie, don’t ever stop feeling that way.” I always remember that I never wanted to take it for granted, that I never wanted it to be just . . . here we go again. So I really work at that. It was right around that time that I saw that rather common plaque that hangs in sacristies for priests who celebrate every mass with a fervency as if it were your first mass or with faith as if it was your last mass. I don’t know the words but I understood the meaning of it and just like anything else celebrating liturgy could become routine. I knew it could become an old slipper or second fiddle and I never wanted to do that so I work really hard personally to make sure I never do that and I think I’m pretty successful at that. I mean, it remains and will always be absolute center. I mean it really is for me in my prayer life, in my personal life and in everything I do. Whether it’s in this condition just receiving communion or being able to celebrate mass. It doesn’t matter when, where or how. But one of the things that ordinarily that ordinarily is really important for me is I really need to take time for prayer before mass. It’s really helpful to me so that I don’t just go in there and go through it. Again, it’s not the ritual, it’s something you have to go over to make sure you know what you’re doing but it’s the magnitude of it and I never wanted it to stop. Just sometimes in the mass you know you have to keep yourself composed, you have to be the presider and you have to keep going. But there are sometimes when I feel things welling up inside of me that I just have to deal with and then put off maybe until I can just really allow it to do what it naturally does to me, but it still does that. Not always, not always. Sometimes you just straight go through it and sometimes it’s overwhelming to me. Nothing affects me more profoundly and I can say this I think in my whole life then good liturgy does in a positive way or bad liturgy does in a negative way. I mean, I don’t think anything would upset me more then mass celebrated sloppily or without, you know. But when it’s celebrated well, especially when all the pieces and parts come together, you feel you really prepared for it. It just touches me really deeply. It just means the word summon source really come alive those times. They’re beautiful words, but they’re very meaningful at that time. So that’s really very much the center of what keeps me going.
FATHER MICHAEL: Can you give a couple of examples that you felt that during liturgy. What was happening?
FATHER FRED: It’s not so much the size or even the feast as much as the feel engaged and that you’ve had perhaps some role helping the people feel engaged. I think that’s a good example of that. When I really feel it’s the Body of Christ celebrating the Body of Christ. It’s not to just me up there going up through all the motions. And sometimes that might happen at a weekday mass, not at one of the big liturgies of the year. It doesn’t usually happen on Christmas Eve to be honest with you. But sometimes just a morning mass or an evening mass in the chapel. Or sometimes, I don’t do it very often anymore, but sometimes I would celebrate mass with my family or a family and you could really tell that while we’re sitting around the table that everybody really feels they’re a part of that sacred meal. It touches me. It really touches me. There are sometimes when it comes out of nowhere. There are sometimes and it’s not only at the consecration but a lot of times just before the invitation when you look at the Body and Blood of Christ there and you just take a moment and you can’t take a big long time sometimes I wish or I felt like I could just stay here. It’s almost like being on top of the mountain with the disciples, Lord can we build tents and stay here. I just want to stay there for a moment rather then move on and start the [sic] and everything, which is really what it’s all about obviously, but those times really touch me and often times unexpectedly and not always. Not always.
FATHER MICHAEL: Seems very much that some of the most mystical or powerful times where you have been at the Eucharist which is such a gift because I think a lot of people, a lot of Catholics. Some say they don’t get anything out of the mass you know, “Father I don’t really get anything out of it.” What would you say to someone to encourage them?
FATHER FRED: Without wanting to come off as facetious. I will want to somehow get across the message, it’s not what you get out of this. What you get out of this is the presence of God. There’s nothing more you can get out of this that’s greater than that. But it’s how we gather ourselves. How we immerse ourselves. Just simple things that we do sometimes and I take it for granted most of the time. But just adding a drop of water to the wine. Sometimes just the whole exchange of gifts because so often times, the same people who bring up the bread and wine at the presentation of the gifts are in line to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. And it just strikes me, you just brought bread and wine and now look what you’re getting back. And it’s that kind of thing that just wants me to say look at it from that point of view and never to see it as entertainment or emotional fulfilling because it’s not always sometimes it’s not. But rather from that perspective it’s we’re there to give, to give thanks to offer ourselves as a gift and so on. And just to follow that word gift from bringing the gifts to offering the gifts. Blessing the gifts, breaking the bread, you know, that kind of thing . . . that’s our life journey. It’s not just about the bread and wine, that’s who we are. That’s really meaningful to me. I will say to that as much as the mass is truly the center, other significant moments that have been really extremely profound for me are experiencing God in nature. One of the reasons why I love to be near the water is because it’s such a powerful feeling of God’s presence. I’m not a water person for skiing and that sort of thing, but being on the shore or in the water or a boat. It’s just really very profound. I’m a real fan of sunsets and I don’t get too many sunrises, but because I feel God’s presence. Two years ago when we were on vacation just off Marblehead, the girls and I every night we went to watch the sunset. Every single night. That was our routine. It got a little earlier every night because we were at that end of the calendar. And it was different every night and everybody else would say, “You’re going back there? It’s the same thing” but it was different every night and we saw what was different every night and I felt the presence of God very much. There was another time, I’ll alway remember this time as extremely impactful in my life and I believe it was on my priestly retreat which I made by myself with a retreat master at Loyola. I just went out one day and took a walk through the fields and there was not a soul around and so I could just yell out. You don’t always have that opportunity and I just felt the presence of God, especially the presence of God speaking to me. And I just laid it all out in a good way. It wasn’t like I was reluctant or anything like that. I came to one of the most profound realizations in my life that my greatest strength because they always ask you what your strengths are or what gifts are, all that kind of stuff. My greatest strength is just totally acknowledging my weakness and that God was my strength. I think it was at that point that I really felt that and I have to keep reminding myself of that because so many times I think, OK, I need to do this, I need to solve this, I need to deal with this issue, but it’s going back to that moment. I really feel it was a very graced moment where God was really trying to leave me with the most important lesson I needed to have before I was ordained is that I am weak. That I am inadequate. That I am whatever. It’s not to say I don’t have gifts or anything like that but that my strength came from God. But it was walking through that field. It wasn’t in a holy place, I mean it was a holy place, but walking in the field with the ability to have no filters, no barriers just to cry out “Here I am.” I heard God’s voice, I really did. Not in a magical way, but I felt God’s voice very, very strongly and felt again confident, very confident.
FATHER MICHAEL: What did you hear?
FATHER FRED: That I will be your God. Be still and know that I will be your God, I will give you what you need. Rely on Me just all that kind of things. I don’t always remember them all the time, when I do, it makes such a difference even to this point, good, bad or whatever it is. There are times where I have to deal with situations, we all do whether personal problems or parish problems, whatever. Where I feel, I’ve been at this long enough, I know how to do this. Jump right in and do it and it’s like that didn’t go anywhere, that wasn’t right. And there are still times where I know, again it could be any categories and often times it’s someone coming in with all kinds of baggage or maybe again just a parish problem or whatever where I just know it’s way over my head. I haven’t a clue what to say or what to do. I take the time to pray. I take the time to say, “Lord you promised you would be with me. Give me what I need and everything.” It sounds spooky, maybe not to you because you would experience it, but to other people. Words come out that I have no idea where they came from Father, they came directly from God. That can’t be I can’t believe I just said that but it was really good and that’s not what I would have thought or would have planned or whatever. But I know that, for lack of a better term, it works when you rely on God. I really believe that. I don’t always do that. I’m not there yet totally but I really believe that it works and I kick myself when I think I don’t have to do that. Even to this point where I think I have got this down, I know what to do here. I can do this, it’s just never right. So I guess in truer words that come to really believe in, in terms of my own prayer life is the importance of just the awareness of God’s presence and that’s something I really work on more than on just prayer forms and prayer techniques and things like that. Just training myself just to be aware that God is with me and even sometimes I just try to do it at the most unlikely times. I was going to say like on the golf course, but quite honestly I really feel God’s presence there because of the beauty of creation. It’s got little to do with golf and much to do with beauty. I often really feel tremendous spiritual presence of God at Disney and it’s not about Disney, it’s about the beauty. It’s about the flowers, the trees and just the order of things, I think has a little bit to do with it. But Disney World for me, for me, is a very spiritual experience when I allow it to be. There usually always is just a time where I need to just get away just let it sink in a little bit because it touches me deeply in a lot of different ways. So it’s those kind of things. One of the things that I work on and I’m certainly not there yet, is that sense of awareness wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, God is there. And quite honestly it’s easier to feel that in beautiful situations. It’s harder sometimes when you’re in the midst of tragedy, it’s the midst pain, in the midst ugliness. Try to be in pain, I can do it. Ugliness is why would God want to be here, but He is. So I try to work on that also. And then the other element that I know is there, I don’t know how well I do with it, is just discipline. I don’t know that I consider myself disciplined enough and I know that’s an area where you have to work on discipline or it’s not going to happen.
FATHER MICHAEL: I think that’s struggle for everyone. I just want to first reflect on that Disney maybe liturgy. There’s something I think about the . . . it must be the art, the wonder or the awe of that creativity maybe? What do you think the connection is there between that experience.
FATHER FRED: Well, one of the connections is that, and this is something that Walt Disney said. I’ve got this this quote on my desk at the office. He said, “You can create dreams and build the most wonderful places in the world but it takes people to make it happen.” And I think that is perhaps the most beautiful part is that things that bring enjoyment to people unity, memories lifts people’s spirits. People who they call them their cast members, the employees, who are there to help you, who treat you kindly and with such joy or always wishing you a magical day or a happy day or how can I help you or whatever. And so often times I’ve seen that’s how God wants us to be, not a fantasy, but in the real world and what a difference that makes. What a difference that makes. I’ve written about this a couple of times here. One of the sayings at Disney when you go to your resorts is “Welcome home”. And I think we’ve adopted that in our parish and it had nothing to do with my having that there but that’s how people should feel. Always. Home. Welcome home. So I’ve really been able to connect a lot of the Disney principles and practices with things that I believe are profound and spiritual. They don’t intend them to be spiritual. It’s just good busines, good marketing, good whatever and it works for them. That’s fine. But for me it’s an easy jump to the spiritual life and to the life of the church. It really is.
FATHER MICHAEL: And obviously Disney many people, because Disney is so popular, experience that and that is really what we are to experience in the liturgy . . . the gathering together of all of God’s people and experiencing His Kingdom. The Kingdom of heaven. That’s why that resonates so far with you. I’ll just describe to the people for a little bit. You’ve had surgery and have been laid up for a little bit. How has that impacted your prayer life?
FATHER FRED: Well I would say in a positive way because I feel so well. I will tell you there have been times in my life where I’ve been either in pain or really sick or you would think I have a lot of time to pray here but it’s hard. And I hear that a lot from people. You know, Father I’ve been so sick and I thought I’d have so much time to pray but I just can’t pray. I try to tell them, your suffering is your prayer. Accepting God’s will and doing the best you can and that is your prayer. But here I am with a bad foot and I can’t get around very much but the rest of me is really good. So I would say in the last . . . especially the last two weeks since the surgery, it’s been really good. Primary because I have the time. A lot of time and I think more the disposition. One of the things, again it’s funny how sometimes you’re embarrassed by revelations that you have like . . . yeah . . . duh. It’s one of the things I have experienced with this. There are obviously a lot of people saying they’re praying for me. There are cards and things. I really feel that and I can’t describe it but I do believe that that’s why things have gone so well. That’s why this seems to be coming along without pain. It’s really been, other that the difficulty of being strapped down, it’s really been far less difficult than I anticipated and I believe it’s the power of prayer. Even something as simple as medications that worked out today. She just called and said everything is fine. You know, I just put to prayer, I did. Just last night I was really anxious about this because they could postpone this eye surgery tomorrow if I don’t get the right stuff. I just said, “Lord, I’m going to give it to you. Tomorrow is the only day I have to make this happen.” And it all worked out. I believe that. And even though I’ve been anointed a number of times especially through this thing. This last time just really touched me deeply and made such a difference that. When I went for the surgery, this wasn’t the first surgery I had, but this wasn’t the biggest surgery I’ve had, I was so at peace and did not feel the least bit apprehension, fear. I was joyful, it hit me, but there was no anxiety. I have to believe that’s prayer. Nothing else. It wasn’t drugs. It wasn’t anesthesia, it was just prayer and I believe that. And again I sometimes think to myself, I’m 67 years old and am I just now figuring this out that that’s what prayer does? That’s one of the effects it can have this discernment of peace and that healing is all about God? My spirit was healed. I didn’t know this would take a long time. But I feel healed and blessed already and it’s because the awareness of how many people are praying for me. Also that I’ve had the opportunity to pray more in many different ways especially with a greater awareness of how many people are going through really a difficult times. So I really try to spend time with God. So it’s been good.
FATHER MICHAEL: When you were anointed, I think the sacraments are ways that we experience God. Was there something you experienced during that or was it more the effect of the fruit of that?
FATHER FRED: It was during it. It was when you ask people to lay their hands. It was just such a feeling of peace and such a feeling of God’s presence and such a feeling of abandonment totally. I’m in God’s hands and I have nothing to fear. That was probably the moment. It was certainly the whole thing. The actually anointing itself but it was that time that really touched my soul. And, I don’t feel that that often. I don’t always go around feeling that all day. But I really felt it.
FATHER MICHAEL: I think that is some of the sacramental aspect of our faith.
FATHER FRED: Absolutely.
FATHER MICHAEL: Laying of the hands is such a powerful part of the rite. So what would you encourage someone right now that says to you, “Father I’m struggling in my prayer life.”
FATHER FRED: One of the things that helped me, at least distinguishing in my mind, the difference between saying prayers and praying. And if I were wanting to help somebody, a few things I would say. One I’d say start with and concentrate on that dialogue that conversation and allow prayers to be a part of that as opposed of the opposite because I think sometimes saying prayers can get in the way. But I think prayers can be a part or praying. So I think that would be something I would really want to encourage. You know, you don’t need fancy prayers, long prayers. And I would say this too. You don’t need prayer books but prayer books can be helpful when you use them to pray. So I would say that. And then the other thing I would really say . . . I’ve experienced at some times and not others . . . is just put yourself in God’s presence and listen. Just be. I guess like most people, I find myself so quickly distracted. My mind is quickly on because I try to do that a lot whether it be before the tabernacle or just quiet in my room or whatever. That’s why I think at night is one of my best prayer times when I can shut off the lights and everything. Just have a candle and if not that’s fine but it shuts out visual stuff because by that time I would be more apt to concentrate. Those are the kind of things I would say. I would say, like anything in life, start small. I know sometimes when I speak with people especially in Reconciliation or just in spiritual counseling, I encourage them to start with five minutes. I know that sounds silly, but if you can go five minutes, good for you. Then you can add to it. Just add to it slowly. Don’t start with an hour. It’s tough. At least for me it is. Start small, build up and again that’s where the discipline comes in. The more you do it the more you want it. I was very very impressed with Ryan [sic] witness this weekend. What he said really made a lot of realistic sense. I mean it was very honest but it was very spiritual and I think very realistic.
FATHER MICHAEL: What did he say for those that didn’t hear?
FATHER FRED: Well, he talked about his own struggle with finding time and continuing on with it. And how his participation in the “Pray40Days” just kind of opened himself up to where it was not something he felt is something he had to do but then all of a sudden he wanted to do and then felt a of joy in doing it. I kind of got the idea what he was saying was and it’s self perpetuating now because once you really get a good start it has that tendency, at first it’s not easy. I likened it to like when I work out doing my physical therapy regularly now for about 2-1/2 years. I remember when we first started out I’d been really slow on exercise. Not formal and not a lot other than playing golf and doing those kind of things. I remember when my trainer would start me doing these kind of things. Now we look back on them and laugh they were so simple at the time but they were tough for me. She said something to me that was very funny. She said, “You know for about three weeks you’re going to hate me.” And I did. I didn’t look forward to it. I just dreaded it but we trudged forward. “but after that you’re going to love me. You’re going to look forward to this and you’re going to really want to do this.” It’s really the truth and it’s kind of like when it’s not there you really miss it and eventually it becomes a part of who you are. It becomes very very much what you want to do. I sometimes tell people who say well we don’t go to mass very often or really find time to pray very often and I said it needs to be something that you consciously want to do but it also needs to be part of the pattern of your life. Like, did you brush your teeth this morning? Well of course. Why don’t you stop brushing your teeth for a week and see how that goes. OH YUK. It’s that kind of a thing. If you don’t brush your teeth at all then you don’t care if you miss it. But if that’s a part of your routine, your hygiene, it just becomes a part of who you are for the right reasons. I think prayer is like that too. If you stop praying, you’re not going to care after a while.
FATHER MICHAEL: Well, that’s good. You talk both about the discipline of it but also the awareness and awe just being present. You know and how that impacts not only your prayer but also your life throughout the day. I just want to conclude with where you’re at right now. I think we’re always, I know, growing in our prayer life. Like the analogy you gave of falling asleep and falling in love. How do you find yourself now falling in love with God?
FATHER FRED: As you know, I’ve dealt with this foot affliction for four years now. In March it will be four years and it’s just one part of my life. There are a lot of parts of my life but it certainly has stood out as kind of a driving force. It’s limited me in some ways. It’s caused all kind of things in other ways. It rerouted my calendar because of so many medical appointments, etc. etc. It’s been painful physically really a lot. Now it’s great because I don’t feel the pain. Anyhow, all that being said, if there is any word that I would describe the whole ordeal. The limitations, the pain, the everything, it’s just an overwhelming sense of how blessed I am. So blessed and I think that’s what move my spiritual life more than anything to realize how blessed I am. And thankfully I have time to think about that. These aren’t coincidences. These aren’t accidents. And there’s . . . I don’t know where I saw this, maybe it was at the convocation I’m not sure . . . that awareness for me, this foot/ankle affliction for now has been my way to holiness. It’s what God gave me as a gift to help me to grow in my spiritual life. And I think hopefully it will be over but there will be more. There are other things and some are maybe not as obvious but there are other ways. But bottom line is that I think starting with an awareness with how blessed we are is what moves us to praise God, to thank God and to rely on God with confidence of saying that, I know what God promised me a long time ago that what I really needed is something I can really bank on.
FATHER MICHAEL: Well, thank you. It’s been a blessing for me to interview you and I’m sure a blessing for all those that will get to listen to this. Will you just give us the privilege of your blessing for all those who are listening.
FATHER FRED: Loving God, you continue to bless our lives in just overwhelming ways. You continue to call us to a deeper life in You and manifest your presence in so many ways. We pray that you will continue to guide our life’s journey. To keep us open to whatever ways you choose for us to grow in holiness and to give us the grace, the courage to want to continually grow closer to You in every way. So we ask You to bless all our efforts and the efforts of so many people in so many different ways leading people to You helping Your church and I ask you in a special way helping our parish to grow in holiness. We pray that Your blessing will be upon us and all we do in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
FATHER MICHAEL: Amen. Well, thank you Father Fred, it’s been a pleasure and privilege to be with you. Thank you to all of you for listening. This has been another series of Praying with Priests.

About the Author Fr. Michael Denk

Fr. Michael was ordained into priesthood in the Diocese of Cleveland on May 12, 2007. He is dedicated to helping others encounter Christ through the celebration of the Eucharist, preaching, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, spiritual direction, and prayer.

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I'm Father Michael J. Denk, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. I am a contributor of content to The Prodigal Father Productions, Inc., a non-profit corporation functioning in accord with the traditions and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The corporation and I are separate, it doesn't speak for me, the parish, or on behalf of the Diocese of Cleveland, and I do not speak for it.