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Praying with Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Roger Gries
Recently Father Michael Denk sat down with Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Roger Gries. “Bishop Roger” (as he is affectionately known to many) is a former Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland. Having been ‘retired’ for the past two years, Bishop Roger remains very active within the Diocese and graciously let Father Michael spend some time with him while he was recovering from surgery not too long ago. The topic of discussion: prayer. Specifically Bishop Roger’s prayer life; how does he pray and to whom (God the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit)?

To listen to the entire interview with Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Roger Gries, please click on the button below. 

 

This is Father Michael Denk interviewing Bishop Roger Gries. Today we are interviewing him regarding his life of prayer from the time when he was a child to his more mature age.

 

Father Michael:

Bishop Roger, if you could begin with your first experience or memory of prayer.

 Bishop Gries:

My first memory of prayer of course was with my mom and dad. It was a very unusual pairing because my dad had been in the seminary for three years after he graduated from high school and my mother had spent six months in a novitiate for the Sisters of Charity of Saint Augustine. So, I come into the pairing where they both had been somewhat prepared in their prayer life as well. My mom and dad would make sure that I would be saying my prayers before meals, before I went to bed and when I got up in the morning. We never had family prayer together but they did teach me to pray and their example was always very important to me and made a very big impact.

Father Michael:

Wow, that sounds like a lot of formation for parents to have. Most parents probably do not have that kind of formation. Not for prayer. When you think of that as a child, where did you pray or what was that like?

Bishop Gries:

It was just private. Like the gospel says, you go to your room and pray and so I was always praying in my bedroom. It is one of those things. With the influence I had from them, I always had a desire to be a priest. In fact, I used to play Mass in the basement and my brother would serve for me. We used the Necco wafers for Communion. It was kind of easy because we just pretended we knew Latin so it was just, “buh buh buh . . . “ but it was a way of really learning about the Mass myself. My grandma made me green vestments too so I had vestments.

Father Michael:

So, the Mass was part of your prayer even as a child. Did you enjoy Mass as a child?

Bishop Gries:

I enjoyed serving. My folks lived in Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish on Harvard Avenue. They had the Polish sisters there so my first formal prayers that I was ever taught were the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be in Polish. I had no idea what I was saying but it was one of those things where my mom and dad were so thrilled that I knew those things. As I was growing up, I remember coming home and having to memorizing the Ten Commandments and having mom and dad explaining some of them to me. With their background, I was getting a good formation.

Father Michael:

When you prayed as a child, did you pray in Polish or in English?

Bishop Gries:

I do not remember. I was in kindergarten, first and second grade there, then we moved to Saint Catherine Parish and Polish went quickly. I was now in the third and fourth grade and I was learning to serve and learning the Latin for Mass so I could respond and serve. That was one of the thrills that they had because I loved the Mass so much that I could not wait to serve. Finally, in the fourth grade I was able to memorize Latin well enough that I could answer the prayers well enough in front of the altar and respond at the other parts of the Mass. I was now able to serve the Mass. That was a great thrill for me.

Father Michael:

When did you have your first experience feeling the presence of God?

Bishop Gries:

I think the first I felt the presence of God really was when I received my First Communion. Receiving Communion was such a thrilling moment in my life because I had played Mass for a couple of years. Here I am getting my First Communion and now I am really going to have Jesus. I was excited to be with Jesus and spend time with Jesus after Communion. It was time to talk, just talk as a friend.

Father Michael:

That is when you felt closest.

Bishop Gries:

That is when I felt closest, after Communion and to this day Mass is still the integral part of my life.

Father Michael:

What were some more significant moments as you grew up in life? Do you remember any moments of transition of prayer where you felt your prayer grow deeper or moments of prayer that seemed profound to you?

Bishop Gries:

When I was a senior in high school, I was a member of the varsity football team and we just got a new coach, August Bossu, who became legendary because he coached at Benedictine for over fifty years. That was his first year at Benedictine. He lived in Maple Heights and so did I. I went up to his house during the summer to say, “Welcome to the Benedictine family.” Then I said, “If you want some company in the morning going to school, I will be glad to ride along with you.” I am thinking to myself a little selfishly, rather than riding a bus. He said, “Sure.” I said, “What time should I meet you? He said, “How about 7:15 down at the corner of Libby and Lee.” “7:15?” I said, “That is fifteen minutes earlier than I leave when I take the bus. Why do you go so early?” He said, “Well, because I go to Mass and Communion every morning.” So, Mass and Communion became a daily part of my senior year in high school too. I think I was being formed. God was certainly calling me and giving every indication that He wanted me to be one of His clergy.

Father Michael:

What was it like going to Mass and Communion every day in high school? I cannot imagine a lot of high school kids being there.

Bishop Gries:

Then I became a member of the John Berchmans Society and I became part of the serving crew. The chaplain of the school was Father Jerome Kobalt and Jerome eventually became the abbot at Benedictine. He became a good friend of mine, an inspiration, and an influence on my choice of vocation. It was an experience that I loved. I took Latin for four years in high school and I took two years of Greek in high school. The more I got to know the Latin and the better it was, it helped me out as I moved forward with my life.

Father Michael:

You have always seemed, any time you celebrate the liturgy that I’ve experienced, you have always seemed extremely joyful.

Bishop Gries:

Where can you be happier than celebrating the liturgy with Jesus? It is one of those things that impress me so much. I do not think that people realize that when we offer this Mass, everyone shares in the presence of Jesus Christ. As a priest, I am standing in the place of Christ representing the congregation but everyone there is offering up their sacrifice. It is one of those things where I try to make people feel that this is a joyous occasion. It is not a burden. It may be a sacrifice, but that is what love is. Love is a sacrifice and so I always try to have a smile on my face and to enjoy what I do. Saying those words. What a special occasion that was on the day of my ordination when I could say, “This is my Body,” knowing that with the impact of the sacrament of Holy Orders now I can say the words of Jesus and a miracle takes place right in my hands. It is hard to believe that that unleavened bread now is the true Body of Christ . . . body, blood, soul and divinity. How can you help but be joyful?

Father Michael:

I know myself any time I have been with you at Mass, I feel God’s presence through your prayer. It is so evident.

Bishop Gries:

Especially now, in the last few years as I see more and more priests say the Mass, sometimes I see that they really say it in a very monotonous way. Almost like they are a computer saying the Mass. I try to say the prayers of the Mass at least with meaning so I say them slowly. With the new translation you have to do that if you want to get meaning out of those words. You have to prepare. You have to pause at certain points. You need to phrase it properly so people can understand what it is all about.

Father Michael:

And really know what you are praying.

Bishop Gries:

If you just rattle through, people do not understand a word of what the message was.

Father Michael:

When I first got to know you, when I was a child, you were the abbot. How has the Benedictine spirituality impacted you, or has it impacted you?

Bishop Gries:

It certainly has. That was my life for forty-five years. Just going up to Saint John University in Collegeville, Minnesota, for my first two years of college in preparation for entering into the order because that is where we went to get our philosophy. . .as a college student living in a pre-theology dorm, I was still able to play varsity football, play varsity baseball and kept working along. In the pre-theology dorm there was the prayer life. So, we were getting introduced already to Benedictine prayer.

Father Michael:

What was that like? What was the prayer life like?

Bishop Gries:

Time for meditation. Lectio Divina. Time for some reflection on the readings for the next day. I still do that.

Father Michael:

Was that hard for you at first?

Bishop Gries:

Yes it was hard for me at first. I was not used to that kind of discipline. It was easy just to sit down by myself and say some prayers or talk to Jesus in there. But sit down for a half hour and reflect on the readings to bring out the true meaning of the readings so that I can understand the Mass better. . .the message of the Mass comes from the readings.

Father Michael:

When you pray, do you pray to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? Who do you talk to? Who do you talk to when you pray?

Bishop Gries:

Well, I talk to the one God because as I pray I keep thinking of Jesus’ words in the scripture,” If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” What does that mean? It means that there is only one God. I look at the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit as three roles that God has in our life, but there is only one God. When I’m praying to Jesus I pray to the Father through the Holy Spirit, so to one God. It is something that really touches my heart to recognize the fact that God loves me so much. That He has given me the gifts that I have and the talents that I have to bring people closer to Him and so when I talk to Him, my first prayer is a prayer of gratitude. Appreciation for what He has given to me, but then to glorify Him because He is the goal of our life. He is the goal of creation. He is the reason that I do what I do in that we, following Christ, live the life we live because I want to be with Jesus. I love the prayer that they have in the Eucharistic Prayer III when you commemorate the dead and we talk about I shall be like You because I will see You as You are. That means we are going to see God because we are going to be in the same state as God. The same state as God. The mysteries of the afterlife, they boggle my mind. How could my dad who died in 1979, my mother who died in 2006 and me, when I die, get there the same time as they do because there is no time? Nobody is there before somebody else. How is it when I listen to and see some of the revelations of people who have died, spent time in the new life, and came back here to talk about expressions of what they saw and everything? Jesus was there to greet them and a youngster sat on Jesus’ lap. With the billions of people that die how can that person see Jesus and have Jesus talk to them? Yet Jesus is there for each one of us. Everything is possible for Jesus. It boggles my mind just to think about some of those things. When I reflect on death, especially the older I get, the more I see people like my classmates dying and leaving this world and going to their eternal reward. At my age I am thinking about that more myself. I pray each day when I offer the Mass that God will form me in such a way that I will be ready to seek Him on the day that He calls me.

Father Michael:

When you think about it, what does that invoke? Does it invoke joy or does it invoke fear?

Bishop Gries:

It invokes more joy than fear because I know that it is something we all have to expect. We all have to cross the Jordan River if we want to get in the Promised Land. Death is an experience that we do not know what it is like, but what we do know is that it is more than we anticipate. We can never imagine more that we can ever dream of and in a way we look forward to it. As a priest, when I see people who are near death . . . I had an experience with this just a couple of weeks ago. I was at Marymount Hospital for a Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa and a couple came over. They came for the Mass but their father was in hospice over there and he was dying and they asked if I could give him a blessing. When I went up there to visit him after the Mass, he was comatose. He did not seem to be recognizing anything. His kids were around the bed and I just started talking to him. I started talking to him about the joy he is going to experience when you let go of this life and you enter a new life. Jesus will be there to greet you and you will be able to visit the Blessed Virgin and all your loved ones will be there waiting for you. Do not be afraid. The kids were all crying, but I could detect just a little smile on his face. It was something that he needed to hear, that he had permission to go. He had permission to let go. I gave him a blessing and we said some prayers for him. I found out later that just a few hours later he died. He was ready to go. I look at every experience I have in administering the sacraments as a real prayer.

When I baptize a baby, I think here we are, Jesus is taking away the original sin and bringing this child into a family relationship with Him personally. One of the things I do because it gives me joy is, when after I give the blessing to the mother and the father at the end of the baptism, I hold the baby up above the altar and say, “God, this is the baby that You have just given new life. May this baby always cherish the life You have given him/her and may he/she always live the life that You have granted them so that one day they can be with You forever in heaven.” To hold the baby up over the altar, most people never see that but it is something I love to do. I have another one coming up in a few weeks.

Father Michael:

You do a lot of confirmations too. What is that liturgical prayer like for you?

Bishop Gries:

I use it as a time for evangelization. Before the Mass I try to get the young people to relax. I get the young people to understand that the sacraments are the way God touches our lives and I try to show them just in the sacrament of Confirmation itself there are so many symbols we overlook because we take things as well, this is the way it is done. The laying on of hands. . . spiritually it looks like it is the calling down of the Holy Spirit. You are calling down the Holy Spirit with the seven gifts but in the Old Testament the laying on of hands was a signal that that person or that animal was about to be sacrificed because in a temple before an animal would be sacrificed, the priest would lay their hands on that animal and then the animal would go and be sacrificed. If a person was condemned to death, a judge would put his hands on the head of that prisoner and say, “This person has been condemned to death”. On the day I was ordained, the bishop laid his hands on my head because now I am going to be sacrificing life to God. I am sacrificing my life. When these hands are laid on you in the sacrament of Confirmation, remember you are giving yourself over to God and you are ready to give everything to God in sacrifice because that it what love is. Sacrifice is a gift. Jesus gave Himself up for us. “God so loved the world, He gave His only Son.” This is the first part, and then the anointing. The anointing with the oil is more than a symbol. It is a fact that Jesus has claimed you for His own. He has claimed you as His own. With this anointing, you become a prophet. In other words, you are supposed to speak God’s word in your world by your life. You become a priest because now you are sharing in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. You are the sacrifice. Every time you come to Mass, you sacrifice with the priest. That is why the priest, after he prepares the gifts says, “My brothers and sisters, let my sacrifice and yours be acceptable to God” because that is the purpose of our Mass, because we all come together to sacrifice. To sacrifice our lives to God. Then you also become a king or queen, a member of God’s family. The anointing is a very important thing,

Father Michael:

The other thing I notice as I watch you do confirmations is some of the kids definitely want to be there and are excited. Some are maybe not so sure because they are there because their parents want them to be there. Some look with maybe a little attitude or whatever, but I always notice after the laying on of hands, the sign of peace and the anointing, you give them a big bear hug and afterwards they walk away beaming. You know what I mean?

 Bishop Gries:

That is one of the purposes of the sacrament of Confirmation, to give people the realization that they now have become a full member of the Body of Christ. That is why I give them that bear hug, because this is the one time they will be ever be that close to a bishop. I give them that as a sign of the church. The bishop loves you. Congratulations for making this decision. I tell them ahead of time too that you are not all here eager to receive the sacrament of Confirmation. Some of you are here because you are in the class making Confirmation. Some of you are here because your Mom and Dad said you get confirmed or you do not come home tonight. That is the way God uses us. He uses different means to get us to do something. They seem to soften up before the Mass starts. That is why I give them that talk ahead of time.

Father Michael:

What does it mean to you to be father, abbot, bishop? What does it mean for you to be that for people?

Bishop Gries:

When I look back I wonder. I started my career as you may know, Mike, in high school education. I was a teacher for one year then I became assistant principal and the dean of men. Then I became the principal and when I left the principal’s office I went to the Abbey to be the prior of the monastery. After four years of being prior, I was elected to be abbot for twenty years. One year before I was supposed to submit my resignation as abbot I get called by Saint John Paul to be a bishop. I have been in administration in the church my whole life. What does it mean? It means that I had the opportunity on many occasions to thank God for the gifts that He has given me so I could do those things because it would be easy to be a nervous wreck or burnt out, and yet I love the service. I love offering Mass. I love the confirmations, no matter how many I have. I love them especially in the spring when I have one every night. It is amazing that on my way driving out to the parish I am yawning and tired. I have put in a full day already. At 4:00 p.m. I get there for dinner and have a nice dinner. Then at 6:30 p.m. I go over to the church and start talking to the kids for fifteen minutes to get them prepared. It is amazing. Before I go out I say, “Lord, this is your doing. You are bringing the Holy Spirit to these young people so please use me the best you can.” I go out there and I do not feel tired at all. I just go crazy and just go on and on and on and I come back in, get vested for Mass and go out for Mass. And, as you noticed, I do an enthusiastic Mass. Then I go down and take pictures for a half hour after that for all those kids who want to take a picture with the bishop. I come home at 10:00 p.m. I’m worn out but I have to sit down for just a minute with the readings for the next day because I have morning Mass for the Notre Dame Sisters at St. Francis Convent every morning. I run over there and have a Mass for them with a little homily, just a little reflection on the readings. I have been out of commission for the last two weeks because of surgery so I have been offering Mass right here in my chapel. It is not the same for me offering the Mass in my chapel as it is offering Mass for God’s people.

Father Michael:

You love being with people.

Bishop Gries:

I offer the Mass just as devotedly as if there are people but it is just not the same when you say, “The Lord be with you” and you do not get a response. Do I say “The Lord be with you and also with me?”

Father Michael:

When we talk about our prayer life, some people do not think they have a personal relationship with God. Some people may even have left the faith because they say, “I just do not have that personal relationship with God.” What is that like for you? Describe that. What is it like to have a personal relationship with God for someone who may not understand that?

 Bishop Gries:

For me a personal relationship with God means that I know that I am never alone. I know that I am never alone. Before my Mom died, I used to have my cell phone with me and called her every night on my way home from wherever I was. If I was home, I would just call from my rectory and I would say, “Good night, Mom. God bless you. Have a good night and I love you.” Every night, but then a week after she died I am coming home from a Confirmation and I am reaching for my cell phone and I said to myself, “I do not need this anymore. I can just talk to Mom and listen for her response to me.” So many times I hear Mom and Dad telling me things they told me when I was growing up. The corrections they made in my life and the things that they wanted me to do and how to do them. I keep hearing those things. I transfer that now into the scriptures. What is Jesus telling me? How is He in my life? How is He reacting to me? In my confirmations this last year, I used the theme GPS. I told them when I became bishop I needed a garment named GPS to get to all these places when I did not know where they were. I said to them that in the sacrament of Confirmation, God gives us all a GPS. I call it God’s positioning system. He has given us a system that is so sacred because each of us has a conscience. We do not have a computer giving us directions but a conscience that has been formed by our parents, schools, and friends that helped us to become the best version of ourselves. As Matthew Kelley says, we can be that which forms our conscience. We know when we are right and we know when we are wrong because our conscience is telling us make a legal U-turn, buddy, and get back on track. I feel God doing that to me too when I do something wrong I just feel God saying, “Hey, buddy.”

Father Michael:

A bishop, you, can do something wrong?

Bishop Gries:

Oh yes. It is one of those things that . . . I am going to get a little off track here . . . One of the reasons that people hesitate going to the sacrament of Reconciliation these days is they think they have to have a serious mortal sin before going to confession, to go to the sacrament. Yet, I look at the sacrament of Reconciliation like going to your doctor. You go to your doctor and you sit there and the doctor comes in and says, “What can I do for you?” You say, “Heal me.” Then he will say, “What is wrong with you? What is your problem?” So, I look at the sacrament of Reconciliation in the same way, like going to the doctor and saying “I am having problems with my relationship with this person or I am just eating too much. I am drinking too much or I am not getting enough sleep.” I do not think that you have to say that you killed somebody or stole a million dollars but just these little things. Then Jesus prescribes the necessary grace. He gives us a prescription of grace that we need to deal with that. Then as we go forward, the next time anything like that happens, like the next time I see this person that I am having a hard time with, I am ready to say something. I have the grace to deal with that. I do not have to do that. I have the grace to deal with that. One of the old monks in the monastery, when I was abbot one time, I was talking to him and I said, “How do you feel about that?” He said, “I learned a long time ago, think what you think but do not say it.”

Father Michael:

That is good advice.

Bishop Gries:

Bishop Gries: You think something you can always take it back, but once you say it you cannot take it back.

Father Michael:

One of the things you talked about before I think was beautiful. One of the lines in the funeral liturgy is, “For those of us that believe, life has changed, not ended.” It seems that you have this beautiful prayer life with your parents and ones that have gone before us and that is a very real experience for you.

Bishop Gries:

It is a real experience for me to recognize the fact that they are not dead. I am not one that goes to the cemetery and prays over graves. I will pray during Mass, remembering my Mom and Dad during the commemoration of the dead and my aunts and uncles. The people that are close to me. My dear friends that have died. I will remember them in the Mass. It is one of the ways that I feel so close to them, because I know that I will spend all eternity with them. They have given me an opportunity. They have helped from me in various ways. Just the people I have met. Everybody that has had an influence and has touched me in some way. Some more than others. I will never forget Bishop Quinn, A. J. Quinn. He and I became brief friends before I was ordained bishop and afterwards we became better friends. I was driving somewhere with him and I said, “As a new bishop, I just want to know what is your favorite day of the year as bishop?” He said, “The day I come home and put my Confirmation stuff away for the summer.” I remember that and I look for that day and remember A. J. telling me that.

Father Michael:

Outside of that, what is your favorite day as a bishop?

Bishop Gries:

My favorite day is a day when I can be a minister at the altar for any of the sacraments. My most thrilling day will come next spring when one of the Benedictine monks will be ordained a priest. I have been asked to do the ordination. I have done that once before for monks and it is just thrilling. At the ordination ceremony when everybody is laying their hands–we talked before of the symbolism of the laying of hands–it is more than sharing the priesthood, it is the fact of preparing for the sacrifice. With Bishop Lennon, all the priests laid their hands on him because they share the priesthood as the new bishop is installed. Bishop Pilla and I will not lay hands.

Father Michael:

You did not lay hands on me then?

Bishop Gries:

No. I can’t.

Father Michael:

That is why I felt a little off. Sometimes people, especially when they pray, have kind of an Old Testament experience of God the Father. How do you relate to God the Father? What is the Father like?

Bishop Gries:

I look at my father. My Dad was a good man. He delivered milk door to door. He was devoted to his work, even when we had big snow storms. Sometimes he would walk five miles just to get to his destinations. He could not drive, but he said that he needed to get milk to the mothers who needed milk for their babies. He would sacrifice. He was a wonderful example and faithful to Mass and Reconciliation. Faithful to his wife, my Mom, and a good father. He made many sacrifices for us. I reflect on him and then I think about God the Father and what He did for me. He loved me so much that He gave His only Son. He sent His Son who sacrificed His life by taking on our human nature to sacrifice His life. He could not die as God, but as a man He could suffer and die for me. When I think of God the Father, I think, “Why do you love me so much? What can I give you except my whole self?” Really, that is my prayer life too. Just giving myself back to God. Anything. My prayer life comes through the action of offering the Mass, or visiting the sick, or taking care of somebody. In a way, that is my prayer life. I always look to the Father as the kind, loving and generous person. One that reached out to Moses: Free my people. They have been calling to me and I want to free them. It is one of those things where we call on Him and He hears us in response. He does not always respond the way we want Him to respond. Just like when I go golfing sometimes, people expect me to make sure that I contact the Lord for good weather. They’ll say, “Did you not pray?” We do not always get a “yes”.

Father Michael:

Over the years, as you were formed as a Benedictine, who are some of the people who were influential in your prayer life and what did they model for you in prayer?

Bishop Gries:

First one was a lay person, my coach, Coach August Bossu. He was a model father, model teacher, model coach and a wonderful human being. Mass and Communion every morning. Never used a cuss word. I never in fifty years heard him use a cuss word. He was always the epitome of goodness. I always loved him as I loved my own father. He was quite an influence in my life as well.

Then in the monastery itself I learned early on that every person has their quirks. Every person has their quirks. There was an abbot who gave us a retreat one time. He said that his favorite description of what a monastery is from the parables of Jesus would be The Mustard Seed because The Mustard Seed is like a monastery. It grew up into a big bush and all kinds of birds landed there. Just like in a family you can choose your friends but you cannot choose your relatives. In a monastery it is the same way. You cannot choose who your brothers are. But it is amazing. Sometimes you see the quirks in the people who are most faithful to what they are doing; the person who is doing the cooking, the person in the monastery who has been there forty years every Saturday, all day, doing the laundry (he monastery’s laundry), and every Monday he is sorting the laundry and he does not get paid for it. The same thing with person who does the cooking in the kitchen or the seamstress who is making habits and things. The wonderful people who go to the classroom every day.

One of the things I miss most of being a bishop and living in the house as a way of life is that I do not have that common prayer. Community prayer, community meals, recreation, and when we can, mingle. One of the things that used to inspire me most in the monastery was community prayer. The people that are working so hard, they are with us. We are praying together. They came to join in the prayer life of the monastery no matter what their job was, where they had been or how hard they had worked. They are there for prayer. That is and was always an inspiration to me. One of the things I learned is that in every person–this was in the monastery but you can even use it now when I am out of the monastery–you can see something on the outside and it is so easy to criticize, but in each one of those persons there is something good because God created them for good. That is one of the messages I try to leave with the women at the women’s prison. I have Mass there on Christmas and Easter. The one message I try to leave with them is that you are good. You have made some mistakes,, but God loves you.

Father Michael:

God loves us as we are. I think that you have talked beautifully about that. Can you can describe what this means, the Benedictine motto Ora et Labora, the blending of work and prayer. Tell us about that.

 Bishop Gries:

In every monastery you have to make sure that there is a holy rule, prayer comes first. In setting up the agenda for the day or schedule for the day, we meet seven times for prayer: The Office of Prayer, morning prayer, evening prayer and night prayer.

Father Michael:

So seven times a day the monks will stop and pray.

Bishop Gries:

Those times are in there and they do not get changed. Once the prayer times are put in, then the meal times are put in, time for work and time for relaxation are filled in. The story I will share, you have probably heard it many times, is about the big bucket. They want you to fill it up with big stones, small stones, the pebbles and the sand. If you put the sand in first and then the pebbles, then the small rocks you are not going to get the big stuff in there. If you put the big stuff in there first and end up with putting the sand in last (the fluffy stuff), it will seep in between the cracks and you will be able to get everything into the bucket. It is the same way with our life. We make time for prayer, a set time for prayer. As a former religious, as a bishop, as a priest, we have those times for prayer. We make those times because we say the Divine Office and we pray the Divine Office for the people of God. But for a lay person, too, they need that time. Even when they get up in the morning; after they get up and clean up and they make their bed, they are ready to get started. Before they sit down for a cup of coffee, sit down for five minutes and just pray. Maybe after their cup of coffee or breakfast, they can take the readings for the day or pray the Magnificat. What is the message that God is bringing to the church throughout the world this day? Do the epistles or the first readings and the gospel. What message is God giving us for this particular day? Like this morning, we heard the gospel about Jesus who went to the synagogue and He picked up Isaiah and started praying about I have been anointed to go out and heal and to cure and to bring freedom to the prisoners. The message for you and me is that we too have been anointed in our baptism. We have been anointed at our confirmation. I have been anointed as a bishop and a priest. You have too. We are anointed and are anointing the same way as Jesus was doing because we are carrying on the ministry. Those little reflections each day can help us. Then, before I go to bed at night, a good examination of conscience. How did I do today? It is almost like living the AA program in prayer. We know that we have to trust in God. He is a superior being. God has called us to whatever we are doing. We have been called to do that and that is why we are there. How am I doing? Am I living up to what God is asking me to do?

Father Michael:

You are now an auxiliary bishop emeritus which means you are supposed to be retired, but we all know that you are not.

Bishop Gries:

No. No, no. We bishops do not retire. Emeritus just means that my resignation when I turned 75 has been accepted by the Pope which means I have no more jurisdiction in the diocese. In other words, I cannot sign papers for the diocese. I have no official duties in the diocese. I left the Praesidium because I was their auxiliary bishop ex officio, but now I do not have that office anymore. That is all that means, but I think people look at emeritus as you are having more free time now, so I will ask you to do more things.

Father Michael:

People always find that in retirement that they are busier than they were in life. That is a big block to prayer and most people would say, “Father, I am busy.” How do you. . .?

 Bishop Gries:

That is where the discipline comes in. As a Benedictine monk, Ora et Labora. It is not Labora et Ora. Ora et Labora: put that prayer in there first, and then do what has to be done. Without that prayer, you do not have the energy, you do not have the grace, you do not have the enthusiasm or the excitement for what you are doing because you are doing it because you have to do it. It is one of those thingsI have to do this. If you get up in the morning and say Mass as a priest and say, “Ah I have to go over there and say Mass.” You come over with a completely different attitude than if you say “This is my faith and an opportunity to share this with the people.” It is that Ora et Labora. That is what Benedict had in mind when he said that the first thing in the monastery is pray and then work.

Father Michael:

So, for you now, not counting these two weeks recovering, what is your prayer routine like?

Bishop Gries:

I get up in the morning and take care of my needs: brush my teeth, take a shower, shave and make my bed, get myself a cup of coffee then come down here in my chapel.

Father Michael:

Right now we are in the bishop’s chapel where he has his rocking chair, his prayer chair, and the Blessed Sacrament.

Bishop Gries:

After Good Morning Prayer, I use Charles de Foucauld’s prayer Father, I Give Myself into Your Hands and then say my Office of readings and my Office of morning prayer, and then I review the readings for the day. Then I prepare myself to go down the street to Saint Francis where four or five nuns are waiting for me to offer Mass for them. When I come back it is a matter of making myself a little breakfast and catching up on the work in my office. Catching up on the emails I have to respond to or messages I have to send and so on. Then I do preparation for talks that I have to give or homilies that I have to give. This fall I can still use my spring Confirmation homilies. I am saved by them. There are all kinds of things. I have to give a talk to the Medical Association here in the Diocese. I have to install the new Christ Child Society members. I have to do something for the Serra Club. These are all different things that I have to prepare for. When I give a homily, I hate having text. I have a hard time writing out a text but I like to get the idea so I can be more free as I deliver. I have found in the past, when I have to have a text because I just do not want to forget something, I become so attached to that text that I forget the people.

Father Michael:

What I have learned over my short years already as a priest is that everybody prays differently. I think that it is important for people to know that the way Bishop Roger prays is not necessarily the way that I pray or the way that other priests or other people pray. What do you think is unique or what has worked for you? What do you find that has been a good way for you to pray?

Bishop Gries:

I find a good way to pray is to just find quiet time to relate and talk to Jesus about my life, about what is happening in my life and what I am doing and how I am doing it. Just relay to Jesus that I recognize that what I am doing what He is asking me to do. He has called upon me to do this and that is why I am willingly sacrificing my life and sacrificing my time to prepare and to do the things that He is doing. My prayer life is just a relationship of talking to a friend.

Father Michael:

That is one of the most beautiful images of being with a friend.

Bishop Gries:

Yes, being with a friend. When I pray the Divine Office, I try to pray with meaning because I try to make those Psalms my prayer.

Father Michael:

What is the Divine Office for people that do not know?

Bishop Gries:

The Divine Office is the official prayer of the church. That is the one I was talking about, where seven times a day we meet for Office of Readings, Office of Morning Prayer, Mid-day Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer. Those are times when we pray and it is a prayer that begins with a hymn after the sign of the cross to just sort of get us into the spirit of the time. Then they read two or three psalms and a canticle. In other words, we are praying the prayer that God inspired the prophets and writers to write. So it is God’s own prayer. I pray those prayers as if they were written by me. They are my prayers. Then after we do that, prepare or get to the point where there is a reading from scripture. That is the purpose of that hour, to reflect on that particular prayer that comes up at that moment. After we do that reading, we maybe just stop for a moment to reflect on what we just read and then there is a response to that prayer. The Mid-day Prayer and Night Prayer, after the reflection and response, there is the Closing Prayer. In the Morning Office and the Evening Office there is a canticle. The canticle of the Old Testament, the Canticle of Zechariah, and then there is the Canticle of Mary, The Magnificat. Amazing. After we pray that, we have intercessions, we pray for the church and for the world. Then, we pray the Our Father, the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. I heard one interpretation saying, “You are praying the Our Father, now you know you have God’s attention, praying the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray.” So we are praying to God the Father.” That is why with the Our Father we never say, “Let us pray” because you know you have God’s attention so you go right into the oration after Closing Prayer. So, that is the Divine Office. That is the prayer that the priests say and more and more lay people are starting to join in on that too. There are some parishes that have a common Morning Prayer and Night Prayer. They get together and have numbers of people come and pray with the priest that particular prayer of the church.

Father Michael:

As we come to the end of the interview, what I would like to talk about now is your encouragement or advice for people that want to have that prayer or want to have that discipline and maybe are struggling a little bit. You have already stated that there does need to be some discipline. The Catechism says that too. Prayer does not just happen. We have to make an act of will. We have to actually make the time for prayer. But what about people that pray and they do not feel anything? They do not hear anything? Sometimes people will say, “I talk to God, but I do not hear anything back.”

 Bishop Gries:

Most of the time it is because the world is so noisy that people are not used to the silence. They are not used to the silence and just being alone with God. There was a time in my early monastic life when my blood pressure was kind of high and I had problems with controlling it. I started doing a half hour of meditation with music saying, “Come on, Jesus, help me. Lord Jesus, I love you.” Just Lord Jesus this and Lord Jesus that. I would be drifting off and I would get the image in my mind of a river. In this river there is a big boulder right in the middle of the river and the waters keep going by. My meditation period is to focus on that boulder, focus on Jesus Christ. Just to focus on Him. But, in our minds there are so many distractions that go by . . . oh, there is a duck on the river, or there goes a canoe, or there are some flowers floating on the river. We lose our concentration on the rock and we have to keep bringing ourselves back to Jesus because until we become accustomed to this, our life is filled with distractions. Especially if you are a busy person. You try to sit down and relax for a half hour and you start thinking, I have to do this tomorrow morning. I cannot forget to do this tomorrow morning or I still have that to do today before I go to bed. You get all those distractions. It is like seeing things on the river going by and not focusing on the rock. I did learn after a couple of weeks of just doing that and getting into it harder, my blood pressure went down. My blood pressure went down because I was able to just put myself in the presence of Jesus Christ and enjoy His presence and feel His presence. Because until you feel His presence, you are going to say, “It is a waste of time” and you do not get anything out of it. Is that not the biggest excuse for people that do not to go to Mass anymore? They did not get anything out of it. What did you put into it? Did you realize that you are one of the people sacrificing and do you realize that you are a participant? The church wants you to participate, not just answer prayers. Put yourself into it because when the priest offers up the gifts, he is offering you up because the gifts of bread and wine represent you and I. They represent us and we are offering ourselves up to God. If we can only begin to appreciate that, we could make such a difference. Such a difference in the world. We do not realize how blessed we are as Catholics to have the Eucharist. To have that gift.

Father Michael:

It would be a good thing for people too, if they are not feeling His presence, to go to their church or to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

Bishop Gries:

Absolutely. I think a lot of people are finding out that Adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament is more than just imagining. You can sit and look at that imaginary rock in the middle of that river or you can sit and look at the Eucharist. We truly believe that is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. I tell people too, not only is He there, but if you truly believe . . . I truly believe that my Mom and Dad are there right next to Jesus. They are there too. The same thing when I go to Communion, when I receive the Eucharist, I am receiving Jesus. All my loved ones that have died are there too. I am not just there alone with Jesus, they are with me too.

 Father Michael:

I love to encourage people, especially at a funeral, that if they want to stay close to their loved ones, there is no better way than the Eucharist.

 Bishop Gries:

Do you believe that is Jesus? Yes. Do you believe in the Eucharist and that Jesus is here? Yes. Well, where are your parents? They have to be with Jesus.

Father Michael:

You have really helped to show how different people in your life, your parents (that was so beautiful), your football coach (a layman), all really formed you and taught you in prayer. I think that is so encouraging for people that may be in the parenting state of life or maybe a coach. They can have such a beautiful impact.

Bishop Gries:

By the life they lead and the example they give. You do not realize how many lives you touch.

 Father Michael:

I think it is also fair to say that when we are a beginner at prayer or been away from prayer, as you said, it is difficult in the beginning to be in silence; but, if we discipline ourselves and allow ourselves to do that. . .

Bishop Gries:

What do we see now? More and more people no matter where they are or what they are doing, they have their phones and their earphones. You have to have music. You have to have noise and that is the complete opposite of what we need when we pray. Maybe you need to listen to a tape before we start to meditate, or need something to think about, but to have it going constantly during the whole time you are putting aside for prayer– you are wasting the opportunity of hearing Jesus.

Father Michael:

What would you say to someone that says, “I am afraid? I am afraid of silence. I am afraid to be silent.”

Bishop Gries:

Why? Because you get to know yourself. Because you begin to see the weaknesses you have. That is why we need Jesus. Plus, understand that He understands where we are, where we are coming from and He knows where He wants us to go. Unless we open ourselves with that little bit of silence, to open up and let Him talk to us–we may not hear words, but I guarantee you that if you pray, there will be something in your life. You will say, “Ooh, I did not expect that.” For example, somebody is looking for a job. All of a sudden– they have been praying for a job, praying for God to help him–lo and behold somebody will say, “Hey, by the way, are you interested in a job? I have something you can do.” They come into your life. God sends people in your life.

Father Michael:

That is the wonderful thing, God. He is in charge, right? He has got you. He loves us and listens to us.

 Bishop Gries:

He is in charge. That is why we pray, “If it be your will and for my good.”

Father Michael:

Thank you Bishop. Would you mind giving me a blessing and all those that may be listening to this right now?

Bishop Gries:

Father Mike. . .

Through the intercession of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and through the Blessed Mother, His mother, who has given us such a good example of prayer and devotion and dedication of her life through Jesus, we ask you to be with us as we continue our journey. We will find the time and we will find the love to share with Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Father and Holy Spirit as well. They love us so much. They want us to share their life. Their life of prayer. We ask that we receive the blessings that can come only from God. In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

About the Author, Fr. Michael Denk

Fr. Michael was ordained into the 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.

 

 

Bishop Roger and Father Michael prior to celebrating one of the most frequent 
sacraments administered by a bishop, the Sacrament of Confirmation