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msgr-william-biebel

In this installment of Praying with PriestsFather Michael sits down with Monsignor William Biebel. Fr. Michael says that, “Msgr. Biebel is someone that I came to know through a brother priest, someone whose spiritual life and love for sharing that with others, I’ve came to admire.”

Monsignor Biebel has been a spiritual director to many over his years as a priest within the Diocese of Erie. Many of us learn prayer as children through our upbringing, however if we have not taken any theology classes or studied at the seminary, we may loose out on the opportunity of learning how to pray, or in other words, we aren’t taught the deeper forms of engaging in prayer with the Father.  Be sure to tune in to Father Michael’s interview with Monsignor Biebel (just click below & listen) to not only get a glimpse into his prayer life, but also his advice for those who are yearning to grow in our prayer lives.

 

 

Hello, this is Father Michael Denk for The Prodigal Father. I’m really excited to be here with Monsignor William Biebel. Monsignor Biebel is someone that I came to know through a brother seminarian who is now a priest. Monsignor is someone that I’ve always enjoyed. His deep spiritual life and his love for sharing that with others, to many over his years as a priest. He is a good wisdom figure of the Diocese of Erie. He is not only that but has become a dear friend and a priest that I admire. Monsignor, it great to be with you today.

 

Monsignor Biebel:

Michael, it is great to be with you. The friendship the four of you have had with me. . . I have been thinking, sometimes I have been a mentor, other times I am a mascot, but I love it all.

Father Michael:

I am glad to interview you today. Today we are doing a segment of “Praying with Priests.” As priests, we are given wonderful opportunities to grow in our prayer life and to pray. Not everyone has the same opportunities that we have in terms of that. In doing this series, I have been asking priests about their own prayer experience growing up, from the time they were a child. How did you learn how to pray and how are you praying now, even in retirement? We will end the interview with any advice you have for people that want to grow in their prayer life. Let’s begin with your first memory of prayer. What is the first time you ever remember praying?

Monsignor Biebel:

I really have to think about that. I went to Catholic grade school with formal prayer many times during the course of the day and the Morning Offering, the conscious offering of your day. Little as we were in fourth grade, never were we without a time of prayer and daily Mass and really fine religious education with the Sisters of Saint Joseph. It was probably just elementary school prayer. I know we prayed the family rosary, which was broadcast every night. My mother, my brother, (who was much younger at that point}, myself and my dad would pray the rosary quietly.

Father Michael:

How old were you then?

Monsignor Biebel:

I was probably eight or nine.

Father Michael:

When you say broadcast, what does that mean? It was on TV? Radio?

Monsignor Biebel:

The rosary was broadcast on radio because there was no television at the time. Father Payton had a Rosary Crusade: The Family that Prays Together, Stays Together. Then when I was in college there was a rosary broadcast from the seminary. I was one of the DJs for the broadcast. The seminarians prayed the rosary but we did all the engineering stuff in the engineering room, like put it on and take it off the air.

Father Michael:

I want you to paint a picture for our listeners because we are celebrating the importance of family so that the Holy Father and for new people on the family. Paint a picture of your family in your house. Where were you sitting and what did that feel like? What did that look like and feel like?

Monsignor Biebel:

At that point we had one console type radio. it was a big console type radio, and we would just pull up a chair and sit around. It wasn’t anything more than 15 or 20 minutes a night, but we were different from other families in the Jewish neighborhood because when it was time to pray, it was time to pray.

Father Michael:

Then what did you feel like? Did you feel like it was a burn? Was it boring? Was it beautiful?

Monsignor Biebel:

I would say that I did not glow. But it was sincere, and you were able to pray with your parents. Then when I was about eleven or twelve, my Dad got very sick and eventually was not at home. He was in an institution and so we prayed for him and I think that affected a lot of depth in me. There was a program from CVL in Toronto. On Sunday mornings I would go to an early Mass and then babysit my brother and my little sister and Mom would leave on a Greyhound bus to be with my Dad. There would be an emptiness in the house but it would soon be replaced by an uncle and an aunt and their kids. They would come every Sunday bringing dinner, and we spent the Sunday with them.

I had about 45 minutes to an hour and there was a classical devotional musical program from CVL (Cross Valley League University Preparatory School) in Toronto which I would listen to on my little radio. I remember that I would kneel on the floor beside my bed and listen to the Adagio for Strings and some of the other music. It wasn’t the usual grade school prayer. It was a quiet prayer. The music really moved me, and I cannot tell you the name of the program now but it was way back. About 60 or 70 years ago. I remember kneeling by the side of my bed and the place was quiet.

Father Michael:

You were how old then?

Monsignor Beibel:      

Twelve.

Father Michael:

So, there was some emptiness because your father was not there?

Monsignor Beibel:

There was an emptiness but there was a quiet, too. I was heading towards high school and my brother and sister would get a lift and they would go to the kids’ Mass at 9:30. I would sometimes go to Mass later or earlier. It was different and not something I shared with anybody. There was never any shared prayer that we did. Amen.

Father Michael:          

It is beautiful knowing you and your love for music. It is very interesting for me to hear now that it was a very formative time for you.

Monsignor Biebel:

It was. It was a meditative time for me. It was the distinctive thing that happened on Sunday. It was the Lord’s day and I was very conscious of that day. It was a very special day.

Father Michael:

The pious music, what was that?

Monsignor Biebel:

It was not the big stuff and I honestly do not remember what the verbal content of the program was. Whether it was scripture, poetry and quiet; it was meditative, I know that.

Father Michael:

So, you went into high school. Where did you go to high school?

Monsignor Biebel:

I went to Cathedral Boys Prep School. It was an interesting time. I remember having a Sister of Saint Joseph trying to teach meditation. We were sophomores and she was trying to teach us quiet prayer and meditation. In those days it was kind of in setting the scene and putting yourself in the scene. It wasn’t a long theme because it was a Latin class. She worked it in. She was a nun who was very much aware of the missions and the mission of the church but also the poverty of people everywhere. Those were good years.

Father Michael:

Did that kind of prayer have an impact on you or was it just a passing thing?

 Monsignor Biebel:

It really made an impact. Other than Latin class, there was a boy who had played JV football and one morning he wasn’t there. We found out later in the morning that he’d died from peritonitis. He had a burst appendix. He was gone at 15-1/2. We were 16, in that area. I remember going to his wake, which is the first wake I ever went to on my own. The next morning was the funeral. About 35 of us walked from the prep school across town to his parish church. It was a cold February day, 24th of February, feast of Saint Mathias, and it was one of the most formative days of my life.

I walked in and we did not know quite where to sit because it was a strange church to us. I just remember moving into a pew where somebody was already kneeling, maybe around my age. He had a prayer book but it was actually a Latin liturgy. There was an old priest in black vestments. When the family arrived, Joey’s mother was hysterically screaming and throughout, this fellow who is kneeling on my right had his eyes closed and he was absolutely so calm. We went through the Mass and in those days, no one received communion except the priest at a requiem Mass. He received for the departed. No one in the congregation got up to go for communion. That just did not happen. Very strange world now. I was just so moved by his poise, his quiet and his recollection.

We walked back to school afterwards and I said that I had to meet this kid. I looked all through the yearbooks, the rosters and faces. I knew exactly what he looked like but could never find him. We did not quite know what that meant. Maybe your guardian angel? I remember leaving that whole experience wanting to pray like that kid. I was subbing more recently in that same parish church and I can tell you exactly the seat where he sat. Never saw him again, but whoever he was, he was a profound influence on my desire to pray, big time. I do not know where that came from. Maybe it was Joey’s angel, maybe it was mine. In the midst of this moment, Joey’s mother is screaming hysterically. She is a single mom and the calm of this guy was utterly amazing. That is a gift from God and I was only 16. Amen.

Father Michael:

In that very real experience, God was showing you how to pray through something like that. And there was some yearning and desire on your part to have that.

Monsignor Biebel:

There really was. In the middle of all the bedlam and confusion, there was still a direct line of quiet prayer between himself and God that nothing disturbed.

Father Michael:

Almost reminds me of Jesus with the disciples when He went to pray with the Father and what it must have been like for them to see Him praying.

Monsignor Biebel:

They did not get it, and maybe I did not get it at the time. I do remember, all those years afterwards, trying to find him and there was nobody to be found.

Father Michael:

How did you begin praying after that? Did it really have an effect on you?

Monsignor Biebel:

It did. In those days the liturgy was Latin, prayer books were in, and I remember having “My Daily Bread”. I remember going to a novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the parish on Sunday nights at 7:30 and I got so I never missed that. I was the only teenager there. I was never an acolyte. I was never a server.

Father Michael:

Tell our listeners that might not know what that experience is like. What a novena is. What were you doing?

Monsignor Biebel:

It was a continual novena. There were prayers every Sunday night to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the rosary, the litany and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. In that era, 1953/1954, vernacular liturgy was not possible as everything was in Latin. The only time you could use anything in English was at Benediction, but not at Mass. It was sung. When I was in that situation, I think we had thirteen seminarians in the parish. It was amazing. They ran everywhere from senior theology big guys to little rooks like myself who were thinking about the priesthood. When I was ordained, there were thirteen in the seminary. It was a good experience knowing those guys.

Father Michael:

How was the call fostered in your own life?

Monsignor Biebel:

I told the congregation yesterday, it was the feast of John the Baptist that I wanted to be a Christian Brother. I do not think I wanted to be a priest. I wanted to be a brother, I wanted to live in community and I wanted to teach kids. That is what I really wanted most. I sent a letter to the vocation office for the brothers. Never got an answer. When I was finally a senior, one of the assistant head masters of the school whose place I would take in later life (three times), said why don’t you just go to the seminary? Bingo. That was it and on I went.

Father Michael:

When he said that, how did you feel?

Monsignor Biebel:

I just needed someone to throw me off the cliff a little bit. I thought, well, the brothers are not coming through let’s give it a shot. There were twenty-three from my graduating high school class that went into the seminary. Twenty-three! I went home and said to my mom, “I think I am going to Saint Mark’s in the fall” and she said, “I thought so.” That was the vocation discussion. It was all there. There she was, a single mom taking care of three kids and she was delighted. I think my Dad’s personal suffering, he had multiple nervous breakdowns, but I think his being out of the family circle, in care and away from home. . .I had no idea how much suffering he endured. Here is a man who is thinking: I have a profession, I am a lawyer, I have a career, a wife and a family and here I am sitting in a mental institution.

I think he inspired a lot of my vocation. I really do. Later on, when I was in summer school, I ran into a Christian Brother and I said, “I almost became one of you guys” and I told him the story. He said, “What was the year?” I said, “1954.” “Holy cow” he said, “I was in charge of vocations for the province at that time and I missed it.” I said, “Sorry bud, you missed your chance.”

Father Michael:

So, you went into the seminary right after high school and you went in with 23 other guys, then right into college seminary. That was what year?

Monsignor Biebel:

That was September, 1954.

Father Michael:

Talk about your shift in prayer from a high school student into a seminary. What was that like to pray in a seminary? Was it different, was it formative? Was it worthwhile?

Monsignor Biebel:

It really was not terribly exciting. There were morning prayers before Mass and evening prayers, the rosary (which we broadcast every night), and then night prayer.

Father Michael:

You broadcast that out for people?

Monsignor Biebel:

Out of the seminary. Yes, through one of the local radio stations. I was one of the announcers for bringing it on the air and taking it off the air. We had the usual teachers who tried to teach us more depth of faith. Even in the seminary there was what we would know now as Ignatian Prayer, or even mental prayer, and so many things like that. It was very undefined. I went to the seminary run by the OFM at Christ the King and I loved it. I loved that place. I was there for two years and they then moved some of it to Catholic University for working on the graduate degree as well as studying theology, so I had a double major. Things began to blossom there with the prayer. It was a very rich form of life and prayer life. I was studying liturgical music at the time so I was ordained and graduated with a degree in Chant, Renaissance, Medieval Music, and organ. Two years after I graduated, the liturgy changed to English and everybody was singing My Devoted and thousands of years of mystical tradition just went down the tubes.

Father Michael:

When you think about that time of early seminary, were there any moments where you had what St. Ignatius would say. . . where you had an experience of God where there was nothing you did, but just experienced?

Monsignor Biebel:

I think so, but I cannot put my finger on a lot of that right now. One of my first experiences of that was when I was in high school and I was working in a kosher delicatessen and studying English, German and Yiddish. The only way I could get to Mass on Saturday morning was to go to the Byzantine liturgy. It awed me to no end that the Eucharist could be celebrated in a form so different from what I was used to. I had that privilege of celebrating in the Byzantine Rite now for over 50 years. It was really very formative. My own parish priest never once said, “Why don’t you go to the seminary?” Those guys said, “You could be a priest.” So, I felt really close to them all these years.

Father Michael:

From what I remember, you are bi-ritual too, so you can celebrate both liturgies. How has the Byzantine liturgy or Byzantine spirituality impacted your own prayer life?

Monsignor Biebel:

There is a different tempo. In some cases it is repetitive, but it allows you the freedom to get away from other things and just get into the movement and the rhythm of the liturgy, the litany. When I was in the seminary, my roommate was a Byzantine seminarian from Pittsburgh. I learned a lot from him and we prayed a lot together.

Father Michael:

What do you mean when you say that you prayed a lot together?

Monsignor Biebel:

He was teaching me the liturgy and teaching me about the calendar of the saints, etc. That was another dimension. One of the most defining dimensions was when we were at Christ the King Seminary, OSM family. They were always rounding up guys to join the Third Order of Saint Francis. There was a nucleus of about five seminarians at that point who were very much interested in the liturgy. Franciscans, in those days, used to add to the confusion. It was just nuts. It was crazy. We had learned monastic prayer at Mount Xavier Monastery and the five of us became Oblates at Mount Xavier in Almira. We would say things and the Friars could not recruit us because you could not belong to two communities at the same time. We were already taken.

Father Michael:

Tell our listeners what an Oblate or a Third Order is.

Monsignor Biebel:

The Third Order is a lay membership in association with the prayer style, good works and traditions of the religious community. You are adopted into the community individually. You become their child.

Father Michael:

Is that Benedictine?

Monsignor Biebel:

Yes, Mount Xavier was a contemplative Benedictine house in Almira and they did run schools. It was a very prayerful place. I was only nineteen when I became a member of that community. It influenced me through my whole life in terms of the Divine Office. I was praying the Office at age twenty.

Father Michael:

What is the Office for people that do not know?

Monsignor Biebel:

It is a series of prayers designed to cover the entire day and entire week. In a broad sense, the seasons of the church year consisting of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are all designed schematically around the light and darkness in the day and the beauty of the church seasons. I remember praying that way and others, seminarians, saying “Why are you praying the Office? You do not have to.” I would say, “Oh no, I have to. This is me.” I think the Divine Office has been extremely formative. I have been back to the monastery to spend time for at least fifty years. Just to be there with the brothers, the quiet of the monastery and following their liturgy hours throughout the day. You become an individual member of the monastery, but you lived in the world to share their life and good works.

Father Michael:

I know you go there every year for retreat. Nineteen years old. I did not realize that you had been an Oblate all that time.

Monsignor Biebel:

You are really a layman but you are part of the community.

Father Michael:

For our listeners, anyone can do that. Anyone can take part in a lot of monastic orders.

Monsignor Biebel:

It was good and I still am close to them all. It lead me into reading Damari in later years and some of the traditional monastic writers who are very, very scripturally based in the living tradition of the church. It was a very healthy diet. Amen

.Father Michael:

Talk about any moments that you had or felt, as the saints would call it, a mystical experience. Have there been any moments like that for you in your life where you felt united?

Monsignor Biebel:

Not during the seminary years but maybe 2000, and this is 2016. My sister died the year before and I was in prayer at one point and I said to her, “Why don’t you get me something for 2000, for the millennial year. Get me something.” So, I had my first priest/deacon/seminarian conference at Steubenville and it was pretty well amazing. I was never exposed to charismatic prayer like that. The power of that. That place is big time. At the end of the last night we were there, Sam Jacobs, a personal friend of mine, took a moment and we priests sat on folding chairs, about fifteen of us at the time. Family came and prayed over us, put their hands on our heads very reminiscent of the ordination gesture. Then, with a kind of holy oil, anointed our hands and kissed our hands and I melted. I literally melted. I could not wait to tell somebody. They prayed over me for the gift of the Spirit. Nothing ever happened. And you know how it happened? With Joey Brankatelli. The gifts that came out of that I could not begin to ask again. I think my sister really, really came through.

Father Michael:

So that was a gift to you. Talk about that a little bit more when you say you melted. What does that mean?

Monsignor Biebel:

I was very truthful. I really almost wanted to cry. I did not, but it was like being ordained again. Many of the other guys felt the same way because we bless the people.

Father Michael:

It was an experience of being blessed.

Monsignor Biebel:

We who pray for others who need to be prayed over. There were so many great moments like that in the following few days. I remember that it was a Pentecost weekend. I came up Route 7 in Ohio or 11 up to Conneaut and I stopped to see a priest friend of mine in Conneaut. I said, “Ray, I do not really know what I want to say, but I want to pray for you. I want to pray over you.” He said, “Are you coming from Steubenville?”

The next morning was Pentecost and I had 9:30 am Mass at the cathedral. During the readings I realized that my homily notes were upstairs on my bed. I said, “Well, I will just do it.” I moved the microphone to the center of the sanctuary and just preached on the Spirit. I thought, “Well, it might work again.” Afterward a guy came up to me and asked, “What is different about you today?” I said, “I really do not know.” He said, “I could see through you.” I thought, “Holy cow, there is something going on here.” The gift of tongues did not come for another year, year and a half. The peacefulness and the desire to be in one with God was there. It was like whole new embracing moment. It was great.

Father Michael:

I know you said that you did not receive any gift, but you got the gift that was really good.

Monsignor Biebel:

The gift of counsel and the gift of insight. I remember after that reading, the words of the Divine Office were not just words but they simply jump out at you. You read this line many times but all of a sudden, now it makes sense. The wisdom and insight.

Father Michael:

I think it is true that when we are anointed and blessed by God, oftentimes the fruit comes even later in our lives and continues to come. Talk a little bit about praying in tongues. I have only talked to one priest that talks a little bit about the charismatic. What do you mean you got the gift a year or two later of praying in tongues?

Monsignor Bieble:

As you know, Father Joe Brankatelli was a seminarian at that point and he stopped to see me. I knew him as an engineering student at Cannon. He stopped to see me and to tell me that he was planning to go to the seminary in the fall, so we talked. I know that every time I absolved Joey, he would go into tongues. You know, sort of babble and there is no sense to the words. It is just where your soul is reaching out for God without the whole interference of your intellect. So, we went to the gym, we worked out, we had supper and we came back and prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament. At a point, Joey simply got up and came over and put his hands on my head and it happened. We both sat there and cried. I had all these high power, heavy duty priests praying over me and it never happened. This little monkey came to town and there we go.

Father Michael:

Father Joe Brankatelli is a good friend mine. He is really the reason that I know Monsignor Biebel.

Monsignor Biebel:

We hooked up at Joey’s first Mass. This quiet prayer–you really do not need a lot of heavy duty intellectual content to your prayer sometimes. Sometimes it is healthy just to let it flow. Just simply let it flow out of you. It is your heart and emotions working overtime. It worked.

Father Michael:

How about retreat? Any moments from retreat over these last 50 years that stand out as in countenance with God?

Monsignor Biebel:

It is interesting. When I would go on retreat it was usually just a week. As I drive up the road to the monastery from down in the valley, I always have the same prayer: “God, send me somebody who needs me and send me somebody who can represent you to me.” Over the years there have been marvelous experiences with these priests. At the monastery there were only two priests, the rest were lay brothers, so your choice of really making a good confession was always limited. I remember a priest from India who was there and we became really good friends in the few days that we were there together. I asked him to hear my confession. He did, and we prayed. About half a day later, he asked me to hear his. He had been challenged so heavily in chastity and he just simply cried. He sobbed. It was one of the most rewarding moments in the Sacrament of Penance that I have ever had with anybody. We are still in touch. I could never spell his last name because it is about forty letters but we remembered what happened.

Father Michael:

I know that the sacraments are supposed to help us encounter God very personally. When you think about your relationship with God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, how has that relationship evolved over the years and become a personal relationship?

Monsignor Biebel:

I have always loved the idea as God as Father. Life giver, source of life. I know that when we went through the rather touchy years of inclusive language in the seventies and eighties, the religious women were so sensitive about issues (sometimes rightly so). We are talking about Creator God and so forth, but never would say the word father. That whole concept of the fatherhood as God is so rich and so profound that I allowed it to really happen to me.

In later years, I focused on the Spirit. This whole fatherhood of God gives life to Jesus and to the Spirit. It is the source. It is the entity that is unbelievably enriching. It is a different world to be in, but I loved it. Even now, the formula for absolution is God, the Father of Mercy. We have been saying that for twenty years, at least, in the prayer of absolution. God, the Father of mercy. And, it is all right there, this thing about divine mercy is nothing new. It has all been there this whole time. One of the things I learned from my prayer experience and from monastic prayer is not to rush anything. I cannot believe the way some people can run through the rosary or even run through the liturgy, the hour, or Mass. You cannot do it. I remember, I was just a young priest and in those days we were supposed to remind ourselves that the liturgy and the divine office, the prayers we pray every day, was called prayer and you were supposed to move your lips. As you pray the Latin prayers, you were supposed to move your lips and form the words even though you made no sound. We more or less did that. We did not do it always. Sometimes you could just scan down the Psalm and get the meaning. I remember going to a rectory and this old Irish priest had the football game on and he was moving his jaw (I do not think he had any idea what he was saying) and it was almost ludicrous because he had one eye on the game and one eye on the book and the jaw was moving like crazy. I thought, well this is different. This is not the way to do it, I don’t think. Never could say, “What are you doing, old man?” There were good moments.

Father Michael:

I know music has been very influential on you. I remember one of the first times I visited you in Erie when you were at the Cathedral, you had a wonderful piano and an organ. Listening to you play was, for me, a wonderful experience. How has music impacted your prayer or your experience of God?

Monsignor Biebel:

There is so much there. There is such great literature of worship music in the church. I have learned to love very much the Anglican tradition and the Byzantine tradition. There is a wonderful program, With Heart and Voice, that comes out of Rochester in the morning on Sunday. We get it here at 6:00 am and I am up at 6:00 am with my first cup of coffee, sitting in this chair, listening to this wonderful Anglican chant and choral traditions. Then, the rest of the day will follow from there. I have enjoyed writing music for worship in the church; simple things, refrains, and responsorial psalms. Sometimes, music can move you like nothing else can and there for a long time we were going through a desert where we had very little of any value. Anybody could play three chords on a guitar with the church musicians. I kept thinking, “Oh no, I do not think so. This is not Palestrina. This is not any of the others.”

There are certain pieces that I dearly love. Sometime, when you have a good half hour, there is a piece of music called The Way to Emmaus and it is one of the rare settings of a particular piece that was high voice and high organ. Louise Natale sang it at Riverside Church in New York every Easter Sunday afternoon at 4:00 o’clock with a great organ and Virgil Fox playing. It is very interesting. Jaromir Weinberger who wrote it was Jewish and whether he ever became Christian or not, it is the most profound musical experience I know. You need to take time and you absolutely freeze everything else and just focus on it. It is extremely dramatic and it is almost impossible to play, but they do it with such ease.

It is so funny, for many people Easter Sunday ends with dinner. The Easter eggs are gone, the candy is all half eaten, etc. The actual tradition of the Triduum includes Easter afternoon and Easter night. It is Thursday to Friday night, Friday to Saturday, Saturday to Sunday night. The whole experience for the disciples at Emmaus is at the end of the Triduum. The end of Easter day, Sunday, and this is a perfect way to conclude. This thing caught on in New York for decades. They would flock to Riverside Church for the experience of having the afternoon sun coming through windows, Easter in the air, and just sitting back letting Louise tell this story. Oh my God, I will make sure you get a recording. They are very rare. Recordings are very rare, but it is wonderful. That is probably my most significant musical experience. I love that section of Saint Luke. Nothing like it.

Father Michael:

I am with monsignor here in Erie in his little apartment and I want to talk to him a little bit about how his life has shifted. You retired. When did you retire?

Monsignor Biebel:

I retired when I was 77, which was about two years ago.

 Father Michael:

You always said that you would not want to retire because you love being a priest, but that you also could not wait to be a hermit just to have the time pray. What has that been like to be retired, to pray?

Monsignor Biebel:

My first two years, year and a half actually, before I got sick, I had the place on the lake in downtown Erie, in the city. I loved the fact that I could eat what I chose. I love to cook and I would take a daily Mass in one of the parishes and I had time to pray. I had time for music. I had time to do things that I never had before. God has still blessed me with a ministry of reconciliation which I think is probably one of the most rewarding things I have ever done as a priest. To be there for people, for reconciliation, for confession. I had time and it was a quiet place and I could sit on the front porch at two in the morning and have not a sound go by. Yes, I really focused. I said to myself, “You have never even had a chance to live alone.” You had your family, you had your community, you had the school and you had all these other priests and people. This is the first time I had ever had a chance to be alone and I loved it.

Father Michael:

You say you love reconciliation. I just want to talk a little bit about this because it is the year of mercy. Tell us why you love it and what would you say to someone that does not understand it or maybe is afraid of it or does not get confession? What do you love about it?

Monsignor Biebel:

What I love about it is the peacefulness of the experience. The awe of being able to enter into the world of a person’s soul. I was so blessed because when I was a college student, the cathedral had a tradition of daily confessions from four until five and seven-thirty to eight in the morning. When I was assigned there, I just fell into that. I was there almost every day when I was not away. People knew you were there. Sometimes they would just come in to talk and you would realize that something deeper was hurting that needed healing. I did that for twenty one years and it was such a beautiful part of my life.

Father Michael:

I know in my own life I always say to people that I love going to confession as a priest and I love hearing confessions as well. But, I know in my own prayer life when there is a blockage, when it feels like I am not connected with God, often if it is because of sin. It is not until I go to confession, experience reconciliation, that I can pray again and feel that closeness with God. So, if you are listening to this and it has been a while since you have been to confession and you want that connection with God, maybe that is what He is calling you to right now.

After all these years, you are a wisdom figure now, at your stage. What would your advice be to someone, anyone, a lay person, anyone that has this desire to grow in prayer and they just do not know how. What would your advice be to them?

Monsignor Biebel:

Find a mentor. Find a guide, or in the absence of an individual guide, find a community that prays. A parish community that prays, or religious house, or religious group. It is a matter sometimes of not waiting for them to come to you. You have to find them. You search them out, and you will find a place. The local Episcopal cathedral here in Erie had to say prayer on Sunday night. It was nothing short of wonderful. They are not doing it now, but I was doing it on Sunday nights for years. You find these opportunities and just let go. You do not have to lead the prayer. Sometimes there is a great blessing in leading prayer, too, but being led is beautiful.

Father Michael:

That is wonderful. Saint Teresa of Avila, one of her lines is “He who directs himself is a fool.” We do really need a direction. We do really need to find mentors, guides and communities. That is the whole point of God gifting us with the church.

Monsignor Biebel:

The Spirit is there. The Spirit is in the midst of that community. I think of that often when I think of Thomas the Doubter, or as they say now, Thomas the Skeptic. He tried to figure it out all week for himself. It is only when he came into the midst of the community that he realized who this really was. The community had been praying for him all week. He found the Lord in the community. When he was all by himself, he just could not get there. So there is truth to that.

Father Michael:

Monsignor, it has been a wonderful time with you and I am so glad to know you and have this experience of hearing about your prayer life.

Monsignor Biebel:

It is like everybody else, it is a hodgepodge.

Father Michael:

It is amazing how God finds us and how God places people in our lives to teach us how to pray. So, thank you for spending time with us. I always ask the priests I am with if they can give our listeners a blessing.

Monsignor Biebel:

Amen. Loving Spirit of God, come down upon your church and especially those who through this medium are searching, looking for identity of You, the living and true God. I ask God to send life, blessings and peace to those who seek it. In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.