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So, in the gospel today, Jesus reads the Samaritan woman’s soul. So, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and some of the Mystics have this, is that they can read somebody’s soul. Meaning that that person can come before them, they can look at them, and actually see right into their soul. And the interesting thing is when this woman goes to Jesus, and he reads her soul and tells her, you’re right, you don’t have one husband; you’ve had five, and one of them is not your husband; she doesn’t walk away upsets or hurt. She walks away excited and happy because of the encounter. 

I’ve had this happen to me before. My spiritual director for my annual retreat for the last ten years is Monsignor Essef. Monsignor Essef  is in his late 90s. He’s like 96 years old. He’s about this tall; he’s got a beard, and he looks like a little Yoda.  And Monsignor Essef has the gift of reading souls. He’s also the Exorcist for the Diocese of Scranton. His spiritual director was Padre Pio. The first time he met him was through bilocation. So Padre Pio directed Monsignor Essef, and Monsignor Essef directed Mother Teresa.  Monsignor Essef also directed me. And so that means that you are all great-grandchildren of Padre Pio right now. 

So I heard about this Monsignor from some other priests and seminarians that had gone to him and that he has this gift of reading souls. And the first time that I met with him, I was actually pretty terrified. I’m not a perfect person. I have my own sin. And so I walked into his office, and there was a chair, just one chair there. And he pointed the chair, and he goes, I just got done doing an exorcism. Why don’t you go ahead and sit down there? And  I thought I don’t wanna sit in that chair. And when I sat down, he bent over. And he stared at me. For about two minutes, and didn’t say anything. And then, when he spoke, he said this to me. He said You could have never been married. And I looked at him and said, why? What’s wrong with me? And he goes, you could have never been married because your love for God is so strong that no one woman would have ever satisfied you. 

And he said your gift is piety. That’s your gift. Now when I heard that, I kind of thought kind of another gift cause piety sounds pretty boring. I don’t know. At least when I was growing up, piety sounded like, you know, you were reverent, you did the right thing. But piety really is this deep love. For God the father. And it’s a love that’s so strong that nothing in the world will satisfy it. Monsignor really taught me how to pray. And by that, I mean how to really encounter the Trinity, God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit as real personal relationships with each one of them. 

What happened to me is when I walked away from Monsignor again, I was not filled with sadness when he read my soul. I was filled with great joy and excitement. See growing up, the reason I didn’t really want the gift of piety is, growing up, I thought prayer was boring. I didn’t know how to pray. I said prayers, but I thought it was boring. I thought the mass was boring. I thought priests were boring. And even when I was thinking about priests, I didn’t wanna be a priest because I didn’t wanna have a boring life. Well, you’ll discover in the next three nights of the mission that I probably am anything but boring. Prayer is never boring. If prayer is boring for us, we’re not doing it right. It means that we’re not encountering God, the mystery of God. And if the mass is boring, we’ll probably also not encounter mass, right? Because this entire mystery of God revealing himself to us happens when he comes in his body and his blood. 

I want you to think about that. If you had the opportunity to have your soul read, and somebody could tell you everything about you, would you do it? Think about that. When I lead these different types of prayers, there are six different types of prayer that I lead They’re all based on the Mystics. So Saint Ignatius, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Benedict, all these prayers are found in our church tradition. But when I remember going into the seminary, I didn’t really know how to pray. Again, I knew how to say prayers, but I didn’t really know how to pray. So, I bought a book of prayers that I went into seminary with. And it turns out that it wasn’t really praying either it was saying prayers. Now there is saying prayers where we talk to God, and that’s vocal prayer, and that’s something that we all are called to do, to talk to God. But in the Catholic tradition, there are three levels of prayer. Vocal prayer, meditative prayer, and contemplative prayer. Vocal prayer is talking to God. 

Meditative prayer is when we use our imagination and our minds, and we can see Jesus, hear his voice, talk to God, and dialogue with him. And then contemplative prayer is actually experiencing heaven. Right here on Earth. And so, these next three nights, I’m gonna lead you through those types of prayer, moving us from vocal prayer to meditative prayer to contemplative prayer. Just to give you a quick glimpse of this, we’re not gonna do it for long, but I’m gonna lead you through a little guided meditation on this scripture. 

So, I want you to close your eyes. If you feel safe enough to do that, close your eyes. And allow yourself, if nothing else, to rest for a moment this Sunday. If you fall asleep, try not to snore. And use your imagination. So, I want you to enter into this scene like it’s a movie. So, imagine you go to the well. You’re thirsty.  And you have a bucket there in your hands. And it’s noon; it’s the middle of the day.  And that the area around this well is very dry and hot.   As you sit at the well, getting ready to get some water, Jesus walks up to you. And I want you to try to see his face. Says he’s tired, so he sits down to take a rest. Jesus looks tired and weary. And he says to you, Give me a drink. And you start to think, well, you don’t have a bucket. How can I give you a drink? And then he asks you a question. And that question is right about your sin. What’s that one sin that you’re struggling with? What’s that sin that you hope that, during the season of Lent, you could be free from? What’s that sin that is so deep that it has a strong hold over you? It may bring you shame. 

But when Jesus looks at you, you begin to hope. You begin to hope that he can and wants to free you from this sin. He knows it, by the way. And he knows you. But just as Monsignor looked at me, Jesus gazes at you for a moment. In his eyes, you see his love for you. And you know that he’s going to free you. And he tells you everything that you have done. And now you are filled with hope instead of despair. So, look at  Jesus again in the eyes and smile back at him. And if you’re not asleep, you can open your eyes back up. So that is a prayer called Ignatian meditation. So St Ignatius teaches us to go through a scripture passage and enter into like a movie like we’re there. We discover that as we enter it into a Jesus becomes, begins to be personal to us and real to us. That would be the meditative prayer. 

So again, these next three nights, I’ll teach you how to enter meditative and contemplative prayer more deeply. I promise you that if you’re struggling to hear God’s voice in your life and struggling to know what he wants from you, you will walk away from this mission hearing his voice. Having direction. And if nothing else, walk away with great joy that you have encountered Christ. And as we come forward to receive him today at the Eucharist, have that desire. Have that desire that he opens you up, gives us this gift of piety, and gives us the life-giving water that we all desire.


  • Sally Denk Hoey says:

    Fr. Denk:
    How blessed you are to know Monsignor Essef. And that his spiritual advisor was St. Padre Pio! Oh my!
    The magnificent National St. Padre Pio Center in Barto, PA. is less than an hour from our home in West Chester, PA. We visit there often. It’s on top a hill in the country in the Allentown Diocese – and hills are so symbolic of great moments in the Bible. A truly holy place. St. Pio’s peace and presence are there. If you’re ever in south -east PA. I hope you can visit the shrine.
    Lenten blessings to you, Father.
    PS- I’m a Denk too! My grandparents were both from south-west Germany. Somehow my great grandfather Ludwig Egmont Denk and 4 generations before him were all Evangelische (Lutheran) ministers.
    Not sure how that happened when southern Germany is a Catholic stronghold. But I found my way “home”.
    Married in St. Andrew the Apostle in Drexel Hill, PA.
    Member St. Agnes in West Chester, PA.
    where Archbishop Nelson Perez was our Monsignor 15 years ago!

  • Wow Sally! Glad to hear from a namesake. I’ll check out the retreat house. Send me an email with your contact information. Have a wonderful Lent!