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Words of Appreciation by Bishop Denis to Bishop Erik Varden for leading this year’s Diocesan Retreat 25-29 September 2022

On behalf of the priests and deacons gathered here in Dromantine, I thank you Bishop Erik for travelling a journey of 3,000kms to lead us in our biennial retreat. During these past days you have invited us to become whole and not fragmented. You reminded us that a retreat is a regaining of the orientation that leads to union with God.

Over these days you brought us into a deeper appreciation of the early Church Fathers, who went into the desert then to escape distractions. You gave us an appreciation of Job who was in his time tested like gold in a furnace! You reminded us how unacknowledged anger eats into our souls. You invited us to become free of distractions, including searching for the WIFI code! You helped us to see ourselves, our neighbours and our God in the wisdom of tradition. You brought us to that luscious cucumber field in the Egyptian desert!

You introduced us to the younger monk living with his bad thoughts, who was dispirited after meeting with his Spiritual Director, only to have his heart raised by the response of Abbot Apollus. Prudence, for me, seemed to be a theme that permeated these few days together.

You reminded us of the words of St. Vincent de Paul: “noise does no good and good makes no noise”. You brought us into the Norwegian Art Gallery to view the masterpiece depicting ‘Hell’ by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland.

You brought us back out into the desert where Abbot Anthony at the age of 104 had retired, only to be visited upon by a group of monks. And the words of the young silent monk, who never asked a question during the visit. The Abbot turned to him and asked him if he had any question, to which he replied: “Father, I have none, it’s enough for me to see you”.

And then the Pillar, we will never look at a pillar the same!. As with you, for us all, as the retreat went on, the more attractive that image became! All of us called to become pillars in the house of God. For me your explanation of the staff, the ring, the mitre was profound.

Throughout these days you have focused on the Cross of Christ. The Cistercians who fled the French Revolution and ended up in Tennesse had brought their 2 metre tall Cross with them, It reminds us the Cross is “an indispensable piece of luggage the Church needs now”. Visitors pause before that founders Cross and read today “Let Jesus Christ live; Let His Cross be a source of life!” We are invited to live with integrity.

In summary, Bishop Erik you have gifted us these days to be ourselves to be priests and to shepherds. And for this and much more, all of us are most grateful.