Sunday, 12 July 2015

St. Patrick's Purgatory: Lough Derg, Ireland

St. Patrick's Purgatory: Lough Derg, Ireland

1500 years ago St. Patrick and his disciples were fasting and praying on a small island in northwest Ireland. Today, hundreds of folk are following in their footsteps. I was one of them. I went for the three day retreat of fasting and prayer on the island. 

Here is my journey of penance and our families journey of course through till Corpus Christi.

Little Flowers:

Rebecca had met with the girls every Monday this term to discuss virtues and saints. This week was 
Saint: St. Edith Stein
Flower: Purple Iris
Virtue: Wisdom

Excellence in Writing Program

One of our students here at ITI, Kristin, was a teacher in writing and taught our older campus kids a writing unit this past term. They wrote expository, fiction and a wrote a drama together which they then performed.

The kids who took the writing program are: Anna, Winter, Benedict, Johannes and Tristan

For our Grandparents: here are the stories that Winter and Tristan wrote.

Goodbye to our Mentors:

We had to say Goodbye to the good folk who worked with our children all year and supped with us every Saturday. We may never see them again so we said our well wishes and if we don't see them again, we'll hopefully see them in Heaven some day.

Here is Brother Evagrius and the boys with whom they learned to chant the Psalms in Latin.

Trinity Sunday

This was our first year trying to do something special to celebrate Trinity Sunday. My brainy idea was to have a dinner of 3's. The knudel in the middle was to represent the one substance from which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all participate. But, honestly the plate was unappealing and it looked like there was 3 Fathers, 3 Sons, and 3 Holy Spirits. Next year I'll have to think this through a bit better.

Little Flowers:

Saint: Bl. Mary of the Incarnation
Virtue: Justice
Flower: Aster

17th Year Anniversary:

Wow! 17 years partaking in the Great Adventure of marriage and family! It has been a joy being married to Rebecca these years and I couldn't ask for a better wife.

We were blessed by folk here at ITI (Melissa, Dalia, and Alex) who coordinated babysitting for our kids from 8am-11pm so we could have a full day together at a thermal bath.  We tried out Felsenbad and it was perfect for us.

Corpus Christi:

Corpus Christi found us processing through Trumau and praying at different points for the people in the town, the province and the country.

It is of course a great opportunity for the kids to participate in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and pray for others.

Graduation 2015

Graduation is always joyous and somewhat disconcerting as many of the relationships you've fostered at this international institute are brought to an end from a physical perspective. Because folks from all over the world come here there is very little chance of meeting some of them again in this life. But we celebrate and rejoice for being able to come to such an institute and learn together the mysteries of our faith.

The day begins with the blowing of the Shofar.

Holy Mass was said by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn.

Then we processed from the Parish across Trumau to the Schloss.

Here is my good friend Jaro who graduated. It'll definitely be a different year without him next year. Less of a year I think...

The graduating class of 2015:

Here is Kate with her mentor of two years: Margie. Margie has definitely left an empty spot at our table. She will be sorely missed by all of us!

Little Flowers:

Virtue: Loyalty
Saint: St. Lucy
Flower: Poppy

St. Patrick's Purgatory

How do folks spend their 40th year? Do they do something crazy for the 40th birthday? I mean really, 40 years is long time and worth celebrating. Vince and I decided to mark our 40th year by an act of penance on an island deep in the north of Ireland. 

We flew out with Ryan Air and were met by lovely lady named Mary. She picked us up and brought us to Donegal the first night. The drive from Dublin across the country and north was a long drive so we stopped for a snack at her mom's place. Here we had wonderful Irish smoked salmon and tried to explain why an American and a Canadian were coming to Ireland to penance.

What was our penance to include? On the island we were to fast for 3 days, pray all night for one night, pray all day, and give up our rights to socks and shoes for the duration.

The goal was to eat a hearty meal at about 10pm as the fasting started at midnight before you arrived on the island. However, I ended up, because of all the twisting turny roads, getting car sick and couldn't stomach a thing. So my fast began at 7pm when I had eaten last.

We didn't get much time in Donegal, but the town and area seemed quite beautiful. Here are a few photos:

Now it was that first night before we arrived that my suffering started. I was a bit anxious I suppose and didn't sleep a wink all night which meant I wouldn't be able to sleep till the night after the vigil ... I was a bit worried about my ability to handle it.

We arrived.

Here is St. Patrick welcoming us to the island.

There are two islands. Saints island has the ruins of a monastery and was used by monks dating back to around 455AD and the second island (the one below) was called Cave Island. It had a cave in the middle and was where the monks fasted and prayed. St. Patrick is said to have spent much time in the cave praying. Unfortunately, the cave caved in in the late 1700's and now a bell tower stands in place where the cave was.

So with a bit of trepidation we took the boat to the island.

We arrived and it was sunny (which is anomaly I'm told) and we relinquished our foot wear and began to pray. They had a circuit of prayers that took between 2-3 hours to do and we were expected to do the circuit 9x before the end of the three days.

The circuit began in the Basilica (below) with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

The retreat included Mass 2x/day, adoration, stations of the cross, Eucharistic benediction, renewal of our baptismal vows, and of course the sacrament of Penance. 

Why Penance? Why come and willingly suffer and put ourselves through suffering? There are many reasons that the Irish come here (the week before us 300 showed up for the retreat). I went because there are some sins that, though I may have received forgiveness, need some suffering to make them right. Like cleaning up your mess after making one. It was for these sins that people don't see - like pride for me, that I came to do penance. It was also an opportunity to intercede for my family for three days and offer up my sufferings for them.  And finally, to gain the biggest indulgence I could.

The night came and we were warned to wear to as much clothing as possible. I wish I had listened to that advice. I was unprepared for the bitter wet cold that creeps into the Irish north chills you to the bone. My hunger and tiredness were subsumed by my desire to slip my feet into warm socks and hide in warm bed. 

I began my night vigil doing circuits around the basilica and then I went to continue praying in the labyrinth. However, the wind blowing Lough Derg water on me was so called I decided to crawl behind the burm (rather than walk upright) and prayed for another 2 hours crawling on my hands and knees in the labyrinth. At 3:30am I realized my lack of sleep was beginning to take it's toll and I began to shiver uncontrollably. I had to find shelter. I joined those praying in the basilica and every time I knelt down I blacked out and started sleeping - so I had to keep moving ... keep moving ... keep moving ... 

Around 4am I snuck a photo of the sun rising bringing the hope of warmth over the horizon.

And with sun came warmth. At 6am we had Holy Mass (without falling asleep) and then continued our circuits of prayers.

Here the sun is coming up and you can see the bell tower and the remains of the beehives that were built by the monks for their times of fasting on the island. We walked our prayers in and around the remains of their beehives.

Then the clouds rolled in and brought in a blanket of fog and chill and it wasn't till 1pm that I began to peel off some my night layers. The day was difficult as well. I was going on with no sleep for two nights and very little food (you are allowed dry toast once a day on the island if you wish). I kept trying to stop and sit and read the Scriptures and meditate on them and each time I zonked out into la la land. So I kept moving ... kept walking .. kept moving and praying ...

Finally, 10pm arrived, our rooms were unlocked and we crashed like logs into our beds. Eight hours later, at 6am we heard the buzzers going in the dorm and we headed out for our final Holy Mass and our 9th circuit of prayer. And then, just like that, it was over and we were heading off the island.

Day 4: Knock, Ireland

We were picked up the generous Fr. Kieran and taken to his home in Mayo. 

A stop for tee had this view for their backyard.

On the way to Mayo, we stopped at Knock where Mary appeared in 1879. Here is a summary of the history from their website:

The Story of Knock began on the 21st August, 1879 when, at approximately 8 O’ clock in the evening, fifteen people from the village of Knock in Co. Mayo, witnessed an Apparition of Our Lady, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, a Lamb and cross on an altar at the gable wall of the Parish Church.

The witnesses watched the Apparition in the pouring rain for two hours, reciting the Rosary. Although they themselves were saturated not a single drop of rain fell on the gable or vision. There were fifteen official witnesses to the Apparition, most of whom were from the village of Knock and surrounding areas and ranged in age from just 5 years old to 74 years old. Each of the witnesses gave testimonies to a Commission of  Enquiry in October 1879. The findings of the Commission were that the testimonies were both trustworthy and satisfactory.

Here is the shrine which portrays the apparition as told by the witnesses:

I was very moved by the statue of Mary - her look held me captive.

But it was the statue of St. Joseph that moved me the most. I was reminded of vocation of fatherhood and the need to pray even more for my family.

Here is a piece of the original wall the apparition appeared on.

Here is one of the Stations of the Cross. I thought they looked fantastic!

 And of course the Golden Rose given by Popes to shrines of Mary.

 We made our way back to Fr. Kieran's homestead.

He put the cows to bed and we enjoyed a relaxing evening with Irish whiskey.

Here is turf that is dug up from the bogs and dried and it is what is used to heat the homes.

 Day 5: The Wild Atlantic Way

Fr. Kieran took us for a drive down the Wild Atlantic Way to see the coast of Ireland and the little villages therein. We stopped to visit an old monastery called Moyne from 1460.

 It was literally in a farmers back field and with no one manning it.

 The stone work was in credible and there was much still in great condition.

The cloister:

The stoup for Holy Water:

After our visit there we drove the Wild Atlantic Way to see the wild Atlantic coastline.

 Here is the place where St. Patrick was said to have sent the snakes and slammed his rod down and separated them on the piece of land from the mainland.

Here is a haunted house that Fr. Kieran wouldn't let us go on to the property of. He said no one would buy it because of its hauntedness and thus it stands with great stones and prime land and no one to enjoy it.

I was looking for a picture of Irish sheep with emerald green hills and crashing coast in the background (what my personal vision of Ireland was), but this was the closest I could come to it:

We stopped at a beautiful town called Westport. We were scheduled to hike a mountain, but we got distracted here by the vibrancy and the Irish pubs.

Here are a couple interesting quotes I found:

 The three things I loved about Ireland were the stone bridges, the unbelievable stained glass, and the colourful storefronts.

 At last we finally hit an Irish pub, had a Guiness and live music!

Day 6: Galway vs. Mayo

The focus of our last day with Fr. Kieran was to be the Irish Football match between rivals Galway and Mayo.  But first we had to get to Holy Mass so he took us through the hills to a village for Mass.

Then we took a quick stop at another monastery that, though it was partially in ruins, it still held Masses on a regular basis.

Here is an old Irish crucifix (below) and this style dates back to 700ad. The arms of the cross were cut short so it could fit up the sleeve and not be seen in a time of persecution. And why does the crucifix have a chicken and a pot on it?

There is a legend that states when Jesus was on the cross, two Roman guards sat down to cook a stew. The one soldier said to the other, this chicken has a greater chance of getting up and walking out of this pot than Jesus has of rising from the dead.  Then the chicken came alive and jumped out of the pot and ran away.

So on the crucifix you see symbolized both death and resurrection.

There were beautiful stone stations of the Cross around the property. We walked through them taking note of how the stones represented the station and the engraved quotes.

Finally, we made it into Galway and sat down to watch an opening match of Hurley (an Irish sport played with fat hockey like sticks which bat a ball through the air into a net) and the main event of Irish Football. 
After the game, all the fans of the winning team came streaming onto the field for autographs and congratulations. 

 Kenton and Becca's June Reads:

Brave New Family by GK Chesterton
Little Curiosity Shop by Dickens

The Bridal Wreath by Sigred Undset
Love and Responsibility by JPII
Fatherhood in JPII by David Delaney

For the Grandparents:

Tristan's Father's Day gift for me was a cooking hat!

Benedict loses his first tooth!

We wish all of you a blessed summer and hope you delve deeper into the great adventure of being a family.

  Love, Kenton, Rebecca, Winter, Tristan, Benedict, Kate, and Tavi

Mailing Address: Schloss Trumau Schlossgasse 21 2521 Trumau, Austria 

If you would like to financially support us - the easiest way is probably by paypal.  Our email is Or online via the ITI website: - in the space provided just write that the money is for the Biffert family. 

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