Jennifer Miller
Jennifer Miller
Freelance Writer
October 9, 2019 // Local

Aging with grace: not just for saints

Jennifer Miller
Jennifer Miller
Freelance Writer

‘God looks on you with a longing love’

Father Kenneth Grabner, CSC, doesn’t think of age when he ministers. Eighty-five years old himself, he serves as a chaplain at Holy Cross Village, Notre Dame, and ministers to those who are around the same age.

“The word of God is for everybody. The examples used are different, but the message is the same and very clear,” he said.

Likening God’s love to a gift, Father Grabner explained that when ministering to teenagers at a high school, for example, the gift would be wrapped in different paper than it is for the elderly; but inside, the present is the same.

“Age has no meaning for me. I don’t look at myself as an old man,” he said, smiling. “I feel right at home with friends who are 40 or 50.”

This sense of treating and loving people as they are on the inside, regardless of outside appearances, is one of the gifts Father Grabner shares in his ministry.

Originally from South Bend, his family worshipped at St. Joseph Parish. A monk of the Cistercian order for 17 years, in 1967, he joined the Congregation of Holy Cross.

As a monk he learned the depth of contemplation possible in the Christian life and uses that insight to serve those at Dujarie House, the Villas and Andre Place. He visits as many residents as he can daily and celebrates Mass.

Father Grabner celebrates Mass in the Holy Cross Village chapel.

Father Grabner also has authored three books on spirituality and written for over 20 years. He taught theology at Marquette University and the University of Notre Dame and entered chaplaincy after serving in hospitals, guiding administrations to live out their mission statements.

This rich life experience allows him to offer the community at Holy Cross Village the love of God in a unique way.

“There is a hunger for becoming more alive in this life. All of life is evolutionary, constant growth. We are evolving into it and dying into it, our resurrected life.”

Daily prayer, especially contemplation after spiritual reading, is very important to the priest. While his favorite saints are St. Francis of Assisi and St. Bernard of Clairvaux, he has found that “Being open to the idea of resurrection has deepened in me in the last 45 years. I (now) long for eternal life.” 

Living at Holy Cross Village, Notre Dame, affords Father Kenneth Grabner, CSC, the opportunity to help his fellow residents become “more alive in this life” through prayer, study and the sacraments. “Divine love causes joy,” the priest says. — Photos by Jennifer Miller

An appreciation for the cosmos, science and becoming more alive is all fruit from this daily prayer practice. “We are all called to a deeper, contemplative awareness of God.”

“Sometimes I welcome the diminishment of the body,” Father Grabner said. “All is not negative; much more is positive. It means I am getting closer to being able to offer everything. Every little death, to me, speaks of resurrection; it brings us closer to life.

“I can see the decline (physically), but I can walk, I can run — very short distances,” he said, laughing.

“The body has to die. All advances in life — and we have many little resurrections in our life — they are all proceeded by a dying, (including) the final dying is of the body. But it has to die so that there may be a resurrection.

“Resurrection is always better than what we die to. The evolution is always positive. Evolution is always more and something grander, if you compare it to what it was. I’m excited about that!”

When preaching to the faithful during Mass at Dujarie House, with many of the faithful worshipping in wheelchairs or walkers, Father Grabner has spoken with the certainty of knowing God’s love himself: empowering them to desire to open themselves to God. Many have suffered great losses of loved ones, homes, sense of self or life as they knew it. But by Father Grabner’s own example they are offered God’s own love and peace, as well as the ability to be themselves and to do something, even from the confines of a metal device or without the use of their legs or voice. A community of prayer and true faith is built in the simple chapel.

“God looks on you with long

ing and love,” Father Grabner preached recently. “Once you really know that, you have a different idea of who you are and who is sitting next to you.

“God is wild in love about us. Divine love has a passion and energy. One day we’ll see Him face to face … I don’t think we have to wait for that.

“Love opens us to be open to who God is,” he continued. “Divine love causes joy. God wants us to be joyful, even in the midst of our sufferings.

“Let us think of someone you love. Now imagine that times 1000 and 1000 again. This is how much God loves us.”

Read Simone Ostric’s story here.

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.