Barnabas’s Field of Dreams

Ray, people will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past…They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it. For it is money they have and peace they lack.”

I lived quietly on a Cistercian (Trappist) monastery for two years. In that time I found that people come to Holy Cross Abbey on silent retreats for peace, prayer, silence and respite from the world. It was my job to help the 21 monks, living there accommodate the guests, retreatants, pilgrims and travelers to do this. I looked after the retreatants, washed dishes, served dinner, read to them at meals and tried to give them what they came for: silence. Silence never came easy to me, but Philadelphia-born Brother Barnabas was often at the right place at the right time to help me learn the benefits of silence.
I had many an occasion to walk up from the retreat house to the monastery for one thing or the other. No one observed silence, especially the “Great Silence,” more than Brother Barnabas. Believe me, he let me know with vigor, when it was in force. But when we were able to breach a bit, I found he also had a lovely gentle side. You could just tell he had been down the road a time or two. I later learned that he chose the name “Barnabas” to honor St. Barnabas, who came in late in the game (so to speak). Barnabas was 55 years old when he joined the monks. He had a full life and realized he had a calling. He was being called. So a tough guy from Philly ends up in the fields of Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia. Baking fruitcake, no less.

The Fields of Holy Cross Abbey

“Man, I did love this game. I’d have played for food money. It was the game… The sounds, the smells. Did you ever hold a ball or a glove to your face?
I used to love travelling on the trains from town to town. The hotels… brass spittoons in the lobbies, brass beds in the rooms. It was the crowd rising to their feet when the ball was hit deep. Shoot, I’d play for nothing!” ~Shoeless Joe
 I had heard from another monk (Father Mark) that Br. Barnabas played baseball back in the day, and was what they called, a “barnstormer.” I  loved baseball as a kid, and this fascinated me to the point that I had to chase him down and ask him about it all! Of course, he wouldn’t talk about it in the monastery, but to my surprise, he left a book for me in my mailbox at the monastery with a note. Now, when I have gotten books from the other brothers, they tended to be spiritual in nature. I loved reading whatever was sent my way. It gave me an insight into them. But baseball?
Br. Barnabas left for me “The Glory of Their Times – The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men who Played It.” Given Brother Barnabas’s sometimes cranky ways, or as as Fr. James put it,  “his adjusting to a variety of personalities and opinions very different from his own, in addition to the discipline of obedience and conformity to the common life” – I was surprised to receive this book. But I was curious why he wanted me to read this book, of all the books, he could have suggested. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks after I finished the “Glory of Their Times,” that I realized what might have been his motivation.

Brother Barnabas and his Fruitcake

It seems to me that Br. Barnabas was laying down a path for me, through the words of the men quoted in this book. They were a bunch of “barnstormers” just like Barnabas. I think he wanted me to have a chance to learn about the values of a different time, and how perhaps they would become relevant to me now. Baseball was the medium in which he communicated with me when he wasn’t “enforcing silence.”
Shoeless Joe Jackson: Hey, is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella: No, it’s Iowa.
Missing my own father, I once had a “Field of Dreams” moment with Br. Barnabas at the retreat house (he loved to come down for a cookie when he wasn’t walking the fields or baking fruitcake). We were talking about his baseball barnstorming days. I suddenly, straight out of “Field of Dreams,”  blurted out, “would you like to have a catch one day? I have 2 gloves and a ball.” For a few seconds, I saw his eyes light up with  possibility. And then the trance suddenly broke, and he slowly turned his eyes back toward me. He said, as if he were a father not wishing to disappoint a son, “That is not something I would do as a monk. But thank you.”
He stayed true to what he had become for himself. And gave me a little coaching.

“This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh…people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”


The Glory of their Times

In memory of the “Keepers of the Field” – Brother Barnabas, Brother Joe of Sligo, Abbot Robert, Abba Mark, Brother Michael, Fr. Paschal, Brother Stephen, Fr. Andrew, Br. Gerald, Br. Edmund, Brother James, Brother Benedict, Fr. Malachy, Fr. Edward,  Brother Edward, and all the monks before them and after.

“People will come”



My thanks to Father James

8 thoughts on “Barnabas’s Field of Dreams

  1. Thank you so very much for sharing, Michael. You have been blessed in your many experiences. Sharing them is an amazing gift!


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