Conversation with Tony #3 — “Awakened Hearts”: A Hope

Conversation with Tony #3 — “Awakened Hearts”: A Hope

Background: Those of you who have read some of my most recent blog posts regarding conversations with my deceased parents are familiar with this literary technique. It has provided nuance in describing my antiracism journey and helped illuminate the foundational aspects of my life’s journey in “understanding racism” as well as other discoveries since publication of my memoir about a year ago.

I developed nine conversations with them, one for each chapter of the book, in ways that we may have talked with each other as if they were still alive.  The dialogue was framed in a way that provides some insight on who I think they were as people of the times they lived in, as well as the significant influences they were as my parents.

I continue this conversational approach for the third time with another person who has also had a significant impact on my life. My good friend Fr. Tony Valente, who is featured in Chapter 4 of the book, was a charismatic priest in the Diocese of Rochester for over thirty-five years until his untimely death in 1995.

A cautionary note: I will be relying on my memory of him as a friend and try not to overstep into his living role as priest, and only anecdotally based on my many observations during the last fifteen years of his life. If you have the book, you might want to refer to Chapter 4 for more background as to how he influenced my life.

I also recognize that much of this particular conversation is framed around the Catholic Church and I have attempted to both explain related terminology as well as be mindful of other faith orientations. The ideas expressed I hope will be taken in a broad, universal context well beyond those of us who are Catholic.

Me: “Well, Tony, it’s great to connect with you again.  

I thought it would be good to start out with a short poem from the famous Swiss psychiatrist, C. J. Jung, that I recently discovered:

‘Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.’

An online commentator (Sibasis Sahoo) astutely observed the following about this poem:

‘Unfortunately, it is not possible to know what Jung meant accurately; only he knew and we can only guess from our experience and understanding.

To look inside is to look at our conflicts, our fears, our anxieties, our repressed emotions, our pleasures, our attachments, our greed, our anger, our jealousies, our pride, our suffering and our loneliness and all the things that we have been holding on to or hiding from. To look means to just observe; action is automatic and choiceless if our observation is complete, sincere and without division.

We hold on to these things by projecting a dream from our memory to live an alternate reality and not the one that is in our direct experience. We project stories, fantasies, beliefs, ideals so that we do not have to see the reality of the experience in front of us.

Perhaps Jung was able to see the error we are making and was pointing us to face the reality and not hide from it. Maybe beyond the projection lies reality, and just maybe beyond the perceived reality lies something fantastic that cannot be perceived by thought, cannot be known and the way to it is through the things we have been holding onto or have been hiding from. Maybe we need to find out for ourselves, that may be the only way.

The power of these few words such as ‘look inside’ and ‘look at your heart’ cannot be comprehended until you actually go into them yourself.‘

The reason I am starting our conversation with this poem and associated reflection is because I believe my ongoing antiracism work this year (some of which we have previously discussed in our first two conversations), and beyond, will be focusing on the beauty and power of an awakened heart. So, I am very interested in your thoughts on this.”

Tony: “I appreciate you asking me to contribute to this important subject. You know me well enough to realize that I tried to authentically speak and act from the heart. But to add a reflective question to what the commentator said above, what does this really mean? I found (in my own way!) another online response to this as follows:

‘When we look inside our heart, our true self awakens. Until then, our true self is hidden, and we follow with our groups. Our family, our friends, our community and our nation end up being our compass. When we live without looking within our heart, we exist as if we are in a dream, someone else’s dream. To awaken, we must look inside our heart.

When we look inside, into our own heart, our vision can begin to become clear. When we look inside our heart, we discover what we are, who we are, and what we truly believe. This process of examination, of self-exploration, is the foundation of our true self.’ (see:

So, Bill, how do you actually envision applying this movement towards ‘awakened hearts’ in your ongoing antiracism work?”

Me: “I have been more than amply rewarded over the course of the past year since my memoir was published in that many people have read and commented about the book graciously and positively. Hundreds of others have been very attentive, respectful, and participative in the dozens of presentations I have made about it. And then there are those who I do not hear from at all. I take comfort that many of them are there in spirit as well … at least that’s my hope.

The book and my post publication ‘work’ taken together has been a very gratifying experience overall. But moving forward I believe I have to dig deeper within my own heart in order to better enable and encourage people to take this challenging inward journey as well.

Fortunately, I have some experiential guidance in the form of my two Camino experiences in Spain that are foundational even today despite the fact that it’s been years since I walked those challenging paths. And I must say that the harder and more complex challenge on the Camino, and in our respective life journeys, is in finding the inner strength to carry on moment to moment and less so regarding any pursuit of physical mastery or endurance.

So, to use a scripturally premised question, ‘where does the power come from’ to do this antiracism work? God is the ultimate source of power that propels me on through the mysterious integration of tradition (religion) and scripture with experience, as best exemplified in the Richard Rohr suggested model of the tricycle incorporating these three elements into an interesting metaphor (see

I am blessed that I kept a journal of my Camino walks that I still refer to this day. Over the years I have had many people ask me how the Camino changed or transformed me and initially I recall struggling for a proper response. Then I began to realize, at least for me, that change is ever-evolving and ongoing versus being thunderstruck at any specific moment or period in one’s life.

And in terms of my antiracism journey as described in my memoir, that transformation is relatively recent given the overall trajectory and path of my life. Both the Camino and my antiracism journey have provided abundant ‘aha’ moments to fortify my staying in the moment and on the path.

I believe the same goes for each of us regarding change, and any conversion or awakening of one’s heart has to form within an authentic willingness and consciousness. It cannot be dictated or regulated through mere laws, commandments, and politics. Each of these are external or outside forces whose messages and associated actions mean nothing unless there’s a real, internalized ‘fire in the belly’ and a passion to both change and act with true intention and authenticity.

And when this evolving inward power is combined with reconciliation and relationship, you have the foundation for a movement in the pursuit of the common good.”

Tony: “I can tell that you have given this a lot of thought and I appreciate the depth of your response. If people really take the time to let these last few words of yours sink in and read the Rohr link provided as well, they are well on the way to an informed if not awakened heart … and you obviously will have to be sustained by faith since you will never know the full dimensions of that … and don’t need to.

 I’ll be praying for you that the spirit of awakened hearts and whatever the results of their actions come to be are more than a thousandfold than what you do actually see or hear about.

So, what specifically is on your plate now as 2023 is already well underway?”

Me: “Thanks, Tony … and trust me, I fully realize how challenging it is to attain and sustain an awakened heart, so I do not anticipate … or even desire … to know how or if that even occurs with others. My goal is simply just to seek some modest recognition or movement towards ‘first base’ which I do see happening in many ways and remain hopeful for more.

For example, there is a local Webster parish (St. Rita’s) where scores of parishioners have been actively engaged in raising antiracism awareness through education, action, advocacy, and religious celebrations. Hopefully St. Rita’s example will be broadened throughout the Diocese but there are abundant and enduring systemic and historical impediments to suggest that this will be very challenging.

I start out with this juxtaposition of a significant movement (such as at St. Rita’s) in the face of much active and passive, Church  leadership resistance to properly inform and challenge the general laity (i.e., those in the pews and untold others who are not) in responding to your question about my ongoing work. Unfortunately, the same holds true for non-Catholic denominations as well; but my focus will primarily be on those who consider themselves Catholic. As one myself, I see a huge ‘awakening’ requirement as well as the connection with the potential power it has once there is both an individual and collective realization of the role of the laity and its responsibilities.

My awareness about this conundrum has presented itself first-hand during my work of the past year in the following ways (and this is the short list!):

  • My former local Pastor’s refusal, through avoidance and silence, to meet with me to discuss my book despite the encouragement of the Bishop to do so
  • This was preceded by his refusal, again through avoidance and silence, to meet with the parish’s Social Justice Committee regarding a program they wanted to do about my book
  • It is my understanding that this pattern of behavior has continued on matters of racial and social justice at the parish
  • To add to this, my memoir about my personal journey towards antiracism speaks directly to the type of action that the 2018 United Conference of Bishops letter on racism demanded on the part of Catholics. So, the local pastoral silence is somewhat telling, not unique, and speaks volumes.

Said another way, I speak from personal experience on the local Church’s general reluctance to properly inform its members about the enduring scourge of racism in our Church and society at large. There is no other local, suburban, white parish that I am aware of having the courage to do what St. Rita’s is doing at least in terms of scope. The literal handful of urban, minority-based parishes are left more or less as ornaments of diversity for the Diocese to tout. Interestingly enough one of these is the Cathedral parish where the Bishop resides.

My 2023 work and beyond will have as one its key elements further exposing this travesty. How? One of the ways will be exposing the Church’s own Canon Laws regarding the role of the laity.

For example, the Church’s Canon 212-3, CCC 907 states ‘According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which (the laity) possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful…”. See:

There are similar Canon Laws, Papal encyclicals, Bishops’ Letters, etc. to draw upon as well. Essentially, there is a Church mandate for a strong, diverse, and courageous laity as not just necessary but foundational to a thriving Church. Just ask St. Francis of Assisi!”

Tony: “This strategy has much potential since you are framing it around the Church’s own words, laws, and expectations. Unfortunately, as you are aware, there are many distractions and other challenging priorities in the Church, society, and within everyone’s lives.

And as talked about in our last conversation, the impact of the local as well as national priest, deacon, and other religious shortage is not just looming on the horizon but advancing rapidly similar to the icebergs melting in your world. The laity is going to have to fill the breach beginning ‘yesterday’!

But this hasn’t and won’t be easy. The world is becoming more and more ‘sound bite’ oriented and the loudest and perhaps the most bizarre personas are what many people, including the laity, are attracted to and either come to believe or get distracted by. How do you overcome that and the associated, incessant social media onslaught?

I’ll take an initial stab at answering my own question.

Probably as no surprise given my background while I was on earth, I believe intentional prayer is the place to start where the Spirit can provide inner guidance followed by reading a scripture such as Galatians 5:22–23. Then the prayerful must listen for a deeper voice beyond our own (see This is the essence of contemplation and anyone can do it since they most likely have already to one degree or another.”

Me: “To add to that, I had what I recall several related ‘aha’ moments recently that were all connected in a somewhat mysterious way over a period of a couple of weeks. Similar to Camino markers along the path, these individual situations were easy to miss in their connectedness. Let me explain.

I made some public comments at the January Town Board meeting here in Perinton about ongoing code violations and other related issues at a low-income housing development within the Town. Immediately after the meeting as I was leaving, FOUR people approached me somewhat independently of each other to thank me for my work and what I had just said.

One of them was a high-ranking official for the Town who I know and was a previous colleague of mine. The other three also made public comments that were much more passionate than mine due to their personal lived or known experience at the development. But what they said about my meeting comments took me to my knees: they each used the word ‘amazing’ to describe what I did. I was deeply moved, humbled, and didn’t know what to say.

A week later I was at a St. Bonaventure University prayer service at the home of two alumni which Fr. Dan Riley, the founder of the affiliated mountain retreat center at nearby Mt Irenaeus, presided at. As part of the program, the scripture from Matthew 5:13-16 was read which concludes with the following passage: ‘… your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly father.’

This was followed by a discussion where personal experiences are shared and I referenced what had just happened to me at the Town meeting. Included in my sharing was more or less how ‘amazed’ I was by their use of the term ‘amazing’ which I had minimalized in a bit of a self-deprecating manner when they were talking with me. Fr. Dan then went on to say that the ‘light’ I was sharing about this personal experience ‘must shine before others’ within a humble spirit and, as the scripture suggests, not be hidden.”

Tony: “So how do you plan to ‘pay this forward’ so to speak? In asking this question the way I am suggests that my earthly knowledge of you indicates that you do have some thoughts, if not specific plans, to use this ever-evolving wisdom you are experiencing to benefit others. Is this more of a ‘truth or dare’?!

Me: “That’s pretty clever of you in using these relatively common exhortations! The quick answer is probably a combination of both since I do have some action steps either in motion or being contemplated, and as with most aspects of antiracism there is always an element of risk.

In my Chapter 7 ‘Conversation with my Parents’ blog post last Fall, I mentioned that I was about to begin a ‘quest’ of renewal energized through reflection and contemplation about my life since the book was published in late ‘21. Similar to my experience on the Camino years ago, once I entered this path the original roadmap began to take some unforeseen twists and turns. Therefore, and probably of no surprise to those who know me, I could not just sit back or not respond to new circumstances as they came my way.

As Richard Rohr recently said in a recent meditation: ‘The quest is not an escape, but a rooting into reality: a celebration of the everyday, the physical, the sensual, and the experiential.’  He goes on to say:

‘Because of God’s vision quest, our quests can take on a deeper dimension. We can follow the story of the incarnate seeker to focus our own search into an interior geography of faith that can bring us closer to our goal, intimacy with God. No matter where we are, we can step into the space once occupied by Jesus and find a real presence there to speak to us. God’s quest can transform us, not by lifting us out of ourselves but by grounding us into the joy and struggle of being human.’

That said and to quickly summarize, I am developing an updated presentation antiracism program together with another local author and friend. We already have two upcoming presentations scheduled and I am continuing to do solo programs as well. I also plan to continue my work in advocating for our local government officials to not ignore the plight of our neighbors in the low-income housing development in Perinton.

Thirdly, I will be continuing to help shine a light for the Church faithful, primarily with the Laity, most of whom do not know the power they have to effect change. Lastly, I will be praying about whether or not I should do a second book. I won’t get into that now, but please keep me in your prayers on that as well as the other ongoing aspects of my work I mentioned.”

Tony: “I definitely will as well as praying for the families of two of your local religious ‘giants’ that recently joined me. Both Rev. Franklin Florence and Bishop Matthew Clark provided significant, faith-filled leadership for decades and I knew them both, especially Bishop Clark who I served under and who presided at my funeral Mass. Their legacies will endure forever especially in matters of social justice.”  

Me: “Thanks, Tony … I truly appreciate you contributing to these conversations and the memories of your legacy will always stay with me. In the words of both St. Augustine and St. Francis, your ‘listening with the ear of your heart’ continues to manifest itself to me, and my hope and wish is that I can encourage others to do the same with their own awakened hearts in thought, word, and deed. Goodbye for now!”

In closing, a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926) translated from German. If you wish, read it aloud or sign it slowly, meditatively.

All That Has Never Yet Been Spoken

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken

I want to free what waits within me

so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear

without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,

but this is what I need to say.

May what I do flow from me like a river,

no forcing and no holding back,

the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,

these deepening tides moving out, returning,

I will sing to you as no one ever has,

streaming through widening channels

into the open sea.

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  • Sandy Wynne

    Knowing “Tony” as I did, Bill, I could “hear Tony speaking” as you gave him the words. And I know that he would be proud of the work you are doing!

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