Questions To Bring Us Closer to Divine Presence with Judith Valente

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Journalist Judith Valente writes, “Letters are the remnants we leave to mark important episodes in our lives… We introduce ourselves, confide our hopes, confess our errors, offer our thanks, and say goodbye in letters.” This married woman and self-described over-achiever has been sharing correspondence with Brother Paul Quenon, a celibate and contemplative Trappist monk who resides at the Abbey of Gethsemani of Bardstown, Kentucky. She writes, “The results is a dialogue between people stuttering to articulate life’s universal questions from within highly diverse contexts and from very different perspectives. Brother Paul writes as a monk steeped in silence and the ancient prayer practices of monastic life. I write as a married professional woman striving to bring a sense of prayer and contemplation to my scattered secular life.” This conversation encompasses a wide range of what it means to be human in a post-modern era as Valente and Brother Paul bring forward life’s universal questions from very different perspectives. Judith responds to Brother Paul’s question, “Does this bring you closer to God?” saying “I think that's the question we have to ask ourselves all the time in our work. Is this bringing me closer to the Divine Presence? Or, is this bringing me closer to the sacred in daily life, or the transcendent in daily life.” (hosted by Justine Willis Toms) 


Judith Valente is a former staff writer for the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal and is a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in journalism. Valente contributes to the US Catholic magazine and National Catholic Reporter. Besides her life as a journalist, she’s a poet, retreat leader, TV & Radio Producer, and Benedictine lay Associate. 

Brother Paul Quenon, OCSO entered the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani in 1958 at the age of 17. Thomas Merton was his novice master and spiritual director. 

Judith Valente and Brother Paul Quenon, OCSO are co-authors of :

  • How to Be: A Monk and a Journalist Reflect on Living & Dying, Purpose & Prayer, Forgiveness & Friendship (Hampton Roads 2021)

Brother Paul Quenon, OCSO, is the author of several books of poetry and the memoir: 

  • Praise of the Useless Life: A Monk’s Memoir (Ave Maria Press 2018) 

To learn more about the work of Judith Valente go to

Topics explored in this dialogue include: 

  • What is the importance of letter writing
  • How the invisibility of two wisdom elders in a restaurant made for an amusing moment
  • What was Brother Paul’s advice to Judith about leaving her work in journalism
  • A most important piece of advice is “Does this bring you closer to God?”
  • How in this time of the pandemic many are reevaluating their work
  • What are Brother Paul’s surprising thoughts of heaven and resurrection
  • A profound description of the burial of Brother Hart, a monk at Gethsemani Abbey
  • How can active listening actually be a waiting, a suspension of activity
  • What are the challenges of meditation for Brother Paul and Valente
  • What was Brother Paul’s poem on discontent
  • What is their advice about prayer
  • How true friendship means we are guardians of each other’s souls in mutual goodness
  • What has Judith learned from sequestering during the pandemic
  • Why Judith asks herself the question: “Did I love enough?”
  • Judith shares her poem about aging and love, Vesper Time 

Host: Justine Willis Toms   Interview Date: 4/8/2022   Program Number: 3756 


Music Playlist

From Album: Greatest Hits Chant (various artists)
Artist: The Trappist Monks of Gethsemani

Opening Essay: Track 21 Veterem hominem Antiphons (mode 7)
Music Break 1: Track 16 Chapter (verse)- Surge illuminare Jerusalem; Reges Tharsis et insulae text and short responsory
Music Break 2: Track 12 Oremus Prayer text from Pope St. Gregory
Music Break 3: Track 17 Illuminans altissimus; Omnes de Saba venient Hymn; Versicle and response