Five Minutes With... Father Joe Moons

June 17, 2014

HOUSTON — Located in the Memorial section of Houston, the Holy Name Passionist Retreat Center hosts and facilitates numerous spiritual and ministerial programs. The center is well-known in the community for its strong commitment to 12-step programs for addiction recovery.

Father Joe Moons, C.P., has been the retreat director at Holy Name for the last 12 years, ministering to countless individuals and groups during his tenure. Later this month, the Passionist priest will celebrate a farewell Mass with the retreat center community and begin a sabbatical starting July 1. Father Joe Barbrieri, C.P., will be the new director.

Looking back on his years at the retreat center, Father Moons expresses a deep fondness for Holy Name — for the programs, the people serving there and the people he served.

“I enjoy sharing what God seeks to do in our lives — finding the experience, that freedom to love,” he said. “With the 12-step programs, many of the participants come in with a atheistic relationship with God — because the only God they know condemns them. Through the program and the fellowship, they learn the safety to be themselves and to let go of the brokenness, the shame and the guilt they may be experiencing.”
Father Moon is modest when describing his role in the healing process.

“All you do is listen, all you do is listen,” Father Moons said. “It is the greatest gift, it is the Sacrament. As a Passionist priest, other than the Eucharist, the greatest Sacrament I experience is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is about letting people know they are loved by God by experiencing their own goodness and trusting themselves.”

Father Moons was born in 1949 in the Netherlands, the 11th of 13 children. With roots in dairy farming, his family immigrated to the United States in 1956 and settled in the Los Angeles, Calif., area.

Father Moons has been a member of the Passionist community and a priest for 37 years. Before coming to Houston, he had served six years as vocations director in Chicago, Ill. He then was pastor of a predominantly African American parish, grade school and high school in Birmingham, Ala., for nine years. He went on to become the superior and formation director of the Passionist Community in India — also for nine years.
In his visit with the Herald, Father Moons reflected on his time at Holy Name, the ministry of the Passionist priests and the power in being present for someone in need.

TCH: When and how did you receive the calling to the priesthood? What drew you to the Passionists?
Father Moons: As a young child in fifth grade, there was a quote from Psalm 116 (that resonated with me): “What can I offer the Lord for all He has done for me?” I always had a sense of gratitude to God for the blessings in my life, and I wanted to help others to sense that in their life. I wanted to help others sense the goodness of God. We went to a Passionist parish growing up and the seminary was nearby. In fact, as a 5-year-old, I was in a play with the seminarians. 
In Holland, my uncle by marriage had four brothers who were Passionists, of whom three served in Borneo, Indonesia as missionaries for many years. They were also over to our house a lot. Five of my brothers went to the Passionist seminary as well; however, with the help of God, I was the only one to be blessed to become a Passionist. 
Ultimately, my vocation was inspired by the Passionists I lived with in my time in the seminary. I started seminary in high school. We had great Passionists — they were dedicated men. You tried to mirror their life, they brought the best out of you. And they were fun, they played basketball with us. They inspired me. And their inspiration sustained me, because you join the Passionists for the mission and ministry, to work with the people who are suffering. 

TCH: Holy Name Passionist Retreat Center hosts a wide variety of programming along with spiritual advising. Is there any specific program or ministry at the center that has been most notable in your experience? 
Father Moons:
 I truly love the retreatants on the weekend retreats, both the Catholic retreats and the 12-step recovery retreats. One of the most blessed experiences for me is being there to listen and celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. For the 12-step retreatants, it would be to listen to their fifth step, which is in our Catholic tradition like a confession of your whole life. What strikes me in both of those situations is how much people love those they are close to, and the desire to change (their lives) and make it right. I just sense their goodness and desire to love again.

TCH: What do you hope all retreat participants take from their experience at Holy Name?
Father Moons: 
Above all, that they are loved — loved by God and by their fellow retreatants, recognizing that they are good men and good women. And in that (recognition, I hope they are) able to let go of their sinfulness and brokenness, and be able to love themselves and others all the more. Part of allowing that love to flourish is to forgive oneself — to let go and let God — (and have) the freedom to care and enjoy those things around us.

TCH: You mentioned that Holy Name is a place where you have felt God bless you... In what ways do you feel blessed from your time at the retreat center?
Father Moons:
 It is amazing to me to see how people discover healing and wholeness by placing themselves in the presence of God’s forgiving and affirming love. They change. For the eyes of faith and trust allow them to see others and themselves in a new and freeing way. Life is different when you have hope.

TCH: When you have time, what do you do for fun and recreation?
Father Moons:
 I enjoy going out to dinner with a friend or visiting them — I find there the opportunity to meet people where they are. It is refreshing and relaxing. I enjoy movies, especially historical fiction or plain historical, as well as futuristic space movies. I enjoy travel and seeing new places and people and cultures. I enjoy a long walk, especially with someone else.

TCH: Is there any one aspect of the priesthood or your time as a priest that you have found particularly fulfilling?
Father Moons:
 As a Passionist, it has allowed me some varied ministerial experiences, each have been a blessing. What has touched me most about my vocation is how God uses me in ways I am most amazed. Listening is a real grace, and as a Passionist priest, much of our life is listening. This opens me up to what it is to be the heart of God in the lives of those we take time to listen to. It is both rich and humbling for me to listen. I am touched by the goodness of the other person, which I believe is the image of God within.

TCH: What words of advice do you have for those discerning the priesthood or religious life?
Father Moons:
 A vocation as a priest, a sister or a brother, is a life rich in all that is human and what is treasured by God. It is about people and it is about Jesus’ love for us. It is a life of grace.