Thursday, September 15, 2005

Jesus, Christians, intimacy, and you - 3.

In the previous two posts, we appreciated the privilege it is for priests to go away for 5 days or longer at times for a retreat, when lay people - especially those with family responsibilities - generally can't do that. However, we did explore what it is possible for women and men to do, either with the help of trusted relatives to watch over the children or by going separately, to procure for themselves some days or even hours of retreat experience. Retreat means withdrawing for a time from the hubub of routine activity and constant flow of demands from those for whom we are responsible.

A key theme of our retreat and of life for every human being for that matter is that of intimacy. Though we may have been hindered from naturally developing an ability to open ourselves up to others in intimate and trusting relationships; it is possible even now to take steps towards authentic human intimacy. Simply defined, intimacy is what we experience when I let you see into me. Naturally, we can be afraid of doing that because of what may happen if we do. If you really see me as I am, you may not like me any more and may just walk away. I also run the risk that you will use what you find out about me and use it to other ends that will damage me or my reputation.

We also examined how it is that for many today, especially younger generations but not exclusively the young, the Hollywood "romantic" culture rapidly going around the world is taken for cash: intimacy equals sex. In fact, the truth couldn't be more different. It is a misconception which identifies sexual, genital activity as the most intimate human experience there is. At this point in my previous post, I took off from the reflection shared with us by our retreat preacher and began to ponder the whole area of sexual activity and its relationship to human intimacy. It is true that physical human contact does convey feelings of an intimate nature, and sexual expression evokes and involves among the most intense human emotions, but sexual activity by itself is not human intimacy.

For example, it's possible for those involved in the sex trade - both women and men - to so completely deny or shut down their personal feelings that they can engage in sexual activity as a commercial transaction, apparently remaining cool and collected, only pretending to experience feelings to satisfy the other person. The truth is that even this is an illusion, because we cannot shut down our feelings. What really happens is that these persons suffer damage to the capacity for genuine intimacy God has given them. It is not without hope, however, since Jesus came as a doctor for the sick, to forgive sinners and heal the lame and wounded.

Those engaged in the sex trade may even, for a time or an occasion, activate to some extent their capacity for compassion, and may even feel pity for those to whom they grant favors in exchange for money, feeling sorry for their pitiful existence and loneliness. The truth, however, is that such activity abuses the capacity given to us by God to give and receive human tenderness, and hardens the heart, as it were.

Moreover, it employs sexual power in ways that are manipulative, a mockery of human love, and ultimately destructive of the characters, emotions, minds, and souls of the persons engaging in them. Using our sexual powers, either for personal gain or in an attempt to strengthen a romantic relationship, but with no unconditional commitment of marriage, is a mockery simply because sexual imtimacy communicates something absolute, total, or permanent. Each use of our sexual powers in a transitory or occasional way, for one night or for limited duration, contradicts the significance contained within our sexuality itself.

If the entire life is not given as a gift in marriage, then any enjoyment of sexual favors is a violation of each person's integrity, or a commercial transaction, or a trivialization of something deep and holy, a betrayal of the permanence of genuine intimacy, or the predatory theft of affections already given to another in the case of a married party. Even misused, our sexuality feels good and may even seem right, until the contradictions and partial truths begin to sink in, and the cracks become visible, resulting in the painful tearing apart of what was not intended or meant to be permanent.

People who engage in sexual activity as a kind of sport in which they test and push to the limit their ability to conquer the hearts, at least temporarily, of those who are unwary and hungry for tenderness, or simply to accumulate "trophies" are the most to be pitied. They leave behind them a trail of wounded or broken hearts, turning their own heart into the coldest and hardest stone. Ultimately, they are destroying their own capacity to become truly human beings and authentic human persons. Their victims probably have more of a chance to become good, kind, compassionate, and truly loving people than those who violated them.

Then, there are those who simply enjoy the emotions involved with sexual arousal and activity. It's more like a hobby or drug for them. The people with whom they get involved don't really matter to them. Others don't really exist for them as people, but more as objects that they find attractive, try to obtain, perhaps collect, enjoy for a time, until they tire of them or find others that seem more exciting. Today's heartthrob gets dumped on tomorrow's trash heap. This is rather crude language, but it seems to be the only way of honestly depicting this kind of sexual predator, for this is exactly what this kind of personality is, a hyena on the prowl looking for a meal, a snack, to devour and feed a growing sexual appetite.

Perhaps a very large portion of people are more honest and sincere than any of these. They genuinely desire to find friendship that may lead to or include after a while an openness to sexual activity. Sincerity is good, but even sincere misuse of sexuality will result in either damage or delayed development of our God given capacity for tenderness and love. There has traditionally been more variation between men and women in their readiness to engage in sexual activity without a marriage commitment.

Women eager to take for themselves the liberties taken by men become, like them, more inclined to act out of physical urges of attraction and make advances of a sexual nature. Male sexual sensitivities are physically external, tending to activate more rapidly, which is why males without discipline are dangerous predators; so in many societies, women are raised to resist all advances until after a marriage commitment is secured. The good of society suffers is women surrender their sexual virtue and become as undisciplined as men. Men serve society better by acquiring the discipline of virtuous women, who know how to conserve their favors for their eventual spouse.

Both women and men need to develop character and discipline in order to rein in their feelings of arousal, learn how and accept to delay or deny physical satisfaction, and make room for human relating at a deeper level of complete respect and friendship. It is generally accepted that in comparison with men women are far more interested in relationships and friendship. Perhaps it is because their sexual sensitivities are more internal and diverse - linking up physical, emotional, psychological, and even spiritual realms - and also because of their closer bond to the maternal world within which life is transmitted and nurtured.

Both men and women have attributes desirable to the other, but as males are at first more subject to their physical impulses and tend to act in a way that's more directly focused on sexual gratification, women are in a position to take advantage of this situation by taking more time to explore their feelings and motivation. They are more focused on their relationships, including that with God, which tends to delay at least a little the onset of full blown sexual attraction. When women keep a cooler head for a while, they can take more time to decide their course of action: to allow themselves to be attracted, to manipulate the man to try to get what they want, or to disengage. Men can also manage a cooler head by going into their faith relationship with God, opening up to and getting support from family and friends, and working off their emotions through vigorous physical movement, exercise or sport.

Eventually, though, both women and men do decide to engage in sexual activity, as we can observe in the culture and society around us. Many deplore the fact that young people engage in sexual activity at a younger and younger age. This is sad, because until a human being is fully mature - in body, mind, heart, psyche, and soul - it is very difficult not to be overwhelmed by the sheer raw power of our sexual faculties. In other words, it's almost impossible for young people not to become addicted to the whole range of sensations in the body, emotions in the psyche, images in the mind, fantasies in the imagination, and movements in the soul that all relate to activating our sexual powers. The tragedy here is that once our personality is overrun by all this high intensity experiencing of sexual power and effects, it is difficult to pay attention to the far more subtle but deeper affairs of the heart and soul, such as friendship, fidelity, loyalty, commitment, trust, love, and, yes, intimacy.

That is why God's plan for human beings is so beautiful, meaningful, and effective. Men and women have been created by God to be complementary. This means that we each have attributes that are either unique, stronger or weaker in one than in the other, or else oriented differently. The differences are intended by God to challenge the other, requiring the exercise of freedom and will to endure the challenge and make the effort of continue in the exchange, in the dialogue, in the cooperation, and in collaborative ventures together.

Our differences are also designed to fit into one another in a complementary manner; so that together, women and men can make quite formidable human beings. The products of our relating, working, playing, caring, and living together in civil society draw out of men and women an ongoing commitment to care for, build, create, nurture, and multiply life and activity. The more men and women relate to one another in normal, honest, and gentle ways, the greater discipline they can exercise over their sexual faculties and feelings, because they are learning to consider one another as persons rather than treat one another as sex objects.

In marriage, the mutuality required for a single man and a single woman to commit to each other their entire selves and lives is astounding to the point of seeming quite impossible, were it not for the love that binds them together. Their individuality pulls them constantly in opposite directions; while their love ever pulls them toward each other. Their gender differences constantly push the other beyond their comfort zone into the realm of growth, purification, pain, and greater vitality; while their willingness to ever renew their interest in and care for the other draws the other into the warmth, healing, and safety of unconditional acceptance, kindness, and love.

However, because of the raw and incredibly volatile power of their sexual faculties, it is still possible for a husband and wife to prop each other up in an addiction to sexual pleasure that is simply a comfortable mutual arrangement, a kind of contract or commercial transaction. In either case, whether they are mutually considerate and practice a great deal of selflessess, or whether they are entirely self-absorbed and supporting each other's sexual addictions, or somewhere in between; God's plan goes further into the realm of generativity.

As married couples conceive and then bear children, the utter dependence of each and every child for many years and the ongoing dependence of children until the emergence of adolescence and young adulthood, draws them into a process that is guaranteed to push them beyond comfort, control, mutual arrangements, far into the realm of selflessness. Couples unable to bear children often adopt and experience the same benefit of being drawn out of themselves into a life of selflessness and loving care. Those unable to adopt find other ways to spend their energy in caring ways for those in need of love, care, and compassion.

People who marry without having attained an essential minimum of human character and maturity - though in their 20's, 30's, or older - in effect are really children having children; it is among such parents that occasionally some shake, strangle, or otherwise abuse their infants to death at the extreme, or simply neglect them or treat them as personal possessions, trophies, or accomplishments. It is very difficult, but by the grace of God not impossible, for children to become fully functioning, compassionate, honest, and gentle human beings if their parents are entirely absorbed by their own desires, impulses, and self-serving considerations.

The better human beings parents are, the more advanced the starting point they provide to their children. However, even so, the kind of rearing parents give or fail to give to their children has great influence on how their children will develop or fail to develop into good human beings. Children need to learn boundaries, the difference between good and evil, responsibility, that there is a hierarchy of good things, respect for living things, and a whole host of values, character traits, and a variety of disciplines necessary for living a good, just, honest, kind, loving, and meaningful human life.

So many parents over the years in sharing with me have said they deplore the lack of a proper school for parenting beyond what we can learn from our elders, families of origin, the families of friends with a better developed family culture, reading, and so on. It would be great if someone created a school for parenting with theoretical learning as well as practicums and internships! The family is the fundamental school of humanity, and it would be a necessary and wonderful thing to shore it up, so that it also becomes an effective school of holiness as well as wholeness.

Without maturity of character and personality, it becomes difficult to see that there is any difference between sexual satisfaction - which is ephemeral - and mutual care, which is deeper and generally more lasting. To put this in the simplest terms we can, I cannot know whether you truly love me as long as by being with me you are getting something, some pleasure or satisfaction, back. However, if I am sick, stink and can't do anything for you, am in bed and need your care for a long time, I get angry with you and treat you badly, and you keep coming back to care for me, and keep putting up with my terrible moods and treatment of you; then it begins to look like you really do care for me just because of who I am, and not because of any goodies you may be getting from me. Incidentally, this is also true for how we relate to and treat God: as three real though divine Persons that we try to appreciate, understand, and love, or as the provider of all the goodies of which God is capable.

God in the Bible says that the human heart is tortuous beyong reckoning; who can understand it? For this reason, it is so difficult to know the authenticity of the other person's friendship and love for me, or the authenticity of my friendship and love for another. In fact, we can only know the true nature of our own character or that of any other human being once they have breathed their last breath and are dead. Only then is their life complete. Only then can we judge the whole life as a single, complete reality.

In the meantime, we need to test and judge one another, and even ourselves, and never take for granted that our current state of emotions is pure and genuine. We are created by God to appreciate and delight in all the good things He has created, but our human nature is fallen and we are inclined to self-indulgence; so we must freely choose to embark on a journey of testing and purification of our thoughts, emotions, words, motives, decisions, behaviours, and actions.

Friends become friends because they accept to put up with each other along the way, and to help each other engage more fully in this personal purification and growth. This is why God is truly our ultimate friend, as Jesus revealed Himself to be for his disciples and for us. Now, at this point, I can return to reflections coming from our retreat preacher and some of the echoes within me as I ponder his words.

to be continued....

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Jesus, Christians, intimacy, and you - 2.

Last post we began to reflect on intimacy and what hinders or helps it, and that God wants us to enter into a deeply intimate, meaningful, joyful, and fulfilling life. We may still be carrying heavy baggage given us by others that cause us to be afraid of letting anyone see who we really are or see into what we are like on the inside, what we are thinking, feeling, desiring or what we find meaningful, beautiful, interesting. If when I was young a parent said "You have no will!" or a teacher said "You'll never amount to any good!" or a friend said "You're really dumb!" or the herd treated me like I had fleas, and I believed these untruths and actually became these labels; then it's as if I myself closed the door on any possibility of life, success, accomplishment, joy, love, or happiness.

It may be out of weakness, misery, sinfulness, or even wickedness that people say such terrible things to children or youth or young adults or young parents or anyone. The only way we can turn the page, get unstuck from the past, and move on into the present and into our future is by acknowledging the malice and destructiveness of the evil words or actions done to us, understand the shadows from which they came, forgive the poor, miserable souls for being in such darkness as to say or do such things to us, ask God's help to be glad to be alive right now, and take a step into our own future. God sent his Son into the world in Jesus to reveal our own goodness to ourselves; that we might take responsibility to live our life as the gift it is.

It is a very satisfying, womanly, or manly thing to do this for ourselves, and out of simple gratitude for God's gift of life to us from our conception until this very moment now accept to be delighted by our very heartbeat, breath, sight, hearing, touch, thought, and movement of soul. What a wonder my life is, what an intricate complex organism, operating with such harmony and order! What a gift I am from God to me and to the world. Why surrender all the responsibility for our present condition to others who won't perhaps care enough to change or apologize for what they did to us? Why leave our present potential and future happiness in the hands of those incompetent to build us up, when there are others who already love us or will when we meet them, and when we can be the first ones after God to love the gift of life we are being given?

So this is good news: to realize that we are created in the image and likeness of God our Father, that He intends us to take an active part in creating the person we are even at this very moment becoming, just through the decisions we allow ourselves to make. Jesus was the Son of God come to the Earth in a human life like ours, not only to reveal to us the Father's love but also to show us what that divine life can look like in a human form. In other words, we can be just like Jesus, not through our own efforts alone, but by following the path opened up for us by Jesus. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." He openly admitted owing everything to his Father, relying on his Father for all things, ever seeking to know the Father's will, and ever longing to do it.

This is the path He invites us to walk. Of course, as He lived in the world, so do we, and today, we live in a culture that hardly understands the first thing about intimacy. When one asks young people what they understand as intimacy, all too often the answer is sex. There is a general impression or misunderstanding that runs deep and wide throughout contemporary society that sex is the way to find intimacy. Why is this a misconception? Lots of factors are at work. God had a plan for human life and happiness, but we gave in to curiosity and temptation and allowed ourselves to go away from God's plan, prefering to try out and experiment with other plans, opinions, or impressions. Another reason is that sex is so very powerful that nothing can stop us from getting intoxicated and addicted to it except true intimacy.

As in other areas of life, such as furniture or artwork or clothing, the quality of authentic materials, artistry, and craftsmanship shows up the fraudulent imitation or forgery. God designed our character structure, inner dynamics, and sexuality in such a way, and invested our human sexuality with such power for tenderness, that it can be kept from becoming violent and destructive only through a lifelong commitment of marriage between one man and one woman, with at least the possibility of children. This formula allows for a delicate balance between freedom and vulnerability and saves the husband and wife from the tyranny of control or domination that tends to result from sex on demand.

The lure of addiction remains ever present in the very power of our human sexuality, and it is kept at bay only through the disciplines of awe and wonder at the power and gift of our fertility on the one hand, and of the constant effort to allow the other to see into me on the other hand. It is not intimacy when I pry into my spouse with 20 questions as soon as they open the door or open their eyes in the morning. Prying not only does not invite intimacy, but even tends to close the door on it. No, I can only wait with trust and anticipation - as I accept to bear the burden of my own self and solitude - for the moment when you will take me into your confidence and allow me that precious glimpse into you. Then I must be as Moses before God in the burning bush, take my shoes off, and know that I am standing on holy ground.

The marriage commitment can - in the light of this - be seen as a true covenant, a commitment of one's whole life to be there for the other, as husband and wife, for the rest of our lives; so that we can be there for one another and allow for these intimate moments of disclosure. Only then can the coming together in a sexual and loving embrace express something that is true, namely, that we have already uncovered each of us our self to the other this day, and recognizing each other's self as good and holy, embrace each other's self in a tenderness that focuses on the beauty of the other. In this holy moment, where God reveals his vitality and love through both of them, the husband and wife lose all awareness of their own self as they gaze into the eyes of the beloved and delight in the depths of human personhood and love concealed yet revealed in those eyes.

Their touching is not at all a grasping, but rather a reverent contact with the other in all the mystery and beauty concealed within. The encounter they have just had on this day or in recent days, added onto all their previous encounters, sharing, and living together, draws them into the depths of the other's person. Their communion elicits the desire to give oneself to the other, allowing the other to gaze into one's eyes, to enjoy one's voice, to delight in one's fragrance, to embrace one's self. Sexual union is then simply allowed to happen by the married couple as a revelling in physical union with the other that alone fully expresses each spouse's desire to be fully for the other.

This embrace is only fully true and honest when it also respects and does not interfere with the other's fertility, which is an essential part of the person, and not a disease to be treated with drugs but a gift from God to be held in awe and wonder. This holy embrace designed by God is not about sexual prowess, or about 1001 positions, or about obsession with the intensity or duration of the sexual flutter. In fact, it is not about the self at all, but rather about joining with the other in a way that honors the other and is wholly attentive to and absorbed in the other. I must tell you that all these thoughts were not at all from our retreat preacher, but from what I have learned over the years. I include them here as a necessary reality check in reference to our preacher's observation that there is much confusion today of sex as intimacy, while in fact they are two separate realities designed to be one. We are however today in grave danger of separating them to our own peril.

We can see then that true intimacy can only happen in a relationship between one person and another. If we see another only as a desirable object that can fulfill my needs or desires, then that person doesn't really exist in my eyes as a person; not yet. For a time, we may simply by coincidence happen to simultaneously consent to fulfill each other's wants, desires, or needs, but that's simply a good business transaction, juicy contract, or beneficial partnership. It is not yet a meeting of persons. As soon as one does or says something that is not agreeable to the other or declines to fulfill the other's wishes exactly when and how they want it, then it breaks down, and the "honeymoon" is over. Reality hits.

Then what? Well that's actually the first real opportunity for such a starry-eyed couple or enthusiastic friends to discover the other as a real person, different from me, and not just a reflection of my own self as in a mirror. It's my first chance to leave behind my love affair with my own self and its wants and needs, and to discover the other, and further discover within me a capacity and willingness to put the other person first, to take interest in the other even in areas that are not my preference, and to invest the energy required to discover all that I do not yet know about the other, all that the other has not yet chosen to reveal.

It's a messy thing a human being, with the result that open, honest, authentic human relationships are also messy. The beauty of it though is that the more I let you see into me, both the beautiful and the ugly, and the more I discover that you still love and accept me; then the more intimacy I experience with you - I feel you closer to me because you don't run away. As I sense your sincere interest and genuine acceptance of me, I find myself becoming willing to trust you more. The more I open myself up and allow you to see into me, the more I accept the risk that you may hurt me. The people who hurt us the most are those to whom we have revealed ourselves the most, those we have trusted the most. Such hurt is simply another test and opportunity of friendship, bringing forth the possibility of regret and repentance in the offender, and understanding and forgiveness in the offended.

Letting you see into me is really a kind of nakedness that is actually more difficult than the physical kind. Authentic human openness is a true nakedness, without which the nakedness expressed appropriately in marriage is actually a fraud or even a mockery. Openness and trust are essential to true friendship, but physical nakedness is not. In fact, overt sexual expression is inappropriate outside of the marriage relationship. This divinely revealed truth flies in the face of commonly accepted practice in our "Hollywood culture". The confusion of intimacy with sexuality leads so many to consider sexual expression as a right or necessity, but it isn't at all. What we cannot do without in order to become fully human is intimacy, but we can live this fully without genital expression.

The truth is that trust and openness expose us more than nakedness to injury. Such vulnerability deserves confidence, that is, it deserves to be kept in confidence by the friend who has been privileged to glimpse this revelation of self by the other. To betray such confidence outside of the friendship is a kind of prostitution, a kind of bartering in the fruits of intimacy in order to gain ephemeral and empty pleasures: showing off, boasting, out of pride, competitiveness, or other shallow motivation. It isn't long before such trafficking in the fruits of trust and intimacy isolates the sinner and others come to realize that the fool is not worthy of trust and deserves to find themselves alone so that they can reflect on their sin and perhaps repent and change. Otherwise, they lock themselves in their own prison of isolation, loneliness, and the misery of hell.

On the other side, it's not catastrophic if we are betrayed, or people don't like us, or someone is angry with me, or I don't meet everyone's expectations immediately all the time. Life is tough, and it's their turn to get over it. Meanwhile, I need to carry on with the adventure of living and trying to remain open at every moment to the intimacy that is possible, with God's help and love. When others hurt me, they provide me an opportunity to forgive. When I hurt others, they give me a chance to regret it, apologize, seek their forgiveness, and change.

Jesus was the freest human being ever to walk the Earth. Even his enemies admitted that He wasn't afraid of anyone, was not influenced by a person's status or wealth, was not afraid of creating a stir or scandal, or even of losing his life. It was more important for Jesus to be an honest, genuine human being that to be a model Jew who observed all the rules and practices. It's not that He deliberately ignored or threw out all the rules and practices, but rather that He prioritized attentiveness to people, to the person. He came to reveal the Father's love for people, and He called everyone to buy into this same priority.

Jesus was filled with the joy of being loved by his Father, and proclaimed that the really good news was that the Father loved everyone with the same love. In fact, He loves us so much that He is willing and eager to go so far as to feel our suffering and make it his own. God is above all things compassion for his human children. This is not the kind of message people were used to hearing. Jesus accused religious leaders of piling up on the people's backs rules that they could not observe and that in effect threw them out of the Temple, out of God's favor and presence. Meanwhile, they who were rich and resourceful could find ways to observe all these rules, with an army of servants to assist them, and they had such little compassion for people that they didn't even lift a finger to help them in their misery. That was the point of the parable of the rich man and the poor beggar who died at his door, starving.

In summary, the real question of intimacy - whether we enjoy intimacy or not - has to do with our willingness to let chosen others see into us, with the attendant risk that we will get hurt. Left to ourselves, the fear of hurt is probably too great for us to be willing to venture it, except perhaps in the exuberance of youth. Jesus has come to show us that the love of our Father revealed in Him, his Son, a love without limits, is what can fill us with the love and strength we need to venture into intimacy, to live life more fully, to give the same love we receive in Him. We may not yet be able to allow the whole world see into us and have intimacy with us as Jesus did. He fully opened Himself to the pouring out of his very life blood, and deliberately gave his life and blood as food and drink, bread and wine.

However, we are to begin today, accept to be loved by God today, and accept to love another today, and give another a glimpse into our inner person. May you be so bold and so trusting in Jesus, who is so worthy of our trust, as to engage ever more fully and deeply into this great adventure of life, and in the Spirit of God yourself become ever more fully human and divine.

Jesus, Christians, intimacy, and you - 1.

It has been a busy weekend for this pastor, since my last post. Friday to Sunday, I prepared for Sunday ministry and preaching, prayed with and gave the Anointing of the Sick to a few people, continued to host our new associate pastor - there are always so many things to learn in a new house and assignment - visited my aging but very dear parents, and made final preparations for this annual English Montreal Fraternal Gathering and retreat. I picked up our retreat master or preacher, Fr. Eugene "Red" O'Reilly, Redemptorist, at the airport in Dorval and we arrived here for supper Sunday night. Our associate pastor kindly delayed his departure in order to be able to pick up and drive one of our elder veteran priests on Monday morning. We are at the beautiful and extensive marian shrine of Notre Dame du Cap de la Madeleine near Trois Rivières, Province of Québec.

Every good retreat draws our attention to Jesus, the One Saviour of the world. It is because the journey is long, the journey of faith, even though life on Earth may seem short, that we need to go into the wilderness, to a quiet place, so that we can allow our spirit to rest in the Spirit of God, and once again discern his voice speaking to our hearts. Unlike what we construct in this world, where things tend to last or stay where we put them, at least for a while; our interior life is constantly in flux and we are ever creating as it were the person we are becoming through our decisions.

You may say, and rightly so, "Hey, Father, consider yourself lucky to be able to get away like that! With our family, and work, it's really difficult if not impossible for us to do that." You're right. We priests consider ourselves privileged, blessed to be able to go on retreat like this. One reason we need to, as part of our labor and job description in ministry, is because we spend so much time pondering the Word of God and concerning ourselves with the affairs of his Kingdom and the Church, and sharing the burdens of his people; that we actually need to go into the wilderness in a regular way just to remember who we are and find again our own mind, heart, and soul underneath all that is yours that we accept to bear with you. If we completely lose track of who we are, then we will no longer be of much use to you and will tend to go into "auto mode". If you catch us doing that, maybe we need encouragement from you not to wait any longer and go ahead and seek out a time of retreat.

So, you're right, but you're also wrong. I mean that it's not true that you can't go on retreat yourselves. True, you may not be able to go away, both husband and wife, and leave your little children behind. However, if they're older and can manage on their own, with their grandparents or other reliable and committed person to watch over them and assure the continuance of their routines, then there's no reason why you shouldn't consider both going, say, on a weekend retreat. It would not only be a graced time to bring you closer to God and allow Him more deeply into your life and soul, but He would also bring you both closer to each other, and renew your deep love of your children, and refresh you, and send you back with renewed vigor to love and to serve those entrusted to you.

If you can't both go on a weekend retreat at the same time, you may be able to go on it one at a time. If that's still too difficult, or you've never been on a retreat, then you can try a smaller bite. There are twilight retreats that go from late in the afternoon to early evening. Now that's something you can probably manage, either together or separately. The point I'd like to make with you is that, whatever your situation and conditions might be, God always has ways and means to refresh you in mind, heart, soul, and body, and He's always available to fill you with his mercy, love, kindness, and renew in you the freedom and vitality of the children of God by means of the Holy Spirit and his power. He does need your consent to work with, and awaits your decision to seek out the information and decide on an opportunity and go for it. We need to take the step and allow Him to do the rest.

What follows is not a transcription of our retreat preacher's words, but a reflection from my own spirit in response to his words, as I look back at his opening remarks on Sunday evening and the four conferences he has given us since then. Perhaps you may find in this ongoing reflection something that may help you come closer to Jesus or simply realize how eager Jesus is to come closer to you, that you may have the divine life He offers, bringing your human life to abundance and fruitfulness.

Fr. "Red" began by having us consider all the people and influences that have shaped who we have become, in particular how our formation either enhanced or hindered our ability and willingness to be open to the kind of intimacy that allows for a truly human and authentic life. There have been times past and perhaps still today when priests and religious were formed to fear intimacy, to fear their own frailty. This approach often applies as a solution to the dangers of human frailty a discipline of obedience without thinking. It is a blind obedience. You do this because I tell you to do it. Don't think. Don't trust your ability to make your own decision, but just obey. It is true that Jesus gave a lot of importance to his obedience to his Father's will, but this is not exactly the kind of obedience He practiced.

Catholic Christians who are older remember learning that we were made, created by God to know, to love, and to serve God. Fr. "Red" proposed that as true as this tenet of faith is, its expression in our catechesis was not entirely complete, because it left out the other side of this truth, namely, that God also longs to love and serve us. I remember hearing about a contemplative nun who once told a young priest that when we spend time before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, what is happening is not just that we are contemplating or attempting to adore God. God always precedes us, and like any truly loving parent, is also contemplating and "adoring" or loving us. He radiates upon us with love as that parent radiates upon their child with love.

Now, the formation we have received both as people, human beings, and as Christians, may not always have enhanced our ability to appreciate this reality about God. The very thought of God loving us calls for an intimacy of acceptance and response, and this is very much connected to our capacity for intimacy among ourselves, with other human beings. Sadly, there has been and probably always will be, such fear because of the possibility of sexual misconduct or acting out, that a disciplinary response which relies too much upon excessive authority doesn't really help a chld or youth to develop their own conscience and will, both their ability and willingness to make the discipline their own. Instead, we may have raised or be raising people who will only behave according to our values when they think someone is looking or out of fear of being caught and punished or fear of having love withdrewn.

Such fear of punishment is the lowest level of moral development, and doesn't really allow for independent thinking or decision making. My own thought, in light of those recent scandals in the military here and there, is that if an authority undertakes to deconstruct a person's character in order to rebuild them according to the accepted model currently valued by the military authority, they may not realize that they are actually severing the ties within the person between values and conscience. At the other end of society, we are discovering so much about what influences our thinking and behaviour that it is becoming increasingly common for people to blame conditions around them for their actions. In both cases, we are witnessing a society where we are more and more loath to accept responsibility for ourselves and rather inclined to blame someone else, anyone else, or even everyone else, for our own behaviour.

What is tragic about this is that, only through our own responsible decisions, do we grow as persons and become more fully human beings. Further, only as I accept who I am and take responsibility for my decisions, can I see anything good in myself. If everyone else is to blame and I see nothing good in myself, I will be so afraid that others won't like what they see, won't love me, that I will avoid revealing myself to others at all cost. In such a case, intimacy is impossible, but without itimacy, there can be no happiness, no meaningful existence, no personal encounter, and no real communion of persons. This is because, fundamentally, intimacy is what happens when I allow another to "see into me - into me see".

This is what happened when God came to the Earth in his Son, Jesus. He allowed us to see into Him, into God. More than that, Jesus then reached out to people and called them to receive his words and to accept the love being offered by God the Father through Him, his Beloved Son, whom He sent into the world to reveal Himself to us; that we might have life in Jesus and have it abundantly. Jesus even said that He gave us his joy and wanted our joy to be complete. This is a view of life that is at the heart of the kingdom, or reign, of God, and is completely different from other views of life prevalent in our world. What is exciting and at times excruciating is that we bear both views within us at the same time, and from time to time, in varying degrees. Letting the world, the weakness of the flesh, or the devil have the upper hand brings us into misery, but allowing God and his Spirit to have the upper hand and unite us to Jesus brings us into joy.

to be continued...