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...