I began this series of reflections on a retreat by Fr. Eugene "Red" O'Reilly, C.Ss.R., given to a good number of our English priests at Maison de la Madonne, at Cap de la Madeleine, Trois Rivières, from September 11th to 16th, while still at the retreat. I was surprised to find that that his remarks and reflections stirred up so many thoughts in me, particularly regarding human sexuality, which is such a source of suffering and struggle for many people today. In the last two posts I developed fairly involved reflections on our human sexuality, and realize that in order to mine as much of the gold as I can from this retreat I should begin by publishing my retreat notes. These notes follow below.
Warning: These notes are generally not direct quotes of Fr. "Red", but include his words as well as I could catch them out of the air, my own thoughts merging with his, and comments that I make to myself, either in the 1st person (I find that... We must...) or 3rd person (Priests experience...) and so on. If anyone wants to know at some point what is "Red's" and what is mine, ask.
People who have been in our lives have either been contributing, leading me to where I am going, or opposing, making it difficult for me to be where I am. Where I am, we are, is no accident. "Red" gave a brief overview of his life and vocation, sharing his gratitude for al these people and God's call. This week will focus on JOY and COMPASSION, which are essential for the priesthood and for the Church.
It is not easy to live in the present. We can get caught in the past, and we can apprehend the future. Only the present is mine, ours, God's gift to us.
Remember the Baltimore Catechism? "We're made to know, love, and serve God now and forever in heaven." This definition of our destiny is true, but incomplete, which makes it effectively inadequate. This is because God also longs to love and serve us. This at first sounds outrageous, but it reminds me of the nun who told a young priest that when we pray before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament exposed, what is happening there is not only that we are contemplating Jesus Christ present in the Holy Eucharist, but also that He is contemplating us. God loved us first, remember, as St. Paul put it? That means God has been looking upon us with love even before we realized He exists, or knew who the Blessed Trinity are. If contemplation is also adoration, gazing with love at the Beloved, then we'd have to agree that God adores us, contemplates us, gazes at us with love. When we do these things, we are simply responding to God who does them first.
That God also longs to love and serve us can be seen in the countless ways in which what the Gospels recount about Jesus can also be understood as being about us. For example, at Jesus' Baptism, the Father's voice was heard to say, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Everyday, this is also addressed by God to us. We are pleasing to God our Father. He loves us and calls us. He loves us as we are and also calls us to be, to become, more.
How do we feel about ourselves? For some of us our seminary formation did not enhance our view of our own worth. It did not give us a healthy, positive self-image. Some of us were not encouraged to develop close friendships. In fact, at some times and in some seminaries there was a fear of particular friendships. This was often actually a fear of sexuality.
In some seminaries and houses of formation, we were told, "We'll take you apart and then put you back together in our own image, the way we want you to be, with no individuality, creativity, or sense of responsibility. We saw many of our creative, independent, and talented guys leave. The rest who stayed behind obeyed the rules. You could not question authority. Strange practices were imposed such as wearing a "discipline" - a wire with barbs - around a leg or arm underneath the clothing, or self flagellation. There were to be no demonstrations or assertions of personality or individuality. Such practices did not forster the notion of being good, or having anything good to offer.
Labels were put on some men in formation and they stuck. After that, they were never trusted with responsibility ever after, which is so sad, so tragic.
to be continued...