The Miracle of Priesthood

prayer-card-jesus-prayer-for-vocations

 

 

As it turns out, today (April 17,2016) is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

Over at Aleteia.org Deacon Greg Kandra made vocations the focus of his homily.  He leads off with a quote from a letter that he received from a friend in Philadelphia:

“This morning we received devastating news at Mass. Our beloved Augustinian pastor has been diagnosed with liver cancer that has spread to his lungs. The priest who told us said that he was visiting him yesterday when a cousin came into the hospital room and told him that they are all praying for a miracle. His response was, ‘I have already received a miracle. I am a priest.’”

This is probably the best – and most honest – answer to those who have an objection to a man entering the priesthood.  Ordination is an extraordinary event and being allowed to share in the priesthood of Christ in a special way is, indeed, a miracle.

Deacon Greg speaks with great reverence and love about his own call and ordination as a permanent deacon and talks of it as an on-going source of grace and blessing in his life:

Surveys tell us again and again that clergy and religious report among the greatest job satisfaction in the world.

That’s because it’s not a job. It’s a vocation.

As that priest in Philadelphia knew: it is, in fact, a miracle.

Finally, he suggests ways of introducing young men to the idea of the priesthood.  The best advice he gives is that you should ask God if you (or someone you know) is called.  He points to Pope Francis who advises young people to “Ask Jesus what he wants and be brave!

In an address to seminarians in Rome this week, Pope Francis outlined the appropriate way to respond to God’s call — to be all in and not “half-way” priests.

“We respond to this vocation in the same way as the Virgin Mary does to the angel: “How is this possible?” Becoming “good shepherds” in the image of Jesus “is something very great and we are so small.”

“Yes, it is true, it is too great; but it is not our work! It is the work of the Holy Spirit, with our collaboration,” Francis said in his address to the College, adding spontaneous comments here and there to his prepared speech.

“It is about humbly giving oneself, like clay that is to be moulded, letting God the potter work the clay with fire and water, with the Word and the Holy Spirit.”

It is true that “at the beginning intentions are not completely righteous, and it is hard for them to be so. All of us have had moments when our intentions were not completely righteous but in time this changes with everyday conversion. Think of the apostles! Think of James and John. One of them wanted to be prime minister and the other a minister of the economy because it was a more important role. The apostles’ mind was elsewhere but the Lord patiently corrected their intention and in the end the intention of their preaching and martyrdom was incredibly righteous.”

So, on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, take a moment to ask God to call those whom he chooses to the priesthood and offer to be the bearer of that message if you can.

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How Agnostics Pray

Candle FlameRight, so this isn’t really all that directly linked to my brother’s current work but it seemed the right place to post it.

You’ve heard the saying “There are no atheists in foxholes” right? Well I can’t speak to that specifically but I admit I’ve been doing a bit of praying myself lately. And no that doesn’t mean I have any more faith than the last time I wrote, or that I’ve returned to the fold or joined a new church. I still don’t believe in much of anything, and if something does exist I have no reason to believe inherently that it is the Abrahamic God. So, I don’t know if anyone is there to listen, if someone can listen I don’t know if they are, and if they are I don’t know if they care, and if they care I don’t know if they can do anything. Seems a losing proposition doesn’t it? Yeah it kind of is.

Rationalists would say I’m either trying to shift my problems onto a force beyond my power so I can blame them if things go pear shaped or I am attempting to control the universe in ways that are flatly impossible. And maybe they are right. But right now, right now I’ll take anything I can get.

So how do agnostics pray? In my case with desperation and hope. Without giving out details I find myself in a situation that could end badly and there is nothing I can do to influence the outcome right now. So I have others pray for me, I’m never one to turn my nose up at someone offering aid. And as stress increases I start to pray myself. I don’t know if anyone can hear me and I don’t believe anyone does but I cling to the hope that I’m wrong. That some benevolent figure can pick up what I’m sending out and help out somehow. But I suppose that’s more of a why than a how. The how is more mundane. Lots of pleading silently and hoping against my own mind as I detail my troubles. And in my case lighting candles as a vigil. I’ve always been in favor of enduring actions as an article of ritual, so as I type this there are candles burning in my window, a light to guide someone if they want to find their way back. And on occasion I incorporate saints. They serve as handy symbols of precise desire, like the deities of pre-christian pantheons.

–Evan’s Brother

What is a Spiritual Director?

Mid-remodel. Yes, it is a mess.  Thank you for noticing.It strikes me as funny that we Americans often take a “do it yourself” attitude to spiritual development.  By contrast, we are willing to pay vast sums of money to small armies of consultants, advisors, and coaches.

When Cathy and I remodeled our home, we hired professionals to hang the cabinets, update the wiring and connect the plumbing.  (Safety pro tip: Never – EVER – enter a building where I have personally done any of the wiring or plumbing.)

When we remodeled, we were concentrating on the interior of our house — taking what we already had and improving it.  We wanted a more functional space and a more comfortable life.  I guess you could say that we wanted our house to be more of what we knew it could be.

It would be a mistake to reduce the work of a spiritual director to a mere remodeling of the soul, but there are some useful similarities.  As St. Josemaria Escriva said, “You wouldn’t think of building a good house to live in here on earth without an architect. How can you ever hope, without a director, to build the castle of your sanctification in order to live forever in heaven?”

William A. Barry, SJ, clarifies a bit in his book The Practice of Spiritual Direction when he notes that spiritual direction is “help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship.”

The work of a spiritual director is done in a series of private meetings between the individual seeking direction (sometimes called a “directee”) and the the director.  An article on the OSV website explains the process this way:

Since the goal of spiritual direction is to deepen your connection and commitment to Our Lord, sessions are always deeply personal. In general, you will meet with your spiritual director on a regular basis, be it weekly or monthly, but not less frequently than every two months. In your session, you will talk about your desires and struggles in the spiritual life — not confessing sin per se, unless your spiritual director also happens to be your confessor — and trends and tendencies in such areas as prayer and self-control. Your director will make suggestions for reading or devotional exercises, and help you find answers to your spiritual questions. Often you will end the session by praying together.

A spiritual director is a guide to interior growth and renewal, not counselor or therapist.  The discussions center on the relationship between the directee and God.  The Ignatian Spirituality website lays out four key points about spiritual direction:

Spiritual direction focuses on religious experience. It is concerned with a person’s actual experience of a relationship with God.

Spiritual direction is about a relationship. The religious experience is not isolated, nor does it consist of extraordinary events. It is what happens in an ongoing relationship between the person and God. Most often this is a relationship that is experienced in prayer.

Spiritual direction is a relationship that is going somewhere. God is leading the person to deeper faith and more generous service. The spiritual director asks not just “what is happening?” but “what is moving forward?””

The real spiritual director is God. God touches the human heart directly. The human spiritual director does not “direct” in the sense of giving advice and solving problems. Rather, the director helps a person respond to God’s invitation to a deeper relationship.

All seminarians — in fact all religious — are required to have a spiritual director.  All of the Paulist Novices and Students have one.  As do all sisters, brothers, priests and deacons.  Interestingly, while all religious are obliged to have a spiritual director, spiritual directors themselves are not obliged to be religious.  In fact, Saint Pope John Paul II’s first spiritual director was a tailor by the name of Jan Tyranowski.

More importantly, anyone can have a spiritual director.  Anyone who is seeking to improve their relationship with God, to better carry out the mission of their Baptismal call, or to deepen their spirituality can engage the assistance of a spiritual director.  Fr. John C. McCloskey reminds us:

During his pontificate, Benedict XVI several times urged faithful Catholics who desired to pursue holiness and grow closer to God to make use of a spiritual director: “We always need a guide, dialogue, to go to the Lord. . . .We cannot do it with our reflections alone. And this is also the meaning of the ecclesiality of our faith, of finding this guide.” By this means, he explained, we can avoid being limited by our own subjectivist interpretations of God and what he might be calling us to do, as well as benefiting from our guide’s “own supply of knowledge and experiences in following Jesus.”

After.  Much nicer, isn't it?If you are interested in finding a spiritual director, a good place to start is with your parish priest.  Not that he would necessarily become your director, but he probably knows you well enough to steer you in the right director and he should be familiar with the resources available in your parish and your diocese.  Once you’ve identified a director, you’ll begin to meet with them to pray and discuss.  You may have a defined “trial” period to see if the relationship is a good fit for both of you.  You will certainly be introduced to new readings and (possibly) new devotions.

Along the way — if you are open — God will be speaking to you and helping you grow to become more of what He knew you could be.

— Dad

Private Prayer in Public Places

Your mileage may vary but for our family, prayer tends to be a more private experience. We pray with the community in Mass or at Church events of course, but for the rest of the time we pray in our heads or quietly as a couple at home. When we were a younger family Kevin and I would insist on have a thanksgiving prayer before a meal, even at restaurants (we still do). This action, complete with the sign of the cross, caused more than one stare from other tables and some feeling of discomfort for us. The majority population of Utah does not use the sign of the cross in prayer so it marks us as outsiders the moment we make that motion. But we are Catholic and we were not going to hide it. Occasionally it brings a smile from a fellow Catholic, mostly just questioning eyebrows, but we do it anyway.

If the sign of the cross marked you as different, you can understand that a rosary was positively scary to the local population.

Sunday evening Kevin complained about an upset stomach, he had been mentioning it since Monday so we thought he had “a bug”. What was different now was a fever that was rising rapidly. My suggestion of going to the hospital was countered with offering to call a good friend who is a registered nurse. A telephone consultation with a few abdominal probes brought the response “Go to the ER, NOW!” Never one to ignore a girlfriend (his, not mine, long story, totally innocent) we were in the car and on our way.

A couple hours later it is one in the morning and I am alone in the waiting room outside surgery.  You guessed it, appendicitis. A very well renowned gastroenterologist was on call and putting  Kevin out for the count. The waiting room is actually a hall way in the hospital I use to work in. At one a.m. it is very quiet but also very public. The TV has a picture but no sound. A quick search reveals no remote. The buttons on the TV give no results. I find the only none chair (a small two-seater couch with metal arms) I pull out my rosary and curl up. Out in the quite public hallway.

There is a chapel on the same floor but on the other end of the hospital. It’s pretty but non-denominational and filled with literature for the local culture and not much else so I opted not to go pray there. I also didn’t want to be far from the OR when anyone came looking for me. It was probably my most private prayer in a most public place.

Thankfully surgery went well and  Kevin was discharged by mid-morning and recuperating at home. Since it all occurred late at night we didn’t notify anyone till the next morning. Even without having family or friends it was okay. I could handle being by myself because I never am really alone. The Lord is always at my side.

– Mom

God’s Dreams

Do you want your dreams for your life
or
God’s dreams for your life?

proverbs_quoteWell.  Really.  That’s not the sort of question you expect to be asked in the confessional.  The deal is that you go in, confess, get a penance to help point you in the right direction, pray the Act of Contrition, hear the prayer of Absolution, and head back out.

Unless the confessor thinks you might benefit from a bit of counsel.

Which left me sitting with a kindly priest faced with a pretty blunt question.  And, in truth, after nearly a half century on the planet I’m slowly moving to the place of wanting God’s dreams for my life.  (The obvious “right” answer is that I want God’s dreams.  The more honest answer is that I often put my dreams ahead of God’s.)

If you’re like me, answering that question correctly only raises others.  Most specifically, how do you discover God’s dreams for your life?

The Bible is full of stories of angelic visitations and divinely inspired visions.  While that might seem to simplify the question, I doubt that most of us are actually prepared for that level of openness and directness in our relationship with God.  So, we must find other ways to discern what God dreams for us.

Ironically, I think the key lies exactly in seeking a relationship of openness and honesty with God.  It involves being vulnerable and willing to listen and take in what God is trying to communicate to us.  Blogger Will Duquette puts it this way:

For me, listening to God means sitting and pondering about things: my problems, a scripture reading, a book I’m studying, the weather, or what have you. And as I ponder, I need to pay attention to the ideas that occur to me, and follow the threads to see where they go. It’s about testing the conclusions I come to, to see if they are consistent with what I know about God’s word, and God’s character, and that involves more pondering. And the essential thing is that when I sit down to ponder, I invite God to come along and I make Him welcome.

This sounds like solid advice, but as before, it still raises that next question; even if you’re determined to invite God to communicate, how do you do that?  Fortunately, there are some good folks who have already walked this path and sent back field reports to point us in the right direction.

St. Ignatius of Loyola starts with the idea of a personal relationship with God.  A structure for achieving this is laid out step-by-step in the Spiritual Exercises.  One of the key elements of the exercises is prayer.  Makes sense.  After all, if you’re going to enter into a relationship with someone, you have to talk to them.  This also helps with what St. Ignatius calls the orientation of your life.  Are you trying to stay on the right path?  Are you trying to live a decent Christian life?

With that as a starting point, you can begin to listen to “the movements of your heart.”  What do you feel when you pray?  What are the thoughts that come to mind then and throughout the day?  Test them to see if they are consistent with what you know of God.

One of the interesting things that St. Ignatius pointed out is that these movement (he called them “spirits”) change depending on where you are in your spiritual journey.  William A. Barry, SJ, puts it like this:

Now let’s take up the orientation of most of us, who are trying to live honestly and uprightly to the best of our ability. In this case, Ignatius says, the good and bad spirits act in ways opposite to how they act with those turned away from God’s path. The bad spirit raises doubts and questions that cause inner turmoil and self-­absorption, while the good spirit tries to encourage us and to increase our peace, joy, faith, hope, and love.

If you are trying to live as a good Christian, you might have thoughts like these: “Who do you think you are—some kind of saint?” “Everyone else cuts corners in this office. What’s the matter with you? Are you ­holier-than-thou?” “God doesn’t have time for the likes of you.” “Most people, even if they believe in God, don’t try to live the way you do.” Such questions and thoughts have only one aim, to trouble your spirit and keep you troubled and questioning. Moreover, you will notice that all the questions and doubts focus on you, not on God or God’s people.

The good spirit, on the other hand, might inspire thoughts like these: “I’m genuinely happy with my decision to make amends with my estranged sister.” “I wish that I had stopped drinking a long time ago. I’m much happier and healthier now, and easier to live with.” “God seems so much closer to me since I began to take some time every day for prayer, and I feel less anxious and insecure.” I hope you can see in your own experience how these two spirits have led you.

Sometimes, that spirit that wants to distract you from God’s will comes dressed in pious clothes.  It’s easy to get distracted by that voice and decide that God doesn’t have any big dreams for you.  It’s safer and easier just to sit quietly.  Along the way, Ignatius tells us that we will likely experience Spiritual Consolation and Spiritual Desolation.  These, too, are part of that journey of understanding God’s dreams for us.

As a practical matter, you can take St. Ignatius’ road map and put it into practice with a low tech tool; a notebook.  Over at www.godinallthings.com , Andy Otto outlines a simple practice which involves jotting down your thoughts and feelings during the day and reviewing them regularly to see where God might be speaking to you.

Like they used to say, “Knowing is half the battle”.  Once you know (or have a good idea) you can begin to seek out ways to cooperate with God in bringing about his dreams for your life.  You might be surprised by what you discover.  The theologian Parker Palmer understood that when he said:

Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice out there calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice in here calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.

–Dad

Reflection: Vocation and Discernment

Novice Prayer Service Wednesday October 23rd, 2013

On Discernment

God, come to our assistance. Glory to the Father. As it was in the beginning. Alleluia.

Psalm 25

Antiphon: Lord, allow your guiding spirit to enter our hearts.

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

Reading from Hecker’s diary, June 6, 1844

What would the spirit have me to do? To say? It seems to give me no rest, would it have me to be still, quiet and peaceful?

What is the work that the spirit is doing now within me?

The spirit draws me ever inward and will not permit me to read, think, or do anything else but attend to it. It is like a young bride; it would have me ever in its presence speaking of its charms.

Responsory

Incline my heart according to your will, O God.

Incline my heart according to your will, O God.

Speed my steps along your path,

according to your will, O God.

Glory to the Father…

Incline my heart according to your will, O God.

Intercessions

We pray for all of us present, that we might discern where the Holy Spirit is guiding us.

Lord hear our prayer.

We pray for all earnest seekers to find where God leads them in life.

Lord hear our prayer.

We pray for the young men joining us this weekend who are discerning a life with the Paulists.

Lord hear our prayer.

We pray that all leaders, civil and religious, listen to the people and to God

Lord hear our prayer.

For what else shall we pray?

Our Father…

O God, who enlightens the minds and inflames the hearts of the faithful by the Holy Spirit, grant that through the same Spirit we hear in our hearts where you are guiding us. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life.
Amen.
Let us bless the Lord.
And give God thanks.

— Novice

Reflection: Self-Sacrifice

(Editor’s Note: As part of the discernment and training process, the novices and students write and lead prayer services.  Evan will share his from time to time as he writes them.)

Novice Prayer Service Thursday October 15th, 2013
On Sacrifice

You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone.
-Jesus to St. Faustina, Diary of St. Faustina, 1767

Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.
-St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Tonight I thought we could use this prayer service to reflect on the sacrificing nature of a vocation. We willing give ourselves in love to the service of others, especially as future priests. There is also an aspect of sacrificing the “normal” life. We won’t have the small suburb home with a white picket fence, a wife, two kids, and a dog. Instead, we are called to live for the world, not simply in it. I thought one of the best ways to explore sacrifice would actually be to look at a few scenes from movies that have sacrifice as a central theme in a prayerful manner. I’ll give a little set-up explaining each scene.

Movie One: Road to Perdition, scene at 1:33:15

After a fellow gangster kills his wife and kids, Tom Hanks has to take his son across the country in order to keep him alive. In this scene, Tom confronts his mob boss about the gangster who is also stealing money from the boss. In the end, Tom does get his son across the country, but dies in the process of protecting his son.

Movie Two: The Iron Giant, scene at 1:14:00

 Set in Maine during the 1950’s, a giant robot crashes to Earth and befriends a 10 year old child. The  robot has amnesia and cannot remember his mission. He learns about Superman and being a hero from  the child. When the local town finds out about the robot when he save a kid from falling to his death,  they go into full panic thinking he is a monster sent to destroy them. The military is called in and the  robot goes into a rage and remembers his mission (which is to destroy the Earth). This leads to the  military launching a nuclear missile at the town.

Movie Three: Stranger than Fiction, scenes at 1:31:09 and 1:35:45

 Will Ferrell starts hearing his own life being narrated as though he was a character in a book. One  morning he hears the voice say that things were set in motion for him to die. He eventually tracks  down the author and reads the finished manuscript detailing how he will die.

So in all of these films there is a sense of love for others, even total strangers, where one is
willing to sacrifice themselves completely. A vocation, especially one to God, can be seen in a very  similar way. We don’t have to find a way to get ourselves killed, but we can find small things to do for others, not for ourselves. We can take an example after Christ and His most Holy sacrifice. In our  sacrifices we can find God, His love for us, and our own conversion to holiness (to being superman).

Share any thoughts or feelings.

 Closing Prayer:

Jesus, tender and loving Lamb of God, Utmost Sacrifice of all sacrifices, Your glory is  reverberated in  the highest. Being preoccupied with my well-being, You chose to self-sacrifice Yourself, Setting aside all Your personal glories. I thank You Lord Jesus for Your act of love! Your action has drawn me closer to You. Teach me to model in smaller things, To sacrifice in order to help others, Guiding my soul to endure abstinence. Lamb of God, I thank you endlessly!

Amen.  (Unknown origin)

— Novice

Question: What Does A Novice Do?

The first few weeks of Evan’s Novitiate have been somewhat busy, but things are beginning to settle down.

In addition to the initial retreat, his unexpected trip back to Utah, and his brief stay in New York City, he’s had the privilege of attending Jimmy Hsu’s Final Promise Mass and Mass of Ordination as a Transitional Deacon.  The participation of the entire Paulist Community in DC in these events underscores the deep commitment these men have to the order and their connectedness and it was — by all accounts — a joyous celebration.

With that past, the novices are beginning to settle into the routine that will serve them in their discernment during the coming months.  I’m going to share (as best I can) a snapshot of that life.  If I miss something, I’ll ask that the novices be generous and gentle in correcting my errors.

7:45 a.m. — Morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.  (If you’re interested in sharing that experience, you can find out more at Universalis.com and DivineOffice.org)

Breakfast after prayer

9:30 a.m. — Conference with other novices.  This may be discussions of the texts the novices have been reading, current issues facing the Church or the order, events of the day, explorations of different forms of prayer and spirituality, and theology discussions.  From what I gather, this is sort of an updated version of the old academic notion of a colloquy or seminar.

Noon — Lunch, like all meals, taken in common with the community.

The afternoon is free time during which the novices engage in personal prayer and study as they seek to enter into a deeper relationship with God.  They have all been given a number of books — some of which are mandatory reading and some of which they selected themselves.  The mandatory reading includes 101 Questions and Answers on Paul and the biography of Isaac Hecker (founder of the order), among other books.  For the self-selected reading, Evan just finished a book on Native Meso-American Spirituality and Dan (another novice whom I have gotten to know through Facebook) is reading Where the Hell is God?

4:50 p.m.  — Prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament in the Blessed Sacrament chapel.

5:15 p.m. — Mass in the adjacent St. Paul chapel.

5:45 p.m. — Pre-Dinner Social.

6:15 p.m. — Dinner, again taken with the community.

7:30 p.m. — Communal prayer, led by the novices.  Each day (in rotation) one of the novices selects the prayer.  Sometimes they pray the Liturgy of the Hours for the evening, sometimes other prayers.  Evan chose the Chaplet of St. Michael last week when it was his turn.

In addition to the daily routine, there are certain special days during the week.

On Wednesday, the schedule is altered to accommodate Mass at noon in the Holy Spirit Chapel and the evening prayer at 5:15 is led by the students.  (Once a candidate complete the novice year and make his first promise, he is considered a student.)

On Friday, Mass and prayer are at 7:30 a.m. and the novices have the rest of the day free.  Evan has been using his time to explore DC a bit and spent last Friday visiting the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian.

Saturday is the work period for the novices when they are assigned chores such as cleaning and mopping.

Evan also tells me that a Paulist Father (Tom Ryan, I believe) has generously allowed the novices to participate in his class “Body, Mind and Heart” which connects Christian prayer to the meditative practices of yoga.

They novices are also being trained for their apostolates.  These involve the novices working the local community and parishes to help out.  I don’t have a clear idea of what Evan will be assigned yet, but once I do I’ll be back with another post.

As always, questions are welcome.

— Dad

Retreat!

Ignatius_LoyolaEvan is at Lake George, New York this week, participating in the second Paulist Plunge.  The Plunge is a week-long discernment retreat for “men 18-35 who are interested in exploring the possibility of a religious vocation, and who want to get to know the Paulists better.”  He will be attending with another of this year’s novices and other men who are exploring whether or not they are called to a religious life.

Given that tomorrow (July 31) is the Feast of St. Ignatius, it’s fitting to take a moment and talk about retreats and to point you to a couple that you can take right where you’re sitting.

Several websites define a retreat as “A retreat is a withdrawal from ordinary activities for a period of time to commune with God in prayer and reflection.”  That’s a good place to start.  It is worth noting that there are many different kinds of retreats which serve many different purposes.  Cathy and I participated in a Engaged Encounter retreat as part of our marriage preparation.  Prayer and contemplation were an important part of the experience, but so were periods of reflection (both individually and as a couple) regarding our future.  We cannot recommend the Engaged Encounter enough and have even encouraged many non-Catholic friends to send their children when they were contemplating marriage.

Years later we attended a Marriage Encounter weekend, which was another kind of retreat.  Again, there was prayer and scripture and reflection.

The idea of a retreat, a time away for prayer and reflection is ancient.  We can point to Jesus’ sojourn in the desert as a New Testament example of a retreat. The early religious who withdrew to the desert or to monasteries are examples of individuals called to permanent retreats.

It took St. Ignatius of Loyola (that handsome fellow at the top right of this post) to formalize the idea of retreats in the 1500s.  As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes:

The Society of Jesus was the first active religious order in which the practice of the retreat became obligatory by rule.

It goes on to point out:

The Society of Jesus did not reserve these exercises for its own exclusive use, but gave them to communities and individuals. Blessed Peter Faber in his “Memoriale” testifies to having given them to the grandees of Spain, Italy, and Germany, and used them in restoring hundreds of convents to their first fervour. A letter of St. Ignatius (3 Feb., 1554) recommends giving the exercises publicly in the churches. In addition, the houses of the Society often contained rooms for priests or laymen desirous of performing the exercises privately. Ignatius, having sanctioned this custom during his lifetime, one of his successors, Aquaviva, exhorted the provincials to its maintenance in 1599. In studying the spread of this practice we must not neglect the influence of St. Charles Borromeo. The cardinal and the Jesuits co-operated in order to promote this sort of apostolate. A fervent admirer and disciple of the “Spiritual Exercises”, St. Charles introduced them as a regular practice among the secular clergy by retreats for seminarians and candidates for ordination. He built at Milan an asceterium, or house solely destined to receive those making retreats, whose direction he confided to the Oblates. The zeal of St. Charles was effectual in encouraging the sons of St. Ignatius to adopt definitively the annual retreat, and to organize outside collective retreats of priests and laymen.

All of which brings us back to the Paulist Retreat House in Lake George, New York.  As part of their mission, the Paulists operate a number of retreats on their Lake George property.  Some are related to the arts (the Singer/Songwriter Residency Program and the Artists’ Residency Program), some are more contemplative (Restful Waters/Couples’ Retreat and Praying Your Life) and some are very focused like the Paulist Plunge.  This will be Evan’s second year at the plunge.  He attended the retreat last year and came back energized and renewed.

It’s pretty amazing what a few days of prayer and contemplation can accomplish.

If the idea of a retreat appeals to you, but you can’t possibly get away due to various life commitments, there are plenty of opportunities to take retreats — small and large — just where you are.

At the beginning of July, The Busted Halo published a Virtual Outdoor Retreat.  This handy, printable guide gives you a chance to get back to nature in prayer and contemplation.  The perfect thing for a summer Sunday afternoon.

If you don’t live anywhere near nature (you poor person!) and want a more technological retreat, you can take advantage of Fr. James Martin’s e-book Together on Retreat: Meeting Jesus in Prayer.

If you’re really pressed for time, but want a few moments of peace each day, consider the 3 Minute Retreats from Loyola Press.  You can access them via the web, in your e-mail or through an inexpensive app.  A few minutes of prayer can set a great tone for your whole day and each of these brief reflections will give you something to contemplate.

Whatever you choose, a retreat is a great way to reconnect with God and to strengthen your spiritual life.

–Dad

That’s Funny Right There!

I’m a big fan of humor.  Big fan.  Sure I love a good drama, but I’ll go out of my way for a mediocre comedy.  When it comes to Shakespeare, give me Much Ado About Nothing over Henry V any day.  (Which in no way implies that Much Ado is mediocre…just making the point that my preferences run to the funny.)

Which is why I was struck by a comment Pope Francis made in his homily on July 1.

He was preaching about the need for tenacity in prayer; the need to bring our petitions to God over and over; the need to negotiate with God.  He cited the example of Abraham asking God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

When we speak of courage we always think of apostolic courage – going out to preach the Gospel, these sort of things…But there’s also (the kind of) courage (demonstrated) before the Lord. That sense of paralysis before the Lord: going courageous before the Lord to request things. It makes you laugh a bit; this is funny because Abraham speaks with the Lord in a special way, with this courage, and one doesn’t know: is this a man who prays or is this a‘phoenician deal’ because he’s bartering the price, down, down…And he’s tenacious: from fifty he’s succeeded in lowering the price down to ten. He knew that it wasn’t possible. Only that it was right…. But with that courage, with that tenacity, he went ahead.

There.  Do you see it?  Right in the middle of the paragraph Pope Francis acknowledges the humor of the situation.

It makes you laugh a bit.

As a lector, I love being able to proclaim the reading from Genesis 18:16-33.  Abraham’s character is so vivid and outright funny.  God tells him that Sodom is toast.  Most of us would probably nod and say, “Well, they deserve it.”

Abraham doesn’t.  He starts to negotiate with God.  He starts the bargaining by asking if God really intends to sweep away the righteous with the wicked.  Then he asks

Suppose there were fifty righteous people in the city; would you really sweep away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people within it?

God agrees to Abraham’s terms and Abraham — good negotiator that he is — presses further.  With a hilariously formal humility —

See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am only dust and ashes!

— he drives the bargain to 45 and then 40 and then 30 and then 20 and finally 10.  The whole story has a sort of haggling-in-the-marketplace vibe that makes me chuckle every time.

Yet, as Pope Francis points out, negotiating with God is a perfectly acceptable form of prayer.

Sometimes, the Pope said, one goes to the Lord “to ask something for someone;” one asks for a favor and then goes away. “But that,” he warned, “is not prayer,” because if “you want the Lord to bestow a grace, you have to go with courage and do what Abraham did, with that sort of tenacity.” The Pope recalled that Jesus himself tells us that we must pray as the widow with the judge, like the man who goes in the middle of the night to knock on his friend’s door. With tenacity.

In fact, he observed, Jesus himself praised the woman who tenaciously begged for the healing of her daughter. Tenacity, said the Pope, even though it’s tiring, is really “tiresome.” But this, he added, “is the attitude of prayer.” Saint Teresa, he recalled, “speaks of prayer as negotiating with the Lord” and this “is possible only when there’s familiarity with the Lord.” It is tiring, it’s true, he repeated, but “this is prayer, this is receiving a grace from God.” The Pope stressed here the same sort of reasoning that Abraham uses in his prayer: “take up the arguments, the motivations of Jesus’ own heart.”

Like all good humor, the story of Abraham’s negotiation is funny because it is true.  And it tells us something about ourselves and our world.

–Dad