Retreating away

This morning, with the Holy Mass, I will begin my annual retreat.

It’s interesting, then, that yesterday’s holy hour (again, using this awesome sheet) brought me to these passages that have to do with retreat.

  • A retreat is a time of blessing.  Genesis 27 recounts the story of Isaac and his sons, Jacob and Esau, and the blessing the former “steals” from the latter. The story reminds us that God’s blessings are irrevocable, powerful, and unmerited–yet given anyway.
  • A retreat is a time to get God’s help.  The psalmist of Psalm 18 explains, “Thy right hand supported me, and thy help made me great.”  No one becomes great without God’s help, and it’s out call to join the ranks of the greats–the saints.
  • A retreat is a time of rest for the soul.  Matthew 11:28-30 is great: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Our souls are busied about many things, but a retreat is a time to let the Gentle Lord do the lifting.

A pity, then, that so few take advantage of the ancient tradition, modeled so well by our Lord, of retreating.

But I’m busy! I have kids! I have endless work! I have this and that to do! And I don’t have time as it is!

Of course we’ve got all that.

And that’s why we need a retreat.

Retreats aren’t just for priests you know.

We could all stand to take some time to get into our minds, hearts, and souls every now and again and focus on what actually counts.

So I’ll be focusing this week–looking for blessings, help, and rest.

So take a break from this blog with me.

God: “Son of man, can these bones live?”

The Office of Readings this morning gives us this bit from Ezekiel (Ez 37:1-14) as our First Reading.  I’ve copied a slightly different translation here:

God grabbed me. God’s Spirit took me up and set me down in the middle of an open plain strewn with bones. He led me around and among them—a lot of bones! There were bones all over the plain—dry bones, bleached by the sun.

He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Master God, only you know that.”

He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Message of God!’ ”

God, the Master, told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!”

I prophesied just as I’d been commanded. As I prophesied, there was a sound and, oh, rustling! The bones moved and came together, bone to bone. I kept watching. Sinews formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them. But they had no breath in them.

He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man. Tell the breath, ‘God, the Master, says, Come from the four winds. Come, breath. Breathe on these slain bodies. Breathe life!’ ”

So I prophesied, just as he commanded me. The breath entered them and they came alive! They stood up on their feet, a huge army.

Then God said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Listen to what they’re saying: ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, there’s nothing left of us.’

“Therefore, prophesy. Tell them, ‘God, the Master, says: I’ll dig up your graves and bring you out alive—O my people! Then I’ll take you straight to the land of Israel. When I dig up graves and bring you out as my people, you’ll realize that I am God. I’ll breathe my life into you and you’ll live. Then I’ll lead you straight back to your land and you’ll realize that I am God. I’ve said it and I’ll do it. God’s Decree.’”

It is a fascinating image, one that God gives us through Ezekiel.  Ezekiel is believed to have prophesied the above around 590 BC, during the Babylonian captivity of Israel.

The image conjures up in our minds the life-giving action of God to his people.

To the Israelites in 590 BC, sure, but to us today also, God gives us life.

His Word brings life to us, from the times of Genesis to 590 BC to today.

That Word continually raises a big pile of bones into an army: the Church Militant, of which we are a part.

Our flesh, but more our spirits are the evidence of God’s wonder-working and life-giving power.

What a great image.  I will remember it for a Confirmation talk I’m giving next month about Confirmation…after all, it is during that Sacrament that one becomes a soldier of Christ, part of that army, and filled with the Spirit.

Picture: Barry Moser, “Valley of the Dry Bone”

The wonder of a retreat

Recently I returned from my silent retreat in Maple Mount–a tiny, out of the way town in the state of Kentucky, known to many locals and others as “God’s country.” What a fair and fitting label!

For those who offered a prayer for me or all of us on retreat, thanks. It was a beautiful time. I’ll post pictures with a few words of description tomorrow.

I will not share too many personal graces here, though there were many. But, I will say in a rather general way that this retreat opened my eyes to the role of wonder in life, a wonder that I think I’ve allowed to play too small of a role in my own life: wonder in creation, in the Church, in each other, in myself, and in the God who makes it all possible and holds it all together.

Wonder. That’s the ticket into a dynamic relationship with the living God. Remember Moses and that bush? The bush causes Moses to wonder, and he can’t help but draw near to God–despite his fear–even as that same God draws near to him.

But the wonder we’re called to, and into which this retreat invited us–or at least me–is a wonder that draws at the heart more than the mind. No one can think his way into a relationship with God; he is pulled there.

Thoughts, then feelings, then desires. O happy memories of IPF!

I’d also like to share something I found just awesome about this retreat: the feast days of the saints were perfect and fit in beautifully with our time at Mount Saint Joseph.

On Monday, we celebrated the feast day of Saint Francis de Sales, a man with keen insights into the human spirit. The second reading in the Office of Readings that day reminded us that there are different kinds of plants that do different things. Same with us: and so it’d be foolish for a bishop to live the life of a Carthusian, or for a married man to live as a hermit. We are, he says, to spend our lives in devotion to God–in whatever path that is for us. The heart will show us the way.

Tuesday marked the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul–and what a conversion it was! He went from murderer to evangelist. As Chrysostom says, Paul lived an extraordinary life of ministry after having been transformed and converted in Christ, but “the most important thing of all to him was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ.” Is there any wonder, then, that he “considered himself happier than anyone else?” Any retreat that helps one realize not only that Christ loves him, but that that’s all that really counts in the end–I’d call it a success.

Wednesday was the feast of Sts. Timothy and Titus, whose lives always pointed to what is the goal of our earthy journey and ultimately our religion and faith: heaven. Funny, on this day, early in the morning, I sat in the chapel and looked through the clear windows. It was foggy and gray outside, cloudy, misty and cold–just as I like it. From the chapel window, it looked as though we were already in heaven, as if the room I was sitting in were somehow floating in the clouds. Who knows, perhaps a bit of heaven descended upon us that morning like the dewfall. Or perhaps we were somehow being brought up. Who knows–but what a moment it was.

Thursday was the feast of St. Angela Merici, the foundress of the Ursuline Sisters, in whose motherhouse we were staying. St. Angela founded the Ursuline order. She scattered seeds on the land we were upon, but it was long after she died that they came to fruition. She never did see them bloom, though I imagine that’s not altogether true–I’m sure she smiles down now. But talk about a woman who had patience and trust in what she was doing. And that patience and trust has gone a long ways, like that mustard seed mentioned in the Gospel that day, and, pray God, like that seed of vocation in each of us.

And then on Friday we celebrated the feast of St Thomas Aquinas, whose writings we seminarians get sick of early on in our time here. Kidding, of course, but Thomas’ legacy lives on in the Church and has done a great deal in helping us understand the essential mysteries by which we are saved–here and hereafter. Our chapel here is dedicated to him, and I know he watches over us here in a special way.

Photos to come.


And they went back another way

The Feast of the Epiphany, which we celebrate this day, turns our minds to the revealing power of God, who shows us who he is and comes into our lives changing everything.

This weekend the St Charles group was here. 41 high school sophomores going through Confirmation prep.

The Church is blessed to have them. And I’m blessed to know them!

Every year I love this retreat, because watching God work in the lives of these young people on this Hill is an incredible sight–one their parents would likely be surprised at if they were able to see it.

It happens in many kinds of ways, but it happens.

God comes in.

And they are changed. Or so we hope.

I concluded the retreat with the same words that conclude the Gospel today, that concluded the reading in Vespers last night, and that concluded the reading from the morning Office today: “They [The magi] departed for their country by another way.”

Why a different way?

Because they had just met Christ God.

And an experience with Christ God changes everything.

Over the weekend, I pray these kids encountered the living God in a way that will shift their thoughts and hearts and lives.

So, today, they got on the bus and departed for Bloomington in another way.