Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Retreat Opportunity

Weekend Retreat at Linwood
Spiritual Center, Rhinebeck, NY
"Reclaiming Wisdom in Challenging Times"
Presenter: Brother Don Bisson, FMS
Silent Atmosphere with Daily Spiritual Direction
March 6-8, 2010
(845) 876-4178

The Spiritual Practice of 'Making Retreat'

When I was a young, pre-Vatican II Catholic, we spoke in Lent of 'giving up' things or, less frequently, of taking on some holy devotion like making the Stations of Cross daily or going to Mass on weekdays. We did not talk in terms of 'spiritual practice'. This is a term we have been blessed to be able to borrow from Eastern religions whose traditions are so much more familiar to us in light of the ecumenical thrust of the Council.

Whatever the vocabulary, the act of 'making retreat' has been a common part of Christian 'spiritual practice' since the earliest times. Devoted Christians have always sought to imitate Jesus in going apart, seeking a deserted place, removing themselves from the norm of life, to commune with the Father. We read the lives of saints and learn of their life-changing spiritual experiences while on retreat or pilgrimage. We know men and woman who have 'made retreat' in Lent or Advent or some regularly set time every year, marking off the days on their calendar in advance as surely as they mark the birthdays of those they love and want to be sure to remember. I have met men at Redemptorists retreat houses who would not dream of missing their annual retreat, proudly boast of their longevity in the practice, and have, in turn, initiated their sons.

As contemplative nuns our spiritual practice includes daily periods of silence designed for 'going apart' to "sit in your cell as if in paradise". (Rule of St. Romuald) Each of us picks one day a month for personal retreat and has a ten-day long retreat during the year. The community retreats together for ten days each year. For many years before entering this monastery occasional 'retreating' was my practice - weekends with a theme at a retreat house, long silent retreats with daily spiritaul direction, and once a solo vacation to a remote place that evolved into a spiritual experience of 'going apart'.

Regardless of the history of this time-honored tradition in our faith, regardless of the spiritual necessity of this discipline for those searching for God, the average Catholic has never been on a retreat and many do not even know what a retreat involves or would mean for them. Years ago I observed a very devoted women - wife, mother and grandmother - attend Mass daily and exercise various ministries in the parish. When I found the opportunity I recommended an 8-day silent retreat in which she would get some input and have daily spiritual direction. In response, she told me that her priest/spiritual director told her she was "not ready for such an experience"! I still feel that his assessment was a diservice to a woman of great faith.

The number of books concerning spirituality on the shelves of mega-book stores gives testimony to the general hunger for God present in people today. Many practicing Catholics, if asked, will express their inner desire for more, more of God than what happens for them in their parish at weekly Mass. "Making a retreat" - a half hour in a day, an hour a week, a weekend every now and then or a week each year would be spiritual medicine for such as these. A retreat is an effort to stop, to waste time with the Lord, to smell the roses, to sense the gift of God in their aroma, to hear what God might be offering in love in this very moment, to feel the embrace of the Almighty.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Lenten Reflection

The Tapestry of Life:
A Contemplative Reflection on Asceticism
for the Season of Lent

The quilt detail shown here is my personal effort at creating a tapestry - a wall hanging featuring fabric and color in pleasing balanced design. A tapestry  image was the gift I received in meditation a few days ago. The thought was framed by the notion of creating something beautiful for God out of the mystery of my life. It would be varied, bright and pleasing to the eye.

But yesterday, as  we prayed a version of the 'morning offering' that is part of our Office prayers, I was blessed with another understanding. The prayer reads: Lord Jesus Christ, I offer to your loving heart all the little annoyances, inconveniences, joys and pleasures, sufferings and trials which may come to me today. Change them into mighty graces, apply them to the spread of your kingdom, to the work of our missionaries, to the salvation of the most abandoned souls, (to which I add) and for family and friends most in need of prayer today.

In reading those words and speaking them in my heart, I was given another understanding of the tapestry image. I realized that my bright and colorful tapestry would not be created by holy, heroic, pre-planned devotional offerings and great acts. Rather, it would be a creation of the uneven and messy, not necessarily color coordinated, "little annoyances, inconveniences, joys and pleasure, sufferings and trials" of my life. This is what is real; this is what creates the tapestry. That may be the truth but it is not what my ego so much prefers, the bright, pleasingly designed and colored tapestry of my first image. Surely, only that perfection could be a fitting gift to present to God. However, I was graced with the realization that the highly idealized vision is merely the creation of a controlling ego. To allow the tapestry to take its own shape; to fall into place in the random fashion that is God's design; and to freely accept the colors and tones left behind only by the Spirit's grace, is to require a degree of surrender and letting go which continues to elude me. This is the central illusion; the illusion of personal control, of mastery, of perfection. To be truthful, letting go does not so much elude me as much as I remain resistant to it because my ego stubbornly clings to its own plan, its own vision, its singular perception of the way things ought to be. Perhaps the grace of these meditative experiences, this light of grace, is to accept the inspiration offered for Lenten asceticism; an acseticism of acceptance. It would be a surrender to the "little annoyances, inconveniences, joys and pleasures, sufferings and trials" of each day, just as they come. In surrender, acceptance and letting go they would be transformed into the materials of my tapestry in hues and tones, texture and weight expressly chosen for me by God alone. The finished product, truth be told, will be worn and threadbare in spots, even faded by the light of grace sought time and again in moments of human frailty; a testimony to perseverance.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

World Day for Consecrated LIfe

Redemptoristine Nuns - Mother of Perpetual Help Monastery
Esopus, New York

Celebrating Consecrated Life

We join today in celebrating the gift of consecrated life to the Church and the world.  It is wonderful to give attention to this particular vocation to which the Lord is still inviting many. It is just that there is so much competition for our attention, our time, our devotion. So we must continue to point to the reality of the invitation. In addition to praying for religious vocations, we must pray for growing faithfulness to our commitment to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience in service to God, all people and all of creation.

A number of efforts point to the history and viability of consecrated life. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has sponsored the creation of an outstanding exhibit spotlighting religious life. Women and Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America can currently be seen at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Later in the spring it will be in Cleveland and on September 24 arrive at Ellis Island Museum of Immigration in New York City.

Another educational tool created in service to American women religious is a CD set of lectures by a scholar from Syracuse University, Prof. Margaret Susan Thompson, Ph.D. History of Women Religious in the United States is availble from 1-800-955-3904. We have been listening to this series at our noon meal.

Today at our Mass we and our visitors will offer the following prayer for vocations provide by the National Religious Vocation Conference. Join us is saying it as frequently as you can.

Prayer for Vocations

Generous God,

You show us the way that leads to everlasting life.

Through baptism you have called us

to proclaim the Good News.

Bless and strengthen those

who have made a commitment

of service in the Church.

Guide and give wisdom to those discerning their vocation.

Enrich our Church with dedicated

married and single people,

with deacons, priests,

and with people in consecrated life.

Filled with your Holy Spirit we ask this blessing that we,

your people, may follow Jesus, our Good Shepherd,

now and always, Amen.