I wrote this column several years ago while on retreat. It seems to me to be a helpful reminder of how we all may wish to enter into this holy and waiting season: preparing to receive The Light of the world this Christmas.
A moment ago I looked and they were not there. The male arrived first and after a few moments, the smaller female arrived. The wind was so strong off the ocean that I wondered if they had landed to take shelter from them and find a safe place for the evening. Canadian Geese – evidently on their way south and needing a stopping -off place. They found one in front of my window on Eastern Point, along the rugged Atlantic coastline on Cape Ann in Gloucester, in the middle of my eight day silent retreat at this beautifully simple Jesuit retreat house. There, I was noticing the signs of the majesty and beauty of God all around me.
And now she set about munching on the still green grass; he kept vigil nearby in full alert status, looking to his left and right and changing position to always have a clear view of all angles from where his mate was feeding. “Astonishing, amazing”, I thought watching these beautiful birds display their stateliness outside my window. Just one more expression of God’s creation, the mysteries of which are so very evident, when one stops, is silent, listens and looks about.
All priests in the Archdiocese are expected to make an annual retreat someplace, and for more than twenty years I have made the drive to Gloucester for mine – to this place which has become home for me. St. Ignatius of Loyola is the founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). Ignatius also founded a spirituality; a way of approaching prayer, meditation and discernment of God’s Spirit. The teachings of Ignatius have been preserved and studied by Jesuits and others for more than 500 years. And today, they have been made available to millions of laypeople, religious and clergy outside the Jesuit family.
For me the annual retreat is as essential as breathing. A parish priest is expected to preach and teach about God, prayer and the spiritual life. It stands to reason that we cannot give what we do not have. That is to say, our own relationship with God must be deepened, renewed, refreshed and invigorated regularly if we are to be a continued resource of spirituality for our people. And so, in addition to my ongoing prayer life, several hours of prayer each day for eight days each year in the silence and beauty of Eastern Point works for me.
I’m wondering how to summarize the fruits of these days for you; don’t know if I can. But a few thoughts: God’s wish to draw each of us closer in love and mercy seems more evident than ever. Yet there are so many obstacles for each of us to experience this closeness! We hunger for peace and serenity as well as joy in our daily life, yet don’t always know how to find it. We are tired all too often and greet one another with explanations of how busy we have been and are. We are productive, successful, efficient and well off – yet often spiritually impoverished.
There is no solution to this conundrum other than a conscious choice to make room for God in our life. Attending Sunday Eucharist, engaging in some daily moments of prayer and quiet, allowing yourself to savor the beauty of God’s creation and the many gifts you have received will nourish and strengthen your life in unimaginable ways.
Second Sunday of Advent December 7/8, 2019
In today’s Gospel reading John the Baptist warns his listeners: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” The Church’s yearly Advent herald is a call to repentance. The season of Advent urges us to be open to a conversion of heart. Christian stewards heed this call daily, and take the need for conversion in their lives seriously.
As a family of faith, do we hear this call to conversion amidst the massive holiday spending? The increase in credit card debt? The urge to buy things that are not necessary? The incivility on the roadways during the holidays? Are there patterns in our own lives that need to be converted?