Week 1 begins this retreat at the only place we can begin: ourselves and our own story. Your story is uniquely your own, as is mine. You begin with what you have that is uniquely your own. The ultimate end of this journey is that’s where you will find God. Not, however, a god of your own making, but a realization that you are of God’s making!
To know where we are now, it’s important to know where we have been. We cannot ignore our past, even if there are aspects of our past that it is still difficult to to come to terms with. During this week, as we look at our past, we realize that there are things we can be proud of and things that we turn away from in shame. That’s OK. God is still with us, and God does not turn away from us. God has only one goal in mind, and that is that we join Him in eternal union with Him in the fullness of His Kingdom in eternity.
If you haven’t already done so, please first visit the home page of the online retreat. Read the linked pages that can help navigate your way through the online retreat site, and help you to derive more from the retreat.
Go to the retreat guide for this week, and try to be faithful every day to the readings and exercises it suggests. Don’t rush, and especially don’t panic. even if you fall behind. Just try to put a few minutes several times each day reviewing the “slide show” of your life. Perhaps you’re inclined to do it chronologically – childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, etc., as you move through the week. That’s OK. Perhaps your thoughts will range in random without much order or sequence. That’s OK too. The important thing is to take a good look at your own life by visualizing whatever about your past that comes to mind. If unpleasant things, such as old hurts or desires to right past wrongs, come to mind, that’s OK. Just don’t dwell on them, don’t let them control or dominate. Just let go of them, and move on.
This is a retreat. You might ask, Why aren’t we doing something holy? Why are we concentrating on ourselves? Don’t worry. There’s an old very Catholic saying, “Grace builds on nature.” To find God, we have to first find ourselves. Jesus said that we must give up ourselves. But we can’t give up what we don’t have.
Thank you for joining me on this wonderful retreat adventure. Please share any reflections you may have in the comments section below. That way we will all be able to share and enrich one another with our thoughts and reflections. Perhaps we can even get a lively conversation going. May you allow the Holy Spirit to be your companion on this journey.
My own reflections are on the homepage of this website. You may enjoy commenting and getting into a dialogue.
The “Slideshow of My Life.” The retreat notes say “Photo Album” made up of the images our memory and imagination give us of our lives, going back even to early childhood. This week’s exercise is kind of like they say having your whole life flash before your eyes – but you don’t have to be in a falling elevator or other moment of imminent peril to do it.
We are still early in the week, but these last two days have been a surprising journey for me. Frankly, I wasn’t sure whether this “letting the retreat be in the background of my everyday life” was going to work. Well, it has for two days! With some intentional exploring of my past – letting the images come to mind without necessarily analysing them or trying to find out what they mean – I find that new ones pop up at the strangest moments during the day. And I just let them sit there. Most of them are good and pleasant memories. The relatively few (thank God!) unpleasant memories of my childhood tend to carry with them positive learning experiences. Like the time my mom slapped me when I was reaching out to a pot of boiling water on the stove. While corporal punishment is now frowned upon, then memory of that slight pain (plus childish tears and frustrations) successfully avoided (and prevented in the future) the much more tragic scalding by a cascade of boiling water!
As I’m moving along, other images are coming to mind. I’m in the Minor (High School) Seminary, next to the San Fernando Mission (now the campus of Alemany High School). Just a kid, really. How am I supposed to know what my life-long commitment will be? A lot of fellow student, who I thought were a lot better than me, left to pursue other paths. Some of them I’m still in touch with. Great guys. Most of them still better than me. So I’m still here. Why? I don’t know. God knows. That’s enough. I’m content.
Some priests have fancy vocation stories. I don’t. I entered the seminary as a high school freshman. I’m not sure my motives. One was that the pastor of my parish, whom I didn’t like and I don’t think he knew me well enough to like me or not, said, “Tommy me boy” (he was Irish), “why dontcha” (that’s the way the Irish talk) “give it a try. You don’t have to stay if you don’t like it.” Well, I didn’t always like it, but I stayed. God’s hand had to be in there somewhere, but to this day, I know not where.
Later in the week, images from my early years in the priesthood are coming to mind. There were a lot of challenges in those years; a lot of hurts and disappointments, and a lot of moments where I’m sure I hurt and alienated others in my arrogance and ignorance. There were memorable positive moments too. One comes to mind especially when I encountered a person who was in a significant leadership position in a parish who told me that, after many years of being away from the church, she had come to confession to me, fearfully, and the tone and gesture of my welcome led her to bring other family members back and to get actively involved in the church. I never knew this until years later. Wow!
In hindsight, I have to say that my most difficult parish assignment also contained the most long lasting graces. And, hindsight has also shown that in many instances if I actually had gotten the ministry assignment I really wanted, it would have been disastrous. While the pleasant, agreeable, and fulfilling things in my life and ministry as a priest have helped to sustain me through difficulties, it’s those very difficulties that have taught me the most important lessons and brought the most significant graces.
This will be my last addition to this post. I’ll begin next week’s soon. The opening prayer really speaks to me, and I’ve begun to use it daily.
Lord, I so wish to prepare well for this time.
I so want to make all of me ready and attentive and available to you.
Please help me clarify and purify my intentions.
I have so many contradictory desires.
My activity seems to be so full of busyness
and running after stuff that doesn’t really seem to matter or last.
I know that if I give you my heart whatever I do will follow my new heart.
May all that I am today, all that I try to do today, may all my encounters, reflections, even the frustrations and failings all place my life in your hands.
Lord, my life is in your hands.
Please, let this day give you praise.
The other prayer for this first week, “Blessed are You Lord,” is wonderful too.
My prayer for all of you is that you had a successful first week, and are beginning to experience the graces of this time of letting God work in the “background” of our lives.