The last few days I have been reading a feature from the new e-publication from the Boston Globe entitled Crux. The spirituality column is presently chronicling the “Diary of a Retreat” in which the author describes her first time experience of going on a week long retreat at a retreat centre near her. I admire her frankness and transparency as she writes about her thoughts, feelings and insights.
One of her opening lines as she recounts her first day goes “OK, maybe this was a mistake, I’m telling myself. OK, maybe the “death and dying” part should’ve warned me about whom this would attract: old people. OK, maybe after a day or two, I can claim some family emergency and make a run for it.”
Don’t we all at one point or another feel that sense of panic when embarking on something new? We can identify with her desire to just opt out as quickly as she can and pretend that it never happened. Luckily for us, she does decide to stay in spite of her fears and we are blessed with her story.
As the retreat progresses, she realizes that she is learning a lot about herself and her relationship to God and the world. She discovers how difficult it is to slow down, but opens herself up to the quiet and begins to notice the beauty of the retreat grounds. The retreat master introduces a more contemplative form of prayer that assists her realization of her need to let go. This process of letting go brings her peace. Her way of looking at others is changed as she gets to know her co-retreatants and lets go of previous assumptions of the elderly and those who are different.
These diary entries remind me of the different graces that I have received on past retreats. Getting away from our everyday activities can open up a space for us to pray and reflect on what is going on in our lives. That space allows God to speak to us more freely.
Have you ever been on a quiet retreat? What was it like for you? What did you discover?
Last June, an article entitled “When Crisis Strikes: 5 steps for praying when you’re overwhelmed”, caught my attention. Personally, I am more vulnerable to being overwhelmed in the fall as I transition from the slow days of summer into the more hectic and busy days of the fall. It always takes about a month or so to get into the beat of the more intense pace of work.
For a quick read, below is a summary of the 5 steps, but you can also access the unedited list.
Step 1: Find a safe and quiet place to become aware of God’s Presence. It is important in times of crisis to step away for a few minutes or a half hour to take time to breathe and get in touch with God and his voice.
Step 2: Review what has occurred through the lens of Gratitude. The saints remind us that our relationship with God is linked to gratitude. We are all given gifts, but we need to take the time to take stock of them. Talk to God and share with him the feelings and thoughts that you have experienced since the beginning of the crisis.
Step 3: Pay attention to your emotions recognizing they are sacred. St. Ignatius of Loyola reminds us that God can speak to us through our emotions and feelings. Think back on your stronger feelings since this crisis. Thank God for speaking to you through them.
Step 4: Ask God to speak to your open heart. Pray for insight concerning these experiences. What is God asking you to pay attention to? Can he be telling you something?
Step 5: Look toward tomorrow. When we are stressed and overwhelmed, it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. What kind of strength do you need to face the challenges of tomorrow? End this time of prayer with an Our Father or another prayer of offering.
These steps will not take away the crisis that is triggering your sense of being overwhelmed, but it may bring you some sense of connection to God. May it also bring you peace.
In a city such as Montreal, where Catholic heritage so easily overwhelms the still vibrant yet less visible contemporary expression of faith, one can be forgiven for not thinking about how to build a Catholic church. The churches, they are already built. Well, nonetheless, there were a number of churches built in the recent past, mostly in the suburbs. The architectural quality of these churches – many built in the 1960’s – is, to put it charitably, debatable. There are some positive fetures to these churches. For instance, I do appreciate the wood panelling in some of these suburban churches – such as the wood (is it oak?) in the over 50 yrs. old St. Edmund’s, Beaconsfield.
Architecure is a hot topic when it comes to Catholicism’s reception of what is termed modernism. One architect in particular, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (1887-1965), better known as “Le Corbusier,” is the bête noire of modern architecture. He is associated with many projects in Europe involving lots of concrete, other heavy materials and flat surfaces. (Think of ugly aprtment blocks built circa 1962 and you have it.) This article by Denis McNamara does a nice job, I think, of detailing how and why Le Corbusier has had some direct influence on Catholic church (religious) buildings: notably the Dominican Monastery of Sainte-Marie-de-La-Tourette (1957-60) in Eveux-sur-L’Abresle outside Lyon. Take a look at the pictures in that article and see how this architecture squares with the more traditional monasteries that we know and love, whether it be the relatively recent Benedictine abbey at St. Benoit du lac here in Quebec (see below…tip: go there in early October for the amazing apples, cider, Mass and cheese …. not necessarily in that order) or the fantastic new Trappist monastery, Val Notre-dame, which is also open to visitors at select times/days.
What got all this going for me was a read through this article in a secular blog, New Geography, which details why Catholics need architecture that is vibrant and alive, not deathly plain as in the new brutalism that is associated with the name of Le Corbusier. What Catholics also need are leaders who appreciate the specific needs of Catholics for beauty that speaks to the tradition rather than a banal sense of the spiritual. This contrast is spelled out in the McNamara article on Le Corbusier and his influence on the Dominican Marie-Alain Couturier (1897-1954). One wonders what contemporary Dominicans think of the Sainte-Marie-de-La-Tourette monastery given Couturier’s controversial embrace of the ideas of LeCorbusier, the religious skeptic.
Yet, according to the author Julien Meyrat, it is possible for *some* reconciliation on the part of Catholics with modernism. He cites the convent at Ronchamp (France) and the Cistercian chapel near Irving, Texas. Interesting side note: the picture of the Texas chapel (go to the bottom of the article) reminds me of the rough stone at St. Benoit. The beauty of the rock and the careful way in which natural light is brought into the chapel seems to redeem some of the extra simplicity that would otherwise dim the illumination of the prayer and worship that unfolds within.
Building Catholic churches will, I hope, be carried out with some critical distance to what transpired in the 1960’s. We know more now than we did then, apparently. Although you can never tell for sure.
Every end of summer, before the hustle and bustle of the fall begins, I try to look back on the summer and take note of any special moments that had touched me or given me some unique insight. I like to think of these events as times when God taps me on the shoulder and reminds me of his presence. This practice can be helpful in appreciating the summer and savoring any important memories for the future. This year, one seemingly insignificant event happened while on retreat during the month of June.
he weather was for the most part beautiful that week and perfect for going on walks in the woods and smelling the flowers and fresh grass. The retreat centre, bordering on the St. Lawrence River, presented opportunities to stand by the shore and watch the water flow by in little eddies and swirls. The weather was warm, but not too hot.
One morning I woke up to a day of pouring rain. It was disappointing not being able to take the usual walk to survey the grounds and being limited to looking out of the window to see the rain fill up the grassy area with puddles of all sizes. Unexpectedly, during lunchtime, two families of Canada geese came by with their young goslings in tow. It was facinating to watch as they walked through the grass in the pouring rain, digging with their bills in search of food. The other retreatants were just as fascinated as I was to watch them as they waddled methodically around the grounds oblivious to the rain. What a beautiful site!
I was reminded that God can bring us little joys on the rainy days of our lives even when we think that nothing exciting can happen. Those rainy or dull days when we miss the sunshine and warmth of the summer can also be opportunities for discovering God.
Does God ever reveal himself to you during “rainy days”? Please share your story with us.
Not too long ago I read an article suggesting that community service is beneficial to mental health and helps to maintain intellectual capacity as we age. As I delved further into the topic, I discovered a webpage from the University of California in San Diego describing the Top Ten Reasons to Volunteer. I was surprised to see how much giving to others had so many benefits not only to the person being assisted, but also to the person who gives. This is another example of how a very Christian value, that of giving of oneself, has proven to be good for our well being.
What is the link between this and Pentecost? As a church, Pentecost is the date when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the apostles. It is also sometimes called the birthday of the church
Saint Paul in his letter to the Galatians speaks about the fruits of the Holy Spirit which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” When we give to others through community service, we are given opportunities to grow in the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
These fruits are the manifestation of what living in relationship with God can look like. As human beings, we are meant to be in relationship with each other. Relationships of service are instrumental in discovering our true humanity as God created us to be. Allowing the Holy Spirit work through us brings us joy, peace and so many other gifts.
This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. Is there a fruit of the Holy Spirit that you would like to cultivate? Is there a place where you can be of service to others and/or to the community?
Pope Francis also invites us to pray for peace in the Holy Land as he meets with some of their leaders on June 8. Let us pray for peace.
The Bible is full of stories of a merciful God who gives of his love in very unexpected ways. One of my favorites is the story of the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in the fourth chapter of John. The woman unexpectedly meets Jesus at the local well and he strikes up a conversation with her. She is living in an ambiguous situation and yet, he does not judge her but is attentive to her and treats her with kindness. Through the encounter she has a deep experience of God’s love and mercy. Her life is changed forever.
How to describe mercy? In the dictionary, mercy is defined as, “compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power; a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion”. Mercy is an act of love, freely given, with no strings attached, to someone who for all intents and purposes does not merit this gift.
Cardinal Walter Kaspar tells us in his book “Mercy” that the word hesed from the Old Testament means “unmerited loving kindness, friendliness, favor, and also divine grace and mercy…..it means God’s free and gracious turning toward the human person with care. It concerns a concept of relationship, which caracterizes not only a single action, but an ongoing attitude and posture.” He reminds us that love and mercy are closely linked. To be merciful is a way of being with others, a way of showing love.
From the story of Jesus with the Samaritan woman, we see how an act of mercy can have the power to change lives, to give life to those who are feeling lost and alone.
From the forward of his book entitled “The Church of Mercy“, Pope Francis writes, “Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord.” Having experienced mercy impacts our relationship with God. I know that having been treated with mercy by others has helped me become more merciful.
What does an experience of mercy look like? We can have an intense experience of God’s mercy when we forgive others or experience forgiveness. God’s mercy is manifest when we are present to those who are suffering or when someone else accompanies us in our own struggles and difficulties. It is often those days when we feel very alone that God finds a way to show us his merciful love.
Are there moments or times when you have experienced mercy from someone or from God? What was that like for you? How did it impact your relationship with God?
The word, “knots” reminds me of the time as a Girl Guide when I had to learn various knots to be used to tie cords together or wrap around packages. The knots would need to stay fastened and not loosen when put under stress. In these instances, the knots had a useful purpose.
But sometimes knots can be less useful as in the expression “tie myself up in knots” or “stomach in knots”. Both expressions imply a situation of anxiety, worry, concern. So if you were to undo some of these knots, the result would be a sense of peace and tranquility.
Soon after Pope Francis became elected, several news articles pointed to a particular Marian devotion that he discovered when staying in Southern Germany and which he then brought back to Argentina, his home country. The devotion called, Mary Undoer of Knots, became very popular in that country.
The story of the devotion goes back to the 18th century when a man from a wealthy background found out that his wife wanted to leave him. He consulted his Jesuit pastor at the time and the pastor asked him to bring his marriage ribbon. The priest prayed to Mary to help the couple and their difficulties were resolved. In gratitude, the man had a painting commissioned which was then placed in St. Peter’s church in Augsburg, Germany. Mary is depicted in the painting as patiently undoing the knots, one by one, on a ribbon.
The devotion to Mary speaks of her ability to help us overcome the knots in our lives. Our knots can be a relationship that is problematic, a personal issue that we are unable to resolve or any difficulty that we are struggling with. We bring our knots to Mary and ask her with the help of Jesus to see where our knots come from and how to “undo” them.
Do you have any knots in your life that are bringing you anxiety and that you wish to undo? Have you ever helped someone else undo their knots just by your listening presence? Mary serves as a model “undoer of knots.”
Is there a spirituality of work? That is the question posed by the author of the book, Spirituality at Work: 10 Ways to Balance Your Life on the Job*, Gregory F.A. Pierce. His question invites us to think of who we are as Christians when work takes up a good part of our day. The 10 disciplines he suggests are:
– surrounding yourself with sacred objects
– living with imperfection
– assuring quality
– giving thanks and congratulations
– building support and community
– dealing with others as you would have them deal with you
– balancing work, family life and community responsibilities
– working to make the system work
– engaging in ongoing personal and professional development
– deciding what is “enough” (my personal favorite)
Towards the end of the book Pierce states: « It is pretty clear to me that God is present in our workplaces. There is too much experience, too much testimony, and too many examples of people experiencing the divine presence in their work to deny or even doubt it. … Yet the workplace is a difficult place in which to « be spiritual. » It is noisy, crowded, complex, competitive, materialistic, tiring, frustrating, dangerous, busy, secular. To find God there, we have to work (there’s that word again) hard at it,…and I have tried to outline this idea of developing a new set of disciplines that might help me and others practice the spirituality of work. »
From the beginning of humanity, we have been challenged to work. It only seems logical that God is to be found in our workplace. I invite you to discover the places in your work where God resides and may be calling you to growth in your spiritual life and your relationship to God.
* Published by Loyola Press, Chicago, 2001.
The week before Easter, needing a few days of quiet time, I participated in a retreat at the Villa St. Martin in Pierrefonds situated on the bank of the Milles Isle river.
The ice on the river was beginning to melt and the retreat centre gave me a perfect view of the water as the ice slowly broke up and freed the water to flow down towards the east and under a bridge. But as the ice broke up, it jammed and some blocks of ice came up onto the side of the lawn causing the water to back up further up the river. I could see the water current under some of the broken ice, fighting to break through. Walking up the river, I noticed the water was high and flooding some of the banks. Time, sun and warmth would need to do its work to slowly free the water.
One morning, I woke up and there had been a dramatic change in the ice-jammed river. Where once there were ice blocks pushing up against each other, there now was a free flowing current in the middle that was slowly widening itself. Chunks of ice that had once been stuck were slowly being drawn into the current.
I realized that my relationship with God is often like the river jammed with ice. Taking the time to get away from the busyness of my life helped me to notice that there were a few ice jams between myself and God and he was trying to break through to reveal them to me. When I took the time to pray and reflect, the blockage slowly began to melt away and free itself and I experienced an AHA moment. I call it a grace, a gift that God gives me. The obstacle that once was there, flowed away, much as an ice chunk flows down the river, drawn in by the current. I felt freer. The energy of love in me could now flow through.
We all know that the river will freeze up again next year just as other obstacles to God come in our lives. But God is faithful and continually coaxes us to draw close to him again. We can only respond as best we can.
Do you ever have any ice jams in your life? What can you do to help free yourself and see God revealing himself to you?
grief is interrupted and
The gaping grave
drives the darkness
into deserved oblivion.
Life is reinvigorated and
we are exhilarated.
He is risen.
He is not here.
Alleluia! His rising,
wherever we go,
whatever we are doing.
Let us too proclaim this great story,
to every human being we ever meet.
And not just with our mouths,
which talk too much anyway.
Let us use our hands and move our feet.
Let us make bells in towers ring,
Climb to the rooftops to shout it to all!
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen!
Death, you have no sting.
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen!