Every year at this time comes a period which I look forward too with immense need and gratitude: the annual retreat.
It is the fraternity among brother priests from around the world to be sure. However more even than that blessing is the opportunity, away from all other demands and distractions, to step deeply into the school of Our Blessed Mother, to be drawn aside, as He did with the Apostles, by Jesus, to rest, to be renewed, to commune with the Holy Spirit, be renewed for fidelity to the Holy Will of the Father throughout the coming year.
Pope John Paul urged priests to be converted anew everyday – certainly a retreat is critical to sustaining such a graced process throughout each day of the year.
So I will not be blogging again until the beginning of October and ask your prayer for all of us on retreat.
Here, before leaving in a few hours, I share my pre-retreat meditation based upon Psalm 34, with words from the Psalm in quotation marks:
"I will bless the Lord at all times", even if my emotions might be doing otherwise, or my mouth less than joyful, let every heartbeat, every breath be a continual act of praise.
Let nothing appear upon my face other than the Light of Your love nor any word flow from my mouth but that it be an affirming word, a truth word "so that the poor may hear and rejoice."
So every star in the heavens, planets, sun, moon, every cloud and raindrop, all you snowflakes and morning mists, winds, running streams, oceans and all who live within you or travel upon you, birds of the air and all who travel by air, every creature upon the earth, each blade of grass, leaf, tree – every human being who dwells in forests or jungles, on mountains or in valleys, within the canyons of cities, in palaces or hovels, cardboard boxes or under bridges, no matter our condition or hunger, sorrow or joy, hope or struggle "let us exalt His Name together!"
Deep in the swamp of darkness, lost in the shadows of loneliness, warmed in the midst of love, believing or seemingly without hope, rejoicing or struggling with addiction, honoured or rejected, in prison or seeming to be powerful – knowing I am choosing to do so or another through prayer doing so for me – everyone who breathes seeks and I testify the seeking is worth it "for I sought the Lord and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears" and it is true, even if we seem crushed down so far we are as a blind one, so lost we are as one who cannot hear, so hurting it is as if we have no voice it is true that "those who look to Him are radiant and their faces shall never be ashamed."
What more can I say? That everything will instantly change, all will be well, no more sorrow or grief, no more sin or wounds, loneliness will vanish and addiction dissipate, hatred, war, terrorism, extremism, abortion ended?
No – mostly none of that will happen – though absolutely we can choose to build a civilization of love and ALL of that will become reality.
No – weep, we must, tears of repentance, intercession, supplication, for the world is in pain, babies are being murdered in the womb – children abused, women battered, nations in the grips of war and terror, the streets are filled with the homeless and by far there is too much anger, hatred, degradation through pornography, assault on the sanctity of marriage and family life – and the Priesthood is wounded, terribly, priests are suffering, ceaselessly and Peter, Our Holy Father Benedict attacked, because he has the truth-speaking heart of a child and the compassionate heart of a father.
As priest I am voice for everyone, especially during Holy Mass, in persona Christi, the Suffering Servant, the Poor Man who, for all of us did, does "cry out and the Lord heard Him and saved Him out of all His troubles" as the Father hears us through Jesus who saves us, redeems us, and blessed are we if we take "refuge in Him!"
Jews and Protestants, Buddhists and Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox, peoples of any belief and of none at all, knowing or not that we have but one Father who is Love, brothers and sisters, "Come, O children, listen to me….turn away from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it….the Lord is near the brokenhearted and saves the crushed spirit."