Retreat has been on my mind as I am preparing to head back to the Abbey soon. In this reflecting on my upcoming retreat, also returning to my mind are the lessons I took home with me last July, primarily that of persevering in vocations, and a deepening of understanding the necessary purification greeting us along the way.
I assure you the curious title will make sense by the end of this.
My most recent insight on the reality of enduring in vocations and fulfilling what God asks of us have brought me to consider the way that we can have a tendency to become enamored with the point where He calls us. That day of His seeming proposal filled with jubilation and love, ignorance of all crosses to come, vowing to embrace their reality, but still too entrenched in the fantasy that it’s resonance evades us. Even the crosses within us that we carry in the hidden places of our hearts often remain obscure to us.
This is a gift though, we need to taste the depth of this joy to know it exists, it affirms blatantly God’s goodness, but in advancing and enduring the blows and marks of time it becomes evident that the point is greater than this. The marking of all vocations is the Cross and only a deep love of God can endure this.
We can delude ourselves in longing for that joy born in ignorance, chasing a sensation over an eternal reality. When we consider loving another for God’s sake alone it seems to be the only thing that makes sense. in fact loving only makes complete sense by loving God. For no one possesses enough good to turn us from sin, it is not by another’s good, surely not even our own good that we remain strong in ourselves.
The fleshy inclination will always be to call most good the baseness of some passion, it is a flight of descent. It is by our being truly possessed by good, complete goodness, and the measure that we allow God to possess us that we can persevere in the task of our vocations. In religious life or married life alike.
To neglect this necessity of personal radical love for God is to neglect knowing the depth of love in the goodness of the other. Even the young seminarian or priest who vows to a life of loving God and serving for love of Him is only ever as good and sustained to the degree He is motivated by a deep love for Him and desire for the Cross.
Sustenance is not in the joy of the call, but the point of discovering why we remain. To remember why we remain is the sobering balm. Because if we endure out of love for the Cross then we are sustained. Remember why you remain and for Whom you do. It is only this that can take us out of ourselves long enough to grow in virtue of love of Him and persevere in loving.
Defeat is in willing lesser loves. The obscurity is in the middle where we can’t fully rest yet in the Cross and know the pangs of the lower options. We’re won over by consenting to the Cross and to be made strong in the weakness of our will desiring to do opposite. God takes the struggle of our will, if we take it to Christ and brings tremendous richness.
I experienced a mirroring of this lesson in a small capacity over the course of my four days in Genesee last year. It was time much different than the others. Primarily because, it was quickly evident that my peaceful expectations of what my retreats were most recently normally filled with, would be tested greatly by exterior disruptions and presence of my greatest temporal fears.
I am afraid of very little. Mice and snakes are the two things that make me shudder. Thankfully I managed to reach 30 years without having to see a mouse, a living one scurrying at least, and only ever had to see a tiny little snake in my youth.
However, my first night I was greeted by a mouse, he lingered just long enough to stare me dead in the face before heading off. The kids were already in bed, I alone. Suddenly fear overcame me, embarrassingly, and I realized then how the simplest and even insignificant events can test our sense of interior peace. How could such a small thing cause me such great disturbance? There was much more to learn.
The following day, I felt stronger, as if I had conquered my little squeaky friend and could move on, but, while returning home again just to the side of the house there bathing in the sun was a snake. Hanging out in the clear day , and it was then I realized that I was in for a much different stay. I believe at that point I uttered something like “You’re funny Lord” before praying a couple Hail Mary’s recalling she crushes them, but I truthfully felt less disturbed, at the sight of this frightening reality I somehow had an understanding brewing about detachments. I took a photo of my slithery friend for reference of this day, while my daughter gently said “what’s that mama, can I touch it” Pretending to be calm, explaining it was sleeping *and secretly hoping it was. This turned out to be a pleasant encounter though, the snake stayed put completely at peace in the sun.
In a sense I had every reason to flee, seeing my two biggest fears however small they may be in comparison to others, it took a lot of remaining focused on the most important to remain there and lovingly so. I had a fantastic time. And perhaps learned the most profound lesson. Here below are my reflections written there the morning after the snake sighting…
I learned more from a mouse and a snake on this retreat than I have learned in any book or spiritual counsel here. Ironically following seeing the snake I had my greatest sleep here and I have remained rested ever since.
I awoke the following day on July 13th at 2:30 a.m. Unable of course to go to vigils having the kids sleeping in the house, I joined in as I often do from home and meditated further upon this lesson. It brought me to think more about the monastic life, about what leads men here, about what can discourage them, and of course Who it is that keeps them.
I am sure in the beginning of postulancy there is overwhelming consolation from God, an almost addictive attractiveness to the peace that the monastic way of life seems to ooze out of those men who persevere in their vocation amidst the immense seasons of change within the soul. This too is reflection of the joy and eagerness of newlyweds as they approach their wedding.
The grounds alone boast of God’s Beauty. The humming of tireless joy-filled birds, imbued with Heavenly hymns can soothe the heart and reflect boldly the Majesty of God.
This beauty is necessary, for this pulls at us and invites us to desire the Creator of all these good and lovely things.
And yet, the vastness and beauty of this isolated setting eventually becomes a great source of necessary desolation and disenchantment. The allure of a hidden life in Christ is purified and tested over the course of time, exposing the weakness of our feeble will, and the true intention of our hearts in coming here.
So too this is in marriage, though an active vocation in the world, we cannot hide from encountering the depths of hidden places within our hearts, disordered longings, and the need to always purify our attachment and understanding of why we too have chosen to come to the Altar and vow to a life of love of another out of love for God.
One is wrong to assume that monastic life will silence the noise in their life, this is true to some degree, as The Rule will prevent partaking fully in worldly communications as before, but there is greater noise that greets the starry eyed postulant, or the fairy tale newlywed, and that is the noise within the soul and the wrestling of wills.
So many people walk around deaf to this noise, afraid of encountering what it says of them and most importantly avoid facing the reality of Whose they are. It is no way to live at all.
The more attentive we are to the inner noise and the more earnestly we seek to be a student of silence and obedience, the peace emerges, even if ever so slowly.
This touch of grace is enough for us, it keeps us and affirms us as we cling to our cross, as we cling to Christ our Lord.
You can hide from the world, but you cannot hide from God, nor the truth of yourself before Him. Retreating from the world and all of the freedom that it seems to propose only faces us more deeply and more intensely into the encounter of God. We consent to be held captive by Christ where there is found freedom like no other.
The difficulty experienced with the passing of time and the pruning of our pathetic human weakness serves to aid us in attaining the peace that attracts us initially to this way of life to begin with. We need only consent to always being made new, to strive to be better and to live perpetually captivated by Christ.
It is not for everyone, and for such reason Jesus reminds us many times of the difficulty faced if we desire eternal life.
Courage is needed, and an unwavering trust and love of God.
No greater love for us could He show to us than by the grace of revealing how so desperately we need His love,revealing it upon the Cross, by inspiring us to seek Him deeply, earnestly, and perpetually so that we can remain with Him as He resides in us. So that we may hope to find ourselves at that moment of final perseverance before his glory, finished the battle, won the race, and surrounded consumed in His love.
The beauty of this retreat was a deepening of detachment and an understanding of persevering through fear and even learning to to appreciate the Cross in a new way. Our Lord was filled with surprises of consolation this day. And it unfolded as a gift for me as I prepared to pack up for home. At 5:30 in the morning, while the kids were sleeping, before heading off to Mass ,I began to load up the van for our departure
As I stepped back from my van, facing the Abbey, I saw a deer about 100 ft in the distance, the most beautiful delicate deer. I love deer tremendously. And ironically my first retreat to Genesee I saw them each evening, and would just gaze at their beauty. Had I seen the mouse and the snake, I probably would never have come back. it is love that prepares our embrace for the Cross. Just behind the deer was a little fawn.. that is when I began to weep. A mother and child. It was a warming and consoling good bye gift.
I know not what will be encountered this time in Genesee, I admit to being taken back for a moment in fear at the thought of seeing my squeaky and slithery friends. But I am more assured this time of God’s grace, more aware that all things sent to us are for our good.
Our love in Him alone encourages our perseverance… and all of it must be oriented toward the Cross if it is to endure at all.(CC)
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