Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Lenten Lessons from A Retreat

Father John J. Lombardi 

"Come away by yourselves to a deserted place
and rest awhile" (Mk. 6:31).

I recently went on retreat and learned some lessons which may be of help to you.

Before leaving a pilgrim said to me, "I will pray and fast for you for two days-- for clarity." St Paul writes: "May the God of glory grant you a spirit of wisdom and insight to know Him clearly. May He enlighten your innermost vision…" (Eph. 1:17-18). That's just what a soul needs when making a retreat (and following Jesus 24/7)-clarity: to see and know God's Will, to look at one's own sins and defects, to truly view with unimpeded soul-powers, what God is now calling the retreatant-disciple to do and become. And this generous person's fasting and praying shows an element of the Mystical Body of Christ-that even though separated by distance, and in separate states of life (one a clergyperson, one a layperson), we can all help each other (see I Cor. 12 4ff.,on how we are all interrelated and "spiritually complementary").

Our priests go on retreat not only for themselves, but also for others-to vicariously partake of silence for those who cannot themselves, to remember others' troubles and trials, and to bring their needs with them to the Tabernacle of Jesus ("I AM the Living Bread come down from Heaven"-Jn 6: 42 ). The same person above, asked: "What is the purpose of your retreat?" What other answer is there?: "To grow in closer union to God."

While going on a retreat is certainly a delight and privilege, don't discount yourself so readily. Many married and busy people make retreats. Yes, it takes time, organization, money and the right kairos-opportunity-but you can do it. After all, the busiest people in the world-the Pope and President-- go on retreats each year. Why not you?!

Work to Re-create: leaving to go on retreat is like going on a vacation-it takes time and energy: making phone calls, packing, saying goodbye, and finishing various tasks. By the time you arrive you know you need the time away and realize it takes time to settle in, calm down. Prayer is like that. It takes most of us plenty of time to calm ourselves into a peaceful state of prayer and then, letting all the dust settle. But don't let the hassles deter you from Divinity's espousals, spending time with God alone God speaks: "Therefore I will allure her, lead her into the desert and speak to her heart" (Hos 2:16). -How can I overcome troubles to be with God?

Interiority: When it's cloudy outside some people turn inside. That's spiritually great as long as it's not depression, but seeking the "divine impression". This is called spiritual interiority. On the second day of retreat it rained and sleeted. St Teresa of Avila says, "All weather is good weather because God made it." Okay, so on cloudy days let's "spiritually sublimate": The clouds and rain can coerce us to "go inside" to our souls since it's not ethereally beautiful outside. You hear people sometimes say: "I am going out tonight…" but have you ever heard anyone say: "I am going within" ? Dominican friar Johannes Tauler (+1361) counsels us: "Form the habit of entering the ground of your soul, the secret realm, where one becomes still…single-minded, more removed from all things, for God Himself is present in this noble realm, and works and reigns and dwells therein." + How can you daily retreat to this "noble ground within" through generous prayer-time?

Prayer and meditation: This is a "religious art" we Catholics are richly privileged with, and yet are losing in a treadmill-like, overly rationalistic world. These spiritual disciplines emphasize watching and purifying the mind, the need to still the heart and passions, calm the soul, and to pray more deeply (contemplation). St Paul asks, pointedly: "Are you not aware you are a temple of God and that the Spirit dwells in you?" ( I Cor. 3:16). Daily meditation should take precedence while on retreat or in the world: no questions. A zealous pilgrim for deeper prayer gave me a book just before leaving on retreat, on Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, who writes of delving deeper into God's Love and Mystery: "Push farther and farther into this deepness. For here is the wilderness into which God wants to entice the soul in order to talk with her, as the prophet sang (Hos. 2:14)… Here, all the way down, the 'divine crash' occurs. In the abyss of our nothingness, of our wretchedness, we find ourselves confronting the abyss of mercy, of limitlessness, of God's All. It is the spacious Abyss of the unfathomable Trinity"…

Less is More: Each day I ate a meal of mom and dad's soup, some bread and some fish. Simple and yet complete. And, having a wood stove in my cabin, I could make fires and do some wash and dry it on the stove! Simplicity is unadorned elegance. When we focus on simple things and activities we find delight, and thank God more deeply for His Providential blessings! What is getting in your way of receiving more?... Walking Meditation: Many today are turning to new age spirituality for this. Labyrinths--walking mazes, originally penitential journeys on the knees--are popular these days. Indeed there was one where I made retreat. Inspired, I enjoyed walking meditation. It was simple and Christic: Jesus Christ walked a lot, and so why not us? So: find a peaceful path nearby home or work, trod it mindfully while saying the Rosary or some simple aspirations (short, heartfelt prayers: Jesus, I adore you; Mary, Virgin and Mother), and let the gentle motion and rhythmic repetitions help ease your soul and body. The tradition of walking meditation is in Dominican houses, Franciscan monasteries and retreat enclaves, where there were-and are- "meditation gardens" and cloister walks for retreatants to walk and pray in simplicity…

Chapel Visits: I tried to make regular visits to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Usually I like to simply sit there in His Divine Presence. But: some recent conversations came up- a mom who was denied proper doctrine in faith-formation of her children; a friend whose sister died; a friend who was battling for the Faith in San Francisco. Originally, these issues disturbed me and were obviously buried within my consciousness. And so I learned (again!): instead of trying to repress the needs of the world, we may talk to Jesus about them, ask for help and give the troubles to Him. "Pray unceasingly" ( I Thes 5:17): All can become prayer, not just meditation in the chapel. Bl. Elizabeth counsels: "Let us make a continual Holy Communion of our days…a kind of continual communion with the triune God, since all things that come to us are like a sacrament that offers God to us…each incident, each event and suffering as well as joys, is a sacrament that gives us God and the soul can no longer distinguish among these things, rather, she passes beyond them to repose above all, in her lord Himself". +How can you make everything a prayerful event-point to God?

Defects: Examining one's conscience and life should occur daily, and especially on retreat. Tauler recommends: "To discern what weaknesses and faults separate you from God, you must enter into your own inward ground and then confront yourself." St Paul writes in this Sunday's second reading: "Whoever is in Christ is a new creation; the old has past, new things have come." Regarding your relationships and discipleship, ask: Who is showing up--the same old person or a "new creation"? When was your last Confession-go now! Mass "is the most beautiful treasure in the Church." (St Alphonsus Liguori). When we celebrate the Mystical Supper we pray for special intentions, proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes" (I Cor. 11:26 ), and participate in the salvation of the world. Why stay away from this? And: hear Jesus saying- "He who eats My Flesh and Drinks My Blood abides in Me and I in him" (Jn. 6:56). Nurture this Divine Indwelling! Conclusion: How can you make a "daily retreat" thru regular meditation time, and make a retreat each year? How can you pray for others? How can you make all your activities a prayer? How can you renew your Lenten resolutions of Fasting, Praying, and Almsgiving. (see Mt. 6:1ff ), and so renew your personal covenant with God and neighbor? Any retreat, and Lent itself, are not ends in themselves. They are meant to be a "spring training"-a preparation for The Resurrection. Prayer of Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity: "O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action."

Briefly Noted

Rest in Peace: Fr Carl J Fives, died on his 88th birthday (Mar. 14) and gave his life to the priesthood for over fifty years, to Our Lady and to Mt St Mary's. May we all imitate his dedication and service! Bishop Ditillo, of Harrisburg diocese also died, on Mar. 5. Please pray for both of these priests of God.

Bible Readings: Jos 5-12; 2 Cor. 5:17-22; Lk 15:1-32 The Story of the Prodigal Son teaches us-- Three of the most difficult words to say-have the audacity of humility to say them: I am sorry…From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, consider this meditation: "The process of conversion and repentance was described by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son, the center of which is the merciful father: the fascination of illusory freedom; the abandonment of the father's house; his reflection on all he lost; his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty; the journey back; the father's generous welcome; the father's joy-all these are characteristics of the process of conversion" (#1439). Praise to God Thru Song: If you can help sing in our excellent choir-even some Latin!-- then contact Fr Jack Lombardi

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi