Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Union with God: Advent Retreat

Father John J. Lombardi

"But if that man begins to burn with the desire of following the One whom he loves, then he runs, melted by the fire of love. Desire becomes restless and everything in the world that previously made him happy loses value." St Gregory the Great.

It's now Advent-"Be watchful. Be alert" (Mk 13:33)-as Jesus cried in last week's Gospel. You may choose in this busiest Season of the Year between materialistic mania-ism (a"shop till you drop" mentality) or manger-mysticism-pilgrimaging with Mary and Joseph to mystical Bethlehem for the Birth of Savior Christ Jesus. Angelus Silesius, a convert-Polish-Priest once wrote: "This wood more precious is than the throne of Solomon/ For there enfolded by God's true Eternal Son." This may mean: contemplating, as much as we can in each moment of the Advent Season, what Mary and Joseph are doing, in their ninth month of pregnancy, where they are along the Path to Bethlehem, so as to enfold in ourselves, God's Eternal Son. Let us thus embrace on this retreat, in this Time, or wherever we are, the Three Virtues of Advent: Silence, Solitude and Stillness. These are crucial to help us ask and practice: How am I giving my soul as a crPche-cradle-manger for the Lord's Birth within? Like St Teresa of Avila you can be a busy contemplative right where you--busy, yes, but contemplative-uniting to God in each moment, making your soul His cradle: thru Silence, Stillness and Solitude.

"Be Watchful, be alert"-This is traditionally attributed to the Final Coming of Jesus. Also it can be used to inspire all to be vigilant in prayer, in daily-deliberate spirituality: Watch. See and know what thoughts most predominate in your mind and soul, clean them up and out, purify so as to make your soul supple to enfold the King-Jesus. In this weekend's Gospel the Lord exclaims: "Repent…" (Mk. 1:1-8),which means: make a hard, consistent and loving turn away from sin to Him-the-Lord. It entails a positive move (turn to God in love) and negational one (hatred of sin). One goes with the other. Our Goal on this Retreat and in life: Union with God-as far as we can on Earth, and hopefully, finally in Heaven. Once I was praying in our Chapel before Mass and a man came up to me, as I was bowed with a cowl over my head. I was at first disturbed and then inspired. The man-who looked like what I imaged JeanValjean to be, of Victor Hugo's classic, "Les Miserables," and he asked: "Father, I'm sorry to disturb you, but can I make a confession. I just got out fo prison-ten years-and I want to go to Holy Communion." This ex-prisoner "de-prisoned" me from lethargy and my mystical myopia into a utopia of Love: He wanted to repent and turn to Him in the Blessed Sacrament-what the Gospels and Advent and this retreat and spiritual life call us to. This "Valjean-like" guy's spiritual desire, clarity and Love enthused me into a holy regeneration and reminded me of the simplicity of the Gospel and God's Merciful Call. So, let us, too, repent from sin and turn to Him-the-Lord Jesus-Savior with the same child-like confidence!

Advent,this retreat and the spiritual life are about Depth. Enfolding God within by Stillness, Silence and Solitude. This is what we will emphasize during our retreat-Deepening Communion and the spiritual disciplines to help us become more like the Virgin enfolding the Lord in our spiritual wombs. We could sum this up in the following maxim: Depth…Divinity…Unity. Depth means penetrating our souls to be purified of sin, to allow Divinity within and thereby embrace the Unity. Our "enemies" this Advent may be the "Three P's"-Presents-focusing on materialism without the receiving the Divine Presence in Silence-Jesus Himself; Parties-a busybodyism which neglects Stillness; and Pleasures which negates our sins and need of cleansing which may come about thru Solitude.

One time a man went on a retreat and the retreat master spoke often of putting oneself in the "Presence of the Lord". The retreatant asked if he and others could do this by Adoration in front of the Divine-Presence-Eucharist. The retreat master said if there was a "ground swell" it could happen. It happened: they held all night Adoration in Stillness, Silence and Solitude. Sometimes you need to make it happen-even inspiring your priests!

To develop, nurture and sustain and an intentional spirituality-may be summed up in four words: Love God/Love neighbor-- are you doing this? Our spiritual lives must have this balance; and; also, as some suggested another Four Words to Heaven: One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, which means our links to Sacred Tradition which we need to anchor us in spirituality and develop Union with God, otherwise we will waste time in endless curiosities or be led into falsities, heresies and fantasies.

What are some parts of our Tradition (from the Latin, traditio, "to hand on") which can help us? They may include:

Desert Fathers (monks in the Egyptian desert of the first four centuries of Christianity ) =purification of self and total focus on God thru all daily life and activities. These are the some of the most unbeknown-best-kept-secrets of Catholicism-they invite us to strip ourselves of sin to clothe ourselves with God, to cultivate purity of intention, and embrace simplicity. Now, who couldn't use all this in Modern America?...Dominican=one of their mottos is contempalata alii tradere= to give away the fruits of one's contemplation; they emphasize the intellect; thru conformation of the individual's mind to doctrines which are meant to help/guide/form us and our beliefs and prayer-images of God…Ignatian: one of the Jesuit mottos is- contemplativus in actionis= contemplatives in action= doing His will in daily life, "in the trenches"-discipleship in the daily world.

Franciscan=earthy, gritty spirituality in world, contemplative and yet active, with special emphasis on serving the poor…Carmelite "The Interior Castle" (St Teresa) and "Ascent of Mt Carmel" (St John of the Cross) aim at total Union with God thru deeper prayer and states of purification

Lay-Modern Spirituality: the call of Vatican Council II, of religious orders/institutes and Pope John Paul II, to be holy in the world, right where you are, and effect change on your scale and thru your state of life…

Are you watchful, alert? Darius Zurek was a young Polish seminarian, here at Mt St Mary's, who died in an accident while on Thanksgiving vacation. A tragedy. Msgr. Rohlfs, rector of our Seminary here asked in a memorial Mass for this young valorous man: What would Darius have me say? Answer: "Be ready, be watchful, be alert." He, Darius, as a seminarian, was probably ready, because of daily Eucharist, prayer, Breviary, confession, spiritual direction Sacrifice/zeal/spiritual disciplines all help us like they helped him. Are you embracing them ?

Remember: Silence, Stillness and Solitude will help us cultivate the depth we all need to effect a more perfect and pure receptivity and Union with God, of course with His Grace. Pure receptivity-that is what we need aim for-like the Virgin Mary we need this immaculateness to seek, attract and receive her Son into the crPches of our hearts.

And prayer is the Language of Love in these Advent times to complete that Union. What is prayer, the root of our lives and Union with God? "Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God" (St John Damascene: Catechism: # 2559). We need raise our minds and hearts out of the world, out of the gutter, into God's world and ask for what is pleasing to Him. Do you?

Remember and memorize the most basic lesson and acronym about prayer: ACTS--Adoration: the First Act of Religion is Love of him; Contrition=be sorrowful for, and tell God your sins; Thanksgiving=stretch the Heart each day and count-be thankful for at least three blessings/graces; Supplication=pray for others.

An Overview of Retreat (and Spirituality) :

The Three Kinds of Prayer-Oratio verbal, discursive, active prayer/s; Meditatio=focusing on one thought/image and digging deeper into Divine mysteries. Contemplatio: as we discipline ourselves into a more Marian spirit of pure receptivity, God/Holy Spirit cleanses us and occupies us more fully. Think of it this way-Image of child and mother: oratio = child to mother in frequent/varied utterances; meditation = suckling at breast of mother w/ focus; contemplation= rest at the breast, delight and fulfillment, receptivity…What are obstacles to prayer, spiritual life, Union with God? In other words, from what do you need to repent and turn to Him more in prayer?

We will explore how Stillness, Silence and Solitude, no matter your state of life can help you affect a more Loving Union with God. Remember: we are seeking a deeper Union with God.

Stillness means "Be still and know that I am God" (Ps 46:10).You need turn off the treadmill of your lfie, at times, and embrace stillness. Silence means turning of the chatter and cleansing the static of the outside and inner worlds to treasure Him in your quiet heart. Silence is the cauldron of love wherein God may speak. Solitude means turning away from creatures-even, at times, your children, spouse and boss(!)-and embracing, like the Lord Jesus, the metaphysical mountain, desert and sea wherever they are for you in your life.

Mindfulness/Everyday Spirituality-We live in the world, not in a cloister. We need realize this but not give up on serious, diligent disciplines to enhance the Spiritual Life. One man described it this way: "Mindfulness of God becomes habitual…appears less as an action than as a transformed state of consciences in which every thought and word and deed take place within the context of the Divine" (Michael Casey, OCSO).

Particular Points of Meditation Include: Remember this retreat and life is about Union with God…What are my major obstacles, sins and faults in Union with God and neighbor?...What are major graces/gifts God has given me to build upon?...Do I have, how can I nurture, a personal, inner, mystical relationship with Christ Jesus, the Divine Trinity, and Mary and the Saints?...How can I be an instrument, a vessel or a channel of this Divine Life to others (active spirituality)? What are some mystical mistakes we may make in the desire for Union with God?

Lastly, we will once again consider how we can gain a deeper union with God, especially thru contemplation. Remember, this retreat and the Spiritual Life is about depth, pure reception, Love!

St Thomas Aquinas once wrote and described Union this way: "The lover is said to be in the Beloved inasmuch as the lover is not satisfied with a superficial apprehension of the Beloved, but strives to gain an intimate knowledge of everything pertaining to Him, so as to penetrate into his very soul."

St John of the Cross says: "We shall become like Him (I Jn. 3:2) not because the soul will have as much capacity as God-this is impossible-but because all that it is will become like God. Thus it will be called, and shall be, God thru participation."

Our goal, then: to allow God to penetrate into our very souls and to participate in His Nature! To be watchful and alert to have Jesus born not only in the stable of Bethlehem, not only in Mary's womb, but also in our own souls-thru Prayerful Stillness, Silence and Solitude. Now, this Retreat, this Advent, how will you pull out the bad straw and sins of life to embrace Him Who is Life Itself?.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi