Retreat Postscript

arch

Yesterday was a travel day as we returned from Gesthemani, KY.  It’s always a transition to come back from retreat life to “real” life.  First of all there’s the time difference.  Gesthemani is in the Eastern time zone, Saint Louis is in the Central time zone.  It will take a while for my body clock to reset.  Second, there’s the “normal” events of life that don’t seem so hectic normally, but after a few days of life at the monastery,  it all seems kind of overwhelming.

I always come back from retreat determined to spend more time in prayer and contemplation.  I did that today, at least so far, but I don’t know what tomorrow will bring with morning mass, a breakfast at Saint John’s to introduce the new deacon, a 7:00 pm meeting, and a party afterwards.  That sounds like a hard day to find time for contemplation and reading.  We’ll see.  At least in my reading this week I learned some short prayers that can be said on the fly, keeping God at the front of my mind all day.

As usual, I came back with an arm-load of books.  All I have to do is find time to read them.  I’m looking forward to my retirement in December.  Maybe then I’ll have more time.

I was asked “what did you learn on retreat?”  Well, as I posted the other day, I learned to be willing to accept other people’s help, allowing them to be Jesus.  I think that’s big.  I also learned some things about contemplation and meditation.  That’s something the Monks are known for and something we should all cultivate.  With so much junk coming at us from all directions, it’s not easy to empty your mind and be open to God.  But it’s something we all have to learn to do.  There’s tremendous freedom in pushing all the stuff away and making room for God.

I believe that our souls have a finite amount of space in them.  The bad stuff can’t get in if we fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit.  But it takes work.  It doesn’t just happen.  Frequent repetition of the simple prayer “God come to my assistance.  Lord make haste to help me.” is one way to push out the negative thoughts.  For those who practice the Liturgy of the Hours, each hour begins with this prayer.  There’s no reason why we can’t repeat this request of God all throughout the day.  Try it.

I have more retreat news, so stay tuned.

I’m going to leave you with an audio clip of the Monks chanting Compline, or Night Prayer.  It’s fairly short and doesn’t vary much from day to day.  You might want to listen to this tonight (and every night) before you go to bed.  It’s very peaceful.

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More on Seeing Jesus

monks

I posted yesterday about seeing Jesus not just in the helpless, but also in the helper.  Today God taught me that lesson in a big way.  My blood sugar was very low this morning and I was having some trouble getting around.  The cafeteria lady saw me struggling with my tray and asked me if I needed help.  My first inclination was to say “No thanks.  I can manage.”

Then I remembered Father’s words.  I said that would be great and she carried my tray over to “our” table (Once you claim a table in the dining room it’s yours for the week.)  I thanked her profusely for helping me and the look on her face was priceless.  Among  all the priests, monks, deacons, and even a Bishop in this place this week, I found Jesus working in the cafeteria.  It was a lesson I hope I never forget.

merton

The most famous resident of Gesthemani was Father Thomas Merton, possibly the greatest Christian thinker of the 20th century.  He was famous all over the world and people come here every day just to see where he lived.  A “famous monk” seems like an oxymoron, but that’s what he was.  He died in 1948 and the  Abby is still collecting royalties from his books.  But in the end, a monk is a monk.  Father’s grave is marked with this simple metal cross just like all the other monks.  His reward is in a much better place.

This is the last day of our retreat.  Tomorrow we go back to reality.  I’ve spent a lot of time reading this week and I’ve discovered a lot about God and about myself.  I plan to share some of that in future posts.  Stay tuned.

4 Nights Alone in a Single Bed

retreat bedroom

This week I’m on retreat at Gesthemane Abby in Kentucky.  The Abby is where Thomas Merton lived and you can feel his presence wherever you go here.  The guests live in pretty simple accommodations and eat simple food.  In fact  at dinner (12:30 pm, more on that in a minute) they ran out of meat before I got there.  Sidebar, when I first started coming here 14 years ago they didn’t serve meat so my meal of stewed tomatoes, mashed potatoes and salad wasn ‘t all that bad.

So, what’s the deal?  Why drive 322 miles to sit in the woods and read?  The daily schedule goes like this:

3:15 am (yes, am) Vigils, the first prayer of the day.  To be perfectly honest, I used to get up for this, but as the years have gone by, not so much.  This morning I didn’t even try.

5:45 am Lauds.  This is morning prayer.  Most retreatants get up for this.  I’m ashamed to report that today my alarm went off at 5:00, I thought about getting up, and when I looked at the clock again it was 7:00.

Sixish is mass following 5:30 am vespers.  Note that I missed those too.  Breakfast is served after mass at 7:00.  I didn’t miss breakfast.

There are more hours of prayer throughout the day ending with Compline, or night prayer at 7:30 pm.  The prayer routine is broken up by supper at 6:00, following Vespers. Notice that they don’t have lunch here.  They have dinner at 12:30, which is the main meal of the day, and supper at 6:00.  There’s no room for lunch.

Face it, you don’t come here for the gourmet chow.  It’s a place of prayer and reflection and food is served out of necessity.  The rest of the time is spent either in the chapel or someplace engaged in private prayer, reading.  God is definitely present here and you can choose how you want to encounter Him.

retreat library

One thing that’s new this year is wifi in the library.  I will be able to post what’s happening all week.  I expect something significant.  It always happens when I come here.  I have a lot to pray about what with family and friends, parishioners at two churches and an upcoming job change.  I’ll keep my readers in my prayers as well.

I hope to be able to post some pictures this week but at the moment I’m having some technical difficulties so for now, I’m borrowing some pics from the monk’s website.

retreat abby

 

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Before I left on retreat some of you asked me to share my experience with you when I got back, so here goes.  How many of you have ever gone on a retreat?  Good.  Most of you have a general idea of how things go.  It’s a time to get away from the daily grind and to focus on what God’s trying to tell us.  The Trappist Abbey at Gesthemani, Kentucky is a walled community on several hundred acres about 45 minutes south of Louisville.

 

It’s a silent retreat in keeping with the monk’s mostly-silent lifestyle.  There’s a half hour presentation each morning and there’s a spiritual director available, but most of the time it’s just you and God.  Brother Christian, the retreat master told us that one of the misconceptions about the monks is that the stone wall around the place is to keep people out.  It’s actually there to keep the noise out.  It does a pretty good job.  They don’t watch television and they don’t listen to the radio.  To them, that’s just noise that they don’t need.

 

When I go there, and this was my ninth year, I usually have something in mind that I want to pray and think about.  Sometimes that works out but most of the time God hits me with something very different.  Among other things, I was hoping for some help with this weekend’s homily.  Unless you’ve been asleep for the last few minutes, you know that the first reading and the Gospel today are about marriage.  I WILL get to that in just a few minutes.  But there was one idea, one concept that kept coming up over and over again during the four days I was at the Abbey.

 

I keep a retreat notebook.  The first thing I did when I got to Gesthemani was to look at my notes from last year.  One thing that Father told us last year was that God is telling us that there’s only one version He wants of us, but we keep insisting on being someone else.   We’re all part of God’s plan as long as we do His will.  He told us that a saint is someone who has realized who he really is.

This year’s retreat master, Brother Christian, spoke to us the first day on the monastic life.  A monk’s life consists of work, prayer, and spiritual reading.  They work, making cheese, fudge, and fruitcake to make the money they need so they have time for the other two.  They work four hours per day.  They’re in church eight times a day, singing and praying, starting at 3:15 in the morning.  The rest of their time is free to read and study, with the emphasis on spiritual reading.  They’re usually in bed by 8:00.  Through spiritual reading, he said, you become who you are.  You become as holy as it’s possible for you to be, WHERE YOU ARE.  We’re all monks to some extent.  Some of us are just better at it than others.

On Tuesday afternoon I picked up a book in the library written by a Baptist minister.  The book was on Celtic prayer.  Being a good Irishman I thought I should check it out.  Besides, I wanted to see what this protestant had to say about a basically Catholic version of spirituality.  He seemed to be very surprised to learn about practices that Catholics have known about for centuries and that you and I take for granted.

The author says we’re not supposed to be somebody else. God already made that other person.  He says that God never does the same thing twice.  He quotes a Jewish rabbi who said, “At the last judgment I shall not be asked  ‘Why were you not Abraham?  Why were you not Moses?  I shall be asked why were you not [yourself]?”  I started seeing a definite pattern in what God was telling me.

I won’t bore you with any more details except to say that every talk I heard, every book I picked up, and even an audio program I listened to while I was walking in the woods came to the same conclusion.  God doesn’t want us to be a second-rate copy of someone else.  He wants to be a first-rate version of ourselves.

Brother Christian pointed out that we’re all closer to perfection than we realize because perfection is different for each one of us.  If my idea of perfection is to be a world-class triathlete, I’ll never make it.  But if my idea of perfection is to be the best husband, the best father, the best grandfather, and the best deacon that I can be, I can do that.  That’s my perfection.  And that’s what God wants.  It’s up to you to spend time in prayer and reflection to find out what God wants you to be.  Then do your best to be that person.

I had lunch Friday with a friend of mine who just graduated from a Baptist seminary.  He’s going to sell his house and move his family to a little town in Wyoming to start a new church.  The population of the town is 80% Mormon.  You have to understand one thing about Mormons.  They’re DEDICATED to their church.  If a Mormon decides to leave the church they’ll be shunned by family members and friends and probably lose their job since most of the businesses in the town are owned by Mormons.

That’s the environment my friend is moving into.  No, thank you!  But he’s convinced that’s what God wants him to do and he’s doing it.  He’s been going to school and planning for this for the last ten years.  What if he fails?  The last Baptist church there did go out of business.  If that’s what God wants him to do, and clearly he believes it is, and if he gives it his best shot, which he will, then, win or lose, he’s doing God’s will and he’s being the best version of himself he can be.

So, what’s any of this have to do with today’s readings about marriage?  According to Matthew Kelly, the Australian writer and speaker, “the purpose of marriage is two people getting together encouraging, challenging, and helping each other to become the best versions of themselves that they can be, then raising children to become the best versions of themselves.  Marriage is God’s tool in most people’s lives to create holiness.”

The first reading ends, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.”  In the Gospel Jesus quotes this reading to the Pharisees and adds that “what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”  That’s what God tells us about marriage and yet people say our Church is “controversial” in saying that marriage must be between a man and a woman, and that it lasts until death.

I’m very blessed.  I have a wife who supports most everything I do.  [She was a little iffy about the Vespa, but I know she was wanting me to not get squished by a semi truck.]  She puts up with a lot being a deacon’s wife.  She supports me in my ministry and didn’t give me a problem about leaving our parish of over thirty years to take this assignment.  But most of all she pushes me to be the best that I can be.  And I try to return the favor.  That’s what husbands and wives are supposed to do.  After all, we are one flesh.  What’s good for me is good for her, and vice versa.

So many people live together today without being married.  They pretend that it’s ok.  But, how can you have a proper relationship with God if your second most important relationship is founded on sin? It’s impossible.

 

What did I learn from my retreat?  I learned that I should always pack a sweatshirt no matter how warm it is when I leave home.  More important, I learned that I need to spend more time in prayer and spiritual reading.  I learned that God doesn’t want me to be Saint Francis of Assissi, or Bishop Sheen, or Cardinal Dolan.  He’s done them already.  He wants me to be the best Mike Buckley I can be and he wants you to be the best you that you can be.  And I learned that the only way to find out what that means is to spend time in prayer and spiritual reading.  We can’t hear God if we don’t listen.

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be a Catholic #31 The Liturgy of the Hours

The Liturgy of the Hours, (also called the Divine Office) is something that’s cool about being Catholic that you may not  even know about.  Maybe you know that priests, deacons, and consecrated religious sometimes walk around with a well-worn fat little book.  (The book is called the Breviary.) You probably know that these same folks do some kind of daily prayer.  But, chances are, unless you’re in one of those groups, you’ve not been exposed to the Liturgy of the Hours.

Way back when, monks and sisters prayed at certain times of the day.  In fact, this practice goes all the way back to the ancient Jews.  The current schedule of prayers, which is basically the same as it was in the seventh century goes like this.

  • Matins (during the night, at midnight with some); also called Vigils or Nocturns or, in monastic usage, the Night Office
  • Lauds or Dawn Prayer (at Dawn, or 3 a.m.)
  • Prime or Early Morning Prayer (First Hour = approximately 6 a.m.)
  • Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour = approximately 9 a.m.)
  • Sext or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour = approximately 12 noon)
  • None or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour = approximately 3 p.m.)
  • Vespers or Evening Prayer (“at the lighting of the lamps”, generally at 6 p.m.)
  • Compline or Night Prayer (before retiring, generally at 9 p.m.)

[Thanks to Wikipedia for the list.]

When I go on retreat with the Trappist Monks at Gesthemani Abbey, the day begins with Vigils at 3:15 AM.  Recognizing the realities of modern life, the Church only requires priests and deacons to pray Lauds (morning prayer) and Vespers (evening prayer).

Morning and evening prayer consist of a hymn, three Psalms (the Psalter), a reading, a response, the Canticle of Zechariah (morning) or the Canticle of Mary (evening), Intercessions, the Our Father, and a closing prayer and blessing.  Each of the elements changes daily and the Psalter changes differently from the rest of the elements, so there is a fair amount of jumping around the book.  Each diocese puts out a book called the Ordo to guide us in using the Breviary.

Until recently there were two ways of praying the Office.  There is a single-volume book that contains everything needed for morning and evening prayer.  There is also a four-volume set that contains everything you need to do all the daily prayers including the Office of Readings, which is a longer office including two readings, one scriptural and one non-scriptural.  Each of the four volumes is for a season of the year.  (Advent, Lent, and two volumes for Ordinary Time.)

But, along comes the Internet and we have more options.  There are several web sites that provide all the prayers online.  And, more recently, there are apps for your smart phone.  Most of the time, I do the Office with my Android phone.  The obvious advantage is that I don’t have to carry around a book, I don’t have to jump around, and I can do my prayers at any time and any place (as long as my battery isn’t dead.)

Now, I’ve probably given you more information than you want or need.  Here’s the thing.  Those of us who pray the Liturgy of the Hours are doing it for you.  Right now, as you read this, someone is praying for you.  At least twice a day someone you know is praying for you (your pastor or deacon and me).

Heaven is being bombarded with prayers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  And it’s all for you.

If that isn’t cool, I don’t know what is.

Note:  The Liturgy of the Hours is available online at Universalis.com and at ibreviary.com.  Ibreviary also offers an apps for your smart phone.  You can also listen to the daily office at DivineOffice.com.