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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Homily for Thursday, July 26th

        Just as the disciples were sometimes confused about the reasons he spoke in parables to the crowds, you perhaps sometimes wonder why retreat directors speak the parabolic way we do. Let's face it: we respond to your questions by asking silly ones back, like, "Is that what you think Jesus would say or did you ask him?," "Tell me: what does your heart say? What is your body saying?," or "How are you feeling - not thinking, but feeling?." Or simply, when you ask a question, we sit back in silence - and wait. It is frustrating at times. You may wonder: "Why can't you just tell me what you are thinking or tell me what to do? That would be simpler." Yes, it would be, but your freedom is most important to us.

          I hope you have felt that we have held you in prayer and presented you to God, that we cared for you, that we assisted you as a friend to deepen your friendship with the Lord. I think you know very clearly that our loving God is the one who directs your retreat and soon we will be but a faint memory to you. We have done our job if we have brought you into the Company of Jesus as a friend. We are merely fellow sojourners and we are privileged to walk with you on a sometimes intense, often passionate, and deeply intense encounter with the one who yearns deeply for you. Christ beholds you each day and is astonished by you. You take his breath away and fill up his senses.

          This is one of the Gospel points. Jesus blesses our senses - not our intellect or even our heart. "Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear." The senses are the place where we experience God and it often comes in the most undetectable ways. Perhaps as you needed consoling, you felt slight pressure over your heart from the healing hand of Jesus after begging to make himself known to you. Or maybe you sat in the tomb with the dead body of Jesus and before you knew it, you felt his hand brush over yours when all you wanted to do was to comfort him and hold his hands. Or you gazed blankly at a repetitive ripple of ocean waves and you sensed that somehow Jesus Christ is alive and present to you. Or maybe your ears noticed the familiar footsteps of Jesus as he walked into the courtyard where his mother sat in her grief and said, "Mom, I'm O.K." as she sprang up to greet him tenderly. I'm sure you have personal, maybe private unexplainable instances of God reaching out beyond all boundaries to touch your senses and to let you know of God's radical, relentless care for you. It feels so real and you know you can't adequately explain it to others. It is real. Allow God to bless and heighten your senses and speak through them.

          I think of two stories of men I encountered in my late 20's who have taught me something about ministry. The first was when I was a Eucharistic Minister at Massachusetts General Hospital. I walked by this one room where I saw an 80-year old man sitting on a bed. He looked awful. I looked at the room number and my list of Catholics and I hoped he was not one. He had fallen down a flight of stairs and his face and body were bruised, swollen, and covered with drying oozing blood. I did not want to look at him. I planned to avoid eye contact and get in and out of the room quickly. He welcomed me and told me he was lonely. His wife died two years earlier and he had no immediate family around. He said, "I fought in the war and I've seen and heard the most terrible things and I have always prided myself that I never cried, but now I'm alone..." As I reached out for his hand to gently console him, he held out his arms for a hug. I recoiled inwardly and then embraced him. He collapsed into my arms and sobbed safely pressing the whole weight of his body and his raw wounds against me as he held onto his only connection with humanity.

          I also brought holy communion to a ninety-nine year old man who was hard of hearing and lacking sight and in a different sphere, but he always recognized why I was there to visit him. At one point, as the President of the United States was on television, he said "That man has nothing to really tell me, but you have something to tell me and you hardly speak." He shuddered. His eyes widened and he sat back in his chair as if he just received a great insight and he exclaimed in wonderment, "It's all so simple. It's all so simple. Why did I not see it before. It is all so simple." When I departed, I could hear him repeat his mantra, "It's all so simple. It's all so simple." A healing touch, the invitation of outstretched arms, the sitting is silence and dimness - can speak loudly of what is most real and meaningful.

          The risen Jesus of Nazareth still carries the sting of the pain and the memory of the crucifixion, but he does not look toward his pain because the pain we carry is burdensome and he reaches out to console us. It astounds me that reaching towards another who has suffered takes away his pain. The same for ourselves. When I held that bruised older man in my arms, I only wanted him to know that someone cares for him. When the blind, deaf man came to his "aha" moment, I held his life of regret and insight before me. Our vocation is to be like Jesus who consoles one another. We forget about ourselves because our hearts are moved by the one in front of us. We are able once again to say: "Take Lord,..."

          Just as we begin most retreats, it is fitting to end the retreat in a similar way. We take time to breathe and we absorb the beautiful environment around us. It is good for us to take off our shoes again, to listen not only to the rich sounds, but also the absent ones, to smell the earthiness of the forest floor, to let our imaginations be overactive again. Your imagination will bring meaning to your experience as it unites your mind with your heart. It is time to let yourself live again. Let your senses become heightened with a renewed sense of compassion and joy. Say 'yes' to the invitations that come your way - because grace is ready to bound forth from those unexpected places. Live courageously and be your own artist. Dream as a poet does. It is all so simple.

          The poet, Rainer Marie Rilke, at the height of his fame, was once contacted by a young man from a small, provincial town. The young man expressed his admiration for Rilke’s poetry and told him that he envied him, envied his life in a big city, and envied a life so full of insight and richness. He went on to describe how his own life was uninteresting, provincial, small town, too dull to inspire insight and poetry. Rilke’s answer was not sympathetic. He told the young man something to this effect: 

          “If your life seems poor to you, then tell yourself that you are not poet enough to see and call forth its riches. There are no uninteresting places, no lives that aren’t full of the stuff for poetry. What makes for a rich life is not so much what is contained within each moment, since all moments contain what’s timeless, but sensitive insight and presence to that moment.”


  1. I returned two days ago from an 8-day Ignatian retreat and so appreciated the entire experience. The truth is that it was absolutely gruelling and painful and revealing and frightening and holy. I was blessed and I continue to be blessed. Thank you for this post.

    1. You had a good director then. I'm glad it put you through the paces. Sometimes people only like the light-hearted side, but often we have to look at the messiness of our lives. Good on ya.

  2. I haven't been on retreat but on a Living Theology week of workshops and prayer wih Loyola Hall in Liverpool. Thinking Faith is a great way of looking at Ignatian and his spirituality - as Lynda says gruelling and revealing; holy and inspiring. Living courageously with Jesus, as Jesus, for Jesus is such an invitation.

    1. Thinking Faith is an excellent site. Someday you will get on a retreat. You will enjoy being showered with love by God.