I made my annual retreat over the past week. I say “annual”, and usually it is, although there are years where all I get in terms of retreat are my Lay Dominican chapter’s day of recollection around St. Dominic’s Day on August 8. Not that that’s bad, but it’s not the same as a weekend retreat, especially a weekend silent retreat.
This year I attended our Diocesan Council of Catholic Women’s retreat, led by Fr. Ezra Sullivan, OP, who is stationed at St. Gertrude’s near Cincinnati (where our province novitiate is). The theme of the retreat was “Mary, Mother of Sorrows/Mother of Grace”, and how those two titles aren’t mutually exclusive.
As much as I love to talk, I also love–crave–the silence of retreat. How is God supposed to be heard over the noise of daily life? Remember, Elijah didn’t hear God in the earthquake. He heard Him in the “still,small voice” (1 Kgs 19:11-13). The silence isn’t absolute. It usually starts after dinner on Friday and then there’s an optional Saturday social, with the silence ended after Mass on Sunday. You can also ask questions during conferences. But, in general, silence is the rule, so that everyone can spend time immersed in God, listening for His voice, and spending time in prayer.
There were about 30 women on this retreat, and Fr. Ezra (I always wonder if the retreat director, who is always a priest on the retreats I attend, ever feels strange being surrounded by a ton of women!). We began with introductions and then dinner, and then the first conference, on Mary as our Mother.
Some notes on this conference:
- Woman seeks to embrace what is warm, personal, whole;
- Women’s intuition leads her to want to embrace the whole person;
- Mary is contemplative; she ponders interiorly;
- Mary knew God, not Man;
- Women have the desire to love and be loved;
- Mary wants to know the one who loves her most (God);
- Her love and attention is directed at God first, then flows downward;
- Mary demonstrates spiritual motherhood and fruitfulness of the spirit;
- God wanted a mutual exchange of love in a spiritual relationship;
- Mary wasn’t simply a channel used to bring Jesus into the world;
- Love is always connected to suffering;
- Mary accepts all those her son saves;
- Miracle at Cana—> Mary is asking Jesus to do something that will transform their relationship. No longer will He live with her. Now she is “woman” instead of “mother.”
- Mary sacrificed her relationship with Jesus in order to do God’s will;
- Mary opens doors for us, she wants us to be saints;
- Mary is our adopted mother, a mirror of what we should be–we should imitate her qualities.
Fortunately we had Mass in the Chapel after the conference, and Father was available for confession and conferences for awhile. I wanted to go to bed relatively soon, since wake-up the next day was at 7:15. Mass was at 8:15, so I had time to get to the chapel, say the Joyful Mysteries and lauds, and then we heard Mass. We had free time until around 11:00, when we had the second conference.
Conference two focused on Mary as “Mother of Sorrows”:
- What is suffering?–>evil doing something to me;
- It is an encounter with evil, something that is contrary to our nature, and we’re aware it is contrary to our nature;
- Related to the Fall;
- Suffering implies weakness and imperfection;
- Levels of suffering: physical suffering, emotional suffering, suffering in the soul;
- Mary gave God the ability to suffer for us and with us;
- sin makes us callous, we lose our sensitivity; the more we sin, the less sensitive we are to goodness;
- Mary and Jesus had the greatest capacity to suffer because of their perfect sensitivity (physical and emotional).
Free time on retreat is one thing I guard jealously (in the Biblical sense of jealousy). I made the stations of the cross in the chapel and then said the Luminous Mysteries, then went to confession. It had been two weeks since I last went, and there wasn’t any line, so I decided to go. Fr. Ezra was an excellent confessor. And since I heard Mass and received confession on that day and performed indulgenced acts, I was able to get plenary indulgences (“Oh yeah!”, said like Vector.) Really, guys–we need to do more here. There is so much grace for the taking and do we take it?
Since it was freezing outside (literally, about 34 degrees), I stayed in the chapel and said the Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries before the Monstrance–we had begun exposition after Mass that morning. Time to pray before the Blessed Sacrament is a true gift.
Since exposition went until 8:30 PM, I had a lot of time to spend there, in prayer and reading the Bible, especially the Passion in St. Matthew’s Gospel.
At 3:00, we said the Chaplet of Divine Mercy (the Novena of Divine Mercy starts on Good Friday, y’all!). I read some more of St. Faustina’s Diary, which I love to read, even if it’s slow reading (it’s also very long, for someone who didn’t live very long!). I also read Ronald Knox’s Retreat for Lay People before the third conference and dinner.
The third conference focused on Mary as “Mother of Grace”:
- Three kinds of grace: 1) quality a person has in herself (i.e., graceful)–dignity; 2) gift bestowed to someone (i.e., grace of your presence), and 3) our response to a grace we have received (i.e., saying grace before meals);
- Mary has fullness of grace in her;
- Closer we get to God, the more grace we have;
- Mary is closest person to God. She has greater grace than all the saints and angels combined;
- Mary cooperated with grace;
- God wants to give us more grace always;
- Mary had faith, charity (spent her life pondering divine things; whole heart was continually given to God), grace (teaches us how to be friends with God), prudence, fortitude;
- People without grace have lacks in their lives. They lack the fullness of God–can’t have a relationship with God, can’t build a lasting civilization of peace and harmony (see Christian mindset and worldview in great art and literature);
- We need something above our own nature, we need grace.
- Mary’s full of grace enables us to be restored;
- now she actively intercedes for us, and brings us to greater heights;
- God dwells in the souls of the just—> He is united to us–>produces love within us.
- 90-100 AD documents about Christians says: We don’t abort babies; we don’t use magic; we care for the poor. Even that early, these were the marks of the Christian people.
- Beginning of Christendom is a cultural force in the world (i.e., earliest music discovered about 300 AD);
After dinner, I was pretty crazy tired. I did spend some more time in the chapel but I went to bed insanely early, like before nine..
On Sunday, Mass was at 8:30, and I got to read the first reading and the psalm. I love the Psalm today (Psalm 130), the “De Profundis”–Dominicans have a special attachment to it. The Gospel, the raising of Lazarus , is also one of my favorites. How can you fail to be touched by Jesus’ human compassion and sorrow, besides the miracle that is performed? “Jesus wept” may be the shortest verse in the Bible, but what strength is in it. It’s easy to forget about Jesus’ perfect humanity. Jesus was hungry, he was thirsty, he was tired. Mary had to potty train him, just like every other toddler. 🙂 Sometimes, yes, he got a little frustrated with his apostles (“those screwball apostles”, as Mother Angelica likes to call them). Fr. Ezra’s homily focused on the three raisings Jesus performs in the Gospel–the little girl, the son, and Lazarus. The little girl was “asleep”, the son was being taken to the graveyard for burial, and Lazarus had been dead four days. He connected the different lengths of time the people had been dead to the different types of sin/sinners, going from the most mild to the most severe, those in deep mortal sin. Each requires a different approach.
After breakfast was had a brief Q&A with Fr. Ezra, and he gave a final, brief talk. The retreat ended at 10:30.
There was so much I thought about–the incredible graces God gives us every day (do we take advantage of them?), how much I need deep prayer as a part of my life, especially my rosary; how God reaches down to us, makes himself so small (a wafer of bread!) for us, to come into us and reach us in the most profoundly personal way possible. Do we ever, can we ever, thank Him enough?
Also–trust. Do I truly trust him? Do I believe that he has everything in his hands, that he knows everything, that he takes care of me the way he takes care of the sparrows? I might know it, intellectually. But do I believe it, in my gut? Sometimes, no, I don’t. I worry so much about things that I should give to Him and pray for Him to take care of. That’s one thing I wanted to work on in this retreat, really turning my heart to Him and fully trusting in His design for my life, which is better than anything I could ever come up with.