I usually make my retreat at San Alphonso in Long Branch, but there were too many church event things I wanted to attend during the work week this year and I only have so much vacation time. So, an additional four day vacation to attend a priests and deacons retreat was off the table this year. I look forward to going again next year, if only because attending retreat at San Alphonso allows me to sleep in my own bed each night instead of the medieval torture rack found in the cells of most monasteries.
I hadn’t been to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa since I was ordained. The diocese uses The Shrine for many of their formation retreats for those who are hoping to become priests and deacons. It is a beautiful place set on a hillside in rural Pennsylvania. The views are marvelous, especially in the evening and early morning. There is plenty of room for quiet contemplation and prayer and this past weekend the weather was the BEST!
The Shrine offers a wonderful opportunity for quiet thoughts and contemplations, a prerequisite for discerning a vocation. One is able to find a quiet spot to pray or snooze; searching for an inner peace that seems to escape most of us in the hectic pace of life – both in the parish and in our personal lives. To help achieve this blissful state I strongly suggest leaving your cell phone, iPad and/or laptop home or at least locked in the car for the weekend.
My fears and dread of attending retreat at The Shrine with a bunch of my fellow DoT deacons came up (or down) to my expectations. Deacon John, whom I haven’t seen in several years, was there with his bag of stories – always entertaining and usually thought provoking. When listening to John one should have a notepad for the homiletic ideas that sprout from his life stories. Good fellowship and camaraderie abounded with most of my other fellow deacons (even those who fouled the air with their cigarette and cigar smoke outside the main doorway – ugh!). Several fellows I didn’t get an opportunity to meet (though I really would like to meet the fellow who stayed in the cell above mine, who’s evening habit of clog dancing was a challenge!).
If you’ve stayed with me this long I now come to the highlight of the retreat. Capuchin Fr. Remo, our retreat master. Resplendent in his brown Franciscan habit, draped rosary and hood (called a capuche, henceforth the title Capuchin – wow, learn something new every day!), Fr. Remo is a humble man who brought alive for me, at least, the memories of our call to the diaconate. He reminded us (all of us, clergy, religious and lay) of God’s call to each of us and the gifts we are given to enable us to give life to that call – in service to God and one another. No matter what our station or role in life is, we serve the Lord in loving one another and bringing the love we receive from Him to each brother and sister.
Fr. Remo also reminded us of our need to be in communion with God and with the Church, His holy people. God’s love for us surpasses anything we understand and He desires us to be in close union with Him always. His love and mercy is all we need and restores us to life – abundantly.
So, after all my reluctance, the Holy Spirit (who always knows best) finally penetrated my stubborn heart by knocking me down; sitting on me, saying “Listen up, my child! You need to hear and understand this!”
Next year, I’ll be back at San Alphonso, or wherever the Spirit leads me. No matter where I am I look to the Spirit to guide and protect me; always leading me back to greener pastures with the voice of the Good Shepherd. And when I am found, I am scooped up in His arms and embraced with the love I need and desire.
Come Holy Spirit, come!