Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I'm Home With Little Thanks to LGA

My apologies for my prolonged blog silence but since getting back from retreat, my brain stem has completely rebelled against any of my work efforts. Thank you for your prayers and best wishes while I was away. Now, back to business...

First, let me give you a little recap of the retreat. The retreat was held at Trinity Retreat Center in Larchmont, NY. Cardinal Cooke (his cause for canonization is now open in Rome) established the retreat center specifically for the spiritual well-being of priests. The retreat center itself is a remodeled home and thus has the feel of home and of being away. For me, this retreat was also something of a homecoming as well. Before ordination to the Holy Priesthood, the candidate is expected to attend a five day retreat to prepare for receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders and embarking on the ministry of Christ. My priesthood retreat was with Fr. Groeschel and 8 other priests. At that retreat, we considered the identity of God the Father in our Priestly Lives. So, to come back after five years of priestly ministry was like touching the foundation moment of my entire life up to this point. You might find that statement a little strong, but you have to remember that nothing is guaranteed in priestly formation. Just because you enter the seminary doesn't mean that you are going to be ordained. Being on that retreat was confirmation that the intervening years were not wasted, futile effort. To come back to Larchmont gave me the opportunity to see a fleeting glimpse of idealism and rapturous joy that accompanied those closing days of my seminary career. I would glance up from time to time and catch a faded after image of younger me standing by the windows, contemplating the swiftly shifting sheen on Long Island Sound or kneeling before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament praying to be a good priest. For what it's worth, that only was worth the price of admission.

However, there was more to be thankful for. The retreat focused primarily on breaking the split level living that priests often get themselves crossways of. For the priest, the conflict rages between two opposing world views: the professional priest vs. the vocational priest. The professional priest is the one who is there to do a job. The vocational priest is the one who is there to lead others to Christ and thus to salvation. It was Fr. Benedict's opinion that this was one of the key problems facing the Church in the United States, and I would have to concur. Why would any young man feel compelled to take a job that pays so poorly and so few perks? The only reason I can see is because Priesthood is not a job; it's a mission. When you see it as a mission, then compensation is not the primary focus, although a necessary aspect of reality. In a mission, you are trying to fulfill the will of the one who granted the mission to you. Therefore, you are not your own man; you belong to another.

This observation about split level living led to the question about how do you break down that split. The source of priestly ministry and life, lived fruitfully, resides with the Sacred Scripture and the Holy Sacraments. Ultimately, Fr. Benedict was pushing to ask, "How well do I know Jesus?" The life of Grace is nothing less than being immersed in the life of the Holy Trinity, participating the Paschal Mystery of Christ, our lover, our savior. So, the more at home one is with the Sacraments and with the Sacred Scriptures the more at home one should be with Christ. The final homily emphasized the role of personal prayer in the life of the priest, especially encouraging us to grow beyond saying prayers and entering into the deep water of mental prayer, thus setting the stage for contemplation.

Okay, that's enough for right now. I don't know why but my head is pounding and my nose is draining. I probably have bird flu. In short, it was a spectacular retreat. Now it's a matter of putting particular resolutions in action.

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