On Retreat With Pope Francis

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Tomorrow and Saturday, I will be on retreat and it’ll be a different experience from my usual retreats. For one thing, I’m going as an attendant and not as part of the volunteer staff. The other thing that makes this particular retreat different from the ones in the past is that it’s an Ignatian retreat. While I did an Ignatian Spiritual Exercise during one college retreat, I never had the full Ignatian retreat experience.

In anticipation of my upcoming retreat, I’m reflecting on the 10 questions Pope Francis had to reflect on during his own retreat this week.

 

1. “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38)

This will be the question on my mind when I start my retreat. What am I looking for? I want so much out of life, and yet are any of these desires compatible with God’s will? Will the things I want help me further on my road to holiness?

As far as the retreat is concerned, I am looking for a closer relationship with Christ. I also want to know how I can integrate my faith into my daily life, especially when I go into places where people might be hostile towards the Catholic Church. Can I evangelize incognito? If so, how?

 

2. “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

Even though I don’t have anxiety attacks on a daily basis anymore, the attacks can still come when I least expect it. There are things that I am still afraid of that I’m not sure God can fix, in spite of what I already know. When I think of all the things I’m afraid of, though, I offer these fears up and ask God to help me handle my fears.

This quote from Saint Teresa of Avila also comes to mind:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

 

3. “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?” (Matthew 5:13)

Whenever millennials say that a person is acting “salty,” they mean that a person is acting upset, jealous, or bitter. This Bible verse, however, refers to how salt makes people thirsty. In modern day terms, “thirsty” means longing for something. It’s usually used when someone wants to be in a relationship.

People who are the salt of the earth help others long for a relationship with Christ. Unfortunately, there are times that even the best of Christians and Catholics can act “salty” instead of being the salt of the earth. In my experience, praying the Litany of Humility helped as a counter to that upset, jealous, or bitter attitude.

 

4. “But who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20)

So many misconceptions of who Jesus is. They see the Son of Man, the Word made flesh as just “a nice guy,” or “a spiritual guru,” or “a teacher.” Then there are others who use Jesus to justify their political platforms, whether they be conservative or liberal. One recently bad instance of this is an abortion clinic owner who said that she grew up believing in a Jesus who would just be okay with women who chose to terminate the lives of their children. Jesus represents God’s mercy, but He would not just be “okay” with the death of innocents.

Who do you think Jesus is? If your answer can fit into a neat little box, you’ve got the wrong answer.

 

5. “Then, turning to the woman, he told Simon, ‘Do you see this woman?’” (Luke 7:44)

One unique thing about the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises is that they provide a way to immerse yourself into scripture, using the power of the imagination. This particular quote comes from the story of the woman with the alabaster jar who showered Jesus’s feet with her tears and kisses, wiped the tears away with her hair, and anointed them with perfume.

Simon, a Pharisee, didn’t see the woman’s loving actions or her quiet penitential attitude. Instead, he saw her as just a prostitute, a sinful woman, and judged her. Jesus compelled Simon to see the sinful woman through the eyes of mercy.

How often do we brush aside people who are trying to make a better life for themselves because we can’t see past our own prejudices? I particularly remember how an acquaintance of mine received a lot of harsh judgment for his struggles with addiction and depression. I’m really glad that he found help, but I ask for God’s mercy for those who label him a lost cause.

Do you see everyone in your life as your fellow brother and sister in Christ?

 

6. “How many loaves do you have?” (Mark 6:38, Matthew 15:34)

This is a weird Bible verse to meditate on at first glance. Most Catholics are very familiar with the miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish. So why would we focus on the part when Jesus asks his apostles about how much food was available?

This article from Aleteia gives a wonderful insight to this particular question. In this particular verse, Jesus is calling us to look at what we have and offer it all to Him.

My local parish is currently asking me and my fellow parishioners to consider tithing in the coming months due to financial issues that I won’t go into here. Needless to say, I feel like this Bible verse comes to mind. How much should we give to God, financially and spiritually?

At the very least, 10%. At most? Nothing short of everything.

 

7. “Straightening up, Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’” (John 8:10)

This verse comes from this Sunday’s Gospel, which recounts the story of the woman caught in adultery. I am constantly fascinated by the details of this Gospel passage. For one thing, according to Bishop Robert Barron, the fact that this takes place in or in front of the temple represents how Jesus is restoring God’s law to its proper use. Then, of course, there’s the matter of what the heck Jesus wrote on the ground. (Where’s Instagram when you need it?!)

But this particular verse goes out to those who are most in need of God’s mercy. This is for those who dwell on the guilt of their sin too much. Don’t be plagued by people who constantly keep a record of wrongs and remind you of your past faults. God’s mercy is waiting for you.

 

8. “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” (John 20:15)

This question is asked to Mary Magdalene, who is crying because she doesn’t know where Jesus is.

Who is she seeking? Her friend and teacher. The man who cured her of the seven demons that possessed her. The Savior who changed her life forever.

She didn’t know, at that moment, that Jesus was with her. That he conquered death and will ask her to share the news of his resurrection to his Apostles.

It reminds me of Audrey Assad’s “Slow,” which starts out with these lyrics:

You’ve drawn so close that it’s hard to see you
And you speak so softly that it’s hard to hear you

Give the song a listen and see how Mary Magdalene’s experience ties into it.

 

9.“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:16)

Dear Protestant brothers and sisters: If you want proof that Peter was always going to be head of the Church, in spite of the fact that he denied Christ three times, read this passage from the Gospel of John.

Jesus asks Peter three times “Do you love me?” The same number of times that Peter denied Christ. In this moment, Jesus showed Peter forgiveness and told Peter his mission. Jesus is basically telling Peter “History Has Its Eyes On You.” And like Hamilton, Peter had no control over who lived, who died, and who would tell his story.

This passage compels us to put ourselves in Peter’s shoes. In spite of the times that we deny Christ, do we still love Him?

 

10. “Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be?’” (Luke 1:34).

It’s funny that the last question of the retreat focuses on the beginning of Jesus’s story, at his conception in the Annunciation. It’s also very strange that Good Friday and the feast of the Annunciation are happening on the same day this year. “How can this be?” is indeed the question of the day.

I had my own Annunciation experience recently when an opportunity for a vocations retreat came my way. This time, a particular order sought me out instead of me finding one. During the phone interview, I told the sister that I felt as if I was experiencing what Mary went through in the Annunciation: astonishment, wonder, anticipation. I was also afraid, but I wasn’t anxious, because I knew that God would be with me. It’s no surprise, then, that after that phone interview, I was guaranteed a spot for the vocations retreat.

When God sends an opportunity your way, it may feel surprising at first. But like Mary, it’s good to ask questions. Once they’ve been asked, though, let go of all doubt and let God in.

Retreat Weekend: A Playlist of Feels

I’ve been going to retreats since my college days. I’m currently on staff for a young adult retreat that starts tomorrow. So, in honor of Bayou Awakening 24, I present to you a playlist of songs that basically describe what a retreat attendant basically goes through, or at least how I feel before, during, and after.

There are two kinds of retreaters, I think. The ones who can’t wait to go and the ones who are reluctant to go, but feel like they have to.

 

This is the song for those who can’t wait:

 

This is the song for those who are reluctant to go:

 

The morning of the retreat

 

The first day:

 

The various retreat activities:

 

Spending time in prayer:

 

Free time spent playing games or dancing:

 

Getting a retreat crush (you know it happens):

 

The testimonies:

 

Opening yourself up to everyone:

 

That feeling you get after finding acceptance and forgiveness:

 

The last day of the retreat is both the best and the worst. It’s the best because they always save the best stuff for last. It’s the worst because you kind of feel like Peter during the Transfiguration, wanting to stay in that moment forever.

 

The moment you get that retreat high:

 

Wanting to volunteer for retreat staff:

 

Saying goodbye to your new friends:

 

After the retreat is over:

 

Lent Days 10-12: The Post-Retreat Reflection/Megapost

If any of y’all are wondering why I didn’t blog for the past three days, it was because I was away on retreat. However, I wasn’t a participant, but a staff member. Due to confidentiality, I can’t talk about what I did this weekend in detail, but I can divulge everything I felt that weekend. 

I should tell you that before this retreat, I have never been a staff member. Heck, I was never a staff member for anything in high school or college. But I was eager to do my part and help create the best weekend for 40+ young adults. 

In theatre, there’s a saying: “There are no small parts, only small actors.” This applies to retreats as well as to life itself. One of Fr. Robert Barron’s Lenten meditations this weekend talks about how people are often so caught up in having life revolve around them rather than try a role that God wants them to try. In my case, although I was a volunteer, I was assigned a position that I did not ask for. However, I decided to accept it and offer it up.

At first, it was a lot of fun. I got to be hands-on, involved in preparing many events and activities. By the end of the first day, my legs were totally sore from being on my feet the whole day, but I felt that it was totally worth it.

The next day was more intense than the first, for both the retreaters and for me. It started off well, with me helping the retreaters grow in their faith and assisting in a Bible study. But a lot of little disappointments happened throughout the day. I was a newcomer to the staff, so there were times that I felt left out amidst the more experienced workers. It built up to a point that by the time dinner came around, I found that I had nowhere to sit. I went off to a staff-only room and started crying.

I hated that I felt left out and invisible. I wanted to be okay with the idea of not being noticed or belonging, but I wasn’t. Throughout the day, I kept pushing aside those small times when I hated being unacknowledged and dinnertime was the breaking point. I didn’t understand why I felt forgotten even though I prayed to have that fear of being forgotten taken away from me. Then, a few people came into the room: two acquaintances and a priest. I told them about how I was feeling, how I hated how I felt, and how I wished I felt something else.

I don’t remember the specific words that the priest said, but he did say something about how the Lord might be testing me in my desire for humility. My acquaintances reassured me that even though I didn’t think my actions went unnoticed, they did notice and, more importantly, God noticed. I realized two things after venting: 

1) I had to acknowledge how I felt with indifference. Acknowledging an emotion, positive or negative, means identifying how you feel. However, you can’t think that the emotion you feel is good or bad, you just have to accept that it’s there.

2) I was finally experiencing everything I was writing about for the past week. I now know what it’s like to live out my faith, what it meant to be humble, what it meant to empty and completely surrender myself.

In other words, the priest was right. I was being tested by God. But God was there even when I wasn’t aware of Him. Fr. Robert Barron’s Friday meditation says that Christ crucified is where God finds us when we are at our darkest. It’s no coincidence that the staff room I hid in had a crucifix and that I was crying underneath it. God was with me there and then.

Earlier in this blog, I compared challenging yourself in Lent to learning how to swim. During this weekend, I felt like I was swimming myself over a waterfall. But after focusing myself on God, I found my center with Him. I realized that I needed Him and that He would always be with me. I meditated on Psalm 139 that night during Adoration. Then, the same priest who consoled me read a passage from the Gospel of Luke, the story of the bleeding woman. One verse resonated with me: “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” I felt healed as soon as I heard it. Like Fr. Robert Barron said in his meditation for today, my life felt elevated because I encountered Christ alongside everyone else.

The rest of the night was wonderful. I got to know more people and felt excited for the upcoming day.

But it wouldn’t be long before I would be tested again.

Towards the end of the retreat, I started to feel left out again. This time, it was because it didn’t seem like there was any material proof the words my friends told me yesterday were true. This time, I knew I was being tempted, but I felt the tears coming around again. This time, I pulled one of my friends aside and went to a staff-only room with her. She became that material proof that took the doubts away, telling me that I was appreciated and that my work hasn’t gone unnoticed. She wanted to hang out with me after the retreat. That was all I needed. I know, I’m a doubting Thomas. But I got over myself a lot faster this time.

The last day of the retreat involved a lot of prayer and amazing music. I’ll end this blog entry with a few songs from the retreat and pictures that I took today that reminded me of everything I experienced.

 

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May the blessing of the Lord be upon you, the blessing of the Father and the Son and may the spirit of God, the spirit of love be with you all your days.