My second woman’s silent retreat

retreat

1. Service

I have always been rather entitled, so I found our chaplain’s personal sharing that he spends all his time in adoration offering up his students to God, very inspiring to say the least. His actual point was that it is unhealthy to do so as God loves him too, so he needs to take care of himself as well. My takeaway from that, however, is that he belongs to one end of the spectrum of selflessness, and I exist on the other end of self-centeredness. The goal is to reach a middle ground, where I can practice self-care but also readily serving and putting others needs before mine. My Lenten goal is to be a better, more sacrificial wife and mother.

Post-retreat, I finally feel ready to serve as part of the Catholic community on campus. I was shy and raw in the first year, but things started looking up after my husband agreed to participate in bible study with the graduate students and young working professionals.

If all goes well, I will be writing letters to prisoners on death row. Prisoners whose family and friends have abandoned them. The idealist in me believes that words and prayers have a profound impact on a person if they are open to God and I want to be His instrument! I believe that it is a life-giving mission because as Matthew Kelly says in his book, Resisting Happiness, “every moment is a chance to turn it all around.” I am also reminded of the prisoner crucified alongside Jesus who begged Jesus to remember him in paradise. To which Jesus replied, ‘Today, you’ll be with me in paradise.’

Saint Therese of Lisieux prayed incredibly hard for an unrepentant prisoner on death row. She begged God for a sign and just before the criminal was beheaded, he kissed the crucifix three times. Saint Therese took it as a sign that he had converted and was very consoled!

She wrote in her autobiography:

“I heard of a criminal condemned to death for frightful murders. It seemed that he would die without repenting. Determined at all costs to save him from hell, I prayed for him and asked God for just one sign of his repentance. My prayer was answered. On execution day, he mounted the scaffold without confessing and was ready to thrust his head into the guillotine’s blade when he suddenly turned, seized the crucifix offered to him by the priest, and thrice kissed the Sacred Wounds.”

I was in New Orleans last week and the priest shared these wise words from Mother Teresa which resonated with me because all I long for deep down is inner peace. And I am reminded that it comes through service…

The fruit of Silence is prayer.
The fruit of Prayer is faith.
The fruit of Faith is love.
The fruit of Love is service.
The fruit of Service is peace.”

– Mother Teresa

2. Community

This was actually my second retreat with the same two priests. The majority of the retreatants belong to the same parish, where one of the priests used to serve as parochial vicar. In my first retreat last year; I felt alienated and an outsider for the most part of the retreat. My roommate essentially ignored me, and it hurt. I was insecure and self-conscious throughout the retreat.

This year, however, having been more involved in the Catholic community on campus, I asked a couple of friends along and they readily agreed. One became the designated driver and roommate, and she inspired me through her acts of service. She always made excuses so that I would use the bathroom before her. She took pains to clean up the bathroom after usage, restoring it to original condition. However, it was this one act that blew me away.

In the course of the retreat, we could choose a time slot to speak with one of the two priests as part of spiritual direction. She sacrificed meeting our desired priest who was the more popular one so that others could have an opportunity to meet him, at her expense. This ties in with my earlier point about selflessness. For love is willing the good of the other, and we are commanded to love God and love all man!

Other than this selfless driver-cum-roommate, we carpooled with three others from the same Catholic community.

We shared our life stories, with a focus on our faith journey, and for some, their conversion experiences. I am very inspired by all these brave, strong women who are willing to be vulnerable and open to God. I am grateful for the chance to know each of them a little better and journey together because “where two or three are gathered, there I will always be.”

3. Trust

This year’s location is Unicoi Lodge which overlooks the beautiful mountains of Helen, Georgia. Last year, I was packing my itinerary with things to do and reflect about. This year, however, our chaplain advised us to enjoy the scenic hikes and I decided to be a Mary and not Martha for once. We are human BE-ings after all: “to be still and know that (God) is near (Psalm 46:10).”

Without much directions, I proceeded to hike and at some point, wondered what lay beyond my immediate vision. This prayer by Thomas Merton came to mind. It became apparent that this hike along the trail is akin to the journey of life, where I have to place my trust in God, regardless of how lost I feel with my life’s direction.

“My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does, in fact, please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

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