My words or his voice?- Introductory talk
I have resisted the urge to bring to a pen and paper to a retreat, I just carry my Bible. I usually end up taking one thing away from a retreat; even that for me is often a challenge to live in my daily life. Sometimes that one line from the preacher is a gem that I believe was sent by God just for me.
Over the last few years, as both a seminarian and priest, I have made copious notes that the preacher has shared during a retreat. I believed that these notes would help me one day when I had to preach a homily or give a talk. That was a big mistake, because all I did was write notes which I never looked at again and when I did want to refer to them, I could not recollect where I wrote them.
The greatest disadvantage in being so absorbed in writing notes was that I focused on the preacher not on my God. Is that not how we determine which retreat or talk or spiritual seminar we go to? Yes, a good speaker is always a delight to listen to but the question we must ask ourselves is how different am I since I heard the preacher? Has my life changed since then or was that retreat just a flash in the spiritual pan?
So we pick preachers who we think are eloquent, or entertaining or vivacious; yet the ones God picked were stutterers and stammers and uneducated men, to site a few characteristic. What a retreat really needs is some direction and may I stress on the ‘some’ and that’s what a preacher does; gives it direction and not fill it with noise.
In these days to come you will hear My Words but I pray that you will hear HIS VOICE. It is God’s voice speaking to you that will make the difference in your life. If you walk away with one thought that motivates you to be a better disciple of Christ, then how blessed you are rather than having sheaves and sheaves of notes in your retreat diary.
The last time I made a retreat the preacher was eloquent beyond words and his retreat was deeply based on scripture. I can’t for the life of me, remember anything he said except one incident that he shared. This incident concerned his life and helped me put my past, present and my future in perspective.
The retreat director shared his experience about being elected vice provincial of his congregation. He said that he knew that by the next day the votes would all stack up in his favour. That night he sent an email to his spiritual director asking him if he should accept the post, should he win the election. The response of the spiritual director has made the greatest impact in my life. He said to the priest, if you have had anything to do with this election then say NO, for this is not the will of God and you would certainly fail. But if you have nothing to do with influencing this vote and you are elected, know this is what God wants from you.
In a flash, my entire priesthood fell into two columns, decisions I had influenced in my ministry and hence failed and things I had nothing to do with and was blessed. This was all I took back from that retreat; I have no recollection of any other thought the preacher said. I believe that the words were the preachers but the voice was God. It was a message from heaven and it had my name on it.
So perhaps this retreat is part of your seminary schedule but the choice you made in bringing a book and pen was yours. The question I ask you is did you bring in your Bibles? Did you then come to take notes in which case you will only write down my words and perhaps never listen to God’s voice? What you do next is your choice and that is a decision you have to make.
But let me throw another spanner in your works today. Did any of you pray for this retreat? Have you been asking the Holy Spirit to guide your heart through these days or are you going to settle in somewhere on the third day of this retreat? You see a retreat begins when you decide to attend one; from that moment on you have begun your retreat.
It’s like asking when does the Mass really begin? Is it when you sign yourself at the door? At the entrance hymn or when the priest invites us to sign our self? The answer to that question is quite simple; the mass begins when you decided to attend the Eucharist. From that moment on you are conscious where you want to go, you pick your clothes, you ready yourself, you plan the route to Church and know what time you will arrive. If not you simply throw on something and plump yourself in Church and boy are you lucky if your mind settles down by the time of the homily.
Be it a retreat, a mass or any celebration, for me it begins when you decide to be part of it. Ask yourself if you’re truly ready for this retreat. A retreat is not a time to relax and catch your breath after a vacation or a period of ‘doing nothing’. If a retreat is to be beneficial then the benefits cannot be found if you’re sleeping in your room or strolling on the walk ways. Sure God is everywhere but he is really present in the Blessed Sacrament and if he is there why make a choice to be anywhere else?
I can only set the tone of this retreat; the terms are for you to decide. I dare not tell you how long you need to pray, I can only remind you that it is precisely why you are present here and that’s what a retreat is about; mindless and endless conversations with God. This is not my search for the divine, it must be your journey and that journey, as I said earlier, need not be filled with new and novel ideas that spew from my mouth but rather the conversations that Jesus has with you.
As for me I am not a saint; far from it. I am acutely aware of my own sinfulness and my struggles as a priest. When Jesus asked for ‘perfection’ in our lives in the context of our love for our enemies in Matthew 5:48, he was talking about our undivided attention to Him. “(Téleios (τέλειος) or perfect does not mean a life with no fault but a call to a higher standard for all who claim to be His disciples.
In the light of that may I say that we are not simply here to be taught to meet the minimum requirements of the retreat; we are here to be immersed fully into Christ. This retreat is not ours, it is HIS. It was Christ’s desire that we spend this time with Him. He sent the invitation via your rector or superiors. He is calling! Which direction do we wish to go? They say where the mind goes the man goes. If our mind is driven to lust then we will land up in a brothel. If our minds are set on Christ then we will find ourselves in the Church. The question is where is our mind today?
Having stated what I am not, let me state what I am and state it unabashedly. I am a priest who has struggled with his vocation and priesthood and continues to and yet in my struggle I have experienced the profound presence of Christ and I wish to share this combination of struggle and presence with you in the days to come and in the topics I share with you. They are my words but His voice.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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