“Prayer for me is always a prayer full of memory…For me it is the memory of which St. Ignatius speaks…in the encounter with the merciful Christ crucified. And I ask myself: ‘What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What should I do for Christ?”
– Pope Francis
After putting it off for more than a decade, I finally made the choice to sign up for a silent retreat. A friend had heard me say several times that it was on my bucket list, although, the amount of effort I put into searching out an opportunity might suggest otherwise. My friend makes this retreat annually and miraculously, there were no conflicts with the schedule. Even when a quasi-legitimate domestic excuse emerged right before I registered, my loving wife told me there was no backing out. I am a raging extrovert and the idea of being alone with my thoughts for that long without anyone to talk to gave me chills. I wasn’t alone in my fear for myself. When I asked a clergy friend who knows me for advice, he said, “Hang on tight!” and one of our board members questioned aloud if I would make it back alive.
As many others had promised, the experience was amazing - intense, healing, challenging, hopeful, everything that I was looking for, and more. Surprisingly, though, the challenge wasn’t the silence. In fact, other than finally getting to talk to my wife, I was kind of sad I had to turn my phone back on when it was over. It also turns out other people annoy me less when everyone is quiet, and I get myself into less trouble when I am unable to speak. The challenge wasn’t the silence, it was the time; it was devoting that much time to the Lord. If I’m completely honest, the hardest thing was coming to terms with how much pride must be inside me that, when given the chance to spend four days in a beautiful setting with a supportive community - to do nothing else but reflect on and rejoice in God’s love for me - I wrestled more than once with the question of whether or not I was wasting time. I struggled with whether there was somewhere more important for me to be or something more important for me to do. Thanks to the Holy Spirit and a well-run retreat, I was able to win the battle, but I couldn’t help but think about the lifelong war.
As a leader and as a disciple, how do I evaluate what’s worth my time? Does my answer align with my actions? With all the good work I may try to do for the Church, do I work as much, if not more, for my relationship with the Lord? My friend had given me my very own copy of “The Spiritual Exercises” of St. Ignatius. I got the spiritual workout of a lifetime just on the first principle. One sentence in particular: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.” If that’s my purpose, how does that align with how I spend my time on earth, and how focused am I on where I’ll spend eternity? As we begin this new year, let’s make every resolution to spend every moment we can to fulfill the reason we were created.
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