Tuesday, April 06, 2010, 1:15 PM, the Octave of Easter
On Good Friday, I saw my spiritual director for the week, Father Ambrose, for our final session. I had a happy sense of having “completed the course.”
Before I made this retreat at The Monastery of the Holy Spirit I had reached a point at which I needed to pivot in my spiritual life, as I have in my work life. I had a thousand and one questions laying hold of my attention.
Father Ambrose passed right through this grabby gang, leading me straight to Christ. There were not many answers to my questions but one; I needed to commune with the Lord. This meant spending dedicated time every day—throughout the day—in silent contemplation, as well as in meditating on the Scriptures, talking with God, and participating in liturgical life.
I’ve spoken of the Lord as the Good Shepherd carrying me through recent difficult times. At the Monastery of the Holy Spirit this past Holy Week I felt the Lord had set me back on my feet, saying, “Now follow me. It’s time that you kept up with the group.”
My sense of completion came from knowing how to move forward, even if the itinerary remained as full of hazards and surprises as St. Patrick’s journey to Ireland.
Toward the end of our sessions Father Ambrose began teasing me about “playing the oracle,” meaning writing and speaking about my thoughts through Catholic Exchange. “Perhaps He is saying to you,” Father Ambrose said, “come up higher.” My biblical and theological knowledge was all well and good, to Father Ambrose’s mind, but I should remember to go directly to God through contemplative prayer. “The oracle” should keep his mouth shut once in a while and his mind alert to God’s presence.
“That’s what I want,” I said and meant it. I have long thought about living a contemplative life in the midst of the world. The people I most admire actually manage it. “I don’t want to speak from what I know theoretically. I want to speak out of experience.”
“You want to be authentic.”
“Then you will. Don’t worry about it. Allow some elbow room for others’ thoughts, too. It won’t hurt to show some humility.”
What is making you joyful this Easter? Let Harold know at Harold@catholicexchange.com
I thought of Father Ambrose’s teasing, and how I’m suspicious of anyone with too easy an opinion and dislike catching myself at the same game. “I don’t want to mess this up.”
“That’s your prayer?”
“That was Augustine’s prayer when he spoke of himself as ‘this weak vessel,’” Father Ambrose said. “Lord, don’t let me screw this up!”
We laughed together in benediction. We hugged and said goodbye.
On Sunday I brought my wife and children to the monastery for Easter Mass. The monastic community sat around the altar in their white habits. That allowed space for visitors like us to move into the choir stalls where the monks’ usually sit. This delighted my children, and my wife and me as well. I noticed the mementos of the monk who usually sat in the place I was filling: a picture of a nun in an African setting; one of a priest in what looked like India. All God’s people in one Easter.
The Mass was celebrated with great solemnity and joy, with clouds of incense and every note chanted reverently. The homilist spoke of how we are often led through our own Passions to discover Easter’s joy.
Driving home, my wife Karen commented on what an up and down it’s been. After all that, the world looked bright again. She got the homilist’s point.
Through the entirety of my retreat I realized in a powerful way that before I can be anything else I have to be a man of prayer; before I can be a husband or a father — or of use to Catholic Exchange. That’s a lesson I have to learn over and over and over again. It’s one I now turn to practice with renewed strength.
CE editor’s note: Don’t miss Mark Armstrong’s feature on the Shroud of Turin in the Today space on this page April 9th and 10th — that’s this coming Saturday and Sunday. Then toward the end of April check this journal space for a daily report by Mark of his trip to Rome and Turin to see the holy relic of the Shroud.