Once a year I go on an Opus Dei week-end retreat. These start Friday evening and conclude on Sunday afternoon. I will be on retreat this week-end - and so I thought I would write a few words now - in Jeremiah's memorable, and invariable, letter-opening phrase: "Just a few words to let you hear from me..." - as I won't be able to do so this week-end.
As retreats go, a week-end isn't much of one. The famous Ignatian retreat lasts four weeks - though it is normally undergone only when facing large life issues, such as the possibility of marriage or the priesthood. Most priests go on a one-week retreat each year. There are longer retreat programmes available, but for most of us, money and time are limiting factors.
Money, yes. I don't think I ever thought about where the money comes from for 'Catholic things.' Those of you who know me well, and have read the little essay on how I became a Catholic, know how much John Henry Newman has meant to me. He will be beatified next year - the first of two major steps towards canonisation - and I ... well, I will not attempt to say how it makes me feel. But the whole party - and these things tend to be big ones - is supposed to be paid for by donations (I have sent a teensy bit). I think before I became a Catholic, I just imagined that somehow 'the Vatican' ... well, just paid for these things!
So we pay for retreats. They house us (in a local motel) and feed us. I doubt, really, that what we pay covers all the costs, but still, a week would be a stretch.
I am so glad I go. Sue goes on her retreat, too, once a year. These are 'silent retreats' - at least that means that we don't chat with one another about work, family, the news, whatever. The priest gives little mini-sermons from time to time. The rest of the time - most of it - we pray.
I was thinking, this morning at Mass, about my age. I will be 67 in September. I hope I am beginning to make some progress in knowing what life is all about. To be sure, I have done a little linguistic work; help out with the computer needs of the University; play my horn. By far the greatest worldly task I have done is to bring five children (remember Kathleen, my first-born, although not Susan's daughter) into the world. That is a gift of God and I thank Him for it.
Nevertheless, what life is about at bottom is this: learning to love God - and, in that loving, to love each person one comes into contact with - one's neighbours.
If only I had begun to learn that earlier - much earlier. I became a Christian only at the age of 27 - nearly forty years ago! My Christianity was, however, almost wholly self-centred. I was so glad of God, Who had saved me. He would give me - well, He would give me this, and that - and so He did.
It only gradually dawned on me that what He wanted most of all to give me was Himself. As I began to come to understand this, I found, eventually, the Catholic Church, where, I believe, I can receive Him in the fulness which He intends.
If I will.
To be open to God is not easy. One may believe one is open to God when, in fact, one is open only to His lesser gifts.
Well, I am beginning, at an age when many have rested from their labours, to understand this. Please pray for me that I will open my heart more, turn from the toys which He gives me to the full gift - the Giver Himself. Pray that this retreat will benefit me, and, through me, others. And you who are young - or not so young - waste no time, I entreat you. God is there. He has so much to give you. But it is not easy. We are so wedded to the things of creation that we fear to let go of them to turn to the Creator. He is there. He will give to you that which you desire most: Heaven - which is to say, Himself.