I can't afford it.
I don't remember how much that first retreat cost, the one in September (I think it was), 1997 - might have been $150. It started Friday evening and ended Sunday late afternoon.
But in addition to the cost of the retreat, I would not be able to work for Rob in my Saturday job - something like $250 lost income. I said to Sue that we could not afford it.
It is odd how an expense, or a time-consuming undertaking - something, anyway, that has a cost to us - may seem overwhelming when it is a once-off thing - but taken for granted when it becomes a habit. Annual Opus Dei retreats are now part of my and Susan's lives - and, proportional to the current value of money, just as expensive as that first one was to be. But the thought of that first one was daunting.
In August, it may have been, we had a friend over for lunch. Alan was telling us about some character-formation things that he had undertaken during his life and how much they had meant to him. Somehow I began talking about this retreat, and how I couldn't go - it wasn't only the cost of the retreat; it was the lost income.
Alan was a friend. Alan was not in that category of what I might call 'very close friends.' I don't think we ever had had him over for lunch before, and certainly never again. He lives, now, in Australia, in any case. My acquaintance with him had simply come from his having done some contracting work for us at the University.
How much lost money from work would I have? About $250, I told him. If I paid for the retreat, he said, he would give me the lost money from work.
It was wise of him, I think, to offer to pay only for the lost income - that is, not to pay for the retreat as well. If I were sufficiently committed to pay part of it myself, the retreat might do me some good; if it was just a gift ... well, it might not mean so much.
I was, nevertheless, stunned by his offer. I had, I think, more reasons for not wanting to go on that retreat than simply the money. The whole business was an unknown - frightening, in a way. But, as I said to Sue, apparently God has spoken. I cannot say 'no.'
I will not describe too much of the retreat's details. There is, really, not much to describe. The retreat was for men. The retreat was called a 'silent' retreat. This did not mean some sort of extreme game of communicating only by gesture or writing. It simply meant that we were there for God, for prayer, for meditation. If you needed to ask someone what time it was, ask. We were encouraged to spend some time with the priest - on that my first retreat, a Father Ed from Boston - talking with him, going to Confession. 'Silent' meant that it wasn't the place to discuss our jobs, sport, politics, our families, etc. We were there 'on retreat' from the routine things of life.
During the retreat, there were about five half-hour meditative talks from Father Ed. There was daily Mass. We did a few other communal things - a talk or two by the Opus Dei men running the retreat; the Rosary; Stations of the Cross. But much of the time we were left alone. We might pray in the chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament. We could go for walks in the neighbourhood. During meals, we took turns reading aloud at table from selected books - religious, in a way, but not devotional.
But what was overwhelming to me was just being still - not something I am very good at :-) - for two days, and just being in the presence of God.
I came home to Susan overwhelmed, and babbled to her about it - and told her of a woman's retreat that would happen shortly - October, I think - and that I wanted her to go. There was no more talk of not being able to afford it now. She went - a little uncertainly, I think. When she returned, she was not uncertain.
Since then, Sue and I go on retreat annually. I wouldn't miss it for anything. It is a habit - a consciously-formed habit.
1997 saw another important thing happening. At the end of December - whether before or after Christmas, I don't recall - Johnny came home from Seattle.