My name is Antonia and I’ve been a parishioner at St. Charles since my Confirmation in 2017. The last time I wrote here, I shared how the parish community helped raise me Catholic. Let me edit that last phrase: how the parish community is helping raise me Catholic. The formation process, I’ve discovered, is ongoing for all of us. For people who like to know what’s what (and you know who you are!!), it’s a bit of a challenge sometimes to accept the Mystery that is at the heart of our faith. Yet there’s a profound beauty and comfort in that, too, because it is through the Sacraments, Mass, Scripture, and Prayer that our Trinitarian God reveals Himself to us slowly, lovingly, surprisingly, if only partially. It’s an ever-evolving relationship. And when it comes right down to it, isn’t that true of all intimate relationships?
Anyone who’s in or has been in a long-term relationship, however, knows that you can fall into a rut or a period of stagnation. One solution is to go on vacation or do something together you haven’t done before; basically, becoming vulnerable and open. A silent, spiritual retreat with God, I’ve found, is similar. It’s an opportunity to step away from all that you’re attached to, including your attachment to yourself, so you can hear His knock and open the door to Him. Your spiritual director will help you invite Him in and encourage you to let Him restore the interior of your house. Like all renovations, though, it’s intense, messy, and filled with unanticipated challenges and delays—caused by your not fully retreating and allowing Him to renew you. It’s not easy surrendering—from holding on to be being held, from giving to receiving. At least that was my experience last month when I went to St. Edmund’s Retreat House on Enders Island. It’s a slow process, this letting-go, but every step of the way you begin to see everything as a gift, as a form of great love:
- The iridescent dragonfly staying by your side until someone rescued you from the train station to take you to the Island.
- The sun rising over the Long Island Sound, His light shining across the rippling waves as you gratefully stand on the rocky shore.
- Catching sight of a hummingbird hovering above the flowers, fluttering its wings, while you pray to the Holy Spirit.
- The smoky gray feather gently falling from the treetop and landing on your path right after Mass on the Feast day of Saint Kateri Tekawitha.
- The barrier of pain, hidden deep inside you, transforming into a bridge during the three o’clock Divine Mercy Chaplet in the chapel.
- The sprightly birds singing cheerfully at dawn and at dusk from the big, leafy trees.
- The stack of books left at your door by a generous retreatant.
- The peace and unity in eating meals with others in silence.
- The heady fragrance of old-fashioned roses near the chapel, aglow in the late afternoon light.
- The large concaved rock, still warm from the sun, cradling you before the statue of the Assumption of Mary, the gentle waves lapping the shore behind her.
- Looking up at the ceiling from your bed at three in the morning and hearing a little voice in your heart whisper, “dear one,” after which you walk outside to find something you never see in Brooklyn: a sky of sparkling stars, winking at you from the darkness.
These are just some of the treasures given to me, which I assure you I did not earn. Since I’ve been back from Enders Island, I have come to realize that His gifts to us are always present; it’s only a matter of our receiving them, of stopping and retreating from our routines to acknowledge them and then to accept them graciously. Going on a retreat provides the freedom to do this more easily; think of it as a spa for the spirit, where you can relax and have someone care for you, to treat you. It just so happens that someone is God. One of the books I brought with me says it perfectly: “First of all, the most important thing in our lives is not so much what we can do as leaving room for what God can do. The great secret of all spiritual fruitfulness and growth is learning to let God act.” (Interior Freedom, by Fr. Jacques Philippe, page 32). That requires trust, as this Sunday’s Gospel (Mt. 14: 22-33) so beautifully illustrates. Peter is able to do the impossible, to walk on water, only through complete faith in Jesus. Imagine what Jesus can do if we fully retreat from our fears and let Him transform us so we can live more fully through, with, and in His love.