On Retreat, first part: Assisi

I have the most wonderful, supportive and generous wife. She’s been sacrificing a weekend each month to be trained as a catechist for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program. I think she’s done three or four of the nine weekends so far, and she knows it’s been “a little extra” for me to have the four kids by myself each weekend. But what kind of Catholic husband would I be to grouse about my wife who {gasp} is learning to teach kids about the faith?

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The training has been beautiful for her though — like mini retreats — in part because there have been opportunities for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, chances to stay at the nearby seminary, masses at a nearby convent, and she’s gotten to go to each session with one of our dear family friends.

Knowing that I might like to get away myself, Mrs. Q suggested that I take my own retreat, and, boring guy that I am, I decided a return to the Eternal City was in order, but that this time I’d divide the time in Assisi, where I’d never been before.

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I love retreats, but I’m not so much a fan of the “directed” ones where part of the time consists of “workshops”, “fellowship”, “group work”, or anything taking place in a “multipurpose room” or “cafegymatorium”.

While I do respect the people who like such retreats, my response (as a curmudgeon-introvert) is that I am surrounded by plenty of people ALL THE TIME (especially the young, disruptive, yammering types), and so when I go on retreat my objective is to find some solitude, and to pray and attend Mass. The ideal retreat also has food, preferably sans tofu.

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Before leaving, the anxiety really set in. Travel can be stressful, and I wouldn’t say that doing international travel solo once before makes me a pro. It didn’t hurt that on the longest leg, on a flight less than a third full, a priest sat down directly next to me, and we sparked up a conversation. The safe arrival without much hassle also resolved a lot of that pre-journey worry.

If I could properly articulate the spiritual fruits of this experience, I’d be writing a bestselling Catholic book rather than just blogging. But then again, *I* wouldn’t buy a book on spiritual fruits from a guy like me, because it seems unseemly for the non-saint to describe another’s relationship with God, which is entirely subjective, and personal.

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In other words, I couldn’t tell you what *you* would find in Assisi, but I’d certainly suggest that it is a place for those looking to deepen their spiritual life, and in particular to ask some of the fundamental questions about how God calls us closer to Himself, and whether (for most of us) this is a process undertaken easily or with some difficulty.

After all, to model the saints who came from this place, it would appear that life might be fraught with hardship and discomfort. How is it that such a path appears hard, and yet is undertaken so joyfully by so many holy men and women, as if nothing — no comfort or wordly pleasure — could possibly compare to living in God’s light?

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And if I said that after a couple days here I have an answer, you’d be wise to inquire about the other snake oils on offer. But I do have a measure of newfound personal clarity, that God called me here to show me something, and that in time, he will use what I have seen and felt to continue his work on me.

The two saintly “stars” of Assisi are St. Francis and St. Clare. Both have basilicas, beneath which their respective tombs can be found. Both provide examples of what turning one’s life completely over to God looks like. Both established religious orders with hallmarks of simplicity, poverty, and paradoxically, JOY.

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If we truly want to know and love God, then we need to make time to develop that relationship. We don’t have to travel across the world, but we do need to stop pretending that it is possible to be Christian and not know Jesus personally. After all, would you really know your spouse if you never dated him or her, or traveled together?

Prayer is conversation. Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament is visitation. Mass is sharing a meal together. Pilgrimage to holy places is like returning to a birthplace or family home. True relationship generates desire to do these things.

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2 thoughts on “On Retreat, first part: Assisi

  1. I went to Assisi last summer as part of an orchestra tour and, sadly, I wasn’t able to explore much of the Christian side of it at all. I really want to go back and allow more time for prayer and reflection!

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