Category Archives: Penance

Retreat Journal

Day One:  Friday, December 09, 2011

I come into this retreat experience remembering the disappointment that was last year’s retreat.  My expectations were completely different than what actually took place and caused no small amount of frustration.  This year, I know basically what to expect, and I know that I can to an extent determine the course of my own retreat experience.  Last year, I thought that we were confined to the schedule of the retreat center and was rather annoyed to find out that instead of a restful, quiet, prayerful time, my day was filled from dawn to starlight with conferences.  Now, I know that I can skip those and that’s totally okay.  Not that the talks might not be valuable in themselves.  But for me, I need some time set aside for personal reflection and prayer.  I have tons of distractions at home and find it difficult to get anything done there.  Here, at least, I have fewer distractions.  I hope.  🙂  I know that I have my laptop and my cell phone, but I intend to use my computer for only offline work, and my cell for the Liturgy of the Hours.

What are my goals for this retreat?  I suppose first off, I want to get some studying in for my Nature & Mission of the Church final that I have on Tuesday.  I know, that doesn’t sound very retreatesque, but I really should study, and it’s about His Church, so it will help me to get closer to God while I read the material, right?  I think that’s a valid use of my retreat time.  Perhaps I’ll work on that second paper for the class while I am here as well, for much the same reasons.  On a personal note, I hope to spend some real time in quiet prayer and reading of the Scriptures.  I pulled several books off the shelf from their library and hope to dive into those a bit, too.

What’s happened so far?  Well, Mila and I arrived a little before 6 pm and got our room assignments. I spend a few minutes, not really unpacking, but rather putting things in the general area of where I would like them to be and just taking a moment in my room to be alone.  I know, not my usual modus operandi, but a good thing, I think.  At 6:30 pm, we went in to dinner, and I ended up sitting next to a girl who lives in Rochester Hills and grew up at St. Anastasia (although she doesn’t go there now).  We had a good conversation, which ran until the time for our opening conference at 7:30 pm.  I have to say, that was *long*.  Perhaps not temporally long, but it was tough to sit through all of that.  Plus, the little movie (or, well, longish movie) that they had us watch was set to this really sugary, calming music.   Probably not the best move to show people after a long day at work at the end of a long work week and right after eating.  🙂  But, I managed to stay awake, although I was tempted to leave and return to my room for a little while.

The message of our time here at the retreat center is “Are We There Yet?” and is attempting to focus us on our lives and the goal of attaining Heaven and how to get there.  Okay, decently interesting.  I suppose I can reflect on this.  🙂  The only problem came when they started talking about the schedule for the next couple days.  See, most of it was fine, until they started explaining about Reconciliation.  There are going to be two time periods tomorrow where we can go to the chapel and the priests will be available for individual reconciliation.  However, they are also going to have a communal reconciliation on Saturday night, and the priest said explicitly that, “Just come up to me or Fr. P.  You don’t have to tell us any sins or say any act of contrition, because we will assume that you have already done this on the way up.  Just let us know that you want the sacrament and we will give you sacramental absolution.”  Is this even legit?  I thought that communal reconciliation was just for cases of emergencies, like war or something.  I don’t see how this could be justified when we have recourse to Reconciliation two other times on the same day!

Alright, I’m not going to gain any headway on that matter and now probably isn’t the best time to try and argue about that.  Plus, maybe I’m wrong.  I really don’t know what the rules are for religious order priests.  Perhaps it just rubs me the wrong way and that’s just my issue.  No matter.  I can just go to Reconciliation the normal way and not worry about the rest.  And, hey!  I can spend that time that they are going to be using for the communal reconciliation to pray on my own!  Win-win!  🙂

Next item that made me want to say Hmmm…  The anointing.  At the end of the opening conference, they had us all come up to either Fr. P or the female retreat director (or assistant, I’m not sure what her official title is) to get an anointing, which I took to be a kind of blessing for our retreat.  And what she said was pretty much that, a blessing.  It was good.  And it smelled good too!  Wait.  Too good.  Is that…?  No…  Could it be…?  Did they just anoint us all with Holy Chrism?!?  Can they do that??

At any rate, I now smell great.  We all spent some time in front of the “exposed” Eucharist (the ciborium was out of the tabernacle, yet remained covered).  Not sure if that’s different that if He were in the tabernacle or not, but it’s Jesus and the point is that I got to spend some time with Him.  I think, too, that my wish that he were out a little more is okay by Him; after all, I just want more of Him…  How could He say “No” to that?  😉

And now to start reading the first of my retreat books:  “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint Exupery.  I remember reading this is French class; however, any Christian references were completely lost on my atheist self, so I was quite surprised to see it on the shelf here under Spirituality.  I suppose I am about to find out…  Wish me luck and that the Holy Spirit may see fit to give me some insight.  🙂  See you on the flip side!

Day Two:  Saturday, December 10, 2011

Good Morning!  This morning’s schedule looks pretty full already!  🙂  20 minutes until Morning Prayer, breakfast, a conference, a meeting with a spiritual director, reconciliation, Mass, then lunch!  🙂  That’s a lot of eating in just a few hours!  🙂  I’m going to go get clean and put my thoughts in order!

I have to say, I love being in places like this.  I love the simplicity of it all.  It reminds me of being in the military and staying in hotel rooms.  Oddly enough, these are things which I greatly enjoy.  And they had my favorite Kashi cereal for breakfast!  Yum!

I feel a little guilty by missing their conference.  However, in their road trip analogy, some of the talks which they outlined yesterday, I feel that I am comfortable with in my own journey.  As I sit here in my room, looking over my book of prayer intentions, I see a line which I had written in the opening page, regarding intercessory prayer, “It is casting our weakness before God’s strength and having a bit of God’s passion burn in us.”  This simple sentence speaks to me in so many ways.  My priest offers to us to think of the offering of the gifts during Mass to be an opportunity for us to put any of our needs or struggles before the Lord, so then as we pray that the Holy Spirit transform the bread and wine into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, so too will something miraculous happen to those particular items which we will to also be upon that paten.  I feel that I am constantly putting things on my paten and offering them to God.  “Please, these are the things that I care about.  I know you can fix them.  Please help!”  Mostly they are people.  I love people.  I love to make people happy.  I love to help people.  I love to be around people.  And I love to pray for people.  I suppose this is a good thing, since I am an intercessor, right?  The part which talks of a bit of God’s passion burning within me, I feel is that deep care, concern and love that I have for the people for whom I intercede.  They may not be people, necessarily, whom I know personally.  Or they may be people with whom I have difficulty.  But nonetheless, I have love for them in my heart, and concern for their well-being, which I believe is God’s love and passion for His people, which He allows to flow through me for their benefit.  The connection between all of us people is as amazing as it is mysterious and I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this.  I wouldn’t miss out on it for anything!

I now have about 7 minutes before my meeting with one of the retreat spiritual directors here.  I’m not exactly sure what I will say, or what advice to ask for.

Oh wow.  I don’t even know what to say about that.  I have to talk to my spiritual director after that meeting.  Much to pray about.

Thank you, Lord, for a beautiful Mass.  I am so happy to be allowed to participate in giving Your Precious Blood to others.  I pray that they will be open to the graces which You wish to bestow upon them, and that I may also be open to Your grace.  Amen.

I love going to Reconciliation.  I am always glad to tell the Lord through the priest that I am sorry for offending Him and that I wish for His grace so that I may live a holy life deserving of the gifts which He gives me.  This one started off a little humorous:

I was probably the 6th or 7th penitent.  I entered the confessional and began:

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.  Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.  It has been – ”

“Are you here for Confession?”

“Um, yes?”

“Oh, okay.  Go ahead.”

Cover of "The Little Prince (Turtleback S...

I finished reading “The Little Prince.”  It is a cute story.  There is much in there that I could relate to Biblical truths, but for now, I think I will simply reflect upon it in my heart for a bit.  There is one part that I’d like to share.  The little prince relates the story of the fox which he tamed.  It is this taming, this relationship, which makes the fox special to the prince and makes the prince special to the fox.  He also relates this taming to the relationship that he has with his rose on his small planet.  Of this the fox says, “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”  This makes me think of two things:  first, about how praying for someone, if you do it sincerely, creates a visceral connection between you and that other; and second, about how Father says that “wasting time” with the Lord is the best way to spend your time.  I think because it fosters that relationship.  Particularly in front of the Blessed Sacrament, are we tamed by Him.

Next, I started working on my paper a bit.  Peeked through some notes.  Dropped in and stood outside the door to one of the conferences to see what it was that I was missing.  Came back, and worked some more on my paper.  Spend a bit of time not doing anything in particular, but just sitting back and enjoying the quiet.

I suppose that I’m not too good at being quiet for a long period of time, because at 5 pm, I decided to check out the other conference, although not quite in the way that one might expect.  I had discovered on my previous scouting mission that there is a speaker that feeds into the living room area right outside the conference room.  So, I could sit out there in a nice, big comfy chair and listen to the talk.  Even better, I brought with me Henri Nouwen’s, “Can You Drink the Cup?”  So I got to read and listen at the same time.  Multitasking at retreat!  Score!  🙂  15 minutes until dinner, and it’s supposed to be Annie’s famous pot roast.

Words worth reflecting on from Fr. Nouwen, “Lifting our cup means sharing our life so we can celebrate it.  When we truly believe we are called to lay down our lives for our friends, we must dare to take the risk to let others know what we are living,” (59).

Next book read, “The Seven Deadly Sins and Why We Love Them,” by John Steinbacher.  The part I like best about this book is that it spoke of the power of prayer, and how patients can be healed or recover faster when their priest is praying for them.  I’m sure this is why I have been out of the ER for as long as I have.  Thank you!  🙂

After that, “Lessons from the School of Suffering,” by Fr. Jim Willig:

One day, when I thought I was alone, I prayed in church.  While making this offering before the cross, a parishioner came up to me, put her arm around my shoulder and prayed, ‘Dear God, please heal Father Jim.  And give me his cancer.’  I was incredulous.  I looked at her, and then back to the Lord and quietly prayed, ‘If she insists, Lord, hear our prayer!’  Later I was able to pray, ‘Lord, rather than give my cancer to her, give her heart of love to me – the love that prompted her to deny her very self and pray in such a loving way,’ (21).

I pray like this sometimes.  If I see someone I care greatly for suffering or sick or in pain, I will often ask that the Lord give that to me instead of to him, if that be His will.  Another great quote from Fr. Jim is, “I do not know what my future holds, but I know who holds my future,” (23).

Day Three:  Sunday, December 11, 2011

I went to bed about midnight, knowing that I was going to have to get up early in the morning and leave the retreat center prematurely so that I could attend the baptism of my cousin’s daughter, which was scheduled for 8 am.

This morning, I’m feeling very sick.  I really just want to curl up in my own bed and just sleep the day away, but I have a lot of things to do.  After the baptism, I have to go to the 10:15 am Mass at St. A’s because they are going to read my Mass intention for Fr. Anonymous and I really want to be there for that!  🙂  After Mass is RCIA.  Hopefully, I will be able to get back home about 1:30 pm.  However, I will still have to study and write my papers, so I won’t be able to crawl into bed just yet.

Lord, please, give me strength!

As Catholics, Can We Pray for God’s Forgiveness for the Sins of Others?

Here’s the question: The acknowledgement of the sins of his ancestors and asking for forgiveness for those sins constitute a large portion of Nehemiah’s prayer in Neh 1:4-11. During the 2000 Jubilee Year celebrations, Pope John Paul II asked God’s forgiveness for sins committed by Catholics over the last two millennia. In your opinion, is it ever possible for a later generation to ask forgiveness for the sins committed by earlier generations? In what ways can that be redemptive and healing?

My answer: I would imagine that if Pope John Paul II saw that asking God’s mercy and forgiveness for sins of the past was a worthwhile endeavor, I wouldn’t have any reason to think that this might not be efficacious. For individuals who have passed, we can merit indulgences and perhaps ease their way through Purgatory. I think we are probably more connected than we think — as the body of Christ — and if the sin of one can affect all, perhaps the repentance of one can also be universally applicable. Even in my own body, if it is my hand which sins, it is still my tongue which confesses. This can be redemptive in ways we do not fully understand. But if Jesus took upon Himself all of our sins, and if we are to conform ourselves to Him, perhaps there is not only something known as redemptive suffering, but also redemptive repentance. I think it can be healing precisely in the fact that it underlines our unity in Christ and encourages us in our love of neighbor. Our neighbors are not just those who are temporally proximal to us, but all people in all times.

Sacrifice and Love

I have to confess that lately my prayer life has really stunk. I mean, I pray every day, especially intercessions for the people I care about. But I haven’t felt that I am growing in my relationship with the Lord. I just feel disconnected in a way. And this is upsetting to me because I am used to having, or feeling that I have, a close connection to Him. So, I have been floundering quite a bit. Which also means that I have been sinning more often and in worse ways than “normal” (if sin can ever be called normal). Which is also irritating, because I really have no desire to do the sins I do, yet I find myself doing them anyway.

I know the problem is me. All me. And I need Reconciliation. I need to stop what I am doing in my life right now and re-order everything — making God my center. This morning, I got up early and went to Adoration before the exposed Eucharist in our chapel. I started by reading the Pope’s book, “In the Beginning,” but was soon interrupted. Something was bothering me; what was it?

I looked up. The Lord was present in the center flanked by 4 candles. In the niche to the right was the tabernacle. In the niche to the left was the Book of Gospels.

Divine Mercy Chapel - dscn0074

However, the Book of the Gospels wasn’t lit as brightly as the tabernacle. You could see that the light was on, but it was as if the dimmer switch was turned very low. This is what was bothering me. We are fed from both tables. We should revere the Word of God as we revere His Body. I wanted the lighting for the two niches to be equal.

I looked back to the book in my hands. It is a great book, and I was enjoying reading it. However, I was still unsettled and I felt an urging, a nudge, to read His Word. So, I got up and grabbed a Bible and sat back down, reading Genesis 3-5.

After Benediction, I got a Pumpkin Spice Latte at my local Starbucks. Instead of leaving right away as I usually do, I settled into a comfy armchair and continued reading the Pope’s book. At one point, I stopped reading…because he said something that made me review my week.

In my last post, I talked about fractioning using a large vs. medium sized host and I included a quote about the Altar of Sacrifice, which gave us a graphic image of the Lord’s Blood and Body splashed all over the altar — for us.

Two days after that post, I was at Mass during lunch at the hospital. Our priest told us that there was a priest upstairs who had been declared brain dead, and that our Transplant team was going to be harvesting his organs for Gift of Life later in the day. I work for the Department of Surgery. That was my team that was going to be in that OR. I was involved, in a way, with this. I thought about what this meant. This priest, whom I didn’t know personally, was giving of himself — one final time here on Earth — for the benefit of another person. Talk about sacrifice. Talk about self-gift. All priests lives flow from and return to the sacrifice on the altar. This news, this realization of what he did and was doing, was a powerful image for me of that visceral, close connection that our priests have to the Mass, to the Lord’s Passion, to the Eucharist. So beautiful.

When I go to Mass, at consecration when the Body of our Lord is elevated, I pray in a particular way. Usually, it goes something like this,

This is Your son, who has You in his hands. I see him looking up at You, and I feel You looking down on him with such love. Please Lord, bless and protect him. Strengthen him to be able to do Your work. Refresh him and support him and give him comfort and encouragement, as only You can do. Keep him healthy in mind and body. Help him to turn his heart ever more towards You. Let him know of the incredible love that You have for him.

I hear back the words the Father spoke at the Baptism of the Lord, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

As I finish my recollection of these events of the past week, I return to the Pope’s book. What had given me pause was where he was speaking of the greatest love there is: “I will for you to be.” I think, in context, he was speaking of the incredible love that God has for each one of us that he not only called us into being, but is continually sustaining us in being. For me, I think that this is the best kind of love, one that we should all aspire to have towards the people around us. They are not objects to be used, but people to be loved. Just because they are. Their existence alone gives such joy…or it should.

I am blessed, blessed, blessed by the people I have around me. I love them and I love our Lord who gifted me with them. And I realize that even though I have felt like I’ve had a bad week in my relationship with the Lord, he has been there through it all, giving me grace and love.

After Starbucks, I headed to SS. Cyril and Methodius for Reconciliation prior to Mass. I was to be the next person into the confessional when the priest stopped hearing confessions in order to pray Mass. I looked at the Lord in the tabernacle for a while, “Now what?” After a bit, I headed to St. Anastasia for the 10:15 am Mass. During his homily, Fr. JJ was talking about the Prodigal Son, saying that most people think that they have to reconcile with the Father in order for him to bestow his grace and love upon them, but in fact it is the reverse: it is the fact of the Father’s love which leads to reconciliation.

So, now that I have been graced with this reflection and with the beauty and power and gift that is the Mass…. I will try again to get to Reconciliation this evening. Because God has given me everything which is good in this life.

And I love Him.

Keep Your Focus on the Lord

This passage from the reflection in the Magnificat really resonates with me:

“When you feel that you have done your best to amend your life according to the laws of the Church, give yourself in earnest to the contemplative work. And if the memory of your past sins or the temptation to new ones should plague your mind, forming an obstacle between you and God, crush them beneath your feet and bravely step beyond them. Try to bury the thought of these deeds beneath the thick cloud of forgetting just as if neither you nor anyone else had ever done them. If they persist in returning, you must persist in rejecting them. In short, as often as they rise up you must put them down….
When distracting thoughts annoy you, try to pretend that you do not even notice their presence or that they have come between you and your God. Look beyond them — over their shoulder, as it were — as if you were looking for something else, which of course you are. For beyond them, God is hidden in the dark cloud of unknowing. Do this and I feel sure you will soon be relieved of anxiety about them. I can vouch for the orthodoxy of this technique because in reality it amounts to a yearning for God, a longing to see and taste him as much as is possible in this life. And desire like this is actually love, which always brings peace.”

This speaks to me on a couple of different levels. First, we were talking about some mystics in Theology class on Thursday and how both of them saw as the summit of prayer life contemplation of God. St. Teresa of Avila, in particular, piqued my interest — so I bought 3 of her books and will work on reading them this Lent. Second, this passage speaks of that sin that you keep doing — almost against your will — and how to try to overcome it by not letting it get in your way, but to keep picking yourself back up, going to Confession, and making the choice every time to follow Jesus. It is too easy, when faced with repeated failure in holiness to despair and think that this particular thing is beyond you. Yet God gives you grace all the time, and nothing, NOTHING, is beyond His power. Nothing is stronger than God. Trust in Him and keep seeking after Him.

What an amazingly graced day today has been! I started off by watching a catch up session for my Epic church history study, followed by reading the Magnificat. This reading has been so inspiring to me, and so helpful in starting to plan out my Lent. Then, I got to get my hair done — something which has been woefully neglected for far too long. I had a quick lunch, then got to spend some time in Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and pray the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet with some friends. Next, because I was feeling a little indicted by St. Teresa, I took the opportunity to participate in Reconciliation. I got some materials to aid me in my Lenten project, and came home for some more reading, a lovely dinner, and some Wii (I made my brother’s Mii a Pro at tennis!). I think I’ll shortly retire for the evening and continue my spiritual reading.

I can’t wait for tomorrow! If today was so good, I can’t even imagine what the Lord’s Day has in store for me! 🙂


I had been intending to turn my third bedroom — the baby’s room — into a prayer room for quite a while now. However, it had accumulated so much junk that it was a daunting thought to clear it out and make something out of it. I had managed to put a chair in there, and clear a little path so I could exercise on the elliptical trainer, but that was about it. This is what the room looked like:
The Would-Be Prayer/Exercise Room -- DSCN5602
I left it like this for a long, long time.

I won’t get into my Confession, but yesterday, Father gave as my penance that I would ask Mary to be my designer, and in particular that she would help me to do something with my house. I went to Michael’s and Office Max after Confession and randomly walked up and down the aisles, picking up things. I had some candles from some recent PartyLite gatherings recently.

This is what I came up with after some hard work yesterday evening:
My little desk:
My candles:
And the other side of the room with my comfy chair and white board:
Now, it will be much more functional as a prayer room! I just need to find a way to hang my picture….