It is always a great joy to gather with my brother deacons, together with our wives, for a few days each year. Our retreat master was Fr. Felix Just, SJ, who serves as the Executive Director of Loyola Institute for Spirituality in Orange, California. I can't imagine how wonderful it must be for Catholics in Orange County, Los Angeles, and beyond to have such a place. This is the second year in a row that we have a had a Jesuit retreat master from Loyola. Last year our retreat focused on Ignatian spirituality and discernment. This year, Fr. Just, who is a New Testament scholar, took as our theme "Abide in/with Me," a focus on St. John's Gospel (our bishop, John Wester, has "Abide in Christ" as his episcopal motto). I was excited to learn about Fr. Just's personal website, Catholic Resources, where he makes many of his Scripture resources available for free. As both of my readers know, I focus a lot on Sacred Scripture, on the inexhaustible riches the inspired texts contain for us. One can no more "completely" master Scripture than one can come to a complete, definitive understanding of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
One aspect of the retreat I personally found most fruitful was using no electronic media whatsover at anytime (i.e., no Android phone, no computer, t.v., radio, etc.). Prior to heading for our retreat on Friday afternoon, I printed Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J.'s entire interview with Pope Francis, which appeared in the U.S. in America magazine, as well as on their website, under the title "A Big Heart Open to God." In addition to being able to spend quite a bit of time in personal prayer, I read this interview along with the Scripture texts Fr. Just gave us to meditate and pray with (I also finished re-reading N.T. Wright's Simply Jesus- I was almost done) during my time alone on the retreat. Rather than even try to summarize the effect all of this had on me, let me just say I came away greatly blessed, refreshed, and encouraged. I am sure I will have a few things to post arising from from my reading of the interview with the Holy Father and our retreat. If you have not yet, I urge you to read the pope's interview its entirety. In addition to being greatly interested in what I will call his cultural formation (i.e., what literature, music, movies have moved and influenced him), even while he discussed it in the context of his own life and ministry, I was struck by what the pope had to say about discernment.
Finally coming to our readings for this Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the operative word both for this week's readings and next week's, on which I will preach, is challenging. This is not only true of our Gospel readings, taken from the sixteenth chapter of St. Luke's Gospel, but extend to our two readings from the Book of the Prophet Amos, which strike me as smacking more than a little of what the pope is trying to convey to the Church, especially to the her ministers (i.e., people like me). What do I mean? In answer, I offer this much-quoted passage from his interview:
I see clearly... that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up (second ellipsis in original- first added by me)From our first reading for today: "Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land," proclaims Amos before describing the ways in which the needy and poor are trampled upon and ending with this- "The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!" Of course, the "they" to whom the prophet refers are those who trample on the poor and needy.
Dear friends, we'll see what the coming week has in store for us. In the meantime, may the peace and blessing of Almighty God be with you all.