Thursday, 03 November 2011 08:55
The view from the rectory window
By Fr. Ken Van Haverbeke
It took about five days at the silent retreat before it happened: the desire to talk. The pattern of our day consisted of eating, praying, walking, praying, and eating. Only conversations between the priests were nods and grunts, except when a young priest spilled his glass of water at my table. He was so embarrassed and kept apologizing, then apologized for talking, then apologized again for the mishap.
Every diocesan priest is required by the Code of Canon Law to attend a weeklong retreat every year. I’ll let you in on a little secret: most of us don’t. Oh, we might take off a week for a retreat at the diocesan retreat center or somewhere else but Canon Law says a week, seven days. We arrive generally Monday night. Tuesday and Wednesday we try as best as we can to enter into the spirit of the retreat. Keep quiet. Pray. Walk and converse with the Lord.
On Thursday, at about 1 o’clock in the afternoon, our thoughts drift back to the parish and when we leave the retreat. Thursday afternoon, evening, and Friday morning consists of making to-do lists, mentally packing, and working on the homily for the upcoming Sunday. Prior to the morning Mass on Friday, the car is already packed, our sheets taken off the bed, and when Mass is over, we’re gone!
In actuality our required week-long retreat consists of two or three days.
On my recent eight-day retreat, I wondered why I was receiving so many graces on this retreat and failed at others. As men, we generally like to be in charge, even if away. Being far away helps. As priests, we are concerned about our flock. Taking quality time away from the flock is an act of faith: faith in our people, our staff, and in God Himself.
Saint Augustine wrote in a time before e-mails, cars, or cell phones. As a priest and bishop he found it difficult to retreat but realized how important it was.
He wrote, “Let us leave a little room for reflection in our lives. Leave room for periods of silence and enter into ourselves; leave behind all noise and confusion…let us hear the Word of God in stillness and perhaps we may come to understand.” (Sermon 52, 22) Even in the 4th Century there was need for silence and reflection.
I love silence – people talk too much. When asked “How are you?” they really don’t want to know, they are just nodding at you, acknowledging you, being polite. I find myself saying silly things to people because I often simply don’t know what to say.
After five days of silence, I was ready to talk and had to wait three more days. What did I want to say? I wanted to share with someone how the Lord was speaking to me: what he was saying, what insights and consolations I was receiving. I wanted to share my experience with someone like a spouse would want to share his or her experiences while away from their loved one. When a priest returns from a good retreat, he feels the same way – and his spouse, the parish – benefits!
So, the next time your parish priest says he is going on retreat, thank him. Encourage him to take a full week. Tell him to take all the time God wants of him because in the end, everyone benefits.
Oh, I suppose you are wondering about the blanket I stole. The one I told you about last time? Remember this retreat consisted of: silence, eight days, and men. Well, the first night I got to the retreat house and bedded down for the night, I realized the heat was not on in the building. Old steam heat system.
It would be a long week, shivering in the cold without sleep. Penance is one thing, common sense is another. Asked to keep silence, I wasn’t comfortable asking someone for a blanket. Plus it would make me look like a wimp. As a man who doesn’t ask for directions or help, I quietly, stealthily snuck into the hall, slowing opening doors, knowing there had to be a linen closet somewhere.
After finding the broom closet, the stuffed storage room (if you build it, they will fill it!), I finally found the linen closet. One blanket. Very pink!
Settling into a warm bed finally, I drifted off to sleep with the glow of the hot pink blanket reflecting off the walls of the white washed room telling God: ‘I think I should keep silent about this!’
Father Ken VanHaverbeke is director of the Diocesan Spiritual Life Center. He invites the faithful to experience a retreat there. For more information, go to www.slcwichita.org.