This post appeared as a column in the August 29, 2021, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.
In my role as communications manager for the parish, I am technically a contractor. Even before the pandemic I was working primarily from home, setting my own schedule, and providing freelance support to a handful of other Catholic clients.
As many of us have learned over the past 18 months or so, working from home can be a challenge. Distractions abound: kids and pets, music and media, food and other comforts, are constantly beckoning, particularly if you don’t have set hours.
Make no mistake, even good distractions (like my daughter Lily wanting me to watch an episode of Nature about giant pandas with her) can be from the Enemy. When we succumb to distraction, little by little, we weaken our resolve and our self-control. For me, it often looks like this: I’m working away on my laptop when a message comes in that reminds me of something that need doing on the home front. I leave my desk to address it while it’s fresh in my mind, and our Airedale Bruno greets me at the top of the stairs, hoping for a walk.
Last weekend, Fr. Park preached on the importance of rest. The Lord calls His followers to come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile (Mark 6:31). We do well to rest with the Lord by keeping holy the Sabbath—attending Mass and resting from activities that do not renew us in body and spirit—and by regularly withdrawing from the world to spend time with Jesus on retreat.
First, I want to second Father’s retreat recommendation. I’ve been blessed to make a personal retreat almost every year since I left the University of Minnesota and came to work for the Church. The first was a hermitage retreat at Pacem in Terris in Isanti, during which I spent a few days and nights in a comfortable one-room cabin in the woods; a basket of simple foods and water were left on my doorstep each morning, and I was encouraged to read scripture, reflect and pray in silence, on my own. A couple years ago I did something similar at Holy Hill in Wisconsin, renting a room in the old monastery and enjoying a self-imposed silence and reflection at an otherwise bustling shrine.
The rest have been three-day silent retreats at Demontreville in Lake Elmo, with a Jesuit retreat master leading us through the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, simple rooms, great food and quiet consistency from one year to the next. All have been fruitful, and when I re-enter the silence of retreat, I find God waiting for me, right where we left off.
I was blessed to spend last weekend on a three-day silent retreat. It was a fruitful time, to be sure, but honestly I’m still sorting through everything God was doing with me there. I am sure to share more in the coming days and weeks.
In the meantime: After the retreat an older gentleman told me that he noticed that I take lots of notes. I explained that for me, writing is how I remember and process information. What I didn’t mention is that I also doodle, draw arrows to make connections, intersperse my own comments and conclusions, and generally wind up with much more in the notebook than was actually said in the retreat master’s talk. Then I add to it between conferences, while praying and mulling over what was said. The page below is an example, an illustration of my “retreat brain” at work (or perhaps play).
Retreat Notes, August 2020
Whaddya think? Is a picture worth a thousand words?
What about a picture of words? A pitcher of words?
I could use a pitcher right about now…
Jodi and I are blessed with five children, four of whom are high-schoolers or older. All of them are knowledgeable about Catholicism and practice their faith daily. Indeed, they humble us with their devotion to the sacraments, their service to the Church and their willingness to evangelize.
Sometimes people ask us what we did to “make them” this way. We’ve asked them the same question. The clearest answer we’ve received is that going to Mass was never a choice or a question—but more than making them go, we never complained about it ourselves. They knew that Mass, prayer and formation were priorities, not only for them, but for us, too.
It’s gratifying to hear, but we know there is something more. Our example got them through the doors of the church, but St. Michael and St. Albert Youth Ministry made them want to come back and helped them fall in love with Jesus. First they wanted to go to Friday Night Live with their friends, then they asked to go to Extreme Faith Camp, then they began asking to go to Confession, daily Mass and Adoration. They admired the older teens who entertained and mentored them, and decided they wanted to pay it forward. They joined Core Team and began to draw the next generation to Christ. Continue reading
Last weekend I was blessed to make my fourth annual silent retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House at Demontreville, near Lake Elmo, Minnesota. My two eldest sons went with me for a weekend of rest, reflection and spiritual rejuvenation.
The music that is played over the weekend ranges from Gregorian chant to sax-and-bongos praise music that too frequently causes my sons and I make eye contact and stifle laughter. Over the past few weeks, the three of us had been trying to recall a particular song from the late 1960s that seems to be played at every retreat, every year. It isn’t a bad song, but a little too…’60s…for us to really enjoy. We couldn’t remember the name, but knew that the instant it started our eyes would meet, for better or worse. And sure enough, they did, on Friday—the first full day of the retreat. Continue reading