Time Away

One of my favorite passages in scripture is the story of Martha and Mary. Jesus accepts a dinner invitation to visit his two dear friends. Martha is busy preparing the meal and making sure that everything is just right for Jesus, while Mary sits quietly at the feet of Jesus listening to his every word. In our lives we all play out these two roles at different times and in various circumstances. The image of Mary sitting at the feet of our Lord has always held a beautiful place in my heart. Wouldn’t we all like to be in that spot?

This past week, Father Steven had the opportunity for some time away on retreat. I will venture out for retreat this coming week for a few days with deacons from our local archdiocese and beyond. This is a time for prayer, instruction, rest, reflection and fellowship. I look forward to this time away to center myself and to evaluate where God is leading me. It is always easier for me to hear God’s voice when I am in a focused setting.

I have vivid memories of my first diaconate retreat the summer of my first year of seminary. We were at New Melleray Abbey out in the green pastures of Iowa. I found myself in the dark abbey chapel late in the evening of the first full day of our retreat. It had been a long day, and I was physically and emotionally tired. I had taken in a lot of new information and was struggling to understand all that was being taught. I ended this challenging day on my knees in the chapel. I recall asking the Lord what I was doing in this place. I certainly felt like I didn’t belong among this group of men, who seemed so much smarter and holier than I. The week went on, and my angst lessened, as I realized that seminary formation is a process, and that I was exactly where God wanted me to be. I found solace in the darkness of that abbey chapel, where the only light illuminated a beautiful icon of our Blessed Mother.

In August of 2015, I was again at New Melleray Abbey, but this time for a pre-ordination retreat, the last official retreat of my seminary formation. I was now a few years older, maybe a bit wiser but still a little uncertain about God’s plan for my future. I returned to that same dark chapel the first night. I was hundreds of miles from home, my daughter was nine months pregnant and due at any time, and I felt the weight of the week ahead, as I sat in the stillness of that chapel. Once again, I asked God what I was doing here.   Satan had sowed the seeds of worry, fear and doubt in my heart, as I moved closer to ordination. I worried about every detail, and despite knowing in my head that it was the work of darkness, I still felt weak and uncertain. Those feelings lifted as the week progressed and God’s goodness shone through all the worry and fear.

There is a rhythm of life in a monastery. Prayers are prayed regularly throughout the day and night. Bells toll, calling the monks and guests to the chapel to pray. Prayer is simple, yet beautiful, as the monks take turns chanting the psalms across the cavernous chapel. It is in the integration of these elements, all done with an interior silence, that God is able to speak into even the most menial of tasks.

Taking time away on retreat helps me to reset the rhythm of God’s time in my own heart. Going away helps me to be still and silent. I pray and I listen. I walk and I journal. I meditate on God’s Word and feed on His very Body and Blood in the daily Eucharist. I collect the pieces of who I am again as husband, father, grandfather, deacon, brother, uncle, friend…I give thanks for all of this, as I am again able to breathe with the breath of the Spirit leading me deeper into the mysteries of the life of Christ.

As I head off for this time away, I am grateful to each of you for your faith, your warmth, your prayers, your care and concern and your love. I never in my life imagined that God would give me so much! I am grateful for my brother and friend, Father Steven and for my co-ministers on staff here at St. Peter’s. I pray that this time away will bring me to a deeper and more abiding faith, so that renewed and strengthened in Christ, I may return to do His work.

In His perfect peace,

Deacon Tim

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