Monday, April 22, 2013

Retreats are great for people watching, if nothing else.

The grounds of Loyola House of Retreats in Morristown, NJ have been recently improved. Very glad to have brought my camera.



In packing for the weekend, I retrieved my retreat handbook from the bookcase cabinet. The schedule from my most recent retreat was still paper-clipped inside the front cover. The date was 2005. In those days, I had three boys aged five and under. I remember not knowing how to manage my time, not being accustomed to having much to myself. I learned that I'm a very different person now than I was then. Likewise the retreat house has changed. Jesuits, while on-hand for the celebration of the sacraments during the weekend, no longer conduct the retreat lectures themselves.

Immediately after checking in and receiving my west wing room assignment, I went to the marble table outside the Fr. Stork parlor and signed up to lead outdoor Stations of the Cross Saturday after lunch. In heading to my room, I forgot that the mansion's upper floors do not connect with the west wing. I came back down the central, double staircase and walked through the Ignatian Room, past the bookstore and behind the chapel to the west wing stairs. My room was very nice.

And the dusty prie-dieu was great for holding open the door.

Seriously, I dusted the thing off before using it. It had cobwebs.

Before dinner, I visited the small gift shop / bookstore. I was looking for a Pope Francis prayer card but there were none.

At dinner time, I sought out my group in the dining room. In the three-quarters full room, I spotted a couple of familiar-faced strangers from over the years. They recognized me as well. The acquaintance who had invited me on retreat chose not to sit at the same table as I. That disappointed me.

Being left-handed, I took a seat at the left end of the table, fully aware that I would be responsible for piling up the dishes from my side of the table after every meal. I met with some resistance from the other women already seated. They weren't sure about me joining their table?

A retreat veteran, Dorothy, was reserving the seat across from me for a friend who would arrive later in the evening. The friend had recently lost her mother. I could see when she arrived that she was a wreck. Somewhat inexplicably that first night, all the used dishes came my way at the end of the meal because Dorothy did not handle her side. In general, the women at my table were lax at passing serving platters. Had it been some time since they've eaten family style? And when the friend showed up, she was in no shape to pick up the slack. At one point, I told those across the table who were handing me their dishes, "You can pass them down your own side."

They were not good about cleaning their plates either. The retreat house staff informs so gently, maybe too gently, that food is expensive and, especially when served buffet style, ought not be wasted. I was appalled on Saturday morning that a woman at our table - a woman from my own hometown! - filled up her plate from the buffet and ate none of it. The woman across from me didn't finish her dinner but went up for dessert. Without the warning from the staff, it wouldn't matter to me. But I was bothered by the diners' disregard.

After dinner, we were persuaded of the value of silence. Then we had a lecture and Night Prayer in the chapel. I brought plenty of reading along so I was happy to retire to my room. Besides, it was raining; Friday night was a terrible thunderstorm.

Saturday began with Morning Prayer in the chapel, followed immediately by breakfast. There was a lecture in the chapel and free time which allowed for one-on-one sessions with a spiritual director. During a previous retreat, I spoke with a Jesuit one-on-one but found that the allotted time was too brief to solve anything.

It was refreshing to be in an environment without any news of current events. There was no mention of politics whatsoever. Nothing about healthcare. No social justice concerns. Not even anything about the institutional Church or the new Pope. Just Jesus, my fellows, myself and the sacraments. I became aware how laden with political overtones is the Christianity in which I'm often immersed. Bumper stickers like "Believers for Obama" and support for Israel. Studying Daniel 11 last week, a participant remarked with concern that none of the ambiguously identified nations resembled the United States. "Are we no longer a force for good at this future time in world history?" she asked.

We celebrated reconciliation and my ambition came to mind. I'm not acting out my daydreams (ambition) but indulging them prevents me from acting positively. Then lunch and Stations of the Cross.

I became familiar with Stations of the Cross on retreat and also Lenten Fridays at St. Jerome's in West Long Branch. I thought that my conscience would allow me to lead Stations especially after just confessing my besetting sin and receiving the grace of divine forgiveness. I was conscious not to rush, to allow time for reflection. To project my voice so as to be audible to the group and to speak clearly. I tried to follow closely behind the cross and candle bearers but once I fell back too far and had to walk briskly to catch up. It was strange to hear one's own voice solo, outdoors, before a group.

We celebrated Saturday weekday mass before dinner. After Saturday's dinner is always a problem. It seems that the staff doesn't know how to fill the time. One year they showed a movie. Often they've allowed a recreational break of the observed silence. This year, they proposed a Q&A. Well, I sat for about ten minutes and realized it wasn't for me! Then I got a bright idea: with everyone inside, I'd take my camera outside. And I got some lovely pictures.

The evening ended with Night Prayer and Exposition. Sunday morning was a final lecture, rosary, Sunday liturgy and lunch before departure. It was nice to visit the retreat house again after all these years but I'm pretty sure that I don't ever need to return.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A friend of mine practices her hobby of photographing her dog, dressing it sometimes in clothes, hats and rabbit ears for Easter.

So what could be wrong with these pictures:

I spent an hour again at St. Anthony's after swimming for, um, contemplation. And iPhone photography (see above).

I'm reluctant to label my activity prayer in any formal, structured sense, even though I said decades of the rosary, off and on, during the time. My meandering thought processes are not to be confused with contemplative prayer, either.

It was just me, asking questions about problems and fumbling around for suggestions at solutions. Like solo brainstorming, I suppose. I enjoyed the time. It was better than doing laundry1.

When I was thinking on the Third Joyful Mystery, and everything that goes along with that: the Incarnation, the Word made Flesh, and the Crucifixion - yeah, my mind went there because it's not 2 1/2 weeks from Good Friday - I had this very fleeting vision of the Eucharist on a paten being brought from the tabernacle to the nearside edge of the altar. And my head reflexively bowed before I knew what my imagination was up to.

Towards the end of my time there, I wondered, if I left Catholicism, whether my conscience would allow me to visit Catholic churches for prayer. I looked around for objects that might offend a newly non-Catholic Christian sensibility. Nothing. I was fine with the altar, the Roman Missal, the thurible at the ready. The only object that might trouble me, as it already does, is holy water. Not so much that things - as opposed to people - may be blessed2 or recalling one's baptism in a sacramental way, but the warding off part. Yes, there's evil. Yes, it affects people. But I'm hardly worth the bother3.

I came away from the time agreeing to myself that if the church secretary asks me again to volunteer to teach religious education in the parish program, I'll commit. (I'm less sure of that now, though.)

1 And I really, really like doing laundry. Not better than my swim, though.
2 We bless food. I mean, I don't, personally, or not often. But Christians do, generally.
3 Oh, I sneak dabs of holy water when nobody's looking.

Monday, April 15, 2013

I signed up for next year's Community Bible Study.

We were invited to the core group leader's house. More women showed up for lunch than met in the morning!

I usually have a difficult time in such settings, but I was surprisingly comfortable. It had been "Bring a Friend" that morning, so a woman brought a long-time friend who is a serious Christian. No pouncing.

I agreed to bring a dessert and found a package of rugelach1 at the supermarket. One in the group is a convert from Judaism so she recognized immediately what I'd brought before I even said. But she had none because she eats only salad. I sampled one and didn't care for it. Supermarket rugelach probably isn't the best.

We talked of her experience, since her husband started a church a couple of Sundays ago. He's a split off from a long-time church with a day school on County Line Rd. CBS policy is such that there's no solicitation and no mention of specific churches or denominations. But several disregard the policy. Someone brought in a postcard announcing the new church they'd received in a mass mailing to show the core group leader2. The church had been meeting in her home on Sundays and the Wednesday night prayer service still does because the middle school isn't available.

Conversation turned to who uses Facebook. I let them all know that I do. I added one friend consequently. An Internet search of one young woman's email domain turned up the homepage of a church in Howell. According to the website, her father-in-law is the church's pastor and her husband is worship leader. Her mother is a CBS core group leader. I guess you could say she's connected.

When they asserted that they aren't the typical pastor's wife, another lady confirmed that, having grown up in "the Assemblies [of God]:"
The pastor's wife played piano, sang alto, made the potato salad and that was it!"
I couldn't relate, really. To think of pastors being married and having children.

So, anyway, it was a remarkably good time. I wish we'd done it sooner because then there'd be enough time to do it again before the end of the session. And the group would have become closer quicker, too. But it's more hospitality than I've received from previous core group leaders.

This week she's at a conference. When she gets back, I'll have to ask whether Rick Warren made it.

1 Which I know about only because of that line in Quiz Show.
2 I didn't receive one.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sunday Snippets - a Catholic carnival hosted by RAnn at "This That and the Other Thing."

My post this week: Continuing the story of November's pilgrimage, leaving Portugal and arriving Santiago, Spain

Click to join sunday_snippets
On the way out of Portugal, we stopped in Coimbra with its university. We had an hour to walk around and get a drink. Myself and a Polish lady scaled the steep road to the university buildings. It was a great walk and a nice view but little else. We came down a different way and found ourselves several blocks over from the meeting place, Hotel Astoria, near the river. I had a general sense of needing to "go left" but was afraid of overshooting it. We asked directions twice and finally found the place with five or ten minutes to spare. The breeze coming off the river down the narrow streets was a good indication we were heading in the right direction.

My Polish companion bought postcards as we walked but I waited until we found the meeting place before dashing into a bank to exchange two €50 for smaller bills. I also grabbed a Coke, a 350 ml bottle for more than €4, about $9. It was the first time all trip I'd felt ripped off but I was in a hurry and the clerk could tell.

We drove another hour to our lunch spot, spending some of that time praying the rosary. I felt the rosary was a penance for some who met the bus late after their free hour in the college town. (One claimed she got lost.)

For lunch, I had another Coke and an omelette (Oro) on a baguette. It wasn't the best choice because the egg was cold but there wasn't anything wrong with it. I ate it even though I wasn't very hungry. I was glad I did because dinner was late! I was appalled that two ladies who sat with me at lunch - the two who had ridden with us to the airport - had smuggled food from the breakfast buffet, including a serving of yogurt!! They ate their swiped food as their lunch. Maybe they thought lunches should be included on the tour?

We drove then to Braga, still in Portugal. In Braga, we saw the basilica on the high mountain.

Santuário do Bom Jesus Do Monte

Supposedly the cross just appeared there one day. The altar area is a complete crucifixion scene with statues of all the players. Outside are statues of Annas, Pilate, Caiaphas - anyone involved in Jesus' condemnation. There is a cable car - two in fact - that work opposite. Water fills the undercarriage of the car on top of the hill until it becomes heavy enough to travel to the hill bottom. This action hoists the other car to the top. This has been in operation since it was built in 1885. There are also great steps up the side of the hill and I observed a woman with a special needs daughter of adult age, walking up the steps in pursuit of healing. Seeing their struggle, I plainly asked God to do it, to cure her, and not make them go through this. Undoubtedly, they walk the steps regularly. There was no celebration in their humble, upward progress, but their devotion was remarkable.

I mailed five postcards in Braga, including one to home. Father was frustrated with us for writing out and mailing postcards. Well, I had written mine out days earlier and was only waiting for a place to buy stamps and find a mailbox. I told Father it was a form of evangelization and he seemed open to that idea.

We went also to a Marian shrine.

Santuário do Sameiro

There's a "garden of Gethsemane" and a huge, open plaza at the end of the hill that looks open below. I did not look over the edge but people said there were stairs. Stairs they would never take!

Santuário do Sameiro

We entered the church like gangbusters, snapping pictures. It was very clear that we disturbed the people who were praying there. I refused to stand directly in front of the sanctuary to snap my picture, in front of other worshippers. From here we drove on to Santiago, Spain. The hotel was very nice. The hotel is "green" and lights in the hall are on a sensor, turning on only as someone passes. There were no lights in the stairwells which I took to my room on the second floor because the elevator was slow. My room was nice and dinner was nice.

First Dinner in Spain

Fr. Williams sat at our table and our conversation was lively. I had arranged with him that morning to hear my confession that evening. It was a Friday evening and we were just beginning our pilgrimage, so confession seemed in order. After a few glasses of wine with dinner, Father agreed to meet me in the hotel lobby afterwards.

Our meeting was private enough for the public place. With the benefit of the dinner wine's relaxing effect, we turned sufficiently thoughtful to celebrate the sacrament of penance. After saying whatever I thought necessary regarding my sins, Fr. Williams told me that my husband needs to get in touch with him privately about becoming a Christian. Somehow, according to Father, my husband's conversion would greatly help my spiritual life. My husband would never have a conversation with a priest about religion. My assigned penance was a rosary which I completed the following morning.

Friday, April 05, 2013

The study of Daniel resumed yesterday in chapter 7 after a week off for Holy Week. The teaching director suggested we wear colorful scarfs that had "some story, background or significance" for us. Before the break, I stashed the only scarf I own in my study book bag so I wouldn't forget. It's a virtual rainbow of shades so no matter what blouse I thought to put on, it would match perfectly. I dressed without even thinking about coordinating the colors and put on the scarf only when I arrived at the regular meeting place, a Baptist church in Allenwood.

Naturally, some women forgot scarves, even the teaching director who ended up borrowing one! A few minutes were permitted for sharing about our scarves in pairs and I teamed up with a lady seated ahead of me. She was not wearing a scarf so she talked about herself in an introductory way, where she lives, how she came to the Bible study, etc. Before I could tell the story of my scarf, two other women who had been unpaired in their respective quadrants of the room joined us and began talking, out of apparent nervousness. One lady, impressively, knit her scarf only the night before. She called knitting her "ministry," making prayer shawls and baby blankets. The other lady, who did not have a scarf, talked about herself, how many years she's attended this particular Bible study.

It seemed the conversation at last fell to me and I commenced telling the story of my scarf: On a trip to Israel, many sites had dress codes for women, requiring long-sleeved shirts and modest skirts or pants. One site, a Greek Orthodox church near Jacob's Well in Shechem recommended head coverings. Since I had my scarf, I complied. I finished the brief story and received absolutely no reaction from the three women listening. I've no idea why.

Our core group leader was absent, so the teaching director filled in. That made the other ladies in our small group nervous. The seat next to Betsy was open, so I took it. We reviewed the homework questions and recited the "memory verse," which is really a "copy verse" that we write out. It was a very long passage, Daniel 7:13-14, and the workbook didn't allow enough space. But I liked the couplet very much, so over the course of the week, I got better and better about writing small enough to fit the passage in the space. Nobody else in the group took the trouble to write out the passage each day last week, so as we read aloud the passage before beginning that day's questions, ladies were flipping back to the previous page or reading out of their Bible because the words weren't available in front of them. They were probably thinking, "Of all the weeks I don't bother to write out the verse, the teaching director has to be leading our small group!"

Chapter 7 was split up into five sections, one for each weekday. The teaching director called for volunteers to read the section before we answered the questions pertaining to that section. I like to read. I think everyone likes to read. The third time she asked for a volunteer, I simply began reading. I don't see any reason to say, "I'll read" or to ask "May I read?" Just start reading, right? Well, another lady thought it was her turn, so as I'm reading Daniel 7:15ff, I hear her saying, "Oh, I'll do ... mumble ..." Sorry, I'm already doing it! She took the next turn.

And I read from the Collegeville Commentary that I bring along, the old commentaries with the (old) New American Bible text. I need to compare old New and new New because my reading in the Anchor Bible Commentary volume on Daniel gave me the impression that the NAB made emendations galore. Heaven only knows how well what I read matched with what's in their respective Bibles (ESV, NIV, NKJV)!

It is time to register for next year. Already. They'll do Deuteronomy and Hebrews. Strangely, I did not receive a registration form in email over the break. I told Kim and she sent me one yesterday afternoon. It is identical to last year's form, so I could have just changed some dates and re-printed it out. I hope I get a better small group leader next year, but you know what, there may not be any available.