This is an important week for this retreat. It prepares us for the weeks ahead. We know it isn’t an easy week, because it is so against the grain of our culture to examine our hearts before God.
For all of us, it should be noted that the very natural response to an unveiled exploration of our willful sinfulness is genuine shame. It is a real grace of this week, but only the first part of it. The second part is the surprising realization that I know God more intimately when I am overwhelmed with God’s love for me there — as a sinner. The two graces go together. If I am determined to avoid the feeling of shame, I make it very difficult for God to give me the power of the second grace.
For those of us for whom past experiences of having been shamed, in its debilitating or even its abusive senses, has caused great damage to our sense of self, this grace needs to be experienced as totally different from that kind of destructive experience. The grace of this week can be very healing to a shame based view of ourselves. For anyone who desires this healing, we strongly recommend proceeding with this retreat, with the assistance of a spiritual director.
That having been said, let’s not be afraid to ask God to show us who we are — loved sinners. Let’s explore some methods that might be helpful for this week.
How we begin is critical. We are asking for graces. That tells us, from the beginning, that we are not going to achieve what we desire on our own here. It will not be the result of our work alone. It will be a gift — a gift from God. So we begin asking for the grace to be led, guided, shown the way. I might ask God to shine a light on the areas God wants me to see. I might ask God to help me experience the times I have been rebellious, with emotion.
It may appear that doing this week in the background of my everyday life is more difficult, but it really isn’t. I may want to work to find some times to remember and reflect. I may want to plan to have a lunch alone or to spend some extra time walking somewhere, or to just get up a half an hour earlier — by going to bed a half an hour earlier. The essential nature of this retreat remains the same — it’s about unifying my day, from the time I awake to just before I sleep, with a sense of God’s presence with me on this journey. It’s about consciously focusing on what I’m doing this day, so that more and more of the background of my life changes.
Getting concrete is critical. Having a plan is important. For example, I may want to plan to explore the years of my youth early in the week, the middle part of my life during the middle of the week, and my life today at the end of the week. We don’t want to have a vague sense of it all. We want to explore concrete actions, attitudes, consequences of my decisions, habits that I developed and didn’t change, opportunities to love that I passed up, and ways I was deaf to the cry of the poor. Be concrete.
Some of us may be tempted to say that we didn’t do a lot of bad things in our lives — we never had an affair or acted dishonestly in our jobs or acted in an unloving way to another person — and that we have always thought of the poor and given generously of our time and money and taught our children to do the same, so we haven’t been a sinner. We may need to be more diligent in taking time to examine our heart for any hint of pride or judgment of others or lack of compassion for those who have a more difficult time being good. If we beg God to show us what it is we need to convict ourselves of, our shame, God will provide.
For some of us, it will be that really bad single sin or pattern of sin we are so aware of — whenever I think of sin I think of a long standing habit of abusing alcohol or that affair about which I feel so guilty or a time when I seriously abused another or a person I simply hate or can’t forgive. If this becomes the focus of our week, and becomes a way for God to show us love and mercy, it will be a profound grace. However, resist the temptation to stop there, with that single bad sin. Let’s unveil our whole lives here. For most of us, the ways we are rebellious in our failures to praise, reverence, and serve God are often quite subtle. We want to know and experience God’s love for us, not just because we did this or that. We want to experience love and mercy for who we are — who we have been and who we have become.
Finally, that takes us to Jesus. Let’s end each day conversing with Jesus — pouring out our hearts, friend to friend — with growing gratitude.Consider sharing the graces you received this week, either with someone close to you, or by using the Sharing pages on the online version of the retreat. And let’s pray for one another.