A Long Retreat, pt 1

Ordinary Time 23/Trinity 13 – Thursday

[ now playing? ] Melody Gardot – “My One And Only Thrill”

I spent more time at St. Stephen’s this afternoon after I knocked off from work relatively early (I did do more than my standard hours it can’t really be said that I didn’t work my standard hours today). Am thinking about getting into work even earlier tomorrow so that I can finish at about 4pm tomorrow to spend more time in reflection and contemplation in God’s company in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Or if not there, sitting in one of the pews in the nave before the altar.

This period of discernment has been long. It is entering my 5th year now of seeing where God is leading me.

I need to do something constructive with my blogging so the next few blogs will be my reflections on the said book I am re-reading:

Andrew Krivak - "A Long Retreat" (2008: New York/Farrar, Strauss and Giroux; London: Darton, Longman & Todd)
Andrew Krivak - "A Long Retreat" (2008: New York/Farrar, Strauss and Giroux; London: Darton, Longman & Todd)

It will be almost a review but mainly lectio from my own perspective.

Initial thoughts? It still reminds me a lot of Fr. Thomas Merton’s spiritual autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. There is a frankness about Krivak’s writing that inspires this young man about continuing to seek God and his own vocation in life.

While Krivak writes about his time as a Jesuit priest in training (which totals eight years of training for the Roman Catholic priesthood), his struggles are made manifest for all to read. Part 1 is about his time in the novitiate. Introducing Part 1 of the book, Krivak quotes St. Ignatius in his Formula for the Institute of the Society of Jesus which makes it very clear what the novitiate asks of those who seek to bind their life to Christ in poverty, obedience and chastity:

By experience we have learned that the path has many and great difficulties connected with it. Consequently we have judged it opportune to decree that no one should be permitted to pronounce his profession in this Society unless his life and doctrine have been probed by long and exacting tests.

Being on a long path of discernment myself about whether ordination is God’s will for me, Krivak’s initial thoughts on what the call means to a young man resound with me a lot. Granted, I am speaking from a primarily Protestant point of view, but heck, very few Protestant girls (make that few girls of any Christian or other persuasion) would want to sacrifice everything to live a life with a minister/pastor/priest for a husband. The pragmatic side of things means that for a young Protestant male, his outlook on life becomes similar then to his Catholic (and dare I say, Eastern Orthodox) brethren.

It’s hard to explain what goes through the mind of a young man when he feels as though he’s being “called”—the prophetic voice that’s supposed to single out God’s ordained—to serve in this way, a Catholic male brought up to believe that priesthood is the noblest path a man can walk. Poverty, chastity, and obedience? So be it. Every life demands sacrifice.

Krivak’s life story up until the point he entered the novitiate is a varied one. A poet, yacht rigger, ocean lifeguard, classic literature lover, even exploring a vocation to the Trappists of Spencer, MA (St. Joseph’s Abbey) before the first inklings of Jesuit life came in 1989 when he began travelling to Fordham University once a month for spiritual direction with a Jesuit father. A rather bohemian life you could call it.

Next he moves onto the first two weeks of the novitiate, his job as the beadle in his class of five Jesuit novices, the regularity of life with its prescribed amounts of study, prayer and work (“McQuaid” as described in the book). The general examen, with its ideal of the cura personalis, the care of the whole person, so that both superiors and novices begin to really and truly know who they are and what makes each person tick. And contrary to what you might think of prospective novices, if the dialogue here is accurate, we hear each of them in their own frustrations and joys of getting along with one another.

And after all that, Krivak begins the first of many introspective parts of the book. About the prayer, hopes and fears offered up to God after a long day of work is over.

Sitting cross-legged on a pillow on the floor, while a vigil candle burned to indicate the holy presence, I spent the hour in a kind of conversation of quiet, one I neither summoned nor created, but longed for.

We don’t pray to change God, C.S. Lewis once said, we pray to change ourselves. Every day and every time you stop and enter into prayer, you set about changing yourself. What have I done? What ought I to do? Each time you ask these questions there comes with them the determination to continue, to return, to keep asking them again and again.

“You didn’t call me to be a monk, did you?” I said into the quiet once I had settled (my back sore that day) by leaning against the wall.

The candle flame danced inside the red glass. No wind, yet somehow animated.

“I’ve said goodbye to others. One called me selfish, and she was right. It’s failure I fear.”

The flame whipped quickly and released a tiny puff of smoke into the air.

“Failing here. Not by doing something stupid but by not knowing what to do.”

More to come in future posts.

Now it is time for my own conversation of quiet with the one who knows me deeper than I know myself.

Before compline and the prayer “Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake. Watch over us as we sleep. That awake we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep rest in his peace.” Amen.

+ 2200hrs


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