“All saints have a past. All sinners have a future.” ~ from the opening remarks our first night
I bought a watch before leaving Lincoln. I haven’t worn a watch in over five years after the battery on my last one died. Mobile phones have almost made wrist watches obsolete it seems. But just before leaving town I remembered that I would be shutting my phone off or not carrying it with me all the time and would need a way to keep track of time. So I stopped at Wal-Mart on the way out of town and bought a cheap watch. It would prove very handy.
After checking in at the front desk I carried my belongings to my room: a suitcase and my pillow. I’ve stayed at a lot of hotels for business travel or recreational purposes and I found Broom Tree to be among the better facilities I’ve stayed in. Key card entry. Large, clean rooms. Climate controlled. The only thing you notice right away is that there is no television. I had a nice desk, but where the tv or dresser would normally be there was a nice big comfortable couch. It took me a few trips to my room to resist the urge to look for a remote control, but I quickly adapted and appreciated the fact that there was none to be found. I shut off the air conditioner and opened my window as the autumn air was perfect. It would remain open during the length of my stay.
Indoors the hallways are lined with Terry Redlin paintings, or artwork from other local artists that depict the landscape of the area beautifully. And being a Catholic center there was also nicely framed depictions of Christ, of saints, and of icons. I took a little walk around the immediate grounds before the group was to meet for supper. I had brought along my breviary to pray Evening Prayers and remember reading “Delight in his love, you pure of heart” in one of the responses. I sat on a bench by a wire arbor that marked the starting point for a path I’ll write more of later. The path took you around a creek and out into an open grassy field and along the way were the Stations of the Cross. I only checked out the first one or two as I needed to stay close before we were to meet for supper. During this time I heard the mooing of several head of cattle that were penned on the farm about a half mile to the northeast. I had already met two of the younger ones while driving up the road.
I may or may not talk about the food later but I will say that we were very well fed. Had I not had 300 acres to explore I would have easily gained weight had I decided to stuff myself. While pop was available I decided to go without for the four days. Likewise coffee, though I would decide by the next afternoon that I would just cut my coffee consumption in half. The table at which I sat for supper included 3-4 men from Omaha. Fr. Jim Mason sat with us and we spent some time getting to know one another. I think we all knew that in about an hour we were going to be silent for 3+ days, so we talked about our families and/or our parishes back home.
After supper we met for our orientation and initial conference. Fr. Mason, a priest I would guestimate in his late 30s/early 40s, was born in Philadelphia. His family moved to Minnesota while he was in school, and eventually he was ordained as a priest in the Archdiocese of Sioux Falls. He has a parish there, but also serves as the Director for Broom Tree. He is a terrific man and priest and his parishioners are truly blessed to have him. Fr. Jim is a man of around 5’9” with a sharp nose upon which rest his glasses, black hair starting to betray a little gray, and a dynamic homilist with a tremendous heart.
Our retreat master was to be Deacon Andrew Jaspers. Andrew is from the Twin Cities area (if I heard correctly) and has also served as a philosophy professor at Creighton University. He is in his final year at seminary and due to be ordained a priest in May of 2013. A tall, thin man with black hair and a wry smile, the deacon appears at first to be very soft spoken. But we would soon learn of his dry sense of humor and incredible spiritual depth and love for Christ. He, too, will be a very fine priest one day.
One by one all of the men introduced themselves. About half of the group had already made this type of retreat. We came from South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and North Dakota. There was one father-son combination, which I thought was very cool.
Fr. Jim filled us in on the two dogs that were on the grounds. He is, like many who grow up in this part of the country, a hunter. His dog Gemma was a large lab who we would see roaming the grounds and sunning herself in the grass. There was another dog, once a stray, named Cocoa that we’d see as well. She was a German shepherd/huskie mix.
I had said that I would not be going into much depth when it came to the different sessions themselves and I plan to stick to that. I will mention that the theme of our first introductory session was Rest. Both Fr. Jim and Deacon Andrew mentioned the following:
- We are all either moving toward God or away from God. There is no standing still.
- Now was the time for the setting aside of earthly concerns so that our mind could rise up more freely for God. I was to learn just how important it was to be “free” of those concerns during this retreat time.
- We were going to enter into silence and seclusion so that the Lord could work on us through prayer. This really was the meat and potatoes of what we would be doing: praying, meditating, and conversing with God. That’s it.
After this short talk on entering into rest we received a few scriptures to meditate upon on this first night. We then went to the chapel for Mass where one word seemed to keep coming into my mind again and again. Finally I gave up trying to shake it. That word was heart. And so I prayed that Jesus, the Divine Surgeon, would use this retreat to begin to replace my heart with his own.
Mass is over. Now I enter the silence. I went back to my room to read (it was by now too dark to go outside).
My new watch is itchy.
All is quiet. Even the cows are asleep. But I wasn’t. And my night wasn’t over.
(To be continued)