After making the turkey dinner on Sunday, we began our 5 day discernment retreat. The hook is that we didn't go to a retreat house, we are still going to our ministries, and we haven't secluded ourselves from the outside world. We are doing our retreat right here in the friary. It's an innovative concept born out of necessity rather than practicality.
The director of our retreat this week is Ignatius Fever, a Capuchin from the Canadian province. I've known Ignatius for almost a year now; he is a very intelligent, articulate, and insightful friar...in spite of his Canadian-ness. He's been a pleasure to have at the house, and he has a great sense of humor (especially with all the Canadian jokes we start throwing around)
The focus of this retreat is for discernment. As postulants, we are still in the process of discernment as what God might be telling us. Discernment can be wonderfully insightful or it can leave you wondering where God is in your live. Either way, it is an important part of any vocation, and as we journey on this path towards becoming Capuchin friars, it is an important part of our formation.
The main content of our discernment for this week will be our self-evaluations. I hadn't looked at my self-evaluation since I'd written it last month, so I had to hope I wasn't too critical of myself.
We got together after dinner Sunday evening, and Ignatius introduced himself and gave us the schedule for the next five days. This first session was not meant to be a long discussion, rather an invitation to begin looking inward at ourselves.
The aspect he wanted us each to focus on this first time was change. Specifically, what changes have we noticed in our lives since we've gotten here? What changes have we noticed from a year ago? Two years ago? Were these changes positive, negative, or both? What type of emotions did the changes evoke? The list of questions was long, but each question was designed for us to look at and reflect upon. We would discuss our answers together the next morning.
With my homework in hand, I grabbed a soda, my laundry, and my iPod. Once I got to my room, I got down to some serious discernment. I sat in silence (by silence, I mean with my iPod playing something like Santana, Cafe del Mar, or something soft and/or ambient) and centered myself. After feeling relax and clear in mind, I pulled out my self-evaluation and reread it. After that, I started to fold my laundry.
One of the odd facts I've learned about myself is that I do my best contemplative thought and reflection while cleaning. I hate cleaning and housework. I don't know if it's dramatic irony or poetic justice, I suppose my awareness of this unique link is proof enough that I've become more introspective over the past two years. So in spite of my desire to not clean, I decided it would be better for my discernment retreat if I just went ahead and did it anyway.
As always, I was deep in thought within the first few minutes. I started to count the changes in my life, and saw that I'd only mentioned 3 of my numerous changes in my self-evaluation. Other than money, personal relations, and spirituality, there are many smaller changes that I have made. Some of those changes took years to make; some have happened within the past month or so.
When I reflected on how my life changed, I realized that I was not at all happy with the person I was. I felt disgusted, even ashamed of who I was. In the second paragraph of St. Francis' Letter to the Faithful he writes: "We must hate our bodies with their vices and sins..." While some have taken this to refer to ascetic practices, the more commonly understood expression of this idea from St. Francis is that we are nothing when we focus solely on our personal gratification. It is with our love of the poor and humble Christ that we are worthy and have eternal life.
As I continued to think on this, I also recognized my distaste for my "old self," but for actions and tendencies that I see in others within the community that I used to see in myself. My time in community has been a little intense lately; the more I thought about this link, the more I understood that I did not want people to make the mistakes I once made in my life.
After an hour, I'd written down enough notes and thoughts to keep discussion going for quite some time Monday morning.
I'm very happy with how this program is going, and I will continue to keep you all updated with how my retreat is going. I had thoughts last night of making Ignatius' program available for people to use. I know reading doesn't bring the same experience as listening or interacting with a retreat director, so I can't pass on the exact experience. However I've started looking into doing a weekly podcast along with my blog for special events like this. It's still an idea, but it's something I'm excited about. We'll see how that goes, too.