January 15, 2020


A ‘Workout of the Soul’

I’m a tad embarrassed to let you know from where I am writing this column. Please don’t jump to the conclusion that I’m sipping Tequila Sunrises on the beach…but, I am down here in Florida, at “Our Lady of Florida Retreat House,” in West Palm Beach. The hospitality of the Passionist Fathers is simple and comfortable, not opulent.

But the prayer, reflection, conferences, and fraternity are exquisite and much needed. We bishops of the state try our best to assemble for our required annual retreat each January. It’s not a vacation, since a good retreat is vigorous work. Sometimes retreats are called “spiritual exercises,” as we try for a “workout of the soul.” Each day we enjoy three conferences by our director, Father Gerry Blaszczak, S.J., who this year is leading us in meditation on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. We pray the Divine Office together, celebrate Mass, and spend private time in silent prayer. I need it!

It’s a fitting time to make retreat, when you think about it. Sure, these opening weeks of the new year are natural moments of remembering and resolving.

But, the Church’s calendar also suggests that at this time we think about what we call the “hidden life” of Jesus.

We went from Christmas three weeks ago, through Epiphany, to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord last Sunday. Jesus was thirty years of age at His baptism by His cousin John in the River Jordan, and begins His “public life,” three years of intense activity leading to His death and resurrection.

Wait a minute! What did our Savior do for those thirty years between His birth at Bethlehem and His baptism in the Jordan?

Well, true, we do know about the Epiphany, His presentation in the Temple, the flight into Egypt, and His three days lost in the Temple when He was twelve.

But, that’s about it. For thirty of His thirty-three years on earth, the Son of God lived out a quiet, unassuming, routine, “hidden” life.

Yet, Jesus, the best Teacher ever, always has a point in mind by what He does. So, what was He telling us in this “hidden life”?

Well, for one, Jesus is teaching us about the beauty of silence. Except for His reply to Mary when He at twelve was found in the Temple—“Did you not know I must be about my Father’s business?”—we have no recorded words from Jesus for 90 percent of his life!

Yet, as He would later preach, actions are more important than words. So, silence, especially a quiet to listen to God and confess belief in His presence, is so vital to a sustaining life of the soul.

Two, the importance of preparation. Jesus knew it was essential for Him to be ready for His three years of public life. That helps us understand why education is so critical, as we prepare for life’s demands. School is never a waste of time!

Three, the only begotten Son of God lets us know how significant family life and home are in God’s plan! Those simple words of the Gospel, “Jesus returned to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph and was subject to them” are unmistakable in reminding us that, to grow up in a happy home, under the care of, and obedient to, a loving mother and father, is an indispensable ingredient in the Lord’s recipe for a happy, holy, healthy life. We suffer, society suffers, when the family and home are undermined.

Finally, the call and duty of work. Undoubtedly Jesus had chores in the home and village, and helped his foster father, St. Joseph, in his carpenter shop. God blessed labor, duty, helping, and responsibility when His Son did His share of work at the home in Nazareth.

Did Jesus “waste His time” for thirty years? An “efficiency manager” might conclude that He did. God’s message is that He certainly did not! Silence, preparation, the love of quiet family life, and the value of hard work, mostly unnoticed, is hardly a “waste of time.” A hidden life results in a more productive active life.

So, pray with and for me as I risk “wasting time” on retreat. Our local mystic, Thomas Merton, described prayer as “wasting time with the Lord.” Sure, there are letters to write, calls to make, visits to do, budgets to plan, new initiatives to undertake, meetings to attend, decisions to make.

But, I’ll do all that a bit better after a week of “hidden life” on retreat.