The past two weekends have taught me that it really is worth leaving my warm bed early on Saturday morning to attend a retreat.
First let me explain that there aren’t many days that I get to sleep in. This job requires a lot of weekend work, so I’m frequently out of the house before the sun is fully risen, at least this time of year. And, honestly, the cold winter weather these past two Saturdays has been added incentive to stay curled up under warm blankets with a good book and a cup of hot tea. So it was with a lot of grumbling and possibly some four-letter words that I went to the National Council of Catholic Women province meeting in Salt Lake City two weeks ago, and the “In the Midst” Lenten retreat at St. James the Just Parish last week.
In the end, though, I was glad I went. On March 18 I got myself up and out the door so that I arrived at the NCCW meeting before they finished their morning prayer, which took the form of the Stations of the Cross. This isn’t a devotion that has ever resonated with me; I always get distracted in communal prayer. As the women went from table to table in the hotel meeting room, reciting prayers, my thoughts darted from admiring one woman’s sweater to wishing I was out with my camera in the gorgeous sunlight to wondering if anyone would notice if I snuck a bite of the pastries that remained on the breakfast tray.
Then, suddenly, came the tapping of a hammer on a nail. The women had arrived at the 11th Station, “Jesus is Nailed to the Cross,” where a board, a hammer and several thick metal nails waited. The women were invited to play the part of the Roman soldiers who nailed Christ to the cross. The sound of the hammer sent a chill through me as I recalled the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Nor did demons crucify [Christ]; it is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.”
Until that moment I had been feeling martyred because work had drawn me from bed on a beautiful Saturday morning that had the first sunshine in what seemed like weeks. The tapping hammer, however, shamed me into realizing that I was too preoccupied with my own petty concerns to take advantage of the opportunity to join in prayer.
The thought of my sins as nails crucifying Christ has continued with me in the days since, encouraging an awareness of my vices so that I can turn from them.
I approached last Saturday’s retreat in a slightly better frame of mind, because I attended for personal growth, not for work. I kept that firmly in mind as I dragged myself out of bed in the dark to prepare for the hour’s drive north.
Once at St. James I greeted several friends, many of whom I haven’t seen for months. It was not only a chance to reconnect with them but also to talk about aspects of faith that interest me. For the past six months I’ve been reading the works of various Catholic mystics, who fascinate me, but I haven’t had the chance to discuss what I’ve been reading, and the retreat offered the opportunity to do that. It wasn’t until later that it occurred to me that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for these writers, and I wish now I hadn’t tried to force the direction of the discussion to my own interests, especially because when I reflected on the event later that evening, I realized that what affected me the most was the personal stories of the other women. They inspired me, brought tears to my eyes, gave me thoughts to ponder – none of which I would have received had I stayed at home, wrapped in a warm blanket and reading the words of a long-dead mystic whose message is echoed in the lived experiences of women at the retreat.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. Reach her at email@example.com.
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