A Valentine Mini-Retreat with Mary
“I am found, I am Yours. I am loved, I’m made pure. I have life, I can breathe. I am healed. I am free.”Here’s My Heart, written by Lauren Daigle, Leslie Jordan, Paul Mabury
Every morning I sit by an east-facing window for quiet prayer time. I watch the squirrels, birds, and deer eating at the feeders, sunflower seeds and nuts flinging everywhere. It is a busy area and our snow-covered yard packed down completely by animal tracks.
I start my prayer with a mantra learned from Fr. Jeff Huard: “God gazes on me with love. I gaze on You with love.” But, the question begs to be asked: Do I have more love as I gaze on my sweet birds and stupid squirrels than in my gaze on God?
Yet the birds fly away when I make a movement in the window. Birdies, come back! Don’t be afraid of me! Then I think of people who I love, people who have left the path of the knowledge and service of God, and I wonder…are they afraid of God? Do they not know Divine goodness? Yet, I have confessed many, many times my own doubt in God’s goodness.
Why do we doubt? Surely, I think, it is because all of humanity endures senseless tragedy, and evils surround us everywhere. (Must I also mention the completely-sappy-but-sweet-and-we-love-the-happy-ending-unreality of Hallmark romance as a way of not understanding the true meaning of Heavenly love?)
Deeper yet, original sin paved the way for us to experience profound, restless mistrust of the One Who knows us best and loves us most. Even after following the Lord for decades in a Spirit-filled walk, we can doubt that God’s true love manifests personally in the midst of life’s trials and anxiety.
Doubt in the love and goodness of God accumulates in many ways. During Jerome’s twelve years at his position as director of the Catholic Youth Camp, he had seen a generation of kids grow up. He also saw an alarming change in the young people interviewing for CYC positions, jobs where they would be role models for the children.
They spoke of many questions and conflicts with Church teaching.
Later, when Jerome and I moved our young family to Dunrovin in 1999, I experienced tumultuous feelings regarding the Catholic Church and her witness in this world. For a while, I was uncomfortable with the much broader perspective of the Catholic Church, and the church as a whole, that we observed. You could say that CYC and Dunrovin tore us out of our safe little bubble that we thought was “church.” I turned from safely “knowing” everything about faith to questioning everything.
Again, another insult to my trust, when Hurricane Katrina hit the south in 2005. Our family drove to Louisiana later to assist with service projects. Huge piles of debris lay everywhere. Majestic live oak trees completely stripped by the wind, displaying garbage in their branches instead of leaves. Entire neighborhoods wiped away, only stone foundations left. Seeing the devastation rocked my faith. Far worse, we listened to stories from the people, stories of terror as they clung to rooftops in the midst of rising water and sometimes seeing loved ones swept away. It took months to get beyond my anger at God, and once again the question “Is God good?” Sometimes still, that memory of devastation murmurs a question of disbelief in my spirit.
More recently, is there anyone who hasn’t wondered about the seemingly endless misery caused by the Covid-19 pandemic? More confusion, more fear, more pain, more death, more disunity, more, more, more. Lord, give me more trust!
In our humanness, we become restless as we face life’s impossible questions. Saint Augustine understood the longings of our human spirit. He was a theologian who lived during the fourth century. (Augustine’s mother, Saint Monica, followed him around as he moved from city to city, praying for his conversion – but this is a story for another time.)
Saint Augustine writes in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” Perhaps Augustine’s most often quoted phrase, it captures something that resonates deep within the human person. Restlessness is that desire to be filled and fulfilled. We all have it. We try to ignore [it] at times, but still it remains. We…believe it can direct us to God.Augustine’s Restless Heart – Augustinian Vocations (BeaFriar.org), accessed February 12, 2022
In observing guests who come on retreat at Dunrovin, I suggest these life questions do have the capacity to direct us to God. When we take time, either in a few minutes of morning prayer or during a few days of dedicated retreat, we do not come detached. We come with who we are, who is on our heart, what is on our mind. We bring it all to the Lord – and we find no condemnation as God draws us toward His love.
Just as a healthy friendship or marriage relationship necessitate effort to work well, so also we need to make time to listen for God’s whisper of love. Take a chance and explore a relationship with El Roi (Hebrew for “God sees me”). Yes, God does notice you. Did you know that the Creator calls the stars EACH by name? (Psalm 147:4) He certainly knows yours. Did you know God stores your tears in a bottle? (Psalm 56:8) Counts the hairs on your head? (Luke 12:7) Allow yourself to answer God’s invitation to delve into a deeper relationship. Some questions to jumpstart your time of prayer include:
- Who helps me find love, peace, contentment, laughter?
- When was a time I experienced unconditional love?
- What wound of my spirit/memory/body hinders my belief in God’s love?
- Where is my faith or virtue deeper because of life’s struggles?
- How can I open myself to be surprised by God’s love?
My dear and wise friend once told me that her way to deal with life’s pain and struggle was to ask God to make His love more real to her. I return often to this advice. I know that I can walk through anything if I am aware of God’s love for me.
We can walk through anything if we are aware of God’s holy presence with us 💗
Lectio Divina – Romans 8:31b–32, 35, 38-39
- Lectio (read): Read the Scripture slowly. Listen to the words and allow them to sink into your mind.
- Meditatio (reflection): Read through the Scripture slowly a second time. Reflect on one word or phrase that catches your heart and meditate on it with your imagination.
- Oratio (response): Read through the Scripture slowly a third time. Respond to God’s Word with your own prayer of thanksgiving, confession, praise, or simply talking to God.
- Contemplatio (rest): There is no right or wrong way to allow God’s Word to capture you; simply let it capture you.
If God is for us, who is against us?
He who did not withhold His own Son, but gave Him up for all of us, will He not with Jesus also give us everything else? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.