It was during the 3rd week of August this year that my wife, Laurie, and I pulled away from the routinization of our daily lives and spent 5 days in a guided, silent retreat at Mepkin Abbey, wherein we learned more about solitude, silence (both exterior and interior), and St. Teresa of Avila’s celebrated work, The Interior Castle.
The first thing we noticed was the exaggerated degree of inner turbulence that dwelt in our own hearts, and how that was exacerbated by the presence of exterior silence. Conversation was permitted, you see, except in group areas of the Abbey, notably the dining area and, of course, the Chapel. And so, we kept our speech to a minimum. One fruit of the solitude was my journal writing which was reborn, in a manner of speaking. And for days after our return, we were fastidious to keep the precious sense of silence which seemed to emanate from deep within our souls. That is one of the little things.
In his most popular book, After Virtue, Scottish-American philosopher, Alasdair MacIntyre wrote” “We are never more than half (and sometimes less than) co-authors of our narrative.” That begs the the question, “Who or what else is writing the rest of my narrative?” To answer, I would say, “God, by means of innumerable influences, people, circumstances, emotions (mine and others), and a host of unquantifiable factors, is my Author. That’s a lot of little things! The retreat at Mepkin Abbey began a personal quest to form a deeper, richer communion with God, the life He has given me, and the wife with whom I share my life. The little things now begin to appear bigger.
We were back from retreat for about a week, and then we left for Montreal and Quebec City for a week. The ostensible mission was to make a pilgrimage to St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, then take the 2 1/2 hour train ride to Quebec City. You see a pic of the Oratory on this blog’s main page. Why there? That’s another little thing. Ever since catching wind of the Oratory (I don’t remember how that happened), and having long since made a Consecration to St. Joseph (another little thing), I seemed to have been responding to a little seed planted in my heart. That, and having become aware of St. André Bessette, who has since become dear to me. There’s something about “God’s Doorkeeper” – his winsomeness, simplicity, and paternal charm – that my spirit readily and eagerly responded to. A couple of quotes form him will tell you a bit of why Brother André – as he is affectionately known – is a personal champion to me:
“When I came here [the College of Notre Dame in Montreal where he served], they showed me the door… but I stuck around there for 40 years!”
and, to one of the ones who sought his aid …
When I die, I will be in heaven. I shall be much closer to God than I am now. I’ll be all the more able to help you.”
After seeing the loads and loads of crutches that were left at what is now the Crypt Church in the Oratory, discarded by those who had been healed through the intercession of St. Jospeh and Brother André, it’s not hard for me to accept the fact the around a million people arrived to pay their last respects to this lovable man who so selflessly assisted any and all who came to seek the help of God through His servants. Who says the Saints don’t know how to network? Another little thing.
The poet, Wallace Stevens wrote: ” We live in a place that is not our own, and much more, not ourselves.” To that I would say that I have lived my entire life like that – as if I was living a life that, though me, was also not like me. It is that essential “otherness”, from within and without it, God has reached out to me and is, even now, endeavoring to remake me into the likeness of His dear Son, Jesus Christ. Over the years, I sought Him without always consciously knowing it was Him I was seeking. Little did I know in the early years how I was following the dictum of St. Augustine: “He must be sought where He is not until He makes Himself known.” Another little thing.
These days, I rarely make absolute assertions concerning my faith, not because there aren’t any to be made, but to allow God the space that already belongs to Him to manifest His unsearchable riches through me. Never forget that St. Paul the Apostle – himself, an educated man – while walking through the Areopagus in Athens, wisely used a known, pagan poet, Cretica, to build that initial bridge to the assembled crowd, when he asserted, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Another little thing.