Monday, December 1, 2008

Advent Retreat 2008

Ten Lepers Healed
Brian Kershisnik (1962- )
Oil on panel, 1997

My notes from the retreat given by Fr. Roberto (first part):

  • Faith: To believe is to believe but faith is something different, a way of knowing things. To believe is something we do with our minds. Christ wanted something else for us.
  • We can do all kinds of things, celebrate all the sacraments, go to Mass, pray, but still there is never a unity between what I do and Him.
  • Babies understand a link, a belonging. All of birth and the early stage of childhood is a belonging. If the mother leaves the room, after a while, what does the baby do? He cries.
  • Then we start to grow up and separate. At first I feel I cannot live without you. This happens when we fall in love. Any separation hurts. But at a certain point, a distance appears.
  • The Liturgy is a help, the greatest help, but at a certain point, something else is needed.
  • [All through history, people sensed that] reality was speaking of Something, but they couldn't grasp it. There is something we cannot see but that goes beyond what we see.
  • We try to unify everything, with all means, to be one. We desire unity -- a unity as deep as love is, an infinite unity. Man tries to make this unity -- this is the story of the covenant in the Old Testament, of the Tower of Babel. But man can't sustain this unity he tries to build.
  • The prophets message is that unity will come, we are made for it, so it will come.
  • Adam and Eve tried to achieve this unity with a fruit. They wanted to be one with God, the same. But it's not in our hands, in our power. It's the same with marriage. Eventually we are sent out of that garden.
  • Then God said, "Now it's time to intervene." God gives an answer, gave an answer 2000 years ago -- Incarnation -- the word means "flesh."
  • The Gospel didn't tell us God would be an idea in everyone's head.
  • A beginning -- Incarnation -- not a grasping but an embrace.
  • God's method is to present a man in front of me.
  • Man is freedom, but he is also reason and affection.
  • Incarnation is the beginning of God's answer to our question, Why are we here?
  • Christ was always referring to the Father, not to himself. This is the meaning of the "secret" from the Gospel of Mark -- not that Christ didn't want anyone to know about his miracles, but he didn't want others to say that he had done these things -- it was the Father, always the Father.
  • Incarnation is what happened to Mary and Joseph when they found their son in the temple -- Didn't you know I would be in my Father's house? Then for Andrew and John: "What do you want?" "Where do you live?" God became flesh for those two men in that moment.
  • God's law is no longer a set of rules, but this man, and when they met him, they found something that had been forgotten or lost -- something that became revived. Life. It's like I'm alive maybe more than before.
  • How do I know that this man is more than what I see?
  • This is what faith does -- it makes us see. In order for the ten lepers to be cleansed, they had to obey (not ask, why don't you just cure us now? Why send us somewhere else?)
  • But the one who came back used his reason. He didn't just obey Christ, he also thought, There is a connection between what I am experiencing and this man. He uses his reason -- now that I am well, cleansed, that man becomes important -- extremely important. Because what do I do with a healthy body and no happiness.
  • I ask my students, if you had to choose between having love and happiness but being very poor or having everything you want but without happiness or love, which would you choose? What will I do with a day that I will never remember? It's a useless day.
  • You need to find the link between this day and your destiny, between the person in front of you and your destiny. Otherwise, you can only say, I was healed... and that's it. But you desire more.
  • Not just life but a blessed life, not just this life, but a blessed life. Something more, the truth of this life -- not just that person. No one other person can be my happiness. Happiness comes through another person but it's not from that person.
  • The Samaritan (the leper who came back) said, This man makes me (not: made me).
  • Do I understand what/who is here?

Where is Christ? (Advent Retreat notes, continued)

Christ the True Vine, icon

* I meet with a group of kids at a local parish, we have a group called the Knights. I ask the kids, "Where is Christ?" and they usually answer, "Everywhere."

* So, I ask them, if you were married, would you like it if your wife were "everywhere"? Would that make you happy? Uh, no.

* 2000 years ago he was that baby, that young man. Now he is risen, what does that mean? He has a body. Why does he want his body back? Why does he want a body that has the signs of his Passion?

* He passes through other persons, persons with bodies.

* Imagine if a man were married and he only thought about his wife? What if he only read books about her? What if she were sitting across the table from him, and he closed his eyes to talk to her in his heart? That's how we are: we think of Christ, we talk to Christ, but we don't see him. We don't recognize that he is present.

* So, I tell the kids that a mother always proposes something great to her kids, yes or no? They say yes. So, is God proposing something great to us?

* Then I explain that we only have three rules in the Knights:

1. God is proposing something great to you right now.
2. If you see it, tell us. Share it with us.
3. If you don't see it, say the Memorare so you can see it.

* Then afterwards, the classroom became a kind of question.

* Faith is: "I want to see." I want to be myself. I know you are here and I want to see it.

* God's method is Incarnation -- we see him through someone or something. What is Christ teaching? We start to see Christ through what he does.

* Without recognizing somebody we become slaves. Slaves of pleasure, of comfort.

* We learn to recognize through a community, through belonging, we learn to use our reason and affection properly. The Lord is proposing something.

* I don't have faith because I don't see him. There is a separation between reason and life, anad this is ideology. Christ becomes an ideology.

* Christ said, "Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God." Someone who is pure of heart is a lover who wants to see what the beloved does. Either I recognize what Christ is doing through you or the sacraments don't have meaning.

* We need to be completely human. We have needs and desires.

* What do you call the beginning of God's answer to us? Baptism? No. It's called "desire." You think desire is yours -- it's not -- it was given to me. Be faithful to desire. Desire is one of the most powerful means to get to God.

* In the Screwtape Letters, the demons say that they are not able to create even the smallest desire. Every desire comes from God. If we are faithful to our humanity, we get to Christ.

* To be thirsty and to have no water is called hell. To be thirsty and to drink is called heaven. When thirst ends, that's called death.

* Either I see him through everything, or I become a slave.

* Complaining -- Am I happy in this classroom, or with you? Because if I'm not happy, I have no faith. 99.9% of complaining come from not recognizing that he is here. Mary and Martha -- was not about Contemplation versus action -- it was because Martha complained. Mary saw Christ, but she saw the Father through him. Martha didn't see. Christ said, "Don't go around saying it was me -- it's the Father. I came so they will fall in love with the Father." What's the purpose of everything? The Father. If we don't recognize the Father, we have no faith. Otherwise we are always restless. No peace.

* Father Massimo told me, when I entered the seminary, "Be yourself. If I see you are happy, I'll say yes."

* You might be killing me. You might be my cross, but it is through you that I will see him.

* Do you see me or do you only love your thoughts or books about me?

* With faith we know the person in front of us, our job, everything 100 times more.

* Boredom is a problem of faith because you don't recognize Christ -- you can't be bored if you recognize him.

* To build a tower without God, without relationship, without belonging -- it's Adam and Eve all over again. The Church asks constantly, "Is it enough?"

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)

Fall of Man (c.1570) Titian

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."