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Monday, April 30, 2012

A Lesson on Selfishness and God's Generosity...

No greater peace
I had been in the chapel for over an hour.

We were ahead of schedule and, after my morning talk ended, about a half hour ahead of the programmed time, I went directly into the small chapel to be with the Blessed Sacrament to decompress and give thanks.

An hour and ten minutes later, as a friend of mine, who is one of the most dynamic speakers in our men’s group (and I look forward to hearing at every retreat) was starting his talk, I was still in the chapel.

In fact, after another friend, who had obviously had a rough night since he fell asleep several times, and even snored and broken the silence in the small place of worship, had left, I was left all alone with the Lord.

I usually cherish these moments. It gives me an opportunity to bask in God’s Glory in total peace and solemnity. It is a profound one-on-one encounter with God, where I either go deeper into prayer or try to empty my mind and just contemplate.

Fourteenth century monk, Thomas Kempis once wrote, “There is no greater peace anywhere else than to be with Jesus.”

He is absolutely right.  Still, in a moment of selfishness (which my wife would say happens far too often), I really wanted to leave the chapel to hear my friend’s presentation!

However, since I volunteered to be with the Blessed Sacrament for the hour, although I had come in a half hour early, because of the schedule, my replacement was not expected for another twenty minutes.

As I sat there in the silence, I could hear my friend speaking in the background, through the wood door that separates the chapel from the conference room, where everyone else was at. I started listening.

Then, like god-sent, I heard the front door of the room open and another friend, who was going to be speaking next, walked into the chapel. Alleluia!

I asked if he was planning to stay until his talk and when he said yes, quickly pulled a Snagglepuss, the old Hanna-Barbera pink mountain lion cartoon character, who would say, “Exit stage left!” and scrambled out as quickly as possible before he had a chance to change his mind (pretty sad, I know). 

In retrospect, and in all honesty, this may not just be indicative of my selfishness but my lack of faith, since if I really believed I was in the presence of the one true God of the universe, how could I be so eager to rush out to hear a speech?  Or, posssibly worse, if I am convinced in this truth (as I am), then I chose my self-centered needs ahead of God (which unfortunately is a constant battle for me).

It's funny, every six months or so, our parish's men's ministry hosts a weekend retreat to try to help men grow closer to God. 

We come from all walks of life but, for at least two weekends a year, share in a common purpose of sharing our faith and experiences (the good and bad) to a group of retreatants.  It forces us to get outside our natural self motivated tendencies and focus on the men who are doing the retreat for the first time, most of whom we don't know and many who have been away from God or the Church for many years (as was my case).

Yet, in all sincerity, in the midst of this noble cause, at least for me, there's always a bit of selfishness. I wanted to hear my friend's talk, which like many other great speakers in our group and the experiences we share together during the weekends away from our wives, kids and leisure activities, keeps many of us coming back year after year and retreat after retreat. I have been involved for the last six years. (For more see here and here)

In a book I am currently reading, Render Unto Cesar; Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, Archbishop Charles Chaput writes, "The choice of one person, made for the love of God, can transform the lives of many others."

And, that is what we pray and prepare for; to impact at least one life and, in the process, do our small part in helping to change the world.

To paraphrase one of my friends during our recent retreat, “One day, I’m not going to be around and when that day comes I hope and pray that I can entrust my daughters to the care of honorable and righteous men, who are living their faith and making a difference.  That's why we do this.”

After leaving the chapel, I came around to the other side of the conference room and instead of going in and interrupting the speaker, decided to sit on some steps outside another door, where I could hear my friend clearly.

As I sat there listening, one of the retreatants I had been assigned to help guide, walked by.

He appeared to be very distraught and in severe pain. At first, I thought it was something emotional and prepared mentally to offer whatever "wisdom" I could offer, but when I asked him what was wrong, he just looked at me in a daze, practically in tears, and couldn’t speak.

I took him outside and, after taking several deep breaths, he finally told me about an ongoing health problem that causes him debilitating pain from his lower back down.  He said he had just taken some prescription pain killers and was waiting for them to take effect.

I stood there trying to take his mind off of his pain by making small talk (I can't even remember what I said) and he confided in me about the toll his condition is taking on his kids and home life.  It gave us a chance to bond.

After about fifteen minutes, he asked if he could go back to finish hearing my friend’s talk (the one that I really wanted to hear) and I led him around the back, through the cafeteria and back into the conference room. So, as to not create more distraction, I stayed outside.

A few minutes later, when I heard the clapping, I went back into the conference room and saw that many of the men were teary-eyed. Apparently, the talk was as powerful as I thought it would be and some friends said it was probably one of his best.  I felt like my 4-year-old son whenever he’s disappointed and says, “Aw, man!”

As I reflected on the weekend, several days later, I recalled this minor incident in the retreat and couldn’t help but smile.

Instead of listening to the talk that I wanted to hear (for me), because I walked out of the chapel for selfish reasons, I happened to be in the right place at the right time and was given an opportunity to get outside myself and focus on the problems of someone else.  I was able to show the retreatant the love and attention that he needed at the time, even if it was only by being there to listen. 

And, just like the peacefulness I felt before the Blessed Sacrament for that first hour in the chapel (before I decided to leave), the thought that, despite my self-centered motives, I had been used to serve God in that small, but possibly significant, way, filled me with a sense of joy and peace. 

In fact, the more I thought about the incident, the more I realized that it was a lesson that encapsulates what the retreat, and in a bigger sense, what our lives, should be all about; serving others.

It’s amazing how God works... And it's why I look forward to my weekend getaways with the boys every six months...

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