I am a Catholic. Growing up in New Orleans everyone I knew was Catholic. There were Catholic churches within blocks of each other all across the city. My father was from Wisconsin and he too was Catholic. Therefore I thought the whole world was Catholic. Over time I came to realize the multitude of ways people worshipped and that the world was not Catholic. It was very illuminating to say the least, to discover all the different paths people took to get closer to the Creator.
I never felt a desire to leave the Catholic Church,but I never had that aha moment so many with deep faith claim to have experienced. Recently I attended my first ever silent retreat. And while I didn’t have a bolt of lightning hit me or feel overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit I did have what I will refer to as moments of clarity.
The retreat I attended began on a Thursday night and ended after Mass on Sunday. You were silent but there were several lectures in the chapel, opportunities to pray the rosary, and participate in the Stations of the Cross. The days were full but the idea was to calm yourself and try to feel the presence of God.
Now for those of you who know me I gave myself a 50-50 chance of surviving this. I am a type Triple AAA guy and crave social contact. Plus the nature of my work keeps me alone a lot anyway. I travel quite a bit by car and when working in my office don’t interact much with people. I reflect and ponder things all the time and felt more of that was probably not going to amount to much. And truthfully that first full day dragged on like no other I have had in a long time. But slowly I began to adapt to my surroundings and the tranquility it offered. And I began to listen in earnest to John.
John Schexnaildre was our retreat facilitator. He is the Adult Faith Formation Coordinator for Holy Cross Catholic Church in Lafayette, Louisiana. He lead all ten of our lectures. The first was an introduction. The others touched on God’s Love, Imaging God, Sin, Jesus as Lord, Humility, Incarnation, the Paschal Mystery, Jesus’ Agony in the Garden, and Resurrection.
John was no fire and brimstone guy. Slight of build, bespectacled, and balding he is not the picture of a man who could dominate a room. His voice was calm but confident. As he lectured he referenced scores of authors, countless texts, and used reason to support the teachings of our Church. More importantly he didn’t judge, and he offered what we in the business world call best practice behaviors.
He shared his own personal struggles. This brutal honesty not only served as a living example of how John used his faith to cope with his trials it also earned my trust, and probably the trust of every man in that room. Things that were difficult for me to comprehend before now were grounded and the rationale behind them more evident. Even the scripture we were assigned to read now resonated more with me.
When you are on retreat they feed you very well. The meals are delicious and there is a well stocked pantry with snacks and a refrigerator full of drinks. One of the ladies serving us seemed so joyful in her face. She glided more than she walked. There was no disdain in her face as she picked up our dirty dishes and cleared our table. This was a woman who found great pleasure in her work.
One night we had brown jambalaya for dinner. I adore brown jambalaya. So I snuck back to the kitchen after breakfast the next day and gently knocked on the door. The lady I was looking for came out and I passed her a note. On it I professed my appreciation for that particular dish we had for dinner and could I get the recipe?
Her face lit up. “It’s so easy,” she said as I began to write down the ingredients. Her name was Marie and after I had my recipe she told me her story. Of going to St. Peter Claver Catholic School in town and that it used to be next door to the retreat house. That she had worked for the Jesuit Order for 44 years, along with many of her family members. That it was her life and love! At age 68 she said she would often walk or ride her bike to work!
John and Marie serve God and others in different ways but the key is that they both serve and they wake up each morning thankful and joyful for the opportunity the day will bring. For me, while I found the lectures fascinating and meaningful, my moment of clarity came from inter acting with John and Marie. Witnessing their humility and their commitment to be of service to others.
As instructed I journaled the whole time I was at Our Lady of the Oaks, and truthfully came away with more questions than answers. But I can also say with sincerity that my faith did deepen, as much by what I observed as well as heard.
Changed, reaffirmed, peaceful, maybe all or some? That part I am still working out. But I am confident that I can be thankful for the days I am given and the opportunities those days offer me. All I have to do is think of John and Marie. Like Marie said, its so easy.