*This is the fourth post about my experience at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky, on July 22-24. Links to the first three posts are below.
At 8:30 on Saturday morning a “Main Retreat Conference” was on the schedule. There had already been a “Main Retreat Conference” the night before, but I skipped it because I was writing. For whatever reason, I decided to pop in to the one on Saturday morning. Curiosity, I suppose.
The conference room was full and I was by far the youngest person there. I could tell that some people knew each other, either because they were wearing matching t-shirts or because I’d seen them traveling around the center in pairs and trios. We all sat quietly waiting for whomever was coming to speak to us.
It was Father Carlos, a cheerful storyteller, who confessed, “I’ve been Catholic all my life, but I only became a Christian at 17 years old.” Then he picked up where he left off the night before with a sermon (or homily?). He referenced the white board behind him that read, “I am: 1) human, 2) faith, 3) profession.”
Human: We are all human, physically and emotionally. The nature of our humanity exists in various forms. We were made to be complex creatures with lots of things in our lives that don’t make sense. This is okay.
Faith: We were made by God and therefore have an innate spirituality. This, too, doesn’t always make sense. This is also okay.
Profession: This is what we put into the world, what we give back. It’s no WHO you are but what you DO.
Father Carlos said these three things do not function properly without one another. They are intertwined, our human nature and our spirituality, which funnel into how we give back to the world. But how do we cope? How do we manage when burdens become to big to carry?
“There is one place you can go to answer almost all of life’s questions,” he said, pausing for impact. “Google.”
The room giggled.
“But there is one question Google cannot answer, and that’s, ‘Why me?’”
He offered three bits of insight to help us wrestle with this question. First, he said we must have a “hermitage in our heart,” a quiet, private space to ponder life’s hard questions. Just as Mary pondered things in her heart, a place where only God was privy to dwell, we too must set up a space where we lay down the questions we cannot answer.
“And this is okay,” he said. “We will never know answers to the hard questions. Never believe someone who says they have all the answers.”
Secondly, he spoke of tenderness and the need we all have to give and receive it. He described one of his favorite works of art that shows a World War II soldier, clad in his battle uniform, grenades and all, ready to fight. He had his left arm steadying the gun draped over his shoulder. With his right arm he embraced a fellow soldier who’d been wounded. “This,” he said, “is tenderness.”
Finally, he spoke about patience, and said, “We must have the patience to serve and also the patience to be served. Nothing is gained by saying, ‘I can do it myself!'” Then he spoke of a young monk he mentored who once asked if he was afraid to get old.
“‘I’m already old,’ I told him, and he said, ‘No, I mean afraid to be in the infirmary and be fussed over all the time,’ like it was a burden,” said Fr. Carlos. “I told him, ‘No! When I am in the infirmary I will be happy to say, ‘Roll me to the visitor’s center and take me around the parking lot! I want to meet people! And I don’t want fried eggs anymore. I don’t want another fried egg as long as I live!’ I will be happy to be served because I have been happy to serve others.”
It was a point of view on patience I’d never heard before, but as soon as I thought of all the ways I get impatient with waitresses or check-out cashiers or any sort of service person at all, I thought, yes, I could be more patient with them.
When Father Carlos finished, I returned to the library to write. At 11:20 I went back to my room and laid down again to rest. Prayer was at 12:15 (Sext), followed by lunch at 12:30: corn on the cob, mystery meat sandwich, and salad. I skipped the mystery meat but got to watch (and try not to laugh at) Annette while she picked at the meat with her fork.
Following this particular meal, I was glad to have protein bars in my suitcase.