Tag Archives: retreat

Saint Stephen, the Deacon

Stephen martry
Our readings from the  Acts of the Apostles this week  tell us one thing about the early church: it doesn’t evolve through human planning but from God’s plan. The disciples  certainly didn’t expect Stephen.

The church was pretty settled in Jerusalem after Jesus rose from the dead, according to Acts. The followers of Jesus, good Jews, continued to worship in the temple. Yes, there  were occasional squabbles with the Jewish leaders, but they worshipped and preached in Jerusalem. It was their world. Besides praying in the temple, they met together, probably on Mount Sion where the Last Supper was celebrated. They broke bread and prayed there.

They were mostly Galileans at first, then others joined them from elsewhere. One of them was Stephen.

Stephen was a new-comer. He may have been a Samaritan, which may explain his polemic against the Judaism of the day.  The scriptures see him as one who follows Jesus in his passion. So many of his sufferings are like those Jesus endured. But he was also the cause of the first scattering of believers to other places. He was brash and undiplomatic. I would guess some of the Galileans didn’t like him.

Yes, he was a saint, but a hard-nosed saint.

He brought  change, or better, God did.

Readings here.

Morning and evening prayers, 3rd week,  here.  

Come Apart and Rest Awhile


“Come apart and rest awhile.” Jesus’ words to his disciples are often used to introduce a time of retreat. We’re ending a retreat at Paoli in the Norbertine Abbey. Can we use those words to evaluate a retreat too? Were these days restful?

A few blogs back I reflected on the word “rest” in the bible and in our prayers, particularly the prayer “Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord…”

God rested on the seventh day after completing the work of creation, the Book of Genesis says. God’s rest was a time of delight in what was done. We pray that those who depart from this world enjoy eternal rest, eternal delight.  But what about us who haven’t completed our experience of life in this world? What about us?

Is our experience of rest  more like that of the disciples whom Jesus told to come apart and rest awhile in the midst of his ministry? They obviously didn’t gain a lot of answers or clever bits of wisdom by coming apart and resting. According to the Gospel of Mark, for instance, even as they rest Jesus’ disciples hardly understand him at all.

They certainly didn’t have all the answers, So can we say that a retreat doesn’t give us a lot of answers. Perhaps we can say the rest a retreat gives is a sense that we are “on to something.” It may not be a time when great decisions are made or great insights given. It’s a time we know God is with us.

God will be our wisdom and strength for what we have to do in this world. We have a great High Priest, the Letter to the Hebrews will remind us in the liturgical readings for the last weeks of January. He is compassionate, loving and knows our weaknesses.

We are not alone, but are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses,” who accompany us and guide us. We are blessed to be part of a communion of saints.


Is that the rest we find from a retreat?

Talking About Saints

I’m beginning a four day retreat for seminarians at the Jesuit retreat house in southern Maryland today.  I’ll be speaking to them about American Catholic spirituality as we see it in our saints and other important figures of our church.  I’ll use the US Catholic Catechism for Adults as a basis for my talks. One of its features–which I’ve commented on recently– is its insertion of stories of the saints and others into the catechism to illustrate its teachings.

You can’t expect the short biographies in the US Catholic Catechism for Adults to tell you everything about these personalities of our church and their impact on our church and our world, but they are a start.

As I see it, writings about the saints has changed in recent times. For one thing, saints are more than people we pray to for some favor or miracle-workers we marvel at. They tell us how to live in this world.  They are part of the communion of saints. “From their place in heaven, they guide us still.” (Preface of the Apostles)

Recent studies on the saints tend to dwell on the world they lived in and how they helped to shape that world. That’s also our task: to live in this world and to prepare it for God’s Kingdom that’s coming.

You can’t understand someone like Dorothy Day, for example, without looking at the social history of the United States from the 1930s onward. She reacted to the problems of her time, and so should we.

Recent studies on the saints tend to be less panegyric. Saints are not perfect. Writing on the saints follows the recent trend in biography which tries to tell as much as can be known about figures in the political or social or intellectual or religious worlds, their faults and failures as well as their virtues and accomplishments.

I hope to talk this week about Elizabeth Seton, John Neumann, the Jesuit Martyrs, Dorothy Day, Pierre Tousaint, Mother Cabrini and Theodore Foley.

Going Home

Today’s the end of the retreat for sisters at St. Francis Center for Renewal.

My first observation: thank God for these good religious women. Strong believers, they are the best of our church.

During this week we read from the gospel narratives of the Passion, mostly from St. Matthew; it’s evident as you read how involved women were in the Lord’s Passion then. They still are now. Surely, most of what happened there we know from them.

The last few days we read the Resurrection stories from the various gospels, each offering its own perspective. Women figure prominently in that story too. They’re the first at the tomb and they, not angels, carry the message to those shut up in the Upper Room.  “The Lord is risen!” they say. They’re the first believers.

We need to read and reflect on these great stories of our faith and be refreshed by them, for they hold what we believe and mirror our present experience. They probe the great mysteries of life.

We read from an article by Fr.Don Senior from Origins on the bodily resurrection of Jesus, which he wrote in response to a TV presentation claiming Jesus’ family tomb had been found with an ossuary containing his bones.

With his usual wide ranging wisdom, Don looks at the implications of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Rising bodily from the tomb, Jesus embraces both our humanity and all creation. He gives new life to all.  His bodily resurrection has implications in the way we care for the world, our view of social justice, our understanding of the sacraments and our own relationship to others and to our own bodies.

Most of my homilies for the retreat are summarized in previous blogs.