Last week I made my annual retreat, as required by the Cannon Law of the Catholic Church for priests. I attended a “preached retreat” with approximately 20 other priests of the Diocese of Belleville at King’s House Retreat and Renewal Center in Belleville, IL. The preacher happened to be Fr. Peter Schavitz, C.S.S.R. the Redemptorist Priest who preach our parish’s mission last November. There was much time for private reflection and prayer during the five-day retreat. During some of that time I would “journal” my thoughts to help me listen to the voice of the Lord during the retreat. Here’s one of those journal entries I thought I could share with my readers.
There is a nook with a window opposite my room on the third floor of the retreat center with a glider/rocker chair and lamp. It seems like it will be a nice quiet place outside my room to meditate, since there is only one other priest on this top floor of the dormitory. As I was sitting there this morning, I noticed a small sign or tag on a bottom corner of the window that was attached as an instruction to the installer. It had not been removed as should have been done when the window was completed. In a way, although it is a practical instruction related to the realm of earthly building construction, it speaks to me of a truth of the spiritual life.
During Christmas season (which we are in the last week of as I make retreat) we recall that the Lord Jesus became flesh so that we might regain our true nature, in the resurrection of the body. We are God’s children, a creation of God, now. Our true nature (ID) is a redeemed human. Yet, we don’t always see or present ourselves that way. It’s as if we are wearing a mask. The spiritual journey is our cooperation with the Spirit who wishes to burn away, to blow the cover off, to wash away the hard shell that prevents us from totally being what God created us to be. Our death, because of Jesus’ death to which we are united in the baptismal grave, begins the washing away of the mask of our mortality. The Spirit given in the anointing with Chrism (after Baptism & Confirmation and for some of us in Holy Orders) ignites the spark that will become fire that consumes us and changes us to our true nature in our final death, bringing to fulfillment all the smaller deaths of self in this journey between baptism and death. Our paying attention to the direction of the wind of the Spirit will lead us to live our life in harmony with our destiny, our true identity that is hidden under the mask of our mortality.
I am not saying the “earthly mask” of the body should be escaped. I am not saying this existence is an illusion like some gnostic. It is in this body I come to know a bit of my relationship with God. It is only in the body that I can have that relationship or be who I am. It is good to be embodied. It is this body that will be changed, in an instant, at the command of the Lord.
At times I desire to be this truer self so earnestly. At other times, not being exempt from human feelings I can desire to enjoy much more of the earthly flesh, the mask, and to think that pursuit will give me joy. I guess I still have far to travel in the spiritual journey. I have a lot to learn about trusting what is revealed in the scriptures and the faith of the church. I have much more to integrate and grow in relationship with the Lord.
But then, again, so does every one and Jesus is patient. His mercy is abundant. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, we’re in the world, not of it. It’s o.k. to realize the mask is still covering the true ID. It’s a step in spiritual growth. Just keep taking small steps in the right direction and one day by God’s mercy the we’ll reach eternity to realize we no longer wear the mask.