The most extraordinary time. I got home here on Sunday afternoon, but it's taken me till now to put fingers to keyboard to post anything here.
I suppose the enduring thing to come out of last week is the sure knowledge of the immensity, the illimitability, of God's love; and the infinite refuge of the Cross, where God's mercy touches the world of humankind... That, and the clarity and passion with which it is possible to live when those things stand always at the front of all we think and do and desire.
Isaac of Nineveh (also called Isaac the Syrian) the 7th century solitary and contemplative, who lasted 5 months as Bishop before withdrawing again to the wilderness, somehow came to focus the week in a way. You'll remember the extraordinary passage I quoted from him on "What is a compassionate heart?" This provided a sort of key to what God was doing between us, the retreat director and me, over the week. If we are to live in the light of the Cross, and live by its shelter and its sacrifice, then we have to find a way to allow God to make real in our own lives that utterly astonishing statement of Paul's in Colossians 1:17ff:
He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers Â all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Isaac understood this. He wrote:
Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute others.
Be crucified, but do not crucify others.
Be slandered, but do not slander others.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: such is the sign of purity.
Suffer with the sick.
Be afflicted with sinners.
Exult with those who repent.
Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone.
Be a partaker of the sufferings of all, but keep your body distant from all.
Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly.
Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them.
And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place,
do not destroy their character.
It's extraordinary how often I find St Isaac reminding me of both Francis of Assisi and Julian of Norwich!
Certainly one result of this last week has been to deepen and confirm my Franciscan vocation more and more. I am so grateful to God and St Francis for establishing the Third Order! (For those who are curious, you can read the story here...)
One thing I must relate - after spending 8 days together in silence (apart from an hour a day with our respective retreat directors) the other two long-haul retreatants and I became strangely close, after more than a week of grinning good morning to each other, and hand-signalling "Pass the cornflakes!" On the final morning's breakfast, after the Eucharist, with the Sisters, other retreatants, and assorted guests and visitors, the three of us could hardly stop talking long enough to eat toast and drink coffee! Each one had a remarkable story, and God had forged such a bond of love between us, all without words. Beautiful and strange, the way he works...
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