Letters from a Pastor to His People- July 26, 2020
Like I wrote a month ago before I left for the 30-Day Retreat, Jesus is the love of my life and I seek to follow him with all my heart. I have surrendered everything for him, and happily so. While spending 30 days in silence with God on retreat might seem like madness, to me it is not. I actually enjoy it, for it is what I truly want: to be with God.
The Gospel parables therefore very much resonate with me. "The kingdom of heaven," says Jesus, "is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field" (Matthew 13:44).
I have found my treasure and sold everything to obtain it. Following God in my priesthood is the "pearl of great price" and there is nothing I will not give up for that pearl. The priesthood, prayer, and union with God are my loves.
Now, I sense there might be a few possible reactions stirring in your hearts as you read this. One is, "wow, that's really nice. I'm happy to hear Father James loves Jesus and loves his priesthood." Two is, "hmm, seems like Father James has been smokin' the incense again. Little too much crazy talk on love for Jesus for me." Three is, "so what you're saying, Father James, is that you prefer to be alone with Jesus than serving us here in the parish, eh? Well, free to stay on your island and go to #&*$!"
I hope for the first reaction, but I know the other two are possible, or perhaps even a fusion of all three. Let me just say, for those getting ready to key my car when I return who are thinking number three, that my love for God and my enjoyment of retreat is no slight against you.
The thing is, when we follow God completely and abandon all else to follow him, God doesn't take from us, but rather gives to us. God is my "principle and foundation," to use Ignatius' term. Being focused on God means he will make my ministry and my life with you even richer. I'm not called to be cloistered monk. I'm called to be in the world as a priest (I'm technically called a "secular priest") and all my activities are colored beautifully because of my total abandonment to and desire for God.
Likewise, you who are married or who work in the world. God is your treasure, your pearl of great price. When you pursue him relentlessly and give yourself to him, he won't take away your family or your career. You'll still have those things, but he'll give them back to you in a different and richer way. Your family and your career are God's, and he will provide for them in a far better way than you ever could. And with God you'll enjoy them more and they'll be more fulfilling.
This was one month out of my entire life. Yes, I will make retreats again in the subsequent years: 5-day and 8-day silent retreats. And, who knows, maybe I'll have the privilege to make another 30-day retreat when I'm in my 60s or 70s thirty or forty years from now. But I am returning to the world from this one-month sojourn of complete and utter abandonment to God. I hope my pursuit of the Treasure has made all my other treasures more valuable.
And I hope you can say the same thing about yourself. That you went after God without counting the cost and saw how it was the best journey of your life.
Yours in Christ,