Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Special Retreat in the Mountains

Earlier this month, the Bishops of Western Canada took part in their annual retreat at the Benedictine Abbey in Mission BC. We were very privileged indeed to have with us Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop Emeritus of the diocese of Westminster in London, England.

It was a wonderful setting for these few days of prayer, silence and reflection. I had left Regina in the morning where the temperature was -36 Celsius. When I arrived at Westminster Abbey it was 4 or 5 above zero - and stayed that way for all our time there. The grass was green and the holly bushes were beautiful.
Christians have endowed the holly bush with much symbolism. Its perennially green leaves remind us of the gift of immortal life which Christ gives us. The sharp-toothed edge of the holly leaf reminds Christians of the crown of thorns with which the soldiers mocked Our Lord during His Passion. They laughingly hailed Him as king, never realizing that He is, indeed, King of the universe. As a Christmas symbol, the red holly berry represents Christ's blood, shed for all people out of love for them.

There are some pretty big and impressive trees on the Abbey property. Very beautiful with the moss and vines which climb them. If God's gift of nature on earth is so beautiful, how beautiful indeed must be the beauty of God who created all of this and who is reflected in its majesty.

The Abbey sits high above the Fraser River Valley with the majestic Rockies in the background.

The subject of Cardinal Cormac's "musings", as he called them, for our Retreat was "How can we sing to the Lord on alien soil." (Psalm 137) During the reflections he led us on a contemplation of the different "alien soils" which populate our lives, not the least of which are our own failings and weaknesses. He quoted the medieval mystic, Meister Eckhart: "Stand firm and do not flee from you wilderness." We must rather face our weaknesses with trust in God for "Perseverance is the little sister of hope."

Another patch of "alien soil" is our world which has "divorced sex from love, love from commitment, marriage from children and the children from the resonsibility of their care." We live in a world which has "thousands of possibilities but no where to go."
What do we have to give in the face of this strange and wonderful world which we inhabit? We have the beauty of our Liturgy given to us in the great Ecumenical Council, Vatican II. We have a great sense of welcome and kindness shown to all, and we have the gift of the family, particularly the Church as family, our good Catholic families and the families of small faith groups that gather together in their 3's and 4's and read the Gospel and discuss the conditions of their lives in its context.

The Cardinal reminded us that Bernard of Clairvaux said that a Bishop should be "nec nemis sanctus, nec nemis sanis, nec nemis sapiens" (Not too holy, not too healthy and not too smart.) Mmm.
I will add only a few of his words on ecumenism, which is a challenging field and activity in our modern church. His Eminence recalled the words of Vatican II in its Decree on Ecumenism: "The can be no ecumenism without conversion of heart, newness of attitude and unstinted love." How very true and how very difficult. He spoke of the three enemies of ecumenism: Suspicion, Inertia and Impatience.

Bishop Gerry Wiesner of Prince George, BC, expressed the thanks of the bishops to Cardinal Cormac, emphasizing that hehad not only shared his insights and experiences in what he said to us but also that he shared of himself with us.

It was an excellent retreat for the bishops. I am grateful to this generous leader in our Church for giving us the gift of his time in spending four days with us. He has worked on many Vatican commissions and committees and still does so in his retirement. It was a delight to share in his vision of the Church and of our ministry and as well his personal experiences.

And here we are, the attendees at the Western Bishops Retreat for 2010.