Our community retreat begins today. Moments of retreat are indispensable, because they invite us to intimacy with God and summon us to conversion. There is an antiphon that we sing that sheds light on the meaning of retreat. It is a paraphrase of the words of Jesus: “Come away awhile to a desert place and watch and pray with me to the Father. Listen to the Word, dwelling within the silence.” Jesus calls us to set aside our concerns and join him in a quiet place to pray to the Father. He wants to renew our strength, both physical and spiritual. And above all, he wants us to listen to the God’s word which always calls us closer to him but also lays bare the secrets of our hearts. These two elements are interwoven – closeness and conversion – and both are present in today’s readings.
The Book of Deuteronomy begins with a summons to conversion: “…heed the voice of the Lord, your God…and return to the Lord, your God, with all your heart and all your soul.” The discipline of a retreat, helps us realize that God is much nearer to us than we may have thought. Indeed, God’s word “is not too mysterious or remote…it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your heart; you have only to carry it out.” Going apart with Jesus, our hearts are opened to receive his Spirit; and the Spirit of Jesus awakens in us that obedience of faith which holds fast to God in all life’s difficulties.
In today’s Gospel a scholar asks, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” When Jesus asks him what the Law requires, he replies: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus approves his answer, but perhaps he was ready for a deeper encounter with this scholar. It seems the scholar did not want to go deeper; he only wanted “to justify himself...” that is, to prove he was right; to prove that he was learned in the law. And so to test Jesus he asks: “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, whose heart was pierced when he saw the robber’s victim lying there half-dead, and compassion overwhelmed him. As the Samaritan turned in mercy to the other, we must do likewise, turning in mercy to others (and even toward ourselves, for we have our own wounds). This is how a retreat becomes fruitful: when it finds itself in the bosom of God's mercy.
Seeing our own wounds and those of others, we can see who our neighbor is; following the example of the Good Samaritan, we learn who our God is. It is the Lord Jesus, who through his word and sacraments, pours oil and wine upon our wounds. And as in the silence and solitude of retreat we open our hearts to him, he wants to lay bare the secrets of his own heart for us, if we will allow him.
Photograph by Brother Daniel. Adapted from this morning's homily by Father Vincent.