by Br. Bob Roddy, OFM Conv., Director
“The first ingredient of good conversation is listening. … Listening is the biggest gift we can give one another, but listening with our `whole selves’ can be risky, because it might change our ideas about something.” Ricardo Ramirez, Bishop Emeritus, diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico
Regrettably, listening seems to be a dying art; shouting and screaming have replaced substantive conversations in our media outlets, our civic forums and sometimes, our churches. I used to do an exercise with groups in which I asked people to pair off with another person in the group; for five minutes one person did the talking and the other person listened. The person listening could only respond through their body language or facial expressions. At the end of five minutes, the roles were reversed. Some people found it difficult to do the listening; a rare few had trouble talking for five minutes. I would ask the group to share their experience of being listened to by another. Almost universally people said that being listened to by another felt rather good.
The Story Corps project, an organization whose mission is “…to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world,” released a compilation of stories entitled, “Listening is Act of Love.” I could not agree more. Listening to another can be a profound act of love and respect.
The first word of the Rule of St. Benedict is, “Listen.” All great religious traditions place a high value on listening: listening to the Almighty, listening to one another, listening to our own desires and hopes. The 19th Century Danish theologian and philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard came to this same conclusion when he wrote:
As my prayer became more attentive and inward
I had less and less to say.
I finally became completely silent.
I started to listen
–which is even further removed from speaking.
I first thought that praying entailed speaking.
I then learnt that praying is hearing,
not merely being silent.
This is how it is.
To pray does not mean to listen to oneself speaking.
Prayer involves becoming silent,
and being silent,
and waiting until God is heard.
I asked a person whom I was directing on a silent retreat to describe the way in which he prayed. The person imagined a warm encounter with Jesus on a beach or by a lake. `I tell him my problems. I pour out my pain and frustration to him.’ “What does Jesus say in response to you?” I asked. My directee gave me a quizzical look; `I don’t know. He never says anything.’ “Why don’t you give him a chance to talk and see what happens?” Listening is not only an act of love, it can be a profound act of prayer.
Blessed are Those with Eyes to See
by Bro. Bob Roddy, OFM Conv., Director
I had an unusual experience the other day in one of our local businesses. I was purchasing a couple of items and I made it through the check out line quickly, but at no time did the sales person acknowledge me, except when he handed me my receipt. Instead of greeting me or asking, “How are you today, sir?” he conversed with a co-worker about their respective break times. Needless to say, I felt miffed about the encounter–or lack thereof. For all practical purposes, I was invisible to this young man.
Being recognized or acknowledged by another conveys the minimum amount of respect that we owe each other as creatures made in the image and likeness of God. As I took this situation into my time of prayer, I thought of the times that I had done something similar. How many times had I avoided contact with another person because I was finishing a task that was time-sensitive or I just didn’t want to step outside of my comfort zone?
As I thought long and hard about this encounter, I remembered the many times that I would ride the bus with my maternal grandmother in Omaha. She could sit next to anyone and engage them in conversation, and by the time that she or the other person got up from their seat, she had made a new friend. I now wonder if those simple exchanges with her fellow travelers may have been the only conversation that these people experienced during their day.
Recently, Pope Francis surprised participants in a Vancouver TED conference (TED is an acronym for Technology Education and Design) with a pre-recorded address that called for a “revolution of tenderness.” He went on to say: “Solidarity, however, is not an automatic mechanism. It cannot be programmed or controlled. It is a free response born from the heart of each and everyone. … Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face. The `you’ is always a real presence, a person to take care of.”
In the Gospel of Luke we read the story of two disciples meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus, but they do not recognize him. As they walk together his words offer consolation to them in the their sadness and disappointment. It is only when he breaks bread with them that “they eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”
During this Easter season perhaps all of us can reclaim the sacred art of recognizing and engaging one another, be it through a smile, or with a few words of interest or encouragement. These simple acts may make all the difference in the world.
by Bro. Bob Roddy, OFM Conv., Director
A friend who ministers in Appalachia was visiting me this Advent and he spoke to me about some of the
adjustments that he has had to make in his new ministry. I shared with him the story of another friend, a nurse, who was driving to attend a meeting with a nurse colleague at a hospital in Appalachia. En route, she discovered that her gas tank was nearly empty and this area of Kentucky is sparsely populated. Luckily, she happened upon a local gas station, but, when she pulled into station, she quickly found out that the owner was not going to wait on her because she was a stranger. She tried her best to connect with this man but to no avail. Desperate, she remembered that her nurse-colleague had served in this region for many years, “You know sir, I’m in a real bind. I need to get to the hospital in Pikeville; I have an important meeting with Nurse Jones. Do you know her by chance?” The man’s demeanor changed instantly; “You know Nurse Jones? She birthed all six of my children. She’s like a member of our family. Do you need your tank filled, Ma’am? May I check your oil? Let me clean your windshield.” The entire time he was doing these tasks he was singing the praises of Nurse Jones.
“That’s a good example of what the locals call, `establishing kin,’” my other friend said. “In this part of the world you need find some connection between you and the person you are ministering to through another person that you both know. Once you have done this, people are generally more accepting of you and more comfortable talking to you as well as listening to you.”
As my day unfolded, I could not get the expression, “establishing kin,” out of my mind. It struck me that all of us “establish kin” in some form or fashion as we seek to build relationships with others. We naturally long for connection with others. When meeting a stranger in a strange place who among us doesn’t feel a bit more relaxed when we find that we have a mutual acquaintance or friend?
This Advent-Christmas season celebrated the reality that God has “established kin” with us through Jesus’ coming into our world as a vulnerable and innocent child. The Book of Wisdom says this so beautifully: “For while gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, your all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed.”
As the Season of Lent draws near, perhaps we can stop and give thanks for “kin” that we have established in our own lives and marvel at the fact our God never tires of finding ways to “establish kin” with each and every one of us.
As Autumn draws near a sense of fulfillment and completion comes over us. For those who garden, the abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits take center stage on our tables, and for our farmers, thoughts turn to the harvest.
On July 17, we celebrated the premiere event for our 50th Anniversary, our “Mass on the Grass,” and Open House. Nothing could have prepared me, or the rest of our staff and volunteers, for the numbers who came for this event. The line from the Scriptures, “…they shall come streaming to the Lord’s mountain,” came to mind–though in this case, they came streaming to a parking spot on the lower lawn, near the lake. 500-600 people came to celebrate the Retreat Center’s 50 years of life and service. The day was near-perfect as far as the weather goes. Because those who availed themselves of the buffet ate less, something the caterers noticed, more people had a chance to eat, as a matter of fact, we even had a small amount of food left over. Not exactly the “Feeding of the 5,000,” but the similarity between the two events did not go unnoticed by those present.
We have heard this phrase many times over, “In order for others to have more, some of us need to have less.” This underlies the Gospel message of Jesus and the example and spirituality of St. Francis. (I would dare say that it underlies much of what Pope Francis invites all of us to do.) On July 17th our friends, retreatants and guests put this into practice; everyone shared, everyone was satisfied, and the joy of that day rivaled the glorious weather that blessed us.
A special thanks to all who worked so hard to make July 17, 2016, a day that will “make our hearts burn with joy,” in much the same way that our Lord made the hearts of his disciples burn with joy on the road to Emmaus.
by Br Bob Roddy, OFM Conv. – July 17, 2016
I had intended to write on a different topic for this week’s column, but after hearing the tragic news of two officer-involved shootings, both of African American men, one in Baton Rouge and one in Falcon Heights, followed by the carnage of five police officers being assassinated in Dallas, I felt that I could not ignore the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
What can anyone say in response to the violence, the senseless killing that has gripped our communities? What is the appropriate response for a person of faith during these painful times? response to the violence, the senseless killing that has gripped our communities? What is the appropriate response for a person of faith during these painful times?
Psalm 34:18 might offer us some consolation:
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.”
These centuries-old words offer us comfort and inspiration.
What can my response be to such a tragic situation? March in the streets? Write a letter to the editor? Make a donation to a Go Fund Me page for the survivors of such tragedies? (Write a column for Southwest News Media?) All of these actions are worthwhile, and have merit, but I kept asking myself, “What can I do?”
Remembering in prayer those who have lost their lives to violence, as well as praying for those who work for justice and peace in our communities, is a good response. But as I prayed for others and for the communities involved, it dawned upon me that I need to widen my prayer stance. The violence that captures the headlines of our various media platforms doesn’t just reside “out there.” If I am honest, I have to confront the violence within my own heart and soul. This may mean toning down the sarcasm in my remarks to another or refraining from the outbursts of temper when technology does not cooperate. This may entail not rushing to judgement of a person or a situation. All of us may make a choice to make our families and our communities places of healing and understanding.
Let me close with the story of an artist-friend’s response to a terrible accident that occurred in Louisville, Ky. in the late 1990s. A mother had lost all six of her children in a house fire and this sad story was featured on many local news outlets. My friend, Penny S., a textile artist, felt a profound sadness watching this mother’s story. During the night, Penny had a dream, and in this dream a clear vision for a textile piece of art came to the fore. Upon awakening, Penny went to her studio and worked to create a memorial quilt for the mother of these six lost children.
Penny drove to the mother’s house, went to her front door with the quilt in hand and knocked. The mother answered the door; she was stone-faced and slightly annoyed. The conversation that followed went something like this: “Hello, my name is Penny S. I saw your story on the news the other night and I cannot imagine the terrible pain that you are undergoing right now. I’m a mother, like you. I’m also an artist, and I made this memorial quilt for you. I offer it to you as a gesture of hope.”
The young mother promptly fainted. Luckily, the mother’s sister and father were also present in the house and they could hear the conversation. They got the young mother to the couch, while Penny checked her pulse and put a cold compress on her forehead.
“I’m so sorry,” Penny said. “I didn’t mean to upset her.”
“Are you an angel?” the young mother’s father asked. “You have no idea what just happened here. Let me explain. Ever since that terrible night in which my daughter lost her children in the fire, she has been consumed by anger. ‘Why did God allow my babies to die? What did they ever do to deserve such a horrible death?’ Our pastor has come by several times, as have members of our church, but she won’t let them in the house. Just before you arrived my other daughter and I were pleading with her to come back to the church. ‘The church will walk with you; it will even carry you through this terrible time.’ My daughter’s response was, ‘I won’t set foot in any church until hope shows up on my doorstep.’ Just as she said that, you knocked on her door. Hope literally showed up on our doorstep.”
I believe that all people of faith are called in this moment to respond to the violence that grips our communities, our nation and our planet as people of hope. I believe too, that we are also called to be supportive of our law enforcement officers and other first-responders. These men and women put their lives on the line every day to protect us and make us feel safe.
Our gestures may not be as dramatic as Penny’s, but they may make a truly awesome difference for the better.
I write these words a day after the horrific terrorist attacks in Brussels. The images, the eyewitness accounts of this cowardly and insane action perpetrated by men who claim that they were acting in God’s name took place at the onset of the holiest week of our liturgical year. The actions and consequences that took place in Brussels on March 21st were truly diabolical.
Responses to these cruel acts run the gamut of human responses; many of these responses are based on fear. These fear-based responses do little to comfort or console us, nor do they really address the madness that has overtaken many young men and women who commit these terrible acts in the name of God. Agitation, fear, and suspicion, none of these qualities come from the Almighty. Jesus’ life and ministry, as well as the lives of countless followers of Jesus point to a way of peace, of reflection, of courage and of trust.
I realize that we must respond prudently and thoughtfully to the dangers that surround us, but we cannot, we must not, live our lives in a state of fear. Now, more than ever, is a time for prayer and reflection, a time to re-dedicate ourselves to be disciples of Jesus.
The word “diabolic” comes from two words in Greek that mean, “to split apart.” (In contrast to our word, “symbolic,” which means to bind together.) As we renew our Baptismal promises this Easter season, when we promise to renounce Satan, and all his empty promises; when we affirm that we refuse to be mastered by evil and to live in the freedom of the children of God, let us all keep those promises uppermost in our minds and hearts as we face the days ahead
by Br Bob Roddy, OFM Conv. – February 2016
Last Wednesday, Christians around the world began the liturgical season of Lent. The start of Lent is determined by the date of Easter, which fluctuates from year to year. Easter is determined as the first Sunday after the full moon on or after the Vernal Equinox. Lent and Easter comprise two poles of a major liturgical season for Christians. It was and still is, a time of preparation for the central mystery of the Christian faith.
It seems that we have just shrugged off the festivities of Christmas and now must turn our attention to a time of penance and reflection in preparation for Easter. We don’t see any ads in the media on penance; let’s face it, penance doesn’t “sell” well in our culture. We do have advertisements for Easter candy and Easter clothing, but Lent has to make do with the occasional announcement of the church fish-fry or an evening program at the church.
The clarion call of Lent can be summarized in one of the formulas for the administering of ashes on Ash Wednesday, “Turn away from sin, and be faithful to the Gospel.” Lent calls all of us to a time of soul-searching, a time to shed those attitudes and habits which impede us from living out our baptismal call. In a sense, Lent is an extended retreat, a retreat that we make in daily life as we reflect on how committed we are to following the Lord. During Lent, some of us choose something that we will abstain from during Lent, like dessert or alcohol, as a means of reminding us that this time is a penitential time. The sacrifice would hopefully lead us to a place of prayer and reflection about other issues in our life of faith, with the hope that we would embrace whatever changes are necessary.
Lent can be a time of soul-searching, a time of sacrifice and a time of deeper prayer for those who wish to enter into the spirit and discipline of this liturgical season. Given the fact that this is a presidential election year in our country, we are inundated with a lot of discourse that is less than inspiring, to put it charitably. Voices of anger, frustration and discontent take the center stage in our media outlets. Perhaps the voice that needs to take center stage in our consciousness and in our hearts, is a voice that calls us to listen; to listen deeply, respectfully, even reverently, to one another and to our God.
by Br Bob Roddy, OFM Conv. – November 28-29, 2015
Many of us this weekend have experienced the joy and the satisfaction of our families and friends gathering around the table to celebrate and give thanks for the many blessings in our lives. I just heard a report on the radio that a scientific study recently showed that gratitude is not only good for one’s inner life, it is also good for one’s heart.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for the countless men, women, youth and children who volunteer in our communities, especially in our churches, our schools and other service organizations. I know that in the three retreat centers that I have served that we could not have continued our ministry without these dedicated and committed people. Some volunteers give of their time on a regular basis; others just seem to materialize when needed. Most all of them have a generosity of spirit and a joy that radiates and inspires. When I find myself overwhelmed and low in spirit, one of our volunteers will give me a gentle reality check and I find myself gaining perspective, as well as little inspiration and encouragement.
When I ask these men and women how they became connected to the retreat center, they will describe a retreat experience that they had years ago, an experience that transformed their lives for the better. Or they will speak of the caring concern of a Friar who listened to them in a time of need and who continued to be present in their lives through thick and thin.
Our journey of faith is a delicate balance of time alone and time in community. All of us need time in solitude for prayer and reflection. All of us also need to be connected in some concrete way to other people of faith. Our communities are richer, more caring and more vibrant because of the countless men, women, youth and children who give back to our communities in ways great and small.
As I gather with my family around the table, and as I gather with my Franciscan brothers around the table of the Eucharist (the word, Eucharist, comes from a word that means “thanksgiving”), I will offer a prayer of thanks for all volunteers. Not only those volunteers who assist the retreat center, but all who give back and give so generously and lovingly to our churches, schools and other service organizations. Happy Thanksgiving!
Don’t Ignore Moments of Grace
I heard this quote while watching a documentary on the Basilica of the Holy Family (Sagrada Familia) in Barcelona, Spain. The quote aptly describes one’s mood upon entering this magnificent church; time does seem to stand still as one gazes inside in wonder.
In my 30 years of doing retreat ministry, I have listened to countless stories of people seeking understanding or clarity in their life of faith. Some of these stories are sad, some joyful and some are just extraordinary. Time and time again I marvel at the mystical experiences that people have and sadly, how quick they are to dismiss them. “I couldn’t be considered a mystic, Brother.” Yet, I am convinced that we are surrounded by people who have these moments of grace in their lives. These are the moments described in the quote; moments when time no longer exists, when time stands still.
What brings this idea home to me in a concrete way is my interest in photography. Last year, during our very colorful fall, I was walking between retreat buildings early in the morning when I noticed this marvelous shaft of sunlight striking the golden leaves of the treetops. I raced through the administration building to take in the sight. The angle of the sunlight, coupled with the colors of the various trees, was beautiful beyond words. The trees looked as if they were plugged into an electrical socket. I had to go to
Morning Prayer, but I also knew that this moment was something that I could not ignore. I just stood in awe of the light, the color and the wonder of the morning. Time had lost its meaning in those few moments. I realized that I had my phone with me and I snapped as many photos as I could. The following day, I had my good camera ready and waiting, but alas, the sun was occluded by cloud cover. By the end of that day, several of the trees had lost most of their leaves.
If I had not stopped, even for those few moments, to take in the scene above; if I had decided to wait until tomorrow when I could have my camera ready, I would have missed a remarkable moment. Something about this moment infused the rest of my day with a peace and a centeredness that was such a blessing to me, and hopefully to those I was ministering to on retreat.
As we move into fall and the change of seasons all of us can allow ourselves to be captured by these moments of grace, moments that can change and transform our days.
Waiting for Our Souls To Catch Up
by Br Bob Roddy, OFM Conv. – March 2015
I was reading an article recently in which an author described how an ethnologist was following a band of Australian aborigines as they traveled through an arid landscape. The ethnologist noticed that from time to time, the whole group would stop for a long time; they did not rest, nor eat nor drink. Finally, he asked one of them why they stopped as a group. “We are awaiting our souls.” In their understanding of the human person, one’s soul might take time to stop, to rest or to take in something which the body could not apprehend, and they needed to wait for their souls to catch up with them.
Most of my years of ministry have centered on encouraging people to do something similar to the aborigines in the story above. People need time to renew and grow their inner lives by taking the time to do just that. Our results-oriented culture seems to be repulsed by the idea of slowing down because there is always one more task to accomplish, one more item to scratch off the checklist of our day. How many of us would not feel a bit sheepish if we answered the perennial question, “What did you do this weekend?” by saying, “Nothing. I didn’t do one thing this weekend.”
My novicemaster once told our novitiate class that we needed to find ways to “creatively waste time.” I think that this was his way of letting those of us who were new to the Franciscan way of life know that there will always be ministerial and community needs that ask for a response. If we want to minister out of genuine self-donation we need to have a self to donate in the first place. The only way that we can nurture ourselves and our souls is to take the time to do so. Each of us needs to discover the people and places that give us that rest, that peace from which the soul can flourish and thrive.
Rest and time for reflection are key elements of any retreat experience that we plan at the Retreat Center. Years ago, I remember seeing the retreat schedule for a group who was using our facility. It stunned me that the planners had every minute of the weekend planned. I later heard from some of the spouses of those retreatants that “they needed a vacation to recover from their retreat.”
I understand that time for rest and reflection are not easy to come by with many people having to hold down more than one job and with the plethora of school activities to attend, yet, all of us need some down time. Please find it wherever and whenever you can, and let your soul catch up with the rest of you.
Reading the Signs of our Days
Brother Bob Roddy, OFM Conv., Director of Franciscan Retreats and Spirituality Center, has been featured in newspaper columns on Spiritual Reflections.