“Commit your works to the Lord and your plan will be established” Proverbs 16:3
January 6, 2001 I attended a White House Retreat and wrote this my in notebook. “please help me design, plan and take action to benefit poor and vulnerable people served by Catholic Charities.”
January 2001 was a long time ago. January 2016 I just returned from my 30th White House Retreat. I didn’t know that I had attended 30 retreats until I returned home and was contacted by my friend Gerry Hempstead who stayed there through the fried chicken lunch to learn of this recognition. I left Sunday following the noon mass. I’ve had enough fried chicken to last a lifetime. If I knew that I was going to receive this recognition I would have left, but with some guilt.
My first White House Retreat was in October 1978. Since then, the rooms have been upgraded significantly, the meals vary but not much, the Chapel and the grounds have remained nearly the same over time but the retreat experience has varied on every occasion. I should acknowledge that the White House grounds have been improved a lot through the years, but the magic of the place is the consistency–the same comforting format each year, the same insistence on silence throughout the day, the same high expectancy placed on a talented Jesuit priest placed there to guide the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.
This particular retreat experience was the best in recent memory. Perhaps, this is because I have missed the past two years, January 2013 was my last retreat. I felt the need to go, not because I am holy but because I’m not. In fact, I felt the need to go to a retreat this year, not because of my faith but because of my lack of faith.
When preparing to leave for White House I found an old crucifix given to me long ago. I think it may have belonged to my deceased Uncle Jack. He was such a good Catholic man. The crucifix discovery helped me to realize how long it’s been since I’ve had a good conversation with Jesus. I’ve lost touch.
The purpose of a White House Retreat in my case, in the past, has been to help me to clarify my thoughts, to cleanse my soul, and to energize my mind and body. This is the one place and the one time of the year when I would slow down from work long enough to hear God whisper in my ear. At times, His words of clarity strengthened my belief. In the dead of silence I felt greater conviction. There is a God and He cares.
This year I have no urgent work needs. I have retired from full time employment seeking only a few consulting projects of interest to me. So, I went to the retreat dedicating it to the needs of other family members. As I focused on their needs, not mine, clear images and thoughts inspired me. I decided to walk with Jesus all weekend. And, therefore, to let Him lead me wherever He wanted to go.
Jesus was born in sometime between 7BC-29AD. He lived to age 36 but was in ministry for little more than 2 years (three Passover’s). Imagine a person, whose father was a common carpenter, who lives in obscurity for 34 years, surfaces to create such an impact on his followers that 2000 years later in central message has survived. And, from twelve initial Disciples, His followers have grown to 2 billion people throughout the world. I am one who has chosen to believe.
A White House Retreat is where you have time to think about life’s most challenging questions. Why did God choose such ordinary people for his first Disciples? Did God create men in his image and likeness or did man create God in his? Is God the Creator or the Observer? If the world is billions of years old why did God wait so long before creating men and women? If God can create a perfectly designed universe why did He create so many imperfect human beings? What is your purpose in life? What does God want of me?
I have frequently pondered this last question. At times, it has seemed obvious when God was actually involved in my life. Good things that came my way I attributed to Him. He had answered my prayer. I choose to believe it happens. At other times I felt disconnected. I was trying to accomplish all of my goals all by myself. I left Him on the sidelines. Things didn’t work out too well.
I enter this day with gratitude and with confidence that God will answer my prayers. My sons and daughters will seek and find what they are looking for…my life will continue to be amazing. I will continue the journey with Jesus at my side.