Introduction: Encountering Jesus, Encountering Jesus Retreat, Part I, November 15-17, 2002

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Retreat given at Sacred Heart Retreat House
Alhambra, California
“Encountering Jesus”
November 15-17, 2002

John 12:20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

• Introduction
• Purpose of a retreat — to encounter Jesus.
• In some old pulpits, they would often chisel into the wood of the pulpit certain Latin passages from the Bible to remind the preacher of what his mission is.
• The one that has always stuck with me comes from the passage we just heard from St. John’s Gospel. “Iesum videre volumus.” “We wish to see Jesus.”
• I know the reason why you’re here is that you wish to see Jesus. My job, like Philip’s, is to bring you to him.
• But I know you want to do more than see him from afar. You come to come into contact with him. You want to encounter Jesus.
• The whole point of a retreat is to encounter the Lord, to have a deep meeting of your heart with his Sacred Heart, which loves you so much. Encountering Jesus is the title of this first conference.

• This encounter involves two people, Jesus and you. Not just about you; not just about him. But about the two of you together.
• Sometimes our prayer can be too focused on us, especially when we’re dealing with vexing personal difficulties or vocational concerns. Our prayer can atrophy and we can become as egocentric as our prayer.
• Sometimes our prayer can focus “too much” on Jesus, in other words, Jesus can become an “object” of study rather than a “subject” wanting to converse with us, calling us, helping us, loving us, and inviting our response. We can focus on learning about him in Scripture, for example, and leave aside the applications of what we learn to ourselves. The point is not to get to know about Jesus but to get to know Jesus.
• JME: “You wrote to me: To pray is to talk with God. But about what?” About what? About him, and yourself: joys, sorrows, successes and failures, great ambitions, daily worries — even your weaknesses! And acts of thanksgiving and petitions — and love and reparation. In short, to get to know him and to get to know yourself — “to get acquainted.”
• In order to encounter Jesus, the first thing we need to do is to leave other things behind.
• We need to leave behind certain anxieties, plans for next week or next year, and just focus on the present with Jesus.
• We need to leave behind much of the stuff of our past, most especially our sins. This is why they’ll be ample opportunity for confession during this retreat. Put me to work!
• We need to leave behind all “our plans” for the future. This is so that we can listen more carefully to see where we fit into God’s plans.
• We need to live in the present with Jesus.
• After leaving things behind, then we need to focus on Jesus himself.
• He must be so happy you’re here!
• From all eternity, he knew you’d be here.
• From all eternity, he planned on keeping this appointment, so that you could get to know him better and fall in love with him, for the first time perhaps, or much more deeply, if he already is the supreme love of your life.
• He loves you so much and he wants to bathe you in His love here during this time.
• That love will take different forms for each of you.
• For some, you’ll be swept off your feet with consolations during these days. You’ll never want this retreat to end. You’ll want to build a booth for Jesus just to keep it alive, like Peter did during the Transfiguration. Cherish this moment, if the Lord gives it to you, because he’ll be preparing you for battle, just like he prepared Peter, James and John, to go down the mountain, to climb another one with Him!
• For some, he’ll introduce you into the deepest mystery of his love, what he himself experienced at the Cross. You might find yourself dry. You might feel you’re abandoned, and want to cry out yourselves, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But don’t be discouraged. Sometimes the Lord allows this to happen so that he can purify our love in the crucible, to help us fall in love with the God of consolations rather than the consolations of God.
• St. John of the Cross: “Never give up prayer, and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason. God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.”
• You may want God to give you clear messages and directions, like he did to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. You might want Thunder and Lightning. But he might want to speak to you in the gentle whisper, as he did to Elijah outside a cave on Mt. Carmel.
• What do you need to do during this retreat?
• First, you need to listen.
• God the Father speaks only three times in the New Testament — at Jesus’ baptism when he says that Jesus is his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased; during the last Supper, when He says He has glorified His own name and will glorify it again; and during the transfiguration, when He says “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!”
• This is the Father’s one imperative, the one command he gave to the Apostles.
• What had they been doing but listening to Jesus? They were hearing the words, but the meaning was escaping them.
• Story of sisters in Rome, parishioners, teachers and students at school all failing the “listening test.” Many don’t pay attention to Sacred Scripture enough to remember the responsorial psalm, or any of the readings, minutes later.
• Things can go in one ear and out the other.
• We need to concentrate on hearing what the Lord is saying, in Sacred Scripture, in prayer, in what He might choose to say to you through me, in the events and actions of the day, the people you meet, the actions you witness, the joys and the Crosses you encounter.
• Then, you need to respond.
• “Blessed is she who hears the word of God and kept it.” Mary treasured the Word of God and put it into action. The Word became flesh and lived. You could touch the Word, hear the Word, taste the Lord, see the Word (cf. John 1).
• God wants you to live that Word as well, to let the Word, who is Jesus, change you, to become ever more like him.
• Every retreat is geared toward making at least one very concrete resolution. Sometimes we’re led to make several. But if a retreat doesn’t change us, doesn’t affect the way we live and approach life, if we’re not any different on Monday than we are right now, in concrete, practical ways, then it wasn’t a good retreat. Perhaps it might have been entertaining. Perhaps it might have been peaceful and quiet and restful. But it wouldn’t have been a good retreat.
• Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, perhaps the greatest preacher in American Catholic history, used to always judge how effective he was in a retreat by seeing how many lay people, religious, or priests (depending upon the crowd) he could get to make and keep one, very concrete resolution. Even if his oratory got rave reviews, if the people didn’t make their own that particular resolution which he would invariably propose to them, he considered himself a failure.
• I, too, later on in this retreat, am going to ask you to make the same resolution that he used to propose. It will be something that will allow the good work that the Lord does here during these days to continue throughout your whole life, each day. I see my job here as geared toward helping you be able to make and keep that resolution. May the Lord help me do my job!
• The bottom line of what I’m getting at, though, is that Jesus, who loves you so much, is going to be asking you, in one way or another, to make some choices on this retreat. He’ll be asking you some questions, just as he asked other disciples before you:
• To some of you, he’ll ask, “Who do you say that I am?”
• To some, he’ll say, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
• To some, “N., do you love me more than these?”
• To some, he’ll say, “Keep the commandments.”
• To some, he’ll give the invitation, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
• To some, who might want to do just that, like the Gerasene person Jesus cured, “Go home to your family and friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”
• Whatever he asks, in whatever way he asks it, my prayer is that you will have the same receptivity and love that a girl much younger than you had, when she, having been freed from sin from the first moment of her existence, said “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

• Theme of the Retreat
• The theme of this retreat is a very practical and fundamental one, “Prayer.”
• There are all types of notions about what prayer is and what prayer is for.
• St. Therese: For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.
• St. John Damascene: “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.”
• Some have called it a conversation, a dialogue with God.
• Some have called it an abiding in the presence of God.
• The reason why there are different definitions is partly because there are different methods of prayer with slightly different emphases: meditation, vocal prayer, contemplation, liturgical prayer, etc.
• When it comes right down to it, what unites them all, is that prayer is a conversation, a dialogue, a communion for the sake of uniting ourselves in love with Him and with his will.
• It’s a two-way street, in which we first say to the Lord, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,” and then secondly make our wishes known to him.
• But there’s a purpose to it, so that we might become united with him, one with him, more and more in his image and likeness, by uniting our will with His divine, saving will.
• It’s, therefore, more than a monologue directed toward the Lord.
• It’s more than just “shooting the breeze” with Him, or, as some people have said, “wasting time with God.”
• It’s a loving communion with Him, in which we seek Him, find him, love Him, and try to become more and more like Him who is holy.
• This retreat on prayer will have three dimensions to it.
• The first dimension will be about the breadth of prayer. We’ll open up our hearts to the various ways we’re called to pray, to the various ways that we seek, find, love and are made to become one with God.
• Sometimes we can pray only in one way, whereas God calls us to pray always, in everything we do. So over the course of this retreat, we’ll talk about
• vocal prayer,
• the Our Father,
• the Rosary,
• the Mass,
• meditative prayer,
• contemplative prayer,
• the prayer of the “Today of God,”
• aspirations,
as well as the various forms of prayer:
• praising God
• thanking Him,
• adoring Him,
• petitioning Him for things for us and for others
• begging him to forgive our sins.
• This is the first dimension, the breadth of prayer.
• The second dimension is the depth of prayer.
• In each of these areas, we hope to try to allow the Lord to take all of us more deeply into the spirit of this prayer, so that it might help us better to encounter the living Lord there.
• So we’ll focus on how each type of prayer is meant to bring us into the depth of the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to help us grow as children of God, chips off the old divine block.
• The third dimension is the most important. It’s our response to the first two.
• We’ll learn alot about the various types of prayer.
• We’ll learn much more about how to allow the Lord to let those types of prayer become more efficacious in our own life.
• But the third dimension is our response. We need to put what we learn into practice, starting right here during this retreat.
• It’s like what is said about learning how to swim. We can read all the books we want, consult all the experts — and that’s good and helpful — but ultimately, we have to dive into the water, to allow the Lord to teach us from within.
• This third dimension, our application of what the Lord is going to try to teach us this weekend, is what will change our lives.
• This brings up the soil on the basis of which this third dimension is called to grow.
• Parable of the seed and the sower (cf Luke 8:5 ff).
• Seed is perfect. It’s word of God.
• The sower is a tag-team effort; it will be done in tandem. The most important partner is the Holy Spirit. He’s the best there is. His instrument for the sowing is a problem — he’s speaking to you! — but he promises you to do the best he can with such a treasure.
• What you’re called to be aware of and till, with the help of the same Holy Spirit, is your soil, the receptivity of your soul. Jesus describes four types of soil in the parable.
• That along the path, hardened in its ways. Devil takes away the seed before it plants deeply.
• Rocky soil, very superficial, not deep. Grows up fast, but dies because of lack of roots.
• Soil among thorns, which choke the seed. Thorns are described not as sins (which would choke the seed), but pleasures of life and cares of this world. Good things in themselves, which take away our attention from the most important thing. We need to try to allow the Divine Gardener to take out those thorns and weeds during this time.
• Good soil, which is deep, and bears fruit, fruit in acts of love. This allows the seed to grow, and continue growing from a seed into a tree, in which the birds of the air, in which others, can find shade and rest. The good soil will bear fruit, will thrive in the third dimension.
• So I would strongly encourage you, after each conference or Mass, to go over with the Lord, moved and assisted by the Holy Spirit, what we’ve discussed, to ask him to help those seeds fall on good soil, to be planted deeply, so that you might bear fruit, 30, 60, or 100-fold.
• If you’d like to follow up on anything that I’m saying during this retreat, I’m basing these conferences for the most part, on the fourth section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is a beautiful section on prayer. I’d also be very willing, if people would be interested, to give you copies of my notes for these talks. They are also being taped. So please don’t feel you need to take notes here, lest you “lose” the idea. The most important thing for you to do is, as I said above, to listen to what the Lord is saying to you and to respond!

Practical considerations
• My availability and schedule.
• You all should have a schedule, which gives the whole program.
• There are almost 6.5 hours of confessional opportunities, to come to encounter Jesus in that great sacrament he made for us.
• If you haven’t been to confession in a while, please do not be afraid.
• I’ve prepared a sheet to help you examine your conscience well and feel confident about what you are to do in the confessional.
• But, if you’re nervous, please just say to me, “Father, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to confession. Could you help me?” I’d be glad to do so.
• I would ask you to try to make your confession soon during the retreat, to allow the divine gardener to give you a fresh beginning, to till your soil, so that the Good Shepherd can take your sins away and plant his seeds of grace.
• I would also ask you to come toward the beginning of a confessional time, rather than toward the end. This allows me to gauge a little bit more easily how quickly I would need to go, if there are many penitents, but also to know if there are no other penitents that time, which would allow me to steal some time praying myself in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
• Sleep
• Need to be rested.
• Temptation for some might be to pray all night, but you’ll be a zombie tomorrow, and when Jesus wants you to be alert for him, you’ll be like Peter, James and John, who slept during the Transfiguration and then later during the Agony of the Garden. Get enough sleep so that you can be alert.
• Spirit of silence
• Most important person to be listening to is Jesus. Most of the time he’ll whisper. Need to be quiet to hear him. Make room for that silence. Keep that conversation going, between conferences, between events.
• Be conscious, too, that Jesus wants to have a conversation with those around you. You might want to talk so badly you want to scream (!), but please be respectful both of Jesus and of those around you, and don’t bud in on his conversations with others just because of a desire to talk. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, but what I’m asking is that you make an effort to make that quiet time, to visit Jesus in the interior castle He wants to build within you. Just keep your eyes on the goal, which is this encounter with the living Lord!