On Retreat With Pope Francis


Tomorrow and Saturday, I will be on retreat and it’ll be a different experience from my usual retreats. For one thing, I’m going as an attendant and not as part of the volunteer staff. The other thing that makes this particular retreat different from the ones in the past is that it’s an Ignatian retreat. While I did an Ignatian Spiritual Exercise during one college retreat, I never had the full Ignatian retreat experience.

In anticipation of my upcoming retreat, I’m reflecting on the 10 questions Pope Francis had to reflect on during his own retreat this week.


1. “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38)

This will be the question on my mind when I start my retreat. What am I looking for? I want so much out of life, and yet are any of these desires compatible with God’s will? Will the things I want help me further on my road to holiness?

As far as the retreat is concerned, I am looking for a closer relationship with Christ. I also want to know how I can integrate my faith into my daily life, especially when I go into places where people might be hostile towards the Catholic Church. Can I evangelize incognito? If so, how?


2. “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

Even though I don’t have anxiety attacks on a daily basis anymore, the attacks can still come when I least expect it. There are things that I am still afraid of that I’m not sure God can fix, in spite of what I already know. When I think of all the things I’m afraid of, though, I offer these fears up and ask God to help me handle my fears.

This quote from Saint Teresa of Avila also comes to mind:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.


3. “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?” (Matthew 5:13)

Whenever millennials say that a person is acting “salty,” they mean that a person is acting upset, jealous, or bitter. This Bible verse, however, refers to how salt makes people thirsty. In modern day terms, “thirsty” means longing for something. It’s usually used when someone wants to be in a relationship.

People who are the salt of the earth help others long for a relationship with Christ. Unfortunately, there are times that even the best of Christians and Catholics can act “salty” instead of being the salt of the earth. In my experience, praying the Litany of Humility helped as a counter to that upset, jealous, or bitter attitude.


4. “But who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20)

So many misconceptions of who Jesus is. They see the Son of Man, the Word made flesh as just “a nice guy,” or “a spiritual guru,” or “a teacher.” Then there are others who use Jesus to justify their political platforms, whether they be conservative or liberal. One recently bad instance of this is an abortion clinic owner who said that she grew up believing in a Jesus who would just be okay with women who chose to terminate the lives of their children. Jesus represents God’s mercy, but He would not just be “okay” with the death of innocents.

Who do you think Jesus is? If your answer can fit into a neat little box, you’ve got the wrong answer.


5. “Then, turning to the woman, he told Simon, ‘Do you see this woman?’” (Luke 7:44)

One unique thing about the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises is that they provide a way to immerse yourself into scripture, using the power of the imagination. This particular quote comes from the story of the woman with the alabaster jar who showered Jesus’s feet with her tears and kisses, wiped the tears away with her hair, and anointed them with perfume.

Simon, a Pharisee, didn’t see the woman’s loving actions or her quiet penitential attitude. Instead, he saw her as just a prostitute, a sinful woman, and judged her. Jesus compelled Simon to see the sinful woman through the eyes of mercy.

How often do we brush aside people who are trying to make a better life for themselves because we can’t see past our own prejudices? I particularly remember how an acquaintance of mine received a lot of harsh judgment for his struggles with addiction and depression. I’m really glad that he found help, but I ask for God’s mercy for those who label him a lost cause.

Do you see everyone in your life as your fellow brother and sister in Christ?


6. “How many loaves do you have?” (Mark 6:38, Matthew 15:34)

This is a weird Bible verse to meditate on at first glance. Most Catholics are very familiar with the miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish. So why would we focus on the part when Jesus asks his apostles about how much food was available?

This article from Aleteia gives a wonderful insight to this particular question. In this particular verse, Jesus is calling us to look at what we have and offer it all to Him.

My local parish is currently asking me and my fellow parishioners to consider tithing in the coming months due to financial issues that I won’t go into here. Needless to say, I feel like this Bible verse comes to mind. How much should we give to God, financially and spiritually?

At the very least, 10%. At most? Nothing short of everything.


7. “Straightening up, Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’” (John 8:10)

This verse comes from this Sunday’s Gospel, which recounts the story of the woman caught in adultery. I am constantly fascinated by the details of this Gospel passage. For one thing, according to Bishop Robert Barron, the fact that this takes place in or in front of the temple represents how Jesus is restoring God’s law to its proper use. Then, of course, there’s the matter of what the heck Jesus wrote on the ground. (Where’s Instagram when you need it?!)

But this particular verse goes out to those who are most in need of God’s mercy. This is for those who dwell on the guilt of their sin too much. Don’t be plagued by people who constantly keep a record of wrongs and remind you of your past faults. God’s mercy is waiting for you.


8. “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” (John 20:15)

This question is asked to Mary Magdalene, who is crying because she doesn’t know where Jesus is.

Who is she seeking? Her friend and teacher. The man who cured her of the seven demons that possessed her. The Savior who changed her life forever.

She didn’t know, at that moment, that Jesus was with her. That he conquered death and will ask her to share the news of his resurrection to his Apostles.

It reminds me of Audrey Assad’s “Slow,” which starts out with these lyrics:

You’ve drawn so close that it’s hard to see you
And you speak so softly that it’s hard to hear you

Give the song a listen and see how Mary Magdalene’s experience ties into it.


9.“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:16)

Dear Protestant brothers and sisters: If you want proof that Peter was always going to be head of the Church, in spite of the fact that he denied Christ three times, read this passage from the Gospel of John.

Jesus asks Peter three times “Do you love me?” The same number of times that Peter denied Christ. In this moment, Jesus showed Peter forgiveness and told Peter his mission. Jesus is basically telling Peter “History Has Its Eyes On You.” And like Hamilton, Peter had no control over who lived, who died, and who would tell his story.

This passage compels us to put ourselves in Peter’s shoes. In spite of the times that we deny Christ, do we still love Him?


10. “Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be?’” (Luke 1:34).

It’s funny that the last question of the retreat focuses on the beginning of Jesus’s story, at his conception in the Annunciation. It’s also very strange that Good Friday and the feast of the Annunciation are happening on the same day this year. “How can this be?” is indeed the question of the day.

I had my own Annunciation experience recently when an opportunity for a vocations retreat came my way. This time, a particular order sought me out instead of me finding one. During the phone interview, I told the sister that I felt as if I was experiencing what Mary went through in the Annunciation: astonishment, wonder, anticipation. I was also afraid, but I wasn’t anxious, because I knew that God would be with me. It’s no surprise, then, that after that phone interview, I was guaranteed a spot for the vocations retreat.

When God sends an opportunity your way, it may feel surprising at first. But like Mary, it’s good to ask questions. Once they’ve been asked, though, let go of all doubt and let God in.

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