Each year, we Marist Brothers have the opportunity to participate in a retreat. This year about twenty five of us gathered for our retreat in Adelaide which was led by discalced Carmelite Fr Greg Homeming OCD. Marist Provincial Br Peter Carroll invited Greg to speak to the theme ‘Consecrated Life and Mercy’. This theme was particularly relevant given that, as a Catholic Church, we have just completed the Year of Consecrated Life and we are now beginning the Year of Mercy. Our retreat also comes soon after the October 2015 release of the Vatican document on The Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church.
Below is what I gleaned on ten topics Greg addressed in what I found to be excellent presentations across the six days.
1. The context in which we read the gospels.
Greg began by speaking about two topics Pope Francis addressed early in his pontificate. When reflecting on how we read the gospels, the Pope reminded his listeners that we read them according to the context of our current day, of what is happening in our lives now. Sometimes, however, we not only read these texts to understand them for today but we also consider where they might be taking us. This process might still involve going back to the sources to understand the context in which they were written, but not ’staying’ there, as it were. We need the gospels to help us reflect on our current lives.
2. The place of memory in prayer
Greg invited us to think about how we understand the role of memory in prayer. He explained that not only do we need to remember as we pray, but ‘we need to own our memory in a life-giving way’. This leads us to finding Christ in our memory whether it be in our happy or sad moments and letting Christ transform these memories.
3. The nature of memory
Memories are networks of experiences. Memory, Greg suggested, can have a paralysing effect on us if we let it, particularly the memory of certain experiences we have found difficult. While a traumatic memory might start in the mind, it also has an emotional counterpart. A memory can even establish for us the context of our lives. It can form an obstacle, taking away our freedom to live in the present moment and move into the future. If we get our memories right, we can work with freedom, with Christ.
4. The rich young man
‘Good Master what must I do to attain eternal life?’ (Mk 10:17) asked the rich young man when speaking to Jesus. This man, as Mark records, has the eyes to see that Jesus is someone special. While he recognises in Jesus what he is looking for, he realises his personal wealth has become an obstacle to following Jesus. This is why Jesus tells him to give what he has to the poor and ‘come follow me’.
5. We must develop a positive memory.
Greg then addressed the topic of ‘difficult memories’. When we find such memories are impeding us, he suggests we block them. This is where the spiritual contributes to our growth in a way that complements other approaches like counselling.
6. Transform our memory through prayer
Prayer is a good place for us to remember what has been wonderful in our lives and where we have really experienced God. This comes from aligning our memories with Christ and can lead us to an ‘impulse of gratitude’ because here we find Christ.
7. The writings of John
‘The Word that is life is my subject’ (1 Jn 1:1) states John as he begins his first letter. Further he informs his readers that what he is giving his readers is something from his memory. Here John is setting himself up as an intermediary between each of us and Jesus Christ. In the text he is sharing his experience of being with Jesus. In writing the Gospel, John and his faithful community are assembling and writing about their memories, particularly the memories of their friendship with Jesus.
8. The Gospels as memories
In 160 AD Justin Martyr called what were later to be known as the Gospels ‘the memoirs of the apostles’. These Gospel writers felt compelled to write them. John says ‘I write this to you to make my own joy complete’ (Jn 15:11). The Christian apostolate is about necessity. Each founder experienced this compulsion differently. The memories of our lives can be shaped by our reading of the gospels, as well as by the study of the writings of our Founders and other key members of our Congregations.
9. The vows
Greg spoke about the vows as conduits through which consecrated people obtain freedom to experience the love of God. Being obedient requires using one's intelligence so that we interpret well the love of God in the calls we are receiving. Poverty frees us to become one with Christ through choosing Him before material possessions. Celibacy calls us to live life to the full as vowed people. At times, it can challenge us to learn to live well in our own space.
Finally Greg spoke to us about mercy from his Carmelite perspective making reference to people like Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Edith Stein. He emphasised the importance of prayer as being a place where we meet God in our weakness. ‘How do I find God in myself?’ asked Greg. ‘Through my failings, through my humanity’. 'God is always there'. In prayer we sit in the truth of who we are, in our weakness and simply look to God. Mercy and compassion then become the fruit of this self knowledge. Young people can become hard because they have not experienced their own weakness and therefore cannot understand others’ weaknesses. As life goes on we start to become more compassionate. God has shown mercy to us and in this way shows us how to show mercy to others.
If you would like to watch a video of Fr Greg speaking about the spirituality of St Teresa of Avila, please click this link: http://bit.ly/1RO4GFx