Virtual Retreat

Daily scriptural reflections by Fr. Rory Pitstick, SSL from Immaculate Heart Retreat Center in Spokane, WA
Also available via daily email

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Daily Retreat 10/04/09

Gn 2:18-24/ Ps 127(128):1-2. 3. 4-5. 6/ Heb 2:9-11/ Mk 10:2-16

From today’s readings:
  “The LORD God said: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.’...    May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives....  He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin....  But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh....”

The Two of Them Become One Flesh

Clearly, the Bible espouses a sublime teaching about the matrimonial union of man and woman. Jesus Himself quotes chapter 2 of Genesis, reminding His followers that our conception of marriage must begin with God’s intention, not just human experience, for better or for worse.

But hardness of hearts has led to separating what God has united. In Holy Matrimony, God unites man and woman, but divorce separates. God unites the unitive and procreative dimensions of marital intercourse, but contraception separates. God unites the sexual and spiritual aspects of human life, but hedonism separates. God creates and unites male and female as partners, but chauvinism and militant feminism separate them as antagonists.

Those who abort and thwart God’s conception of marital unity, rebuking and rejecting the divine biblical and magisterial teaching, ultimately bear nothing in their lives but the sterile hardness of their own hearts. But those who embrace God’s design and are open to His will all the days of their lives bring forth the fertile fruits of Christ’s blessing which lead to the Kingdom of God!

As is already known, since 2002, these virtual retreat reflections have been an outreach of Immaculate Heart Retreat Center in Spokane, WA.   Originally, Msgr. William Van Ommeren, in residence at IHRC, wrote the daily meditations with characteristic gentle wisdom  arising from his pastoral and spiritual experience of many years.  Then in August of 2003, IHRC director Deacon John Ruscheinsky asked me to take up this ministry, and so it has been my privilege to share my humble scriptural insights in this forum for the past 6 years.  For the many blessings that I have shared from this work, I am grateful to God, I am grateful to Deacon Ruscheinsky and the supportive staff at IHRC, and I am grateful to all the many readers who have been a part of this ministry with prayers, donations to IHRC, and all kinds of encouragement.

Tomorrow, a new chapter in this series begins, for I will be passing on this apostolate to Deacon Ruscheinsky himself, who will start posting reflections drawn from his inspiring work as the director at IHRC.  I will certainly appreciate continued prayers, both for me, as I focus on my teaching at Mt. Angel Seminary,  and for Deacon John Ruscheinsky.  I’ve treasured his friendship and spiritual insights - how wonderful that he will now be sharing that with more people through this e-evangelization!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Daily Retreat 10/03/09

2009 Oct 3 Sat:Ordinary Weekday/ BVM
Bar 4: 5-12. 27-29/ Ps 68(69): 33-35. 36-37/ Lk 10: 17-24

From today’s readings:  “As your hearts have been disposed to stray from God, turn now ten times the more to seek him....  The Lord listens to the poor....  I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it....”

Jerusalem, Our Mother

Hardly anything in the Bible comes across as impersonal in any way. On the contrary, Sacred Scripture is essentially intimate and personal, so that even events that happened so long ago and words uttered so long ago seem so close and connected to us (this is one of the reasons that the God’s Word appeals even to non- believers).

In this section of the book of Baruch, Jerusalem is personified as a mother bewailing yet also consoling and encouraging her captive children.  She insists that her children understand the nature and awful gravity of their sins, but she also implores that her children realize where their hope for salvation lies - in turning back to God ten times the more!

Read the entire 4th and 5th chapters to appreciate the poignancy of this "mother’s" message, and realize how much God’s Word is intimate and personal for YOU!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Daily Retreat 10/02/09

2009 Oct 2 Fri:The Guardian Angels M
Bar 1:15-22/ Ps 78(79):1b-2. 3-5. 8. 9/ Mt 18:1-5. 10

From today’s readings:  “We did not heed the voice of the Lord, our God, in all the words of the prophets whom He sent us, but each one of us went off after the devices of his own wicked heart, served other gods, and did evil in the sight of the Lord, our God....  For the glory of Your Name, O Lord, deliver us....  See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in Heaven always look upon the face of My heavenly Father.”

Uncle Sarge and Angels

My Uncle Sarge was one of the persons I most looked forward to meeting when I was young.  For a long time, my parents had told me about him, mentioning, for instance, that he played the violin.  Since I had recently started lessons myself, I was glad to learn that we already had something in common, so I was all the more eager to meet him!

But I was even more intrigued when I found out that Uncle Sarge only had one leg!  I later learned that the other one had been lost to cancer, but at the time, all that was pretty much beyond my understanding.   At my age, I could hardly imagine how there could even be a person without such an essential part of his body - in that aspect, my uncle and I were certainly quite different!  In fact, as time past, I even started to wonder if I really had such a strange uncle, and I began to suspect that my parents perhaps had made up those stories about him.

But in due time, my Uncle Sarge did come for a visit, bringing his violin, and yes, hopping along on his one leg!  He instantly became one of my favorite relatives, so we were loyal pen pals until he died a few years later.

“That’s very interesting, ” you’re probably thinking, “but what does your Uncle Sarge have to do with today’s feast of the Guardian Angels?”  Well, aren’t our protective angels likewise relatives whom we all look forward to seeing some day?  And we already have some things in common - for instance, we’re both created by God with free will.  But in other aspects, we’re quite different:  angels have a superior intellect, and they are pure spirits, without any body at all!  Because these differences are so beyond our understanding, some people even suggest that perhaps the Bible just makes up all those stories about angels.

But in due time, God’s trusting children will have a splendid reunion with their guardian angels, and then we’ll discover how they’ve always been our most loyal soulmates!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Daily Retreat 10/01/09

2009 Oct 1 Thu:Thérèse of Lisieux, v, r, dr M
Neh 8: 1-4a. 5-6. 7b-12/ Ps 18(19): 8. 9. 10. 11/ Lk 10: 1-12

From today’s readings:  “Ezra read out of the book from daybreak until midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand; and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law....  The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart....  Jesus appointed seventy-two other disciples whom He sent ahead of Him in pairs to every town and place He intended to visit....”

Warmly Welcoming the Word of God

Imagine that you received a glowing personal letter from a Senator, or from the Pope - wouldn’t you read it eagerly, and pour over its contents carefully, so that you could share such memorable words with all your family and friends? Even if the message were lengthy or some words demanding, certainly you would do whatever was necessary to fully take to heart and understand such an important missive!

But since you and I believe that the Bible is, not just the words of some v.i.p., but the actual life-giving Word of almighty God, shouldn’t we welcome it with even more joy and enthusiasm than we would welcome a letter from anyone created by God?  Sometimes when reading or listening to Sacred Scripture, we sadly lose the sense of its specialness because of its Source, and we end up just skimming or half-listening to the most important words ever written!

The scene in chapter 8 of the book of Nehemiah portrays an unforgettable picture of the people of God, so hungry to hear His Word, listening attentively for several hours, reverently receiving the revelation, and being moved profoundly by the message.... Why aren’t you and I so tuned in when God’s Word is proclaimed in out midst? In becoming so accessible to us, hasn’t the Word of God also regrettably often become trite and commonplace in our reception?  What can we do about this?

When we come to realize and appreciate that the Bible is in actuality the Word of God, the collection of love letters from the Lord, personally and intimately addressed to His beloved children, then, and only then, will we be as the people in the day of Nehemiah - fully and warmly welcoming in every way the wondrous Word of God!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Daily Retreat 09/30/09

2009 Sep 30 Wed:Jerome, p, dr M
Neh 2: 1-8/ Ps 136(137): 1-2. 3. 4-5. 6/ Lk 9: 57-62

From today’s readings:  “Why do you look sad? If you are not sick, you must be sad at heart....   Let my tongue be silenced if I ever forget you!...  No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God....”

Mission and Wherewithal

After the Babylonian captivity, around the same time that Ezra, Haggai and Zechariah were leading the people in rebuilding the Temple, a man named Nehemiah obtained royal permission to also rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Without walls, Jerusalem had no real defense, and so was scorned by all. Since God had decreed that the time had come to rebuild His Temple in Jerusalem, it followed that the city itself was also to be rebuilt to protect and worthily host the Temple.

The first chapters of the Book of Nehemiah chronicle the rebuilding of the walls, and the various obstacles that Nehemiah needed to overcome in order to complete the task. In spite of the obstacles, because God was with the builders, the wall was completed in only 52 days (cf. Neh. 6:15)!

Remember, whenever God gives anyone a mission, He also assures that the wherewithal to complete the mission will not be lacking!  Nehemiah knew this well, and so was able to accomplish what many dismissed as “impossible” – and now, you and I need to realize that the same thing is true in our lives: all we need to do is discern well our mission from God (our vocation), and then have the faith to know that He is with us to empower us to loyally fulfill our mission

Daily Retreat 09/29/09

2009 Sep 29 Tue:Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, archangels F
Dn 7: 9-10. 13-14 or Rv 12: 7-12a/ Ps 137(138): 1-2ab. 2cde-3. 4-5/ Jn 1: 47-51

From today’s readings:
  “War broke out in Heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon....  In the sight of the angels I will sing Your praises, Lord....  Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see Heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

All in the Name

Today we salute the three archangels mentioned by name in scripture: Michael (his name is found in the books of Daniel, Jude, and Apocalypse), Gabriel (Daniel and Luke), and Raphael (Tobit).

Michael’s name means “Who is like God?”  This is the battle cry raised against the rebellious Lucifer and his minions, who, in sinful pride, thought themselves as great as God, and for that, were expelled from Heaven by Michael and all the host of good angels.

Gabriel’s name means, “the Lord is valiant” or even “the Lord is a great warrior” - in both cases, this archangel’s name reminds all of the omnipotence of God.

Raphael’s name means, “the Lord heals” - a name of great comfort, and reminder of the Lord’s ability and desire to heal our iniquities and infirmities.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Daily Retreat 09/28/09

2009 Sep 28 Mon:Ordinary Weekday/ Wenceslaus, mt/ Lawrence Ruiz, mm, mt, & co., mts
Zec 8: 1-8/ Ps 101(102): 16-18. 19-21. 29 and 22-23/ Lk 9: 46-50

From today’s readings:  “I am intensely jealous for Zion....  The Lord will build up Zion again, and appear in all His glory....  Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives the One who sent Me....”

God’s Jealousy

We tend to see jealousy as something sinful by definition, and yet that assumption is disproved by the scripture passages that affirm that God, who is All Good and even incapable of sin, is jealous Himself.  Jealousy can indeed be sinful, but it also can be neutral or even virtuous.  My dictionary defines “jealous” as meaning “fearful of loss of position or affection; positively watchful and vigilant.”  

God certainly takes pains to prevent loss of our recognition of His position (as our God!) and loss of our affection.  So, God’s jealousy is understandably ignited whenever we pretend that something or someone is more important to us than God, or whenever we inordinately love something or someone in the created order, instead of reserving our highest love for our Creator.

God is likewise “positively watchful and vigilant” in His solicitude for us.  The whole of salvation history is the eloquent proof that God is certainly looking out for us, and doing everything He can, to the point of sending His beloved Son to die for us....

The opposite of jealousy is indifference, and God certainly can not in any way be accused of that!  But, do you and I always burn with a jealous love for God, or are we too often content with virtual indifference?  In this, as in all things, we need to imitate God and His jealous love!

Daily Retreat 09/27/09

Nm 11: 25-29/ Ps 18(19): 8. 10. 12-13. 14 (9a)/ Jas 5: 1-6/ Mk 9: 38-43. 45. 47-48

From today’s readings:  “Would that the LORD might bestow His Spirit on them all!...  From wanton sin especially, restrain Your servant; let it not rule over me....  Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries....  Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”

Doing Things God’s Way

It’s natural for us to want to do things our own way.  It’s even understandable (although not necessarily justifiable!) if we get annoyed when other people don’t do things our way as well.  And it is downright unsettling when God doesn’t do things our way!  In that case, we should realize that there’s something about US that needs to change, although it’s typical to first hope God will change and see things our way!

In the book of numbers, Joshua gets a bit perturbed to hear that Eldad and Medad were prophesying, and he implores Moses to put a halt to it.  In St. Mark’s Gospel, John and the other disciples are similarly annoyed to learn that someone who wasn’t a regular part of the company of disciples had been casting out demons in Christ’s Name.  Joshua and John both are then told to allow things to continue in God’s way, rather than insisting on the way they think things ought to be.

We too need to be humble enough always to allow God to take the lead, and whenever we note that His way is not our way, then, as hard as it may be at times to swallow, it’s definitely our way that needs to change!

Daily Retreat 09/26/09

2009 Sep 26 Sat:Ordinary Weekday/ BVM/ Cosmas and Damian, mts
Zec 2:5-9. 14-15a/ Jer 31:10. 11-12ab. 13/ Lk 9:43b-45

From today’s readings:
“See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the LORD....  The Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock....  Pay attention to what I am telling you!”

The Lord Remembers

The name Zechariah literally means “the Lord remembers” - it’s a beautiful name, quite common in the Bible, including, of course, as found in the book of the prophet Zechariah, who was a contemporary of the prophet Haggai.

While both prophets focused the people’s attention on the need to complete the rebuilding of the Lord’s Temple, their styles are quite different.  Haggai spoke in rather simple, straight-forward language, whereas Zechariah prophesied in more complex visions, using symbols and colorful imagery.

The words of Zechariah and all the prophets, especially when difficult to understand, often contain a number of “layers” of meanings: first of all, the words as understood by those who heard the prophet speaking; second, the words as prophecy (often indirect) about the coming Messiah (Jesus); third, the words as universal message from God for all peoples and places (including us!).  This concept of different “layers” of meaning (particularly evident in the prophetic books) also often applies to other words of the Bible, including the words of Christ (cf. the Gospel passage).

This does not imply, however, that the words can mean whatever we want them to!  But by considering these different layers of meanings, we can (and should!) gain more from reading prophetic texts.  The first reading, from chapter two of Zechariah, is an excellent example, so read it three times: First, think of yourself as a contemporary of Zechariah (living in the desolate city of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile) - how would you find comfort in his words?  Second, think of the ways many of his words give us hints about the Messiah  (e.g., the idea of God literally dwelling with His people).  Finally, consider why God wants YOU to reflect TODAY on these words of His!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Daily Retreat 09/25/09

2009 Sep 25 Fri:Ordinary Weekday
Hg 2:1-9/ Ps 42(43):1. 2. 3. 4/ Lk 9:18-22

From today’s readings:
  “ I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts....  Hope in God; I will praise Him, my savior and my God....  But who do you say that I am?”

God’s Perspective

After the Babylonian captivity, the weary deportees returned to the ruins of Jerusalem, and with the encouragement of the prophet Haggai and others, they rebuilt the Lord’s temple.  The First Temple, you will recall, had been built by Solomon, and it was a truly splendid edifice - several chapters of the First Book of Kings are devoted to detailing the glories of that House of the Lord.

So the Second Temple, built in the chaotic aftermath of the Babylonian exile, had understandably only a shadow of the splendor and glory of the First Temple.  But the Lord’s words through the prophet Haggai pre-empted any discouragement.  Haggai’s messianic prophecies in chapter 2, although not literally fulfilled in that building, were fulfilled when Herod the Great renovated the Temple on a much grander scale just a few years before the birth of Christ and His Presentation in the Temple (when God indeed  filled the house with the glory of His presence!).

Sometimes our best labors for God seem to bear rather meager fruit.  But that is only from our limited perspective.  God knows how things will turn out in the long run, from His eternal perspective.  As long as we are doing what God wants us to do, we can rest assured that our labors contribute to God’s glory!

Daily Retreat 09/24/09

2009 Sep 24 Thu:Ordinary Weekday
Hg 1:1-8/ Ps 149:1b-2. 3-4. 5-6a and 9b/ Lk 9:7-9

From today’s readings:  “Now thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways!...  The Lord takes delight in His people....   Who then is this about whom I hear such things?”

Who was Haggai?

In the year 520BC, the prophet Haggai appeared on the scene in Judah (he was mentioned by name in Tuesday’s reading)- he too, like Ezra, strove to focus the Jewish people’s attention on the re-building of the Temple.  Haggai had a blunt way of helping people realize the folly of putting anything else ahead of commitment to God:
 You have sown much, but have brought in little;
 you have eaten, but have not been satisfied;
 You have drunk, but have not been exhilarated;
 have clothed yourselves, but not been warmed;
 And whoever earned wages
 earned them for a bag with holes in it!

People have long sought a direct correlation between piety and material wealth (this idea is even seen in many Old Testament readings).  Faith would be such an easy thing if every time we chose God, we received a positive monetary reinforcement, and every time we turned away from God, we felt it in our pocketbooks.

But God does not bribe us to believe in Him!  On the other hand though, Haggai points out one of the foundational paradoxes of faith: those who relentlessly pursue wealth will never be satisfied, whereas those who relentlessly pursue God will find Him, and all they need!