Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Protestant at a Catholic Abbey

For my spiritual retreat I went to a Catholic abbey in Oceanside, California called the Prince of Peace Abbey on Saturday August 30th. I went there not really sure what to expect, but was immensely blessed by the experience. 

I got there about 10AM and, after being impressed quite quickly with the quiet there, had an initial discussion with a receptionist who gave me the lay of the land so to speak. It was a smaller abbey so there wasn’t too much to see but that was good.

I started by going to a library they have there. Though there was enough light there to read, it was dimly lit and quiet also.  In my first visit there I just spent about a half hour looking around and thinking about what I was seeing.  Many of the books in the library were donated and some of them were for sale. I bought a couple things there including a book on the Didache, one of the earliest catechetical works of the Christian church.

I then went to a Catholic Mass, steering clear of things I do not agree with. There were several interesting things that came out of that. Common practices in Catholic churches include kneeling and bowing. This was the first of several why moments of reflection I had there. If someone bows out of habit that has the potential of being legalistically problematic, while genuine reverence is of course a good thing. The Gospel reading there was the Talents Parable in Matthew 25:14-30. The priest spoke of the depth of this parable and how each time we read it we get a little more. Do we realize we are given things by Him to be used for His glory? Looking at the way the three people handled the talents, a question to ask is will we take risks for Him? Did the one talent guy commit a sin of omission? He mentioned the song "It is better to have lost at love than never to have loved at all." Let us think about that from a Christian context. Do we love Him, really? He spoke of Jesus giving us the church; I need to think about that one carefully. I believe we as members of the body of believers in Jesus past, present, and future are the church, so a question to ask is is the church for us or for God the Father? He spoke of come share in your Master’s joy, implying Lordship. In a non-spiritual way, I was amazed that with about sixty people there they actually distributed Communion wine in a shared cup. I of course went up with my arms crossed. 

I then walked the Stations of the Cross there; it was a large circle outside that was about a half mile around. I have done this a few times as a Protestant. The key reason I do this is because I am reminded of the sacrifice given by Christ, for me, for us. My sin put Him there, and Christ, the God-man, suffered immensely in a physical sense. The price was enormous. Do we comprehend that? I was reminded of the carry your cross Bible reference and could not help but ask myself rhetorically if I would be willing and able to do that?

After walking that loop and praying some more after I was done, I went to burial grounds there for monks who were buried there.  While I am not Catholic, I gave thanks to God for men of extraordinary faith. When I encounter past Catholics or other Christians via history, I am always thankful for them. 

By this time I had been there about three hours. I then went back to the library for some more reading, prayer, and spiritual reflection. I read a couple chapters of Eugene Peterson’s book Eat This Book. This book starts out with a reference to the Hebrew word Hagah, which is what meditate in Psalm 1 is the translation for. However, that word has other usage instances that imply a much higher level of immersion and connectedness with that is being “eaten.” Revelation, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah all have references to eating a book, to better connect with it, so it can become part of us. He used an example with a dog gnawing a bone slowly over some time as a way to demonstrate it. If scripture is holy, it must be read that way as well. What can get in the way of this sometimes is viewing ourselves as sovereign. We are not the authority, God is. 

When we speak or hear of being spiritual, the world’s view of that can give it a negative connotation. I usually think of non-Christian mystic types when the word spiritual is mentioned. The Bible should be the text by which we live our lives. The world has an interest in souls but not in scripture; shouldn’t there be both? Do we have both? The word Bible comes from biblion, implying plot, meaning, and purpose. Do we really want to read the Bible as only a historical work? Sadly many nonbelievers do that; do we as believers? Is it a stretch to say that the entire book has a purpose of changing us, to make us more like Him?

I then went to pray for about a half hour, focusing on how I was being changed by this, and asking God for more of it.  

They of course had a store there that I took a quick browse through before leaving, looking at some Ignatius Press books and many different Bibles. 

In summary I spent about five hours there and would say that quiet, solitude, peace, and retreat cannot be fully appreciated until they are experienced. I intend to do this on a somewhat regular basis; I was tremendously encouraged by the experience.