By Stephen Hagg
I woke up the morning of Friday, May 14th with a great degree of anticipation.
This was the day for which I had accepted an invitation to participate in a retreat day at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. As a degree candidate in the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (M.A.P.S.) program, at least one such retreat is required for graduation, but annual attendance is encouraged. The theme was “Working together with Him: Unity and Peace Among Ministers.” I had no preconceived notions of what to expect being new to the program. I decided to pray for an overall experience that was Christ-centered, accented by collegiality and communion, mission and ministry, as well as prayer and praise. I was already grateful for the gift of the opportunity itself, and a beautiful sunny day!
Our first lecture addressed the topic “Building Up One Another In Love”, and it was my first experience with the “essence” of Professor Paco Gavrilides, S.T.L., our primary instructor and “minister.” With the Spirit almost visibly alive in his eyes, he paced the room with energy, grace, and resolve. I cannot recollect a time when he was not smiling; and it was joyful smiling, not the forced or merely polite form. We spent a good amount of time learning about Christian service, as the Savior clearly modeled for us with the washing of the apostles’ feet. That a good leader is the servant of all, but that all leaders were also once followers. Jesus Christ is seen the world over, and rightfully so, as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And yet he faithfully followed – his Father and His will. Christian love compels us all first to love and serve Christ, and to seek to please Him. It further compels us to serve Christ’s Bride, the Church. Pastorally this extends to the manner in which all of us care for and serve one another. The secular world is in dire need of reconstruction. To succeed, we need to rebuild our workplaces, classrooms, and dinner tables with the dignified, well-intentioned love that is distinctively Christian.
The second lecture “He Leadeth Me Beside Still Waters; He Restores My Soul” was instructive in that it attempted to forewarn those of us willing to engage in being a “worker in the vineyard [of Christ];” or, a calling to ministry. The truth is that we will encounter resistance, disdain, ridicule, and disgust in our unique ministries. We collectively discussed instances where our Christian words or deeds were scoffed upon, and what mercies, graces, and gifts each of us received to survive and thrive despite the darkness. Paco also assured us that, from his own personal missions and ministries, he can give witness that God provides us certain “special fruits” that come from our suffering on His behalf. Some of those include the comfort of the Holy Spirit, increases in the theological virtue of hope, and further character formation that moves us ever closer to Him, while we joyfully toil for Him. My desire to have a connection to these special fruits is why I, and others who fight for Him, willingly enter the secular minefield we have today. For the glory of God, “for our good, and the good of His Holy Church.”
We rested in Adoration, and later celebrated Mass as a respite from the intellectual, and an investment in the spiritual. During that time, I began to feel the Spirit working inside of me. My “being” seemed to take any number of philosophical, theological, and Scriptural concepts I’ve been exposed to over a few years, and eloquently reassembled them into an interconnected mosaic of truth. That imagery has helped me in understanding the bigger picture of my calling. My participation in the Mass was unusual in that I kept focused on the liturgy, but was somehow also working this revelatory ‘model’ in my mind simultaneously, and yet with equal focus.
The final lecture, “Unity and Peace Among Ministers” was brief, but was also an introduction to smaller table discussions. We discussed the various ways each of us encounters others on a daily basis. Some we see regularly, like at a workplace. Some we see once ever, and only in passing at that, like at a gas station. Whose image do I project? How will my words and deeds be received as a Catholic Christian? Is my ministry like a job I do 40 hours per week, or is my ministry my very life? The fruits of my labor will answer these questions.
We appropriately concluded with prayer, and were sent to love and serve the Lord. In retrospect, the experiences I had prayed for that morning were fulfilled. Praise be to God!
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature”