On Saturday my son-in-law Travis and I went to a ‘Men’s Day of Recollection’. This has become an annual event for our parish and it is held at a local Catholic high school nearby. I don’t know who named it ‘Day of Recollection’. It could just as easily be called ‘Day of Renovation or Reconstruction or Restoration’ but that’s beside the point. Each year the format is basically the same although the themes vary – but not greatly. This year was not much different from the other years that I’ve attended with one exception – I prayed. Now I know that probably sounds strange but it’s not that strange for me. I have attended many workshops and retreats and not prayed – NOT REALLY PRAYED anyway. I guess I’ve just been sort of programmed to pay polite attention to the presenter and participate in the discussions and attend the obligatory Mass and sing the hymns. And that’s what I usually do – just barely do.
You see I can’t remember when I haven’t been angry at my Church (at the institutional Church). And in fact part of the presentation on Saturday was about how all mainline churches are losing members in droves and how the Catholic Church is no exception – and I thought; well no duh! As the talk continued, we were somehow supposed to take comfort (or shame – not sure here) about the fact we are not alone. The Presbyterians, and The Lutherans, and The Baptists, and The Episcopalians are all in the same boat with us Catholics. I’m not sure if ‘the why’ was explained but I think it has something to do with our secular world not wanting to FOLLOW THE RULES. And that includes our acceptance of abortion, gay marriage, female clergy, and bargaining rights for public-sector employees. (Just kidding about that last one – although I have a feeling some men in attendance were thinking it). Anyway that’s about when I started to fade out. Whenever someone starts throwing around the word ‘secular’ I feel as though I’m blushing because I believe ‘secular’ might be code for ‘Denis Wilhelm and his kind’. After all, I voted for Barack Obama and my favorite nuns are the ones that don’t wear habits.
So while I was (sort of) zoned out. I started praying. I prayed for our pastor (who was our presenter). I prayed for the other men attending the retreat. I prayed for Travis, whose love motivated me to be there in the first place. But mostly I prayed for myself – for patience; for understanding; for guidance. I prayed my granddaughter Anna’s guardian angel prayer: “Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here; ever this day be at my side; to light, to guard, to rule, to guide. ~ Amen”
It’s funny that a child’s prayer would bring me great comfort at that moment. I realized (once again) that I AM A CATHOLIC – warts and all. I understood more clearly that all of us men who were gathered there on Saturday brought our strengths and weaknesses to God. Some of us were just searching for a way to live in peace. Some of us were mired in the need for ‘black and white’ answers in a world where all the questions are shades of gray. Some of us were holding on to hurt and pain for years or decades that we can’t (or won’t) let go. And some, like me, were carrying all of those things.
And in the strength of those seventy-odd men I was reminded that if God can continue to forgive me for my failings – I can continue to seek the Truth. I will commit myself to living my faith. And I will (try to) follow the rules. But I will also never stop questioning, challenging, hoping for a better world, a better church, a better community.
I know that we are perfected in Christ. For some of us it just takes a little longer. Now if I could just be as patient with myself as God is with me…
Maybe it should be called ‘Men’s Day of Recalibration’.