On Saturday, April 9th, the Canossian Sisters of Sacramento offered a half-day retreat for young women of the Sacramento area. First of all, we wish to thank all of those who prayed for its success! THANK YOU!
The afternoon began with an opening prayer of purification, using Psalm 51, repeating as our antiphon between each verse, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” We then prepared our hearts to hear the Word of God with the song, “Speak Your Word”, and after a moment of silence we then read a paraphrased version from the Gospel of Saint John 11:1-45 (the full reading of the Gospel took place at the conclusion of the day, at Mass).
Sr. Lisa Marie then gave a talk to the young women based on the Gospel of John 11:1-45, and the reading from Ezekiel 37:12-14. She began with a diagram of the reading from Ezekiel:
She explained how, to understand the Gospel, and the raising of Lazarus, we must understand the first reading for the 5th Sunday of Lent. The two readings go together. She pointed to four key points in this short reading, promises of God:
1. I will open your graves;
2. I am the Lord;
3. I will put my Spirit in you; and
4. That you may live.
First, the promise of God that He will ‘open our graves and have us rise from them.’ We considered what can be meant by ‘grave’. Of course, there is the physical grave, or place of burial. Here, there is nothing left. The person who is buried ceases to live. There is no breath; only darkness. We have no control over death; it is a part of our human existence. But physical death is not the only way we stop living. We also considered that the ‘grave’ can also be metaphorically used to consider the ways we block ourselves off from living as God intended, through our sin. Sin, such as when we choose to put ourselves first before God, and put ourselves first before our neighbors, block us from living in God’s grace (the abundant gifts of His help) when we shut Him out, and turn our back on our brothers and sisters in their need. God wants to free us from the grave of sin – to unbind us from the things that keep us from loving. Some of these ‘blocks’ seem very small: when we refuse to take out the trash when we’re asked; when we say things to others knowing it annoys them; when we forget to say our prayers. But, what happens if we do the opposite? When we do not hesitate to help when asked; when we see someone who is alone and befriend them; or when we are attentive in our prayers, and our time with God. These small acts of love work in us, to open our hearts to God’s grace. The more we do these kinds of things, we find our hearts grow to love, more and more like the heart of Jesus.
Secondly, Ezekiel reminds us that God ‘is the Lord,’ and that in the opening of our graves, we will recognize the ‘opening of the graves’ as the sign to the Truth that God is who he says he is – the Lord. The prophetic words of Ezekiel, we see fulfilled in the Gospel story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Ezekiel said, “I will open your graves and have you rise from them…and you shall know that I am the Lord.” We went back and considered the Gospel at this point, recalling how Mary and Martha say to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus says, “If you believe, you will see the glory of God.” God works everything for His purpose. This should be reassuring to us, to think, that even death has a purpose (in fact, a few of the retreatants found this thought rather consoling, that even the death of a loved one has a reason. We can rely on this in faith!). In Lazarus’ death, Jesus is able to glorify God through the manifestation of His own power, testifying also to His relationship with the Father. It fulfills what we heard in Ezekiel, and brings to light Jesus is more than a man; he is the Lord of Life and Death. Jesus himself tells us this in his words to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
In Jesus, we don’t die anymore. Lazarus is called out of the tomb; he comes out, still bound, and Jesus says to those with him to ‘unbind him.’ This symbolizes our spiritual life in Christ. When we pray the Creed on Sunday, we affirm that one day our bodies will be resurrected too.
Thirdly, “I will put my Spirit in you.” God promises to give us His Spirit. In the Old Testament of the Bible, the word ‘spirit’ and ‘breath’ is the same word. The Hebrew (one of the original languages of the Old Testament texts) word for ‘spirit’ is ‘ruah’. In Genesis 2:7, the creation of Adam, God ‘breathes’ into the form of Adam that he made from the ground (humus – from where we get ‘human’ and ‘humility’), and by doing so, gives him life. So, when God speaks of putting His spirit in us, he is giving us life. If we think back to the beginning of Lent, we received ashes on our foreheads, and the priest says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” So, we too, must remember that we are formless bodies (like Adam before he had the ‘breath of life’ from God) before God allowed His spirit to enter us. It is because of this life-giving Spirit, we have life.
Lastly, God promises his Spirit “that you might live.” This is the point of this retreat, perhaps, to ask ourselves, “What is my life for?” What is YOUR LIFE for? There is a common thread throughout our talk, looking at the passages from Ezekiel and the Gospel of John, that point to God’s love for each of us. The whole point of our faith, is the belief that God loves us and that He is worthy of our love in return. With this in mind, let us consider what gets in our way of loving God, and living our lives in a way that will please Him.
Sister Lisa Marie put her notes down at this point and drew a stick figure on the board to represent each of us, and explained how our souls are very precious, and many of us forget that we have two parts of us that are linked together; both a body (pointing to the board) and a soul which is not seen. Our world pays attention to the physical part of us, and wants us to forget that we are also spiritual creatures. She used examples of our culture – such as the show Glee and television advertisement – to help us see how we as young women are often ‘marketed’ to, and told through media that we had to be a certain way to be acceptable. She warned us that many shows geared toward teens and young adults show people our age compromising their virtue in order to gain an acceptance, or belonging by people around us. This is the glamorization of sin. It makes it look attractive, packaged as something it is not. It tries its best to make us become what we are not.
Sister challenged us to be attentive to this other side – our souls – and that we need to nourish them just as much as we nourish our bodies. How do we do that? Through prayer. Through the Sacraments. Through reading good, uplifting books. “You are beautiful, each of you. Just as you are. Just as God made you,” she said, “and, imagine, that what is inside – your heart, your mind, your soul are even more beautiful. Protect your heart, keep it safe and beautiful for God.”
We then turned to the Gospel for the Sunday, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The Gospel says that Jesus weeps and that it is thought by observers that his tears are because he lost his friend. But Jesus’ tears are for something more. He sees those around him, knowing that they don’t yet understand the fullness of who he is. They are still thinking of death as the end; they have yet to understand that there is more to Jesus than what they see. In Jesus, we don’t die anymore. Like Lazarus, Jesus calls us out from the tomb … and he comes out, still bound … but in Jesus, death no longer binds him. Because of Christ, Lazarus is freed. And so are we.
As we continue our Lenten journey, then, we are called to walk with Jesus with the resurrection on the horizon. We are more aware of the things in our culture that try to bind us, and keep us from being close to God. Sometimes our Lenten sacrifice is just having the courage to say ‘no’ to those things the world tries to sell us, and choose to do alternative things that will keep us growing in the grace of the Lord.
After the talk, we had a snack at the convent, and some time for personal reflection. Sister left us with some questions to think about, to help us recall the talk.
Afterward, we had a sharing on the day, and what had stayed with us, either from the talk, the prayer, or the readings. Sister Lisa Marie summarized the day, and then helped us to prepare for confession before Mass. It was a beautiful experience for all of us!
Next Retreat is scheduled for May 21, 2001.
If you’d like to come, contact us!
This article is featured as one of Elizabeth’s 7 Quick Takes Friday picks. Elizabeth writes at Startling the Day, and Bright Maidens. Go check those sites for good Catholic stuff from a young woman’s perspective.