Saturday, November 14, 2009

To Make Hard Choices

Two weeks ago today at Confession, on the eve of All Saints, I was asked to meditate on the Beatitudes. I gave them thought and then moved on. Now, after a sleepless night, and following a retreat that seems to have acted like a time bomb, I find I've been blindsided by the Beatitudes.

How sneaky thou art, Lord Jesus!

I described the three-day retreat at St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, in a previous post. And I elaborated on personal particulars in a second post, which was actually written first. This was my third retreat at a monastery since I was received into the Church 20 months ago. I returned from the first two retreats—at Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham, Massachusetts—riding a high. The Spencer retreat seemed to leave me on the same level I arrived on.

Two days later, Katie and I are at a reunion of family gathered for my mother's 80th birthday, the first time we've all been together—children, grandchildren, inlaws and assorted outlaws—since my father's funeral 14 months ago. As Katie and I approached and then entered this inner circle of family, a conflict arose, as they so often can in family, and I was invited by circumstance, or perhaps by the prompting of my own conscience, to make a hard choice.

It is a choice that forces me to admit that I may have been wrong; a choice that requires giving up something quite substantial (I swallow hard this morning, just thinking of it); a choice that means letting go of something in which I have taken pride (perhaps justifiably); a choice that, to embrace it, effectively makes me meeker than someone I consider a paragon of meekness in the best sense; a choice that I know will make me mourn; but also a choice that will go a long way to bringing peace in an important relationship.

Perhaps the reader can apply the above very general paragraph to the specifics of his or her own life. We're talking, I say, about a hard choice.

I made the choice late yesterday, in the form of a peace offering (for lack of a better term), but at the time it was the kind of gift of self that you know is likely going to backfire in resentment: Do you see how much I've given up for you?! How could you do this to me?! And so on. By the time I went to sleep about 10 p.m., resentment was lurking like a troll beneath the bridge.

I woke up at midnight with a headache (that extra glass at dinner) but also with a deeper awareness of the issue at hand. And soon I was thinking of the Beatitudes, or they were thinking of me. To recapture the insight verbally is especially hard now in the morning's light, but I was not merely thinking meek (check), mourn (check), peace (check)—the Beatitudes, that fits. Something much better had happened. A space had opened itself in my heart that I knew would make it possible for me—not to do these things (alone, I'm not strong enough)—but to beg for the grace to be merciful, meek, and peaceful in this difficult situation, in this challenging relationship. And particularly to beg for the grace to be able to offer this gift without resentment, which is so hard for me ordinarily that I would almost term it inconceivable.

If any credit is due, it might go to my confessor who asked me to meditate on the Beatitudes, but I think it should go all the more to the monks at Spencer and in particular to Father Matthew, our retreat director, whose morning conferences were—what—sneaky? An opening moment of silence, a brief Gospel reading, then a slow and thoughtful elucidation of elements of Pope Benedict's theology. These three conferences were decidedly not the kind of charismatic or inspirational presentations that whip a man into a frenzy of faith and then leave him high and dry two days later.

Two days later, I find myself still thinking of Spencer and of an insight at 1:30 in the morning. Today, I will pray and, yes, beg that my heart remains open to this gift, both given and received.