I began integrating Jesuit spirituality with my Benedictine spirituality by making a three-plus day silent men’s retreat at the Jesuit Retreat Center last year. It was marvelous. I decided to repeat the following year, with, essentially, the same group of men.
The methodology consists of listening to the director speak for a conference ( twenty-to-thirty minutes ) and then reflecting on what he said; and to do this, as he always closed the conferences by saying, “... quietly, prayerfully, and, most importantly, in the presence of God.”
Though the Director and I had clear theological differences of opinion, my prayerful reflections were producing insights, wisdom, understanding, and, perhaps most importantly, things to work on at home.
Saturday, just before dessert, Fr Pat came into the dining hall from the kitchen, holding a small piece of paper in his hand. There was a broad vista of bare floor between him and our table. I knew the message he was carrying and the paper he was holding were for me. “Loretta has died,” was my internal dialogue. He stopped next to Greg; I exhaled. Greg directed him to me. My heart nearly stopped.
He handed me the paper. It contained a phone number I did not recognize. “Let’s go to the office,” he suggested. I struggled to stand.
“Your wife is in the hospital,” Fr Pat said.
“My wife?” I stammered.
“I believe that’s what the cook said.”
Ellie had been experiencing significant arthritis pain the last few weeks; “They don’t put you in the hospital for arthritis pain, do they?” I thought.”Whatever else … maybe it wasn’t arthritis pain; maybe it was … what!?” My mind flirted with dark and scary thoughts. We found the office.
“No need to punch any special numbers to get out,” he said.
“You’ve reached the voice-mail of Travis Salisbury, Basilica liturgical coordinator … ” is what I heard. A friend, with an unfamiliar cell number. “What? You just called me at the retreat house, in the middle of a silent retreat, and you’re not answering the number you left for me to call?!?” But I left a polite message, “Travis, this is Walter answering your call, please give me a call back.” Breaking the ban on cell phone use, I added, “Call my cell.”
My cell needed charging; I’d have to go to my room. Composing a text as I walked, I was accosted by the four men I had been sitting with … friends all. I began telling them I knew nothing yet; Travis called. My friends backed away.
Ellie and Loretta had attended Mass. Ellie had fallen on the steps when leaving. Hit her head; blood everywhere. “But the medics assured me she is fine, in good spirits, and had not lost consciousness at any point.” Travis concluded, “They’re taking her to Hennepin County Medical Center, just to be certain.”
I exhaled; I gave my friends a quick rundown. The friend who drove me to the retreat offered his car if I needed to leave. Another said he’d take the ones who’d then be stranded back home. I gave them heartfelt thanks. It was too early to tell what I’d need.
“No, that’s not necessary; you stay there and finish,” Ellie said. “If it were up to me, nobody would’ve called you. I’m good.”
The friend offering his car called, “I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I’ll take you to the hospital, if you want.”
Fr Pat found me in my room; “If you need anything, just let me know.”
Travis texted me, “I’m returning to the Basilica to get Ellie’s car, and I’ll make sure both of them get home just fine.”
“We’re home, just got here; all’s well.” said Ellie’s final text of the evening.
Relieved, grateful, and feeling that I had gotten a little closer to Fr Pat as well as to the four friends on the retreat with me, I was finally able to hit the hay.
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