Thursday, August 9, 2012

Can't Beat The Retreat

I've spent the last two days at the retreat house of the Mission San Luis Rey near Oceanside, California, established by the Franciscans in 1789 and operated by them to this day. Two nights, $200, and that includes three hearty, long walk-inducing meals a day. Information about the Mission and retreat center here.

This afternoon prayers were ascending, as Bishop Diane Jardine Bruce likes to say, for three firefighters injured while tangling with this brush fire near the entrance to Camp Pendleton, the Marine base. The fire was a little under five miles from the high point on the Mission grounds. I can still smell the smoke as I work in the library Thursday evening.

Walking the Stations of the Cross, as I did in the eucalyptus grove behind the mission, can take on deeper meaning after you've trod the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. Today it felt more personal than usual. Jesus falls the first time. Hasn't God's grace abounded when I've failed, when I've hurt others or let them down? Jesus falls a third time. What do we tell people whose suffering will have no end? Jesus comforts the women of Jerusalem. When have my preoccupations deafened me to others' needs? Veronica comforts Jesus. Why is it easier for some of us to give than accept? Jesus is stripped of his garments. Why do we worry so much about the opinions of others?

The main church, which I photographed Wednesday at dusk, is closed while workers accomplish an earthquake retrofit. Built in 1811, it's the third church building on the site.

The grounds, serene and quiet, are home to the oldest pepper tree in California, or so it told me.

Other than St. Francis, I don't have any pictures of people. Waving a smart phone at fellow retreatants seems inapt. But there was Br. Tom Herbst, all the way from the Franciscan International Study Center in Canterbury, who gave a spirited talk this morning about the incarnational heart of Franciscan spirituality. He said St. Bonaventure, on whom he's an authority, called the cross a "furnace of love." His talk inspired my intimate walk with our suffering LORD. Jackie and Br. Chris, who welcomed me so graciously. Suzanne, with whom I had the run of the place Wednesday and who can't wait to come back. The two Long Island natives, now living in San Diego, who lingered so long chatting after Br. Tom's evening reprise that they needed my key to escape the grounds.

And the Loyola Marymount students who arrived this afternoon and have set the place alight with shouts and laughter. Some of the kids are having intense theological and social conversations in the common room. The rest are chasing each other around with a soccer ball. I asked a group of young men what they were working on. "Bonding," said one. Is there anything better than the sound of happy children on a summer evening?

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