Association Retreat – A Search for Holiness
Bishop Frank Caggiano, Conventual Chaplain from Bridgeport, CT, stood in front of more than fifty retreatants in the chapel at the Bethany Retreat Center in Lutz, Florida and said we were gathered there to paint a canvas on the mystery of sin and the mystery of holiness through: Courage (Will), Truth(Mind), and Holy Desire (Heart).
Over the course of three Masses, four session, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and in morning and evening prayer, the bishop challenged those in attendance (including himself) to be open to the message and the meaning of the Gospel – we are called to lead of life that pursues holiness. Bishop Caggiano reminded each of those present that such a pursuit was fraught with challenges. He said that the devil was both evil and cunning and was prepared to use your strengths against you.
The setting at the Retreat Center is beautiful, laid out to provide space for contemplation and opportunities for companionship. The Chapel overlooks the twelfth station with Mary and James standing at the foot of the Crucifix. In the background is a serene lake. One is challenged not to acknowledge that God is present and comes to each person in his or her own way.
The ebb and flow of the retreat is built around the Eucharist. Bishop Caggiano started his message and theme for the retreat at Mass to open the retreat and concluded with his final message on Sunday morning at Mass at the close of the retreat. He said, “God loves you beyond your wildest imagination! The way you respond to God’s love is through charity.” Charity, expressed in the hands-on work of the Order, provides the energy and the motion of our response to God’s love. Responding to God’s love requires more than just knowledge; it requires action – the persistent acts of charity.
The pursuit of holiness can come through acts of charity – it is important to recognize that the holiness we pursue is not a ‘thing’ but a Person. The Bishop chose the three saints whose feasts overlaid the days of the retreat as examples of the three characteristics he built on during the retreat. Saint Patrick lived a life of courage, returning to a land where he had been enslaved and beaten for many years. Saint Patrick returned to Ireland to bring the message of love in the Gospel to a people he had come to love as a slave. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem spent much of his adult life in opposition to the Arian heresy that proposed that Christ was not divine. Saint Joseph sought perfection through holy desire for God.
God builds His community, the Church. The early Christians understood that a community required full sharing across all the members of the community. “You actually get more for yourself when you participate in a community where sharing is the basis of relationships.”
Bishop Caggiano raised a point that does not necessarily get a lot of focus in a world that deems suffering as an evil. “When you love Jesus fully, suffering is inevitable – no one can love fully without suffering.” The Bishop reminded the retreatants of the comment of Mother Teresa that we cannot all do great things but we can do small things with great love. “We need to take things one step at a time, little by little.”
Participants were reminded often, “Holiness is a gift from God.” We must pursue holiness relentlessly. The Bishop said to ask for the gift of courage and perseverance. “When the enemy comes, the father of evil is very much at work; he is trying to prevent us from pursuing holiness. The attacks will come at our weakest time.” The Bishop said that the greatest enemy to holiness equals the greatest enemy to love. Today, we face a world whose creed is that “my life is about me.” Courage equals choosing the good “which is not about me, it is about community and about love.”
Bishop Caggiano said, “The big lie is that the truth begins and ends with me; this is the doctrine that began about 400 years with Descartes’ statement, ‘I think, therefore I am’” In our search for holiness, the Bishop said that our task to open as many doors as possible in seeking the truth. To get at the truth, you have to get out of the way and have true humility. “You must keep your feet firmly planted in the dirt.” When Jesus said that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, he was not referring to three things but to one, Himself. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem spent much of his adult life defending the truth in the face of heresy. His perseverance in defending the truth of the divinity of Christ against the Arian heresy which said that Christ was only a man, not God. This perseverance can be a model for us in our struggle to always seek the truth.
Bishop Caggiano suggested each participant take time at some point to make a list of everything in their life that is of value to them. He said the list had to be complete as anything not on the list could no longer be included as part of the person’s journey in life. Then, cross out the least important half of the list; and then, cross out half of what remained. Repeat the process of eliminating half the list each time for a total of five times to get an idea of what is truly important in your life. In the end, the only thing important in life is Christ.
Saint Joseph provides an example of the meaning of holy desire. Holy desire is to seek the things that matter (that is, seek Jesus) while becoming unattached to things that don’t really matter (which would be everything else).
As many of the participants undoubtedly felt at the end of the retreat, they were challenged but encouraged to move forward. If you want guidance in your pursuit of spiritual growth, a retreat with Bishop Caggiano can put you in the right direction. It will be a challenge; if you are up to it, you should be at the 2018 Spring retreat where the good Bishop will once again open the path to the pursuit of holiness.