For some odd reason, I enjoy the winter. Perhaps it's the Nova Scotia roots I received from my paternal grandparents. Truth be told, I find the brisk air to be exhilarating and refreshing. By March, however, I am ready for warmer temperatures, brighter skies and happier people! March is also the time of year when I take my annual priest retreat at St. Anselm Abbey in Manchester, New Hampshire. Aware of the challenges that many lay people with families face in going away on retreat, I humbly cherish this retreat week as a great blessing in my life, with the intention of helping me, through God's grace, to be a better and more holy priest.
At St. Anselm Abbey I have the opportunity for rest, reading, exercise and prayer, shared with the gracious Benedictine monks who live at the abbey and staff St. Anselm College. I have had the good fortune of spending my yearly retreat with the monks for about 20 years now, and each year the week is filled with many graces and blessings from the Lord. Retreat allows me the opportunity to gain perspective on my personal life and priestly ministry. Although I regularly consider heading off to a cherished holy place like Lisieux or Assisi or Lourdes for my yearly retreat, I always feel drawn back to St. Anselm's and the peace and prayerfulness of the Abbey Chapel, where God speaks to my heart. I also know where to find the coffee!
Lent is our yearly spiritual retreat, a holy journey, inviting us to renew our relationship with Christ and his Church. As we will hear in the Gospel this Sunday (Matthew 17:1-9), Jesus took Peter, James and John off to a high mountain by themselves to experience his magnificent presence. So too, Jesus invites us to spend quality time with him this Lenten Season and to know his friendship more deeply in our lives, so that we too might say with St. Peter, "Lord, it is good that we are here." Just as St. Paul writes to his young co-worker Timothy, "He saved us and called us to a holy life" (2 Timothy 1:10, this Sunday's 2nd reading), so the Lord calls each of us to grow in holiness of life, body and spirit these blessed 40 days of Lent.
Spend these weeks well! The core spiritual practices we must embrace during Lent are frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist, augmented by adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and reception of the healing Sacrament of Penance. The good priests of the archdiocese give so generously of their time during Lent to make the Eucharist even more available to you, through additional Mass times or special services, and to be present in the confessional every Wednesday evening in every parish church and chapel in the archdiocese through The Light Is On For You. In addition, check into your home parish and avail yourself of any spiritual programs offered, such as Lenten Longings, or perhaps a mission, evening of prayer or adult faith formation sessions. Browsing through www.BostonCatholic.org also highlights for you the many Lenten opportunities throughout our great archdiocese. Finally, whether through your own personal spiritual reading, watching CatholicTV and visiting www.CatholicTV.com, listening to "The Good Catholic Life" (4-5 p.m. weekdays on WQOM 1060 AM radio), embracing the Lenten disciplines of fasting and sacrifice, reaching out through volunteer work or almsgiving in some way, Lent is truly a blessed moment to grow in holiness and be transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
Whether we are in a Benedictine monastery or living the everyday life of a Catholic in the world, Lent is our yearly spiritual retreat. Spend these graced days well!
Father Bryan K. Parrish, Assistant Vicar for Administration and Special Assistant to the Vicar General.