Friday, November 06, 2015 - Updated: 6:00 am
This past weekend, I returned home after making my annual retreat — a whole week alone with Jesus (well, almost). Once again, Jesus directed me on the retreat through my spiritual director of 28 years — Capuchin Father Robert McCreary. (Many of you know Father Bob. He is originally from Beaver.)
As one of the directors of future Capuchin priests and brothers, Father McCreary ministers to these men at their residence called “Capuchin College.” Their home is located on the campus of Catholic University in Washington. In making my retreat with Father Bob, I was welcomed by him into Capuchin College for the week. That welcome was also extended by everyone else who lives there — some 42 friars. Truly they all welcomed me as a brother. And I received their welcome with a brother’s love in return.
Each day of the retreat, I joined the friars for holy hour at 6 a.m., morning prayer at 7, holy Mass at 7:15, then on to some breakfast. During and after breakfast each day, I met with Father Bob to discuss challenges in my life. I would meet with him at 4:15 p.m., followed by another holy hour at 5, evening prayer at 5:45, and dinner and a third meeting with Father Bob during and following dinner.
In between all those times — morning, afternoon and evening — I spent most of the time in chapel. I love it. I enjoy praying the Bible, praying the Liturgy of the Hours (the breviary), praying the rosary, reading a book or articles recommended by my director, writing in my journal (where I wrote this article) and just having the chance to take stock of my life. I do that with my examination of conscience, the sacrament of confession, reflection on probing questions asked of me by Father Bob — and oftentimes traveling down memory lane. I am able to do all this by taking the necessary time to do so apart from my usual busy schedule and the demands of the office of bishop.
On one of those trips down memory lane, I recalled a visit to an elementary school in Green Bay during the time I was bishop there! Allow me to share that story with you.
As I walked into the second-grade classroom, the teacher told her students that they could ask me any question they wanted.
I expected questions like: How did you become a bishop? What do you do all day? Do you like football? Do you cheer for the Packers? Who is your favorite football team? (It better not be the Steelers!)
Well, a little red-haired boy in the front row asked the first question: “Do you miss kissing?” A little stunned, I asked him to repeat the question just in case I misheard him: “Do you miss kissing?” he asked again and went on further. “Well, you know. You don’t have a wife! You don’t have kids! You don’t have a girlfriend. So, do you miss kissing?”
By this time I was able to collect my thoughts and give the young boy what I hoped would be an answer he could understand. I told him that kissing was still a part of my life. I told him that I kiss my mom good night every night; I give my dad a kiss on special occasions; I give a kiss to my friends when I haven’t seen them for a while. And most important of all, I give Jesus a kiss every day when I celebrate the holy Mass. At the beginning of Mass, when I reach the altar, I spread my arms from one end of the altar to the other and I kiss it — the altar. But as I do so, I am really kissing Jesus.
The young boy gave me one of those looks that only 7-year-olds can give. A look that said, “You’ve said too much.”
But not really! I have a sneaky suspicion that, as the young boy has gotten older, he has thought about my answer. I pray God that he “got it” — that he got what I was trying to tell him.
He loves all people
During my retreat, I thought about that encounter as I was reading a book about the priesthood. And as I thought about the story, I thought about why and how I kiss the altar.
I thought that, as I stretch my arms from one end of the altar to the other before the kiss, I am getting myself ready to follow what Jesus did on the cross. LOVE. And to be perfectly honest, to LOVE HIM and YOU, the people God has placed in my care.
In the book I was reading, there is a painting titled “What Our Lord Saw from the Cross.” It is a watercolor painting done by James J. Tissot. It is painted from the vantage point of Jesus hanging on the cross and looking down from the cross.
And what did Jesus see? He saw people. Beginning with his mother and some of her friends. He saw his best buddy John and a few other of his followers. He saw soldiers and shepherds. He saw passersby and curiosity seekers. He saw people. And his response. LOVE. He loved those people. ALL of them. And not only them but ALL PEOPLE forever and always.
So! WHY do I kiss the altar? Because I want to be so much like Jesus. And the more I realize how much I am not like him, the more do I need to kiss him to let him know how much I need his help to become more like him, how much I need his help to love you — all of you — all my family of the Church of Pittsburgh — a church On Mission to be The Church Alive!
And HOW do I kiss the altar? With reverence; with tenderness; with humility; with unworthiness; with contrition; with desire; with passion — with the outstretched arms of the cross — the cross of Jesus together with my personal crosses — that I might love him and YOU much more!
There are lots of reasons why it’s so good to make a retreat.
Not only to get closer to Jesus. But to feel again the rush of a kiss! For him. For you!