Cross Words: Retreating in Lent by Fr. Rick Cross

Fr. Rick Cross


   C R O S S

          Retreating in Lent




I have joked with you about taking my vacation time during Lent and calling it my “Lenten Retreat.” You know I spend most of my time at Clearwater Beach, which is lined with beautiful white sand, looking out to the open Gulf. Sunsets are spectacular, and until the college “Spring Break” crowd arrived, it was pretty quiet and not a bad place to read, write and pray.

Katherine was with me for the first couple of weeks. She and I walk hand-in-hand up the mile-long Beach Walk to get a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee most mornings. I was taken aback one morning when a man stopped us, out of the blue, on our way back to the hotel and pointed to me and said, “Do you know how blessed you are,” motioning to Katherine. “You are building up many blessings in heaven!”

I had previously been a little self-conscious about holding Kat’s hand, and in fact had refused it several times, thinking what people might think. Well, that angel let me know it is not about my worry about what people think, but about Kat’s feeling of security and pride to be walking with her Dad on the beach. “Hello, Mister Priest-in-charge, on retreat!”

As I write this, I am on a REAL retreat at St. Leo Abbey. I am worshipping with the Benedictine Brothers and staying in their modest guesthouse. Although the literature promotes the virtue of receiving guests as receiving Christ, the fine print also remarks that the food is “not bad, just plain and simple.” Worship is a bit of a hurdle, since most of the chanting, however beautiful, is in Latin. I only recall bits and pieces of my high school Latin. Sorry, brothers, General Seminary was in English.

I realize our wonderful parish is NOT a monastery, but I have always thought that the monastic tradition had much to inform parish life. In one former parish I served, I proposed inviting a monk or a nun to be “in residence” for a week or so. It never happened. But here I am reminded of several values that may relate to our worship at St. Pat’s. In fact, my pew seat is right across from a lovely stained glass window of St. Patrick.

The first is about the importance of silence and quiet pauses in our prayers and readings. I love having space to let the words and spirit soak in before rushing on to another thought. Another thing I noticed is how the brothers face one another in the choir stalls, and how the traditional congregational pews form a U-shape, with everyone able to see one another. The “How to pray with the monks” introduction for guests explains: “Benedictine prayers follow an ancient form. Monks face each other to remind themselves to see Christ in their brother monks.”

 I respect the conversations we have had about moving the pews around at St. Pat’s. But this was one of the unspoken motivations. As a famous modern architect once proclaimed, “Form follows function.” When I read this explanation, I had to reassess my judgmentalism about “Those old Roman Brothers chanting in Latin.” I was reminded to see Christ in those long black habits.

I trust you will have a joyful, thoughtful celebration of Lent.

The only formerly married priest here with children and grandchildren, Fr. Rick

P.S. I confess I sinned today and received the Eucharist, against the warning on the guesthouse welcome table, explaining why I shouldn’t.