Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

26 November 2015

A Matter for Eating, Drinking, and Running

Though it has become a recent custom to take my annual retreat during the week of Thanksgiving, I give myself a "day pass" to attend the family dinner. While driving to my uncle and aunt's house, I listened to through my iPhone. The mini-reading of today's Morning Prayer (Thursday, Week II of the Psalter) confirmed how Providence often lines up the particulars of liturgy and life. How appropriate this sounded for the American celebration of abundance:

"The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of justice, peace, and the joy that is given by the Holy Spirit. Whoever serves Christ in this way pleases God and wins the esteem of men. Let us, then, make it our aim to work for peace and to strengthen one another" (Rom 14:17-19).

Earlier today I engaged in another sort of liturgy: I ran for six miles along the lovely D&L (Delaware and Lehigh Rivers) Rail Trail. Part of that route is used by the Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon, which I ran in 2013 as my very first marathon. The asphalt portions of the trail still display the painted mile markers.

One daily devotional resource for runners is, otherwise known by the application name of "MilePost." I am not sure whether every subscriber receives the same quote each day, but the one I got pointed once again to God's inscrutable and risible ways, as it well fit a day when we might not be so inclined to "listen to [our] body," especially when it declares satiety:

Background: Your Rev'd Blogger, with the medal he won earlier this week (Phila Half Marathon)
As I'm sure most of my readers did, I ate heartily today. I enjoyed the company of family and friends, with laughter and reminiscences of dearly departed loved ones (in particular, my maternal grandmother who would get visibly excited whenever we sat down to Thanksgiving dinners). As for many of my readers, there are fewer of us gathering around the table nowadays. The consumption is quicker and the conversation topics have changed, but the rationale remains: gratitude for the blessings we have given and received.

When I returned to my retreat location, I offered Mass, particularly mindful of Barbara K., the aunt of a longtime friend, who died earlier today. For years she was a sacristan at her parish, for which I used to play the organ during high school and on seminary breaks. Every day's Eucharist makes the day a time of Thanksgiving--especially for the gift of life, which Barb has just returned to her Creator after a long ordeal with that bastard, cancer.

I did not use the proper prayers for "Thanksgiving" in the Roman Missal (don't tell a liturgist on me!). Instead, I used the setting "In Time of Famine or for Those Suffering Hunger." I admit to giving "those who go without this day" a passing nod in pre-prandial prayers, such that even this Mass felt like a pitying gesture.

The Collect for this Mass reads: "O God, who, being good and almighty, provide for all creatures, give us, we pray, and effective love for our brothers and sisters who suffer hunger, so that famine may be banished and that they may have strength to serve you with free and untroubled hearts."

During the Mass my mind wandered to the purchases I have made for myself over the year, which far eclipsed my charitable giving. Yet I cannot downplay the time I have devoted to personal visits, telephone calls, and typed messages with people who, as my retreat master reminded me, are starving for recognition and care.

There are a diversity of gifts, St. Paul said, and a diversity of needs as well. The Holy Sacrifice covers all those needs with tailor-made divine mercy, with "justice, peace, and the joy that is given by the Holy Spirit." Every offering of service, insofar as it derives from the Liturgy and leads us back to it, is a "work for peace" and mutual reinforcement.

Dr. Sheehan advised me today not to be "a blind and deaf tenant" of my body. The same admonition applies to the soul. Retreats enable us to take stock of how we occupy our earthly abode, how we use our time, talent, and treasure for God and people (self included). Though I may take my retreat at a different time of the year in 2016, it will remain a privileged moment of gratitude for past, present, and future blessings.

Please pray that I continue to "work for peace and to strengthen" the people God entrusts to my care, for the banishment of their many and diverse hungers and for the liberation of their troubled hearts.

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