I don’t want to answer these questions! That was my initial response to the theme of the 2016 Missionaries of the Precious Blood Companions retreat. The retreat had the theme, “You Had to Ask, Didn’t You? Four Irritatingly Beautiful Questions for Disciples and Companions of the Precious Blood.” It was presented by Fr. Ben Berinti, C.PP.S., at St. Charles Center in Carthagena, Ohio, on October 29–30.
After lunch on Saturday, I saw Companion Co-Director Vicky Otto talking with several other Companions, and they were pointing at me. I slowed my pace so I could determine what kind of trouble I had now gotten myself into. Vicky said I had been volunteered to write a reflection on the retreat. My first thought was “You had to ask, didn’t you?” Fortunately, I had the answers. The retreat was thought provoking. Intense. Stimulating. Challenging. Inspiring.
Fr. Ben began the retreat with a simple statement: what kinds of questions does God ask you? Of course the answer to that question is not so simple, at least for me. During the sessions, Fr. Ben gave us scripture-based questions that God really does ask us. The answers were noteasy. Maybe I didn’t want to think too hard about what my answers should be. Maybe I was embarrassed. Maybe God would not think highly of me any more. (I believe he thinks highly of every one of us.) Maybe God would ask me to do something that would disrupt my current state of complacency. These are just a few of the hundreds of excuses I contemplated rather than actually facing the question and putting forth the effort to provide an honest, intelligent, reflective answer.
The first question was, “Where are you?” God asked this when he was searching for Adam and Eve. Fr. Ben explained that this can be a physical location and it can also be a relationship location. How are you and God getting along today? It may be easier to hide rather than deal with our relationships with God, family members, and other people in our lives. I am very well experienced in hiding sometimes.
Question two was “Are you still sleeping?’ Since this question was presented in the session directly after lunch, the answer for some of us was easy. Jesus asked this of his apostles before he was captured in the garden. As I reflect on this question now, I think that I am aware of my environment, the people that I know and care for, and how they are. Am I fully attentive to the needs of the poor, lame, homeless, and political issues? These are areas that require further concentration on my part.
Question two was easier than question one. I was getting my hopes up that question three might be even easier. It was, “How many loaves do you have?” This question comes from Jesus feeding thousands of people with five loaves and two fish. Coming up with an answer was difficult. Do I use my time, treasures and talents wisely and fully? Do I appreciate those gifts? Am I willing to share them? What gifts do I have in abundance, and what gifts in my life are scarce?
The afternoon sessions ended with a fourth question, “Where is your brother?” This is what God asked Cain after Abel was slain. Who am I responsible for? As I reflect on this question, I realize that I am responsible for the well-being of everyone, as well as the well-being of this wonderful planet that we live on. What am I going to do about it? Will I stay complacent and hide away, which is easier for me, or will I try to pray for those in need, and possibly do more to take care of my brother?
On Sunday morning of the retreat, we had a concluding session, and there was another question: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” The answer is the easiest of all. The answer is me. The question also provides another opportunity for me to run and hide. Do I want to leave my comfort zone? Do I want to risk the hostile stare, the loss of friends? That is a tough question for me to answer.
Fr. Ben presented a wonderful retreat with a focus on Companions. (Sometimes, I feel that retreats for Companions are not about us as Companions of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood.) The retreat booklet is excellent. The questions, scripture citations, reflection questions, and summaries will provide conveners a wealth of materials for our gatherings. If you were unable to attend the retreat, conveners can obtain copies for you.
Fr. Ben asked us several times to reflect on the word Missionaries in our title. He challenged us to strive towards fulfilling the dream of St. Gaspar. I hope we all can continue to contribute to being the thousand tongues St. Gaspar prayed for.
Dave McNeal is a Companion with the group in Wapakoneta, Ohio.