We just came back from a parable retreat. Dominican Fr. John Pitzer and Sr. Mary Ann Barrett preached each day. The music was also played by a Dominican sister, Sr. Megan McElroy, our formation co-director at the CDN. (Fr. John and Srs. Mary Ann and Megan, thank you for this powerful experience.) Each day, we had morning prayer with the first reading and preaching, then in the afternoon, we had silent contemplation, then we celebrated Mass together with preaching on the Gospel, and we gathered to share insights after dinner.
Wednesday, the first reading was from the book of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar became angry when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not serve and worship his god, so he had them cast into the white-hot furnace. We all know the story, they took the heat... [for those whose first language is not English: taking the heat is an idiom, often described as "taking the intense pressure."]
What are we facing each day that is difficult? Is it a painful task? Is it uncertainty? Is it fear of breaking a relationship? Is it serving in ministry that is in an unsafe environment? Is it speaking up against death penalty? Is it speaking up against fracking? Is it helping the undocumented?
Usually, we are willing to take the heat, when it comes from love to love... One of the best examples of God's love for us is sending us Jesus. Jesus showed us how to love God the Father, how to love each other, and gave everything he had, including his life: laying down his life for us that we may have eternal life with God.
When we truly love someone or something, we are willing to do the sacrifices. The question in every difficulty or challenge is: how much do we love God? Are we willing to sacrifice our job, our free time, our relationships, the familiar, our life for the sake of standing firm for the love of our God? Are we willing to take the heat?
During the retreat, we were invited to reflect on what was/is the heat in our journey or discernment. We heard about a great image that helped us understand it better. Precious metals are being refined and put into the fire several times until the person sees her/himself in the reflection. In August, when we came to the novitiate, we were invited to "step into the fire". In the novitiate, guided by God through our novice directors and peer novices, we are refined, we are transformed by God until God's reflection appears in us.
"Walk with the wise and you become wise" (Proverbs 13:20) Our directors walk the journey with us. In the novitiate, we are equipped with important skills that are essential to living religious life freely. It is up to us how we take the heat: kicking and screaming, or being open to life-long learning, formation and transformation... I am not screaming from the heat nor am I scarred by the heat. But I am definitely changed by the heat. "Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God..." (Romans 12:2) It is a process, and I am very grateful to my co-directors (Sr. Megan McElroy, OP and Sr. Joye Gros, OP) and to congregational formation representative (Sr. Cathy Arnold, OP) for their examples of living faithfully, for their guidance, help, and insights. I am also thankful for the "heat", too. With their help, I am learning how to deal with things that unsettle me; I am learning how to turn my challenges into blessings; so that I can discern and live more freely.
"Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." (James 1:2-3) God is seeking us out in an effort to convince us we are loved by God and we are called to to love one another as God loves us and them.
Something I took away from this retreat was to remain faithful under trials. "Those who remain loyal to their God shall take strong action." (Daniel 11:32b) Scripture is our guide: we are invited to study it, pray it, and live it through repetition and reflection. The foundation of the Word underlines everything.
Taking the heat....
You might know me by now, I tend to play around with thoughts or words... Heat can be an acronym:
Hearing.... (Hearing the Word: how do we get the Word in us? And also hearing the needs of our times)
Empathize (Listen and respond with empathy to the needs of our times)
Ask God (What is God calling me? Asking for strength and courage to help stand ground.)
Take action (as I mentioned earlier: study Scripture, pray it, and then live it...repeatedly.)
Lent is a great time to practice taking the heat. We fast, we pray, and we do good works as we prepare to renew our baptismal commitment at Easter, recommitting ourselves to be Jesus' disciple, bring the Word of God into dialogue with the challenges of our world.
Are we willing to take the heat?
picture: original picture is from http://www.magicweathervan.com/blog/2011/07/25/top-6-tips-for-keeping-your-cool-when-the-heats-a-wavin/hot-corn/ ; I edited the talking bubbles...