So some of you may know that I spent the last 36 hours or so on a short, private, self directed retreat. I tried to keep as much silence as I could manage, although last night I did turn on the television to get the weather report and by luck caught the frontline documentary “Memory of the Camps” – made just after World War II. (It fits into my retreat story I promise).
Since I had so short a time and didn’t want to waste it jumping from subject to subject for my meditation, I chose to focus on The Way of Serenity by Fr. Jonathan Morris; he walks us through the Serenity Prayer step by step with spiritual insights at every turn. The Serenity Prayer is one of my favorites and this book well, if you do not already have this book on your spiritual reading list you should put it there, (I am re-reading it for the third time.) Specifically, because my time was short I chose Part 2: The Courage to Change the Things I Can.
Fr. Jonathan talks about the paralysis of inaction, and the fear that keeps us from acting. He also gives examples of saints and sinners ( and sinners who became saints) and how they gained the courage to change. It was a powerful time for me, and in this reading I caught onto something I had never read the same before.
In Chapter 28; Start with Baby Steps, he talks about the movie What About Bob, one of my very favorite movies, and one I have used as an example with directees of not having to have it all together all at once.
God doesn’t demand perfection, he only demands that we move toward perfection (move toward God because only God is perfect anyway, right?)
In this chapter Fr. Jonathan talks about having the courage to keep moving forward. Make small attainable goals. If the “Big PIcture” is too scary then focus on the first little task that will lead you toward that big picture and make that your goal. Completing little tasks are the baby steps that help you gain the courage and momentum to keep moving toward perfection (God).
I remember something my mom used to say: “Do what you can, and let God do the rest.” It was probably a quote from a saint. She loved the saints.
Here is the part I got this time around that had never sunk in before: We need to be able to be satisfied with the baby steps progress, no matter how infinitesimal it gets us toward the big picture goal. I think I knew that already, but it became more concrete as gift this retreat. I pray, “It is what it is.” I pray, Or something like that.” But now I can pray:
“God, I moved toward you, no matter how halting my steps, and I am satisfied that my movement toward you is pleasing to you, and enough for today.”
It was a very good retreat.
I almost forgot to tell you how Memory of the Camps fit into this retreat reflection:
I watched as the Allied Forces moved into camp after camp and uncovered the inhumanity of the treatment of the prisoners by their captors. The sickness and starvation was beyond comprehension, and realistically beyond the capabilities of the food and hospital supplies they had on hand.
Yet, they treated the people in the camps with as much human compassion and love as they could muster. Soldiers were seen breaking into their own rations and canteens to help feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. They interviewed a few of the soldiers, and you could see how beaten down they were by the work they were doing, and to a man they all said, “this is why I am fighting.”
There was a section of the documentary that focussed on the guards and workers in the camps. They were rounded up and made to listen to a speech by one of the Allied Commanders. The speech was in German but was translated. It essentially said, the devastation around you is not the fault of your leaders alone. You bear the fault for this as well. You could have stopped these atrocities, and yet you did nothing. You could have kept these people from suffering and dying and you did nothing to prevent it.
Inaction, is just as heinous a sin as doing something wrong.
We Catholics say it at every mass when we recite the Confetior: In my thoughts, in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do. Missed chances to do good are as sinful as the bad things we do. I had just read that chapter before I saw the documentary.
Lord please let me remember that failing to do the good I could do is just as much a sin as doing the bad that I do.