Retreat Day a Refreshing Experience
The Byzantine Serra Club’s Lenten Retreat day was an intimate one, due to other events scheduled in the Archeparchy on that March 12 day at the Seminary.
Father Jason Charron was the guest presenter; he gave two sessions on the theme “Jesus Christ, the Perfect Priest: In Word and Deed.” The day began with the Akathist hymn to the Theotokos and Ever-virgin, followed by Father Jason’s first presentation.
“Jesus Christ is the Word of God,” said Father Jason in his opening talk. “If God wants to say anything, He does it in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the very action of God. You want to see an icon of God the Father. We don’t depict icons of God the Father, for Jesus said to Philip, ‘If you see me, you see the Father.’ ” (Jn 14:9) This first talk focused on Jesus as the Word of God, and in this Year of Mercy, the word “Mercy.”
Father Jason went on to say that the meaning of words can and do change over time. For example, the word Prodigal, as used in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, asking retreatants what they thought it meant. Most responses were “lost” or “wayward,” but the true meaning of prodigal is to be extravagantly wasteful. He went on to say that the parable could more accurately be called the Prodigal Father, due to the father’s response upon seeing his “lost” son approaching. The father ran ahead to embrace and kiss the son, ordered his servants to clothe the son in rich robes, called others to slay and cook the famed “fatted calf” and even placed a ring on the son’s finger!
This example of lavish extravagance of mercy clearly shows how the word prodigal has lost an important aspect of its meaning over time, and it shows an important aspect of the Father’s Mercy for us. Father Jason asked, “What do we mean when we say that Jesus is the Mercy of God? Mercy. So we’re going to look at the meaning and the power of the word Mercy.”
He then offered two anecdotes – the first showing that Mercy follows remorse/repentance. And while the story itself wasn’t from the Bible, “that aspect deals with the precondition that you have to be sorry for what you’ve failed to do, and then mercy can start to rain down. In the Biblical meaning of mercy, God’s Mercy, there is always the precondition of admission on our part that what we did was wrong.”
His second story illustrated the lavishness of mercy in our secular world as an example of the abundant lavish condescension of the Mercy of God. “God’s Mercy, is not an emotion, but an act, a condescension,” Father Jason explained. “God initiates Mercy. We are His Bride, His Church, through whom He gives birth to spiritual children.” Mercy cannot always be found in the Bible, but Love is always there. It does not change. Mercy can change – but you have to be willing to change.”
The afternoon talk began asking about the deeds of Christ, and to put these in correct perspective, we must ask: Who is Jesus Christ? In Matthew 16, Jesus asks “Who do the people say I am?” The apostles provide a variety of answers, but Jesus asks “Who do YOU say I am?” Peter replies: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” After that, Jesus goes on to explain all that would happen – his betrayal and death by crucifixion only to be raised on the third day.
Father Jason stressed: “If we want to know Christ, we have to look at this work. That’s how we know who Christ is. … Everything in the Gospels, all the miracles, is just an introduction to His Passion! He is the Only One born to die. His deeds, His work was the work of the Cross.”
But if you stop there, it is a complete failure. The Resurrection is what brings it all to a conclusion.
In Jesus, we find the incredible Mercy of God. He took on all of the sins and failings of all of human creation in all of the world – not just one region – from its very beginning. It’s a wonder that we were not wiped off the face of the earth to start anew! Instead Jesus is the New Priest, who with his sacrifice, brings about a new creation in all of us.
Father Jason came back to Matthew 16 to say that while Jesus is the Son of the Living God, we do not like to hear his response to Peter that he will be handed over, betrayed, beaten, scourged and crucified.
“For you, who work for vocations, the Serra Club, your work is incredibly important. You may not think so…you may feel a bit of a push to encourage more vocations, to bring more young men in, to get the place filled up like it was in the 50’s, but don’t do that. Strive not for quantity, but for quality…for young men whom you see are holy men.
What is holy? Holy means set apart.” (Heb. 10:10-12, Deut. 14:2) “Your work,” Father Jason stressed, is to focus on quality. Find those good seeds that are growing, those saplings, that are growing, who are making an effort in a horrible tornado, to grow, encourage that growth. …Once you do, you will get the best of the crop of those who don’t count the cost to save souls, and not think of what they could make it in the executive world – they don’t take those things into account – they give themselves wholly into the hands of God. When you do that, you will have a problem with getting too many people . . .When you give yourself completely away, God gives you everything.”
Father Jason continued, “Just think, when you meet a young man who makes a great sacrifice to do one little good deed, that’s someone like Jesus. These are the types of men we need to invite to the seminary. Guys who follow Jesus daily in the obscure, unnoticeable things, not the guys who are always up front and center, heading committees, doing all these things, but hidden, small, faithful – those are signs of the deeds of Christ.”
The Serrans’ retreat speaker closed with a passage from Judges on choosing candidates, where God instructed Gideon to identify the men who qualify to serve in his troops. “Since the holiness of the priests of God, in God’s designs makes the Church holy, those who seek the priesthood, but are wanting in holiness, really have to be purged. The problems we have read about in newspapers are because of lower standards. We look to Christ and his sacrificial gift – that’s the standard. No amount of public relations techniques or advertising is going to solve the problem. One cannot fail to be struck by the symbolic significance.
“If we want to change the world, we look not to comfort or convenience … we look to the God who demands that we be faithful in the small and sacrificial, because in that we become like Jesus, the Perfect Priest, who, in His deeds, was sacrificial, was a victim, was hidden when he needed to be hidden, but was always faithful, for Our God is faithful.”
Finally, Father Jason said, “If you are thinking it’s not possible, then you’re wrong. It’s possible to get a great catch of many holy men for God.” And with that, he proved his point with a little sleight of hand, a wine bottle and a quarter.
A penitential service and an opportunity for the Mystery (sacrament) of Reconciliation followed Father Jason’s afternoon talk.
Father Jason Charron serves at Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church, Carnegie, Pa. and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Wheeling, W.Va. He and his wife Halyna have been blessed with six daughters, ages 3-14.