The beauty of a retreat…

Sacred Heart Retreat House

Sacred Heart Retreat House

I spent the weekend at the lovely Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House in Sedalia, CO for our annual Knights of Columbus retreat.  Until this point, I hadn’t been on a retreat since I was 16 (almost 20 years ago!) so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

This particular retreat house is situated on 280 acres outside the small town of Sedalia, over an hour drive from where I live.  On the way down, I was thinking about my last retreat experience and how this might measure up.  I arrived to the beautiful grounds and immediately understood that this was going to be a peaceful, relaxing place oriented towards true reflection.

The two day program was divided up around the primary principles of the Knights of Columbus: charity, unity, fraternity, and patriotism.  Father Ed Kinerk was our spiritual director for the weekend and provided us several presentations to move us toward prayer and contemplation of each of these themes.  Father Ed presented some very complicated theological concepts in an approachable way… I especially found the discussion on charity, love, and forgiveness the most inspiring.  He spoke at length about the importance of love in the practice of our faith, and that we could not continue to true charity and unity without focusing on loving like God first.

Christ by the waterfall

Christ by the waterfall

Most of the time in between presentations was spent in silence, to allow us to truly pray in an introspective manner.  Father Ed counseled us regarding how best to image Christ as we prayed, so we could make a more conversational and real connection.  He encouraged us to speak to Christ as if we were speaking to a friend, but not to apologize as we did this.  It was an interesting challenge for me, because I didn’t realize how much my inner prayer life was based on apology for my inadequacies.  You can read more about this philosophy of prayer in Father Ed’s article “Meeting God for Lunch“.

A beautiful tree along the trail

A beautiful tree along the trail

After the first afternoon of presentations, I ventured out onto the 30 acre area that had paved pathways.  The views of the fall colors and the prayer areas were astounding.  It was inspiring to look around and see other men in silence, many with rosaries in their hand or sat in quiet reflection.  We were welcome to talk during our lunch and dinners, pray on our own, go to Confession, or just continue to explore the grounds.  After Mass, we returned to silence and I once again made it out onto the trails praying on my own and listening to the nighttime sounds.  I had brought a few books with me on the trip, so I closed the evening by reading “Lukewarmness: The Devil in Disguise” by Francis Carvajal by the fireplace.  Sleep came easily after that, and was very restful thanks to the silence in the building.

Saint Jude at night

Saint Jude at night

We concluded the retreat with two more sessions, closing with a special session to take these lessons and apply them to our daily life.  This was followed by Mass and then some social time, however I left quickly after Mass so I could be with my family for the remainder of the day.

I took away some practical advice from this weekend.  First, silence is important in prayer.  Second, trying to understand God’s love as it relates to charity and forgiveness is a lesson that I will be thinking about for quite some time.  Third, learning to image Christ as I pray in more real terms really helps to deepen the experience of prayer.  It becomes less of recitation and petition and more conversing with a friend that goes far beyond any other friend we can have in this life. Last, and most important: I’m not going to let it be another two decades before I go on a retreat again.  The amount of spiritual benefit that was had in two days was far worth the time spent away from my family and the small amount of money that was charged.  I returned to the “real world” feeling very recharged this afternoon, and I look forward to carrying that feeling into the work week with me.


Simple Ways

This week, I began a new program at our Knights of Columbus Council that encouraged all Knights to participate in very simple activities that add up to meaningful change.  I asked each man to bring canned food to the next meeting or they could pray a rosary for the intentions of the homeless and hungry of our community.  We ended up collecting 105 items for our parish food bank.

This idea was inspired by some great examples such as Pope Francis, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  Each of these holy people exemplify what it means to truly live the Catholic Faith in the world using a simple and humble approach.  On the sign-in sheet for the program, I included the following quotation from Mother Teresa:

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.

I prefer simple ways to practice my faith, here are a few of my favorites:

Bless Your Children

Every night before bed, I bless my two and a half year old daughter.  I trace the Sign of the Cross on her forehead and say “God Bless You”.  She usually says “Thank you, Daddy”.  I don’t know when she figured out to thank me, but it is a constant reminder of what a great gift my child is.

Pray At Work

I make time to say a few silent prayers before particularly stressful meetings at the office.  If possible (and weather permitting), I sometimes take the walking trail around our office building and pray a rosary.  This was particularly helpful during the 33 Day Rosary Challenge and I found that it was a great way to de-stress and face the second half of my work day.

This week, I have been reminded often of the words of Saint Josemaria Escriva (founder of Opus Dei).  The fine folks over at the Catholic Gag Facebook page captured the quotation in a memorable picture that I reflect on often when my work day gets to be too much:

Don't say: 'That person gets on my nerves.' Think: 'That person sanctifies me.' --St. Josemaria Escriva

Build Worship Into Your Day

One of our parish deacons recommended that I end every day by thanking the Lord and praying that my own sacrifices are pleasing to Him.  He explained that we often forget that the daily sacrifices such as patience, prudence, time spent at work, time spent for the care of others, and time spent in prayer are all done as sacrifices for the Glory of God.  I find that I often remember to pray in this fashion right as I’m closing up the house for the night, and associating it to a necessary task that I do every night makes it an easy practice.

My wife has taken to reading the Magnificat every night.  Sometimes we talk about her readings, or she shares something that she thinks may particularly help me.  It’s a great way to reconnect and worship together.

There are also several electronic avenues to deepen your spirituality daily, such as the Catechism in a Year program at FlockNote where they email a small segment from the YouCAT to your email inbox each morning.

Help Me!

I keep coming back to the simple ways that you can help others as a part of your faith life.  I am confident that your parish has outreach programs, charity programs, RCIA sponsorships, and a myriad of other ways that you can help your community.  The Knights of Columbus are a great avenue for practical Catholic men to find new opportunities to give back.

I intend to continue posting the subject of our Simple Ways program here.  If you like the activity presented, I encourage you to participate by mirroring the activity at your local parish, Knights of Columbus Council, or local charity.  For the month of August, we donated canned food to our local parish food bank.  If you couldn’t do canned food, prayer counts: pray a rosary for the hungry and homeless of the world.

If you do decide to participate in the Simple Ways program, send me a short email or leave a comment and let me know how you participated (you can remain anonymous).  If your Knights of Columbus Council is participating, please let me know your council number so I can mention it in our annual program round-up.


On Becoming a Grand Knight

Grand KnightYou might have noticed a bit more duration between posts than usual lately.  On July 1, I became Grand Knight of the Saint Mark Knights of Columbus Council #13131.  Getting used to my new role means that evenings and weekends have been spent getting acquainted with the new role, scheduling upcoming events, and preparing for the upcoming year.

Don’t you guys meet once a month and play cards and drink beer?

While we do meet once a month as a Council, we don’t play cards or drink beer as part of the meeting.  This is a very common assumption, but the local Knights of Columbus spearhead many events for charity, Church, and community.  The Knights of Columbus was founded in 1882 by the Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney, who started the organization as a way to care for widows and orphans of the surrounding mining and factory community.  The idea was to provide for widows and orphans in the case that the primary breadwinner of the family died, which is where the roots began of today’s modern insurance organization that exists within the Knights of Columbus.

This is also why the principles of the Order are charity, unity, fraternity, and patriotism… they all stem from living life as a practicing Catholic man.  You can read more about the timeline of the founding and other key milestones at the Knights of Columbus legacy page.

The reason I point to this history is to illustrate that the Knights are founded on action (none of which are playing cards and drinking beer, to my knowledge).  I got to sit down with our priest this week to look at our event plan for the year, and we have over 15 events on the calendar already.  They range from serving the community (raising food, clothes, and money for the less fortunate), bolstering our own spiritual development by assisting in Church activities, protecting the sanctity of life by raising money for pro-life concerns, and raising money for people with intellectual disabilities.  Just to name a few.

So what does the Grand Knight do, anyway?

Primarily, I get to lead the Council in our projects, run meetings, appoint a few offices, ensure a growing and excited membership, represent the Council in our charitable pursuits, and a host of other small activities.  The best way I can relate it to something that a lot of people know is that it’s like Student Council President.  One of the most important jobs is to set direction for the Council for the year and guide our work toward those goals.

The Knights are blessed, as a whole, to be strong and faithful practicing Catholic men.  I want my Council to be better at the end of the year than it was at the beginning, so I am encouraging us to truly put our faith into action.  I am looking to sterling examples like Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis as exemplars of virtue that we can emulate.  I don’t want people to think that all we do is meet once a month and cut checks, I want them to see the good work that the Knights do and how faith comes alive in us.  My priest put it very profoundly: “The Knights are men of faith.  Do you know how truly rare and wonderful that is?”

I recently came across one of the best motivators in the world: soon to be saint John Paul II speaking about the good work of the Knights (borrowed from this page on the Knights of Columbus website):

This is what the Knights are about!  I am so proud and honored to have the privilege of leading our Council this year, words can’t really express it.

If you are a practicing Catholic man, consider this your gold-engraved invitation to join the Knights.  I encourage you to contact your local Knights of Columbus Council to learn more, or you can feel free to email me and I will do everything in my power to help you.  You can also read much more about the Knights at kofc.org or the Knights of Columbus Wikipedia page.


Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

Malcolm and I

Malcolm (left) and I after our Knighting Ceremony

Last week, I received word that a friend of mine had entered hospice care.  He had been sick for quite some time and had began frequent dialysis for his failing kidneys, but his heart had grown too weak to continue the treatment.  Unfortunately, that meant that the end was nearing for him.

His name was Malcolm and I knew him through my involvement in the Knights of Columbus, in fact he and I received our Fourth Degree on the same day.  Last year he had volunteered to be our Council Warden and our Assembly Purser, so we frequently worked together in our respective duties as officers.  As he grew sicker, I stopped seeing him at Mass and he had to be absent from the Knights meetings.  One night I called him up to see how he was, and he responded that he said “honestly, I’m doing good but I’m starving for air.”

That was the only time I ever heard him come close to complaining during his illness.

As the end grew closer, several of my fellow Knights had gone to see him.  I was having a very hectic week, but I had a persistent concern that Malcolm and his wife were having to suffer alone.  I don’t know why I felt this way, so I decided to visit him last Thursday night.  As I was driving down to the hospice facility, strange thoughts kept wandering through my head.  Malcolm was my friend, yes… but we always corresponded about Knights activities, Mass, or his health… none of those topics seemed appropriate given the situation.  What do you say to someone that is nearing the end of their time on Earth?  How do you comfort his wife when you have no idea the ordeal she must be going through?

My head was swimming by the time I arrived.  Malcolm’s wife met me at the front of the hospice facility and took me back to his room.  I was impressed at how tough she seemed.  She explained to me that he had a bad turn the previous night and they had him on persistent medication now.  He was sleeping, but I was welcome to come and spend some time with him and his family.  I was relieved to see that my concern about her being alone was unfounded, the room was full of his family.  She quickly explained to them that I was a friend of Malcolm’s from the Knights of Columbus.

I stayed for a half hour, Malcolm was asleep the entire time.  His family asked that we all pray together, so we did.  His wife encouraged me to talk to him, so I took my rosary out and said a mental prayer for the grace of a happy death for him.  I told him that he was an exemplary officer and that I would miss him.  I thanked him for being there for me in the Knights and for being my friend.  I asked him to say hello to the Lord when he saw him.  One of his family members was next to me and remarked that his breathing changed when I talked, but I didn’t perceive a difference.  I stood with them as they said another prayer before making my exit.

Malcolm passed away at 5:20 am the following morning.

His wife requested an honor guard for his funeral Mass, so I had the privilege of standing guard for him.  In addition, my responsibilities as Faithful Navigator required me to read a Decree of Condolence to his family during the Mass.  I had attempted to practice, but the raw emotion of having to read a heartfelt decree while standing in front of a mourning family proved to stiff of a task.  I made it halfway through before making the crucial mistake of thinking about all of Malcolm’s family, his peaceful tolerance of a long illness, and his contributions to the Knights.  I knew I was in trouble when my voice cracked at the start of the third paragraph, and let’s just say the rest of the decree was extremely challenging to get through.

I’m not ashamed of showing those emotions.  Malcolm was my friend.  I have it easy compared to his family and close friends, but I think it helped his family to see how much Malcolm meant to us too.  Our priest said that it always means so much to have the Knights of Columbus present at funerals, especially when we are close to the person that passed away.  I understand a little better now how powerful that can be.

Everyone can take some solace in the face that Malcolm is now enjoying his eternal reward, and that is an encouraging thought.  He will be missed.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. –Matthew 5:4


Eucharistic Adoration

MonstranceI was blessed to attend the 111th Colorado State Knights of Columbus Convention last week.  It was an action-packed four days of prayer, fraternity, and experiencing new ways to exercise the virtues of charity with my Brother Knights.  I decided to participate in the three Honor Guards for the weekend, which means that I spent a large portion of those several days dressed in my Fourth Degree regalia (tuxedo, chapeau, baldric, cape and sword).

At the end of the second day of events, I had just participated in the Fourth Degree Grand March and banquet.  From the practice session to the end of the banquet was about four hours, so I was really looking forward to getting back to my hotel room for a little relaxation.  After getting out of my formalwear, I took a look at the schedule for the next day and noticed that there was one more event listed for today: Eucharistic Adoration from 9 pm to 10 pm.

I glanced at my hotel alarm clock, it was 9:20 pm.

Then came the internal struggle.  I was tired.  I had just taken off my shoes for the first time in the day and gotten into my sweatpants.  I had books that I wanted to read while I was at the convention.  I had to be up at 6 am the next morning, but so did many of the other convention attendees.  I’m almost the youngest Knight here, so I can’t exactly use the “I’m too tired” excuse.  Wait… a lot of the other Knights are a little more advanced in their years and like to turn in early… would any of them stay up to be with the Lord?  If there is any chance that He would be alone, I should go.

By 9:30 pm, I found myself in the conference room just off the hotel lobby.  Thankfully I was not alone, there was an old couple sitting on the righthand side of the aisle and our State Chaplain deep in prayer kneeling on the bare floor to my left with his eyes closed and a rosary draped in his outstretched hand.  I took my place in the empty row in front of the priest, kneeling down and extracting my rosary from the pouch I carry it in each day.  The Lord was there too, in repose in a golden monstrance that was found in a pawn shop and reconditioned by the Knights of Columbus.

At this point I was gripped by how silent the room was.  I heard the old man to my right turn the page in his prayerbook.  The brush of the priests prayer beads as they glanced across the chair back.  I could even hear some raucous party going on a few rooms down, but it was very peaceful here.  As I looked at Our Lord, present in the Blessed Sacrament I was reminded of the peasant’s answer when Saint John Vianney asked him what he was doing during his time adoring the Lord.  The man said “Nothing, I look at Him, and He looks at me.”

After reflecting on that thought for a moment, I decided to at least start a rosary in hopes of finishing it before 10 pm.  Unfortunately, my memory is terrible and I had forgotten the little card that I carry to help me remember the Mysteries of the Rosary for each day.  I spent a few minutes trying to fitfully remember them, then I decided that I would just pray a personal rosary by contemplating the life of Christ with my own prayer intentions for each decade: first for my wife, second for my daughter Eve, third for the repose of my lost unborn baby Jude, fourth for an increase in Faith for my fallen away friends and family, and last for continued strength in my vocation of service.

I opened my eyes, and after they readjusted to the candlelight I realized that the priest and I were the only ones left in the room.  I put my rosary and checked the time, it was 9:59 pm.  I bowed before the Lord and quietly exited the room so the priest could retrieve the Blessed Sacrament from the monstrance in peace.

As I got back to my room and got ready for bed the peaceful quiet of that room went with me.  I was glad that I had overcome my own weakness and laziness to spend a few minutes with the Lord.  I wish I could end every day like this.