I recently spent an extended weekend in Kananaskis Country, surrounded by the beauty of the Rocky Mountains – while being challenged by a Cajun “Faith horticulturist” (that’s honestly what he calls himself) named Mike Patin. While I’ve heard him before, I was a rookie attendee at an event called SPICE (Sharing Purpose in Catholic Education) – a four day retreat for Catholic Teachers & support staff like myself – which is put on by the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association. Overall, it’s an experience I’m still digesting – but I certainly came home with some food for thought about the way I serve young people in our schools… things I will be adjusting and changing moving forward in my work as a chaplain and youth minister.
One of the highlights of my weekend was the presence of two wonderful people – Archbishop Richard Smith (my bishop) and Fr. Michael Schumacher (a former classmate of mine). His grace and Fr. Mike celebrated Mass at 7am on Friday and Saturday for those souls willing to deprive themselves of a bit of sleep – all of it in room 2106. Fr. Mike also took time on both of those afternoons to hear confessions… something I heard several people mention as a highlight for them. All of this happened at the Delta Lodge in Kananaskis, in room 2106.
At our concluding Mass on Sunday morning (this celebration started at 10:30am – so we all got to sleep in!) – Archbishop Smith made an observation about room 2106. We’d all spent the weekend together – laughing and singing, praying and reflecting, and enjoying the amenities the hotel had to offer (an outdoor hot tub, to boot!) – but room 2106 was a place of particular grace. We had been given the opportunity to encounter Jesus there – in the Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And much like every other room we were using for the conference… there was a sign on the door that said “SPICE,” because this room had been set apart.
On Sunday morning, as we no longer required room 2106… there was a sign for a new group that was meeting that day: Hell on Wheels. The irony was not lost on the Archbishop – nor on the rest of us – what had been a sacred space, a place of encounter was filled almost instantly the moment we vacated it with something evil (though I suspect it sounds a lot more diabolical than it actually is).
What if we consider room 2106 as a metaphor for our souls? Part of the task of sanctity is “filling ourselves” with holy things: celebrating the Sacraments, reading scripture, or personal prayer… basically filling ourselves on God. When we abandon these practices – prayer, study, the life of the Church – we leave room for “Hell on wheels” to set up shop in our souls.
One of the most ancient Christian writings, the Didache (the teaching of the Apostles), begins with a statement that should give us pause to think: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death! and there is a great difference between the two…” Daily, we need to make a choice on which way we’re going to go – not only which sign we show on the outside. but also who is allowed to dwell on the inside.
I pray that you would be God’s – and God’s alone.
I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land which the LORD swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them. -Deuteronomy 30:19-20
And so, I offer to you some simple reflections on prayer: ways you can choose the way of life rather than the way of death by carving out a sacred space in your life.