Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Carmelite Spring Retreat at Holy Hill

This past weekend, I attended a Carmelite retreat at San Damiano retreat center on top of a big hill outside the upscale town of Danville. The Franciscans who run the retreat center refer to the place as "Holy Hill" in their newsletter.

It's warmer there than here where I live in San Jose, and though I see a few harbingers of Spring in my yard at home, with the forsythia putting out tentative little yellow flowers on their buff branches,I was happy to find Spring in full bloom in Danville.

The retreat center has a big sprawling garden, with an amorphous fountain in the middle, which didn't impress me much on a couple of earlier retreats I've attended there.

But the timing of this retreat in Mid-March, on Palm Sunday weekend 2008, put us smack dab in the middle of a profusion of blooming red tulips, yellow and orange and white daffodils, purple irises and more. The clumps of flowers along the paths and roads were a delight to the eyes and to the Lent-sobered and winter-weary soul.

The dear retreat director, Fr. Donald Kinney, told us on the first conference on Saturday morning that he woke up that morning "so happy. The sun was shining. It's so like Him!"

He got a fond laugh from everyone at that; he was feeling as we all must have felt that God was blessing us all by pouring down His sunshine on us that beautiful day.

My room had a great view of an oak tree. I'm going to attach a sketch I did, that is is not complete and is not colored, but you can glimpse how nice a vista it was. Imagine that the hills and the leaves and the grasses are colored in a multitude of God's profligate palette of shades of green and that the sky is blue with white clouds. I especially was moved at the sturdy blades of irises poking up through the ground and the tender baby Spring grass.

The top image on this blog is a quick sketch of some tulips I made while waiting in line outside the sacristy for confession.

I almost didn't get to go to the retreat. The morning before, I had called the retreat organizer to see if I could get my deposit back since I was having second thoughts about going, mostly for financial reasons. [I got laid off in January.] He said he would check to see if anyone had given a scholarship for his group. I found a message from him when I got home later that afternoon that said I wouldn't believe it but a woman had just called and said she couldn't make it, and she wanted to give away her room. So I was able to go for only the cost of the deposit after all.

As Rita Donnelly, who rode up with me, said, "God is good." And as Father Donald and my friend Regina said, "God must have wanted you to be there."

What a great start for Holy Week.

BTW, EWTN is advertising their coverage of the Holy Week services from the Vatican with the slogan: "The Week That Changed the World."

That was the title of a book about the Russian revolution. But how much more fitting a title that is for the week that Christ our God in His humanity took on the punishment for our sins. He died in the most degrading humiliating way imaginable. The Mighty God suffered the death of a criminal on a cross! He loved us that much. Thanks be to God for the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
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