By Father Joseph Sia
It’s that time of year when folks who planted their gardens in the spring begin sharing their harvest with others. I do appreciate my parishioners who’ve given me tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants and sweet corn these past few days. Well, now it’s my turn to share some fruits with you — not from a garden, but from a retreat! This past July, I went on my annual priest retreat to a place called Broom Tree in Irene, S.D. Broom Tree is a retreat center run by the Diocese of Sioux Falls, and their motto is, “In the Silence, God Speaks.” Indeed, in the silence of that place, I was able to experience God in a beautiful way and receive so many fruits, some of which I have already brought back to my parishes and would now like to share with you.
I was able to read a couple of interesting books during that week-long retreat. One of them was a hagiography of St. Francis Xavier, a 16th century Jesuit missionary priest who dreamed of preaching in China. He sailed from Spain to India, and then to Malaysia and Japan, and died on a small island overlooking mainland China. He faced multiple challenges to his efforts, not only physical limitations, but also political intrigues; yet, despite all these, he continued his work of evangelization out of love for God and God’s people. That story inspired me to continue reaching out to people in my parish territories — and that means the whole of Louisa County and neighboring towns, and also West Liberty. My hope is that you will be inspired as well to go beyond your comfort zone (whether that be a physical or mental boundary) to carry out the mandate to preach the Good News. Of course, that is possible with faith and trust in God.
Another book that I read was, “The Parish as a School of Prayer” by Father Scott Traynor, JCL. In that book, Fr. Scott discusses why there is an urgent need for parishes to become genuine schools of prayer, and gives suggestions on how to make it happen. This has awakened in me a vision of making the parish not only a place of prayer, but a powerhouse of prayer! The church is a place of encounter with God, and it is important to intentionally make time and space to allow that to happen. We can do so by spending time in silence with God during Mass (such as after the homily and after Communion). We can make sure to pray well before and after a council meeting and during religious education classes. We can celebrate the sacraments (e.g. penance, baptisms and weddings) with a solemn and respectful disposition. We can promote adoration of the Blessed Sacrament so that there is an opportunity to be with God in a special way. Transforming the parish into a powerhouse of prayer will make it a truly attractive place for priests and parishioners.
These are just two of the many fruits I was able to harvest from that retreat. In sharing them with you, I pray that you may be encouraged to try something new in your spiritual life so that you can fall in love with God even more.
(Fr. Joseph Sia is pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction and sacramental minister for St. Joseph Parish in West Liberty).