During our spiritual exercises weekend, Fr William told so many awesome stories to illustrate his points on our spiritual journey toward Christ. One story that affected me greatly was the story of the stones. Women who had suffered through an abortion were invited on a spiritual retreat weekend, whereby they were given a stone to carry for the first part of the retreat. On the stone, they were to write their sins with a marker on the stone, and carry around in their arms this sizable burden for the weekend. At the height of the retreat, they were given the opportunity for the sacrament of confession. They were also asked to bring their stone to leave in a pile where it would no longer be carried, toted, dragged, or even seen. It was to be left behind. Forever. As with their sins, God had released them from this burden, and it was gone.
At the end, the Sisters who ran the retreat had to do something with all of the stones that were left behind. They could think of nothing better than to toss them into the nearby lake to never been seen again. As they lifted the heavy rocks, they tossed them into the lake, one at a time. This was no easy task as the stones were quite heavy, and as they attempted to toss far and away, a pair of women who were walking around the lake, engaged in deep discussion, drew near. “Sister, do you mind if we ask what you are doing, heaving all of those big stones into the lake?” The Sisters then took the time to relate to the two women why they were throwing large rocks into the lake, and how the women who had had abortions, had abandoned their sin and guilt and left the stone and the shame, far behind them as they left the retreat.
Three years later, there was a knock on the retreat center office door. When one of the Sisters answered, she was surprised to find a young woman, and a small child. She greeted them with a warm smile, and the young woman preceded to tell sister about how she had been walking by the lake nearby one afternoon a few years back when she noticed the sisters throwing large stones into the water, and were told about the women who had shed their shame and the stones at a recent retreat for women who had had an abortion. The woman proceeded to say, that she had been walking with a friend, deciding herself to get an abortion, when she had happened upon the sisters, and that scene changed her mind–and her life–forever. The idea of carrying the heavy weight of that situation, that women had to come and experience great healing with help, all quickly defined a reality to her that she was about to enter. Here, beside her, this small and beautiful child was the result of that chance moment, when the sisters’ charity in stopping to explain, had made it’s eternal mark on the world.
We listened to this story to demonstrate the unbound reaches of God’s mercy in our human lives. To examine sin in our own lives, and to approach with confidence, the sacrament of confession, so that we too, could receive the blessed gift of shedding shame and receiving healing and love. Fr. William has an IMMENSE heart for reaching out to people and getting them to confess and receive the healing sacrament of forgiveness, and he emphasized again and again how there is NOTHING our BIG GOD CANNOT FORGIVE.
After the retreat, at a wrap up meeting with our group who sponsored and organized the weekend, Miss LaLa (renamed to protect her from the paparazzi that will soon hunt her down when the world knows just exactly how fabulous she really is) went around with a basket and asked us to “take one”. In the basket were small rocks. She said that she had been walking by the pond at the retreat during a break, and meditating on this story, when it occurred to her to get a small stone for each member of our team. We had been working on our “program of life”, which focuses on prayers and behaviors to deepen our spiritual life. One of the most important parts of our day, is before we go to sleep at night, to recollect what had been our victories and misses throughout the day. Did we accomplish what we had outlined for ourselves to do? We let the Lord know we are sorry for where we did not accomplish our goals, or where we messed up, and then we are to take the little rock and lay it down; each day, laying down our mistakes, our sins, our shame, and putting ourselves to rest in the sweet arms of Jesus and the precious mantle of his mother, and knowing that God’s mercies are new for us each day, and God loves me with His infinite love no matter what I have done wrong.
When we return for our third annual spiritual exercise retreat next year, Ms. LaLa instructs us that we are to bring the little rock back and toss it back into the pond–returning to God what belongs to God–that is, our own humility in understanding that in the end, my credits and my blames are no more than the sum of my smallness as a child who needs His Father. And the shame is gone.