Aspirant Retreat, another early milestone in Formation where Juanita and I spent the weekend at Capuchin Retreat in Washington, MI with 10 other Aspirant couples. As Juanita and I learned this weekend, technically I am not in Formation at this time. This first year, as an Aspirant, I am going through a structured discernment. Formation is for Candidates and begins the second year.
We are encouraged now to begin saying Morning and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. This is required of deacons. During the first several Aspirancy Saturdays, the second Saturday of the month, the Formation Team will be helping us learn how to say these prayers - using the Brievary, and not an electronic version. Having been saying these prayers more or less since 2011, I certainly understand the need for instructions on how to flip between various sections. Feasts for saints can quickly become an exercise in ribbon management! More on that another time.
We are were also instructed to end any ministry work we perform with our respective parishes. I alluded to this in an earlier entry. Part of the reasoning for this is associated with time management. With the start of mandatory Saturday meetings and two classes a semester at the seminary, the workload, particularly for someone who is not retired, can be overwhelming. Add to that meeting with a spiritual director monthly, and meetings with a Deacon Mentor at least every quarter, you'd be hard pressed to have time to properly prepare and fulfill other ministry roles.
Friday evening was primarily check-in, welcoming and introductions, followed by some short presentations covering the history and renewal of the diaconate. Check-in was interesting in that we were given a room number, no room key. We went to our room pondering why there were no room keys. But then it clicks. We are at a spiritual retreat center, where you would hope we were all obeying the 7th Commandment.
The room was quite simple, two single beds, each with a plain night stand, and a small desk in the corner. The bathroom was equally simple, with a sink, toilet, and shower stall that was no larger than the old phone booths. There was no phone, no television, no distractions.
Saturday was a full day, beginning with Morning Prayer at 7:30, wrapping up at 9:00 that evening with social time. There were four presentations through the day, followed by Mass, dinner and a fifth presentation. There was a period of reflection after the first four presentations during which we were encouraged to go out onto the grounds of the retreat center and spend some quiet time meditating on what was covered in the presentation.
Sunday we received our Aspirancy Handbook and viewed a presentation that covered the materials within the handbook. We were given a list of priests as prospective spiritual directors with instructions to have arranged to have a spiritual director by November. We were also told that we would be assigned a Deacon Mentor, with whom we should meet quarterly. Meetings with our spiritual directors are confidential, while meetings with our mentors are less so. The mentors will be asked to provide an assessment of the presence of a vocation and our readiness for Candidacy and formation.
The retreat concluded with the commissioning of all the Aspirants, and a reminder of our first Aspirancy Saturday on September 14th, where, with our wives, are to give a 15 minute presentation about ourselves.
All-in-all, it was a wonderful weekend. We met equally wonderful and spirit-filled couples, both within our group of Aspirants, as well as Candidates and their wives. And not to sound like we are rushing things, but we are looking forward to our next couple's retreat in January.