The leaves are falling – it’s one of my favorite seasons. Until I look at all the leaves in my yard that is! My house is uniquely situated in our neighborhood to be the collecting zone for what seems to be every stray leaf. The downward decline of the road leading to our front yard, the typical direction of the wind, the almost channel-like flow – it all uniquely conspires for what turns out to be 60-plus very large bags of leaves every fall. But it is my favorite season, I promise.

Things dying and turning brown, leaves falling, colder weather setting in, even the dark and gloomy mornings – it’s all part of fall. This time of year, the mass readings pick up this theme. We hear a lot of death and the last things, about the kingdom of heaven and the great wedding banquet. We get these themes because it is the end of the year for the Church. We are heading toward the final Sunday of the liturgical calendar, the Feast of Christ the King. The following Sunday will be the first Sunday of Advent, which is the start of a new liturgical year for the Church.

All this “fall” activity draws us into the mystery of God’s movement in our lives. How is he drawing us closer to him? How is he drawing us deeper into relationship? Where is he inviting us to grow? To change?

I have been blessed this year with a personal spiritual retreat that has been immensely fruitful. I’m still on it as I write this article, brimming with all that the Lord has been speaking to me. I found myself just yesterday almost feeling like I couldn’t take any more. I was saying in prayer, “Lord, stop, I’m so overwhelmed with love and grace – I don’t think I can hold any more right now!” As I said this I was weeping, tears of joy I think, but weeping nonetheless. He didn’t stop, thank goodness and I was able to hold all that He gave me just fine. It was a blessed time for me.

There are a number of key takeaways from this retreat that I want to share.
1) The guided retreat led me through a beautiful pattern of something I have talked about for years concerning prayer. Prayer is ultimately about Relationship – Identity – Mission. We encounter God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) in the context of relationship. He loves us, pours out his love in our hearts, and draws us ever more intimately into the depths of his heart. As we respond to that encounter and go into his heart, in that relationship, it informs and inspires our identity. When we spend time with God, we come away knowing OURSELVES better – it’s just the natural fruit of the encounter. And the more and better we know ourselves, the better we understand why we are here, our MISSION.

This pattern has unfolded in a very powerful way for me over the past several days. I have been blown away by God’s love for me, have wept at my sometimes mediocre response to that love, been inspired to give more of my heart to him, been convicted about some specific areas of growth and detachment that He is calling me to, and have sensed some very clear directions for service and ministry that I need to talk with my wife about. What an incredible 4 days! It will take weeks, perhaps months of unpacking all that I have experienced.

2) One of the prayer times over the past several days led me to a quote I remembered from years ago, something from Pope St Leo the Great. All I could remember was this line, “Rouse yourself man and recognize the dignity of your nature!” I searched for the quote and discovered the full version of the text:

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, born true man without ever ceasing to be true God, began in his person a new creation and by the manner of his birth gave man a spiritual origin. What mind can grasp this mystery, what tongue can fittingly recount this gift of love? Guilt becomes innocence, old becomes new, strangers are adopted and outsiders are made heirs. Rouse yourself, man, and recognize the dignity of your nature. Remember that you were made in God’s image; though corrupted in Adam, that image has been restored in Christ. Use creatures as they should be used: the earth, the sea, the sky, the air, the springs and the rivers. Give praise and glory to their Creator for all that you find beautiful and wonderful in them. See with your bodily eyes the light that shines on earth, but embrace with your whole soul and all your affections the true light which enlightens every man who comes into this world. Speaking of this light the prophet said: Draw close to him and let his light shine upon you and your face will not blush with shame.”

Mic drop! You may wat to pause your reading this article to just let that soak in for a minute or two. How profound!

This is the crux of my identity that was made so much clearer for me on this retreat. Jesus began in his person a new creation and by the manner of his birth gave man, gave ME, a spiritual origin! Guilt becomes innocence, old becomes new, strangers are adopted and outsiders are made heirs! I am not an orphan, I am a SON!

3) So much more I could say, but the limits of time beg me to stop. The third takeaway is simple – why do I not do this more often? Why have I waited so long to be with God in this way?

As I said, the fruit of this retreat is going to unfold in the coming weeks and months. I’m sure many upcoming blog articles will feature the fruit in a beautiful array of colors. How appropriate for the fall season.

My encouragement for all of you is to consider doing the same. When is the last time you went on a retreat? Maybe it’s time to plan for one? I am finding myself incredibly grateful for the experience and deeply moved by all that God has shown me. “What mind can grasp this mystery?! What tongue can fittingly recount this gift of love?!”

A retreat, whether it is a private, silent one like I just did, or a planned scheduled event with others, can be a powerful catalyst for change and growth. Retreats are moments of encounter, where we can reconnect with God and his love for us. And whenever that happens, we are inspired to become more like him. The fall season presents a great opportunity to take a “gut check” like that. Find some time to go be with God before this year comes to an end – somehow, some way.