The clergy of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Josaphat in Parma held their annual retreat October 22-25, 2019 at the Bethany Center of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg in Lutz, Florida.
The retreat was led this year by Bishop Paul Chomnycky of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford. After Bishop Bohdan J. Danylo of Saint Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy welcomed everyone at the retreat, Bishop Paul centered his first spiritual conference around the Emmaus story recorded in the Gospel of St. Luke (24:13-35). According to the retreat master, this known story of a journey of Cleopas and his companion from Jerusalem to Emmaus during which they encountered Christ represents the journey of faith both of the Church at large as well as of her individual members. It’s a journey that is open to everyone world over and it is a journey that is both familiar and unfamiliar to those, who undertake it. At first, the two disciples could not recognize Jesus in the person of the mysterious traveler, which means that they still did not have faith. Furthermore, it was not the two disciples, who drew towards Jesus, but it was Jesus, who drew towards them. In other words, it was Christ’s initiative to approach the disciples and not vice versa. As the three of them kept on walking, the disciples were listening to Jesus as He was teaching them about Himself, namely He was evangelizing them by interpreting the Sacred Scriptures to them with His messianic mission in the center. This, according to Bishop Paul, means that it is imperative that each priest is to know and study Scriptures. It was only after the two disciples asked their travelling companion to stay with them in Emmaus that their eyes were opened when Jesus sat down at the table and broke the bread with them. It was only then that the disciples recognized their Teacher, having experienced along the way a transformation of heart. Hence, continued the retreat master, it was the end that explained the beginning: the resurrection of Christ revealed who Jesus was – the true Messiah. As we read in St. Luke’s account, after the disciples recognized Jesus, He disappeared from their sight. And it was OK, stated Bishop Paul, because, at that point, the disciples did not need to see Jesus physically anymore, because He was already living in their hearts. What happened next? The disciples told others about their experience. In other words, at that stage, the disciples themselves evangelized already. They could no longer keep silent, because the encounter with the risen Christ transformed them. Just like Cleopas and his companion, should not we ourselves also be always exclaiming the Good News with our burning hearts after encountering Jesus, asked the retreat master, having concluded his first conference?
His second conference Bishop Paul centered around the theme of the Good News that is meant to be preached to all and at all times. He began by talking about the role of Angels at the beginning and at the end of St. Luke’s Gospel. At the beginning of his Gospel, St. Luke recounts Zechariah’s encounter in the Temple in Jerusalem with Archangel Gabriel, who was sent to foretell the birth of Zechariah’s and his wife Elizabeth’s son, namely St. John the Baptist (1:5-25). During the meeting, Archangel Gabriel tells Zechariah that his prayer was heard. Yet, which prayer of Zechariah was heard by the Lord, asked the retreat master? Could Zechariah have perhaps been praying with his wife for a child? But both of them were at an advanced age, so it is quite possible that they gave up hope of praying for a child. According to Bishop Paul, Zechariah’s prayer that was heard by the Lord was his prayer for the People of Israel, since he was a priest, whose task, among others, was to pray for the people. However, Zechariah’s prayer, through the birth of his and his wife’s son John, not only brought joy to Zechariah and Elizabeth but also to the entire People of Israel, for a great man of God was born (Lk 1:14-17). We, priests, continued the retreat master, likewise have a task to pray for the people and then our prayer could also bring unanticipated good fruits.
After Elizabeth conceived the child, she went into seclusion. Was she perhaps hiding from people because of fear? No, stated the retreat master. Elizabeth most likely went into solitude to contemplate the Lord’s miracle of conceiving the son at her advanced age and the possible reason behind it. We, priests, likewise have to find time to contemplate the Lord as well as to thank Him for what He has done and continues to do for us.
As we continue reading the Gospel of St. Luke, six months later Archangel Gabriel speaks again and this time he was sent to brings good tidings to a virgin from Nazareth named Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph, announcing to her that through the power of the Holy Spirit she was going to conceive and bear a son, Jesus (1:26-38).
The next time we hear about the angels in St. Luke’s Gospel is when they appear to the shepherds of the field announcing to them the Good News of the birth of the Savior: first there is an appearance of one angel, who is joined shortly afterwards by numerous other angels (2:8-20). It’s very clear, stated Bishop Paul, that the fact that the angels appeared to the simple shepherds meant that the Gospel of the Lord is to be preached to everyone and in every place. Shepherds were very unpopular among the Jewish religious leaders because the shepherds, due to their work, did not have time to fulfill all the precepts of the Jewish law. Hence, again, it shows that the Lord’s Gospel is meant to be proclaimed to all, including such marginalized people as shepherds. The shepherds prefigured us, the priests, who also tend to the flock.
The retreat master also stated that when we read the Sacred Scripture, we also see that Jesus sometimes uses the word ‘today,’ which signifies the immediacy of salvation.
Bishop Paul concluded his second conference by stating that the shepherds’ announcement of the Good News about the birth of Jesus is similar to the women’s announcement of the news about the resurrection of Christ.
The retreat master commenced his third conference concentrating on St. John the Baptist’s baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river after which Jesus’ ministry was very explicitly permeated by the Holy Spirit. St. Luke mentions quite a few times that Christ spends a lot of time in the synagogues. As Christ was fulfilling His messianic mission on earth, He unfortunately could not convert the hearts of His nearest people – the people of Nazareth. There were a lot of expectations from Jesus on the part of the Nazoreans. They first spoke favorably of Him. However, Christ got rejected by the Nazoreans because of these people’s harshness of hearts (Lk 4:14-30). They did not like what they heard from Jesus. Yet, Christ was not surprised, for He Himself said: “no prophet is accepted in his hometown” (Lk 4:24). The Nazoreans, who were very upset with Jesus’ words, tried to catch Him, but Christ managed to escape from them.
When Jesus left Nazareth, however, He was able to perform many miracles in Capernaum (Lk 4:31-41) – something that He, again, could not do in His own town. We, priests, must also, like Jesus, allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit in order to fulfill our mission well despite the difficulties and challenges that we might encounter along the way.
Bishop Paul centered his fourth conference around the call of His first Apostles, particularly Saint Peter. St. Peter’s relationship with Jesus shows to us that our Lord will never leave us despite our sinfulness as long as we are trying to have an authentic relationship with Christ in our lives.
During the fifth conference, the retreat master talked about Christ’s sermon on the mount with a particular emphasis on the Beatitudes as found in the Gospels of St. Matthew (5:1-12) and St. Luke (6:20-23). Furthermore, Bishop Paul emphasized the importance of Christian love as something that we choose to do in freedom. He cited an example of the parable of the Good Samaritan, found in the Gospel of St. Luke (10:25-37), but most importantly the Christ’s atoning death on the cross.
His sixth and final conference, the retreat master centered around the need for radical conversion, namely the necessity for a Christian to go through a so-called metanoia – a conversion of heart, which ultimately leads to the spiritual perfection in charity.
The retreat participants also took part in the celebrations of the Divine Liturgy and other liturgical services as well as had an opportunity for confession and spiritual talks with the retreat master.
At the end of the spiritual exercises, Bishop Bohdan thanked Bishop Paul on behalf of the entire clergy for having shared his word of wisdom with the retreat participants and wished him Lord’s choicest blessings in his episcopal ministry.
Press Office of St. Josaphat Eparchy