I am at the Athenaeum of Ohio in Cincinnati this week, on my annual five day ministerial sabbatical retreat. Every October, I look forward to this time of rest, prayer, and renewal. The Athenaeum is the third oldest Catholic Seminary in the United States – a large granite building of Romanesque style situated on 75 beautiful wooded acres, in metro Cincinnati.
I am fortunate to spend time in a beautiful setting that is imbued with the peace and love of God. There are many holy men and women here who are wise and knowledgeable, people who inspire and help guide others in living a spiritual life. I am grateful for all that I have received here over the years.
And yet, while I can’t minimize what I have learned and received here, my greatest spiritual teachers in Cincinnati are not on staff or in residence at the Athenaeum. My greatest teachers here are not professors of moral theology or trained spiritual directors. My teachers on living a spiritual life, one filled with gratitude, grounded in hope, and expressed in compassion for others, work at a site about five miles away from where I am staying. My teachers are employed at the local YMCA where I work out while I am here.
Part of every day, the five days I am here, includes swimming laps or lifting weights and running at the local YMCA. Over the years, I have come to know some of the young disabled people this particular YMCA employs through a jobs program. My membership card is checked by a young man who is always smiling, who literally lives to take his place at the desk each morning. He lives with serious physical and cognitive disabilities. But spiritually, he is not held back by anything. In the locker room, I encounter a young man who also is always smiling (and humming or singing) while he sweeps, mops and cleans sinks and mirrors. This young man has difficulty walking, he wears a wristwatch on both arms. When I asked him why he wears two watches, he smiled and responded, “time is precious, I don’t want it to get away from me.”
Life is a gift, and life is beautiful. And yet, no one gets out of this life, alive. None of us goes through life without being bruised and scarred at times. The young people I talk to and listen to at the YMCA where I am this week, all help me to live with gratitude. They help me to be thankful for all that I have received in life, and they contribute to helping me find a renewed desire to care for and to help others, especially people less fortunate. In their innocence and trust, I see the face of God.
Jesus once remarked that the meek will be blessed, that they will inherit the earth. Sometimes, the meek among us have a great deal to teach us about life, especially regarding what is important, what really matters.
I hope I return home with a fraction of the trust, faith and compassion in action I have witnessed here this week. I will be praying for these young people who have taught me so much. And treasuring their example for weeks, and years to come.