Salesians find God in the turmoil

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Find God in the turmoil and tragedy of everyday life and act gently.

That was the message delivered to more than 1,000 people by Oblate Father Barry Strong March 21 at the 12th annual Live Jesus! Lenten Retreat, held at St. John Neumann Church in Reston.

Paraphrasing Pope Francis, Father Strong told the crowd to listen and sympathize with people who are suffering and cry with them.

"If you don't learn how to cry, you can't be a good Christian," he said.

"Find God in the turmoil. Act gently. Live Jesus."

Father Strong, director of province administration for the Wilmington-Philadelphia Province of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, spoke on the topic "Where Is God in the Turmoil?"

He said the question, "Why does God allow evil and suffering," is one that people of faith have wrestled with for millennia, and it remains the most serious threat to belief in God.

Father Strong distinguished between moral evil caused by the sinfulness of human beings with physical and natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and famine.

Many theologians agree that the only answer is faith, he said.

"We can't figure it out because we don't know the mind of God," he said.

St. Paul orients creation toward Jesus Christ and away from the original sin of Adam and Eve, Father Strong said.

He told the crowd to reframe the question. "Instead of asking 'why does God allow bad things to happen to good people,' ask 'how can I respond to this tragedy?' Creation is happening now in our present moment. God is present in every moment.

"God does not stop suffering but transforms it," he said.

Father Strong then discussed the message of St. Francis de Sales, who highlighted grace and redemption and promoted a spirituality of hope and peace.

"When tragedy happens to us, we respond with love of submission," he said. "Accept God's loving embrace and step forward into the future."

Visitation Sister Karen Mohan from Minneapolis focused on "Perspectives on Gentleness."

In the morning, prepare your hearts for the day and invite the Lord to be present in these moments, she said.

"We're not in charge," she reminded the crowd. "Belonging to God allows us to belong to each other."

Sister Karen said we need to ask ourselves where we need to slow down.

"Be gentle with yourself before you are gentle with others," she said.

Tom and Michelle Costello, parishioners of St. John Neumann, gave a closing reflection on how "ordinary" Catholics can respond to God's call in their lives.

"Let go and trust in God," they said. "Take the first step. When one begins the journey, God does provide.

"Great opportunities to serve God are rare, but little ones are frequent."

The morning concluded with Mass celebrated by Oblate Father James Greenfield and other members of the local Oblate community.

For Mary Carroll, a parishioner of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna, this was her first Live Jesus! Retreat.

"I thought that because it's the season of Lent, this would be a good way to spend some time in reflection and an opportunity to deepen my faith," Carroll said. "I like the Oblate spirituality and perspective."

Brian Mahoney, also a parishioner of Our Lady of Good Counsel, said he attended a previous Live Jesus! Retreat at Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria.

"I want to jump-start my Lenten experience this year and reinforce the Salesian philosophy of living in the moment," Mahoney said.

Diane Beauchamp, a parishioner of St. John the Apostle Church in Leesburg, said she was exposed to Salesian spirituality when she attended Visitation High School in Minneapolis.

"In high school, the nuns never really talked about it, they just lived it," she said. "It wasn't until I was an adult that I really discovered the meat of Salesian spirituality.

"As the mother of five and working full-time, I experience that gentleness that they're talking about when my 5-year-old is going nuts," she said. "I can actually feel the calmness to wait and listen to her. My older children didn't get that benefit."

Beauchamp said she loved what Sister Karen said about how gentleness allows us to respect the dignity of others.

"It isn't just wimpiness," she said. "It enables you to truly see others where they're at and not judge them."

Oblate Father Kevin Nadolski, who served as master of ceremonies for the morning, said that Live Jesus! has become a victim of its own success. The demand has outgrown the facilities that are used to host the event.

Organizers are considering the possibility of holding future retreats at larger venues such as Marymount University in Arlington or Georgetown University in Washington.

Find out more

Live Jesus! communities are active in several locations in the area. Visit livejesuscommunities.org. A video of the 2015 retreat can be found at oblates.org.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015