Lent 2010: Don't Give Up Chocolate

Brother Michael Gaitley, MIC, has just published his new book Consoling the Heart of Jesus: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat (Marian Press). The Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception invite you to take this retreat as a means by which to grow closer to the Lord this Lenten season. In the following Q&A, Br. Michael explains his new book:

Why not give up chocolate, and why take on Consoling the Heart of Jesus?
Giving up chocolate is easy. My retreat is even easier. OK, seriously, as soon as Ash Wednesday pops up on our radar screens, we're all starting to feel a bit guilty because we still haven't decided what our Lenten sacrifice is going to be. And, if you're like me, you'll probably still be deliberating about what you're going to give up come Holy Week. (Laughs). So, last year, when I was pounding out one of the many "final drafts" of my book, I had the bright idea of asking my friends and family to read the retreat as their Lenten sacrifice. They loved it. They were off the hook. And they gorged themselves with chocolate all Lent long. Actually, I needed their help, because I wanted to find out if the retreat really worked.

So did it?
It did, and does. More on that later. But almost all of them wrote back to me that making the retreat was so much more effective for their spiritual growth than some arbitrary sacrifice, like giving up chocolate. With this in mind, I decided to make the release date of my book just in time for Lent, 2010, although - and this is important - this retreat is not just for Lent. It's for anytime.

Well, let's stick with Lent for now since Lent is a time when we're especially called to focus on our relationship with the Lord. So, how, exactly does your retreat work as a Lenten sacrifice?
Traditionally, Catholics make a three-fold Lenten sacrifice: (1) prayer, (2) fasting, (3) almsgiving. People who purchase this retreat and make it during Lent would fulfill their Lenten sacrifice completely. It works like this:

Prayer: My book is a do-it-yourself retreat. A retreat is time of more intensified prayer. Bingo. People who make this retreat, have fulfilled that part of their Lenten sacrifice.

Fasting: We often think of fasting in terms of bread and water, and that's all well and good. (So long as we're not talking chocolate.) However, fasting can also be from things like television, Internet, or whatever else we may be tempted to waste time with. So, those who make this retreat - I suggest - would "fast" from routine recreations and devote their time to the spiritual reading of the retreat.

Almsgiving: Of course, during this time of economic crisis, money is tight for most people. In fact, actually going on a real retreat - that is to say, a retreat that requires travel and accommodations - might break the bank. While my retreat is only $14.95, that's still a sacrifice for a lot of people. But that's kind of the point. By purchasing Consoling the Heart of Jesus, people give up money to help support the Marians in our efforts to spread the message of The Divine Mercy. So, almsgiving is covered, too - and one will even have a little money left over for jelly beans ... er, I mean chocolate.

OK, so someone buys your retreat, and they're ready to start. Then what? How does the retreat work?
A few points. First, the method of the retreat is not meditations, in the traditional sense. In other words, this isn't a retreat manual where you get points for meditation and then run off to the chapel. Instead, the retreat itself contains the meditations, and one goes through them as spiritual reading. It's really quite simple: You make the retreat by reading - in a prayerful spirit, of course.

Second, the retreat can be made individually or in a group. Some people like to digest spiritual insights by talking about them with spiritually minded friends who read a chapter or two of the retreat and then get together to discuss what they've read. Other people prefer to go one-on-one with the Lord, and that's all right, too.

Third, the retreat can be made over the course of one weekend or over a longer period of time that fits with people's schedules.

Brother Mike, you just said your retreat can be made in a weekend, but I'm looking at this 430-page book and I'm thinking, "Who the heck can plow through such a brick in one weekend and call it a spiritual experience?" Answer that, Chocolate Man.
Felix, didn't I say this book is perfect as a Lenten sacrifice? Actually, the retreat only comprises about half the book. The other half is "bonus" material that's meant to be read after the retreat is over. That bonus material includes a compilation of quotes from the Diary of St. Faustina that reinforces themes from the retreat and is meant for later spiritual reading. There's also a "little soul" version of St. Ignatius's "Rules for the Discernment of Spirits." So, basically, people who buy this book are getting three books in one! Kind of like their Lenten sacrifice, you know, three in one - prayer, fasting, and almsgiving - and chocolate on top of it all.

OK, so let me get this straight. Your retreat is flexible. It can be made individually or in a group, during Lent or at any other time during a weekend or over a longer period of time. Now, let's talk about the spirituality of the retreat. The subtitle says it's inspired by the "Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius," and I see rays of Divine Mercy on the cover. So, is it safe to say that your retreat is a blending of Ignatian spirituality with the message of Divine Mercy?
That's exactly what it is. Saint Ignatius was a genius of practicality. He could masterfully organize and synthesize the essential principles of the spiritual life. Divine Mercy saints such as Therese of Lisieux and Faustina Kowalska communicated their amazing spiritual insights in the form of diaries, which are totally amazing and powerful. Problem is, their insights aren't systematized or organized in a way that assists remembering them and building them up in one's soul as a "spirituality." So, what I do in the retreat is use Ignatian-organizing principles to help a person enter more fully into Divine Mercy spirituality, what St. Therese called the "Little Way."

What does all that have to do with the title Consoling the Heart of Jesus?
Well, it's like this: Ignatian spirituality is all about finding a most essential principle for the spiritual life, and then directing all one's energies toward living out that principle. For the Jesuits, the congregation founded by St. Ignatius, that "most essential principle" was the greater glory of God. In other words, a Jesuit strives to direct all of his thoughts, words, and actions toward increasing the glory of God. It's a bit different in my retreat. I adopt as the most essential principle for my retreat the same principle adopted by St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Faustina Kowalska, and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, to name a few. What did they see as the "most essential principle" of the spiritual life? Consoling Jesus. In other words, they directed all of their energies to delighting the Lord, giving Him joy, and consoling His broken Heart. Perhaps, Blessed Teresa expressed this idea most poignantly with her laser beam focus on the "thirst" of Jesus on the Cross. In other words, her most essential principle was to hear the thirst of Jesus on the Cross - not a thirst for water but a thirst for love - and to strive with all her might to "quench His thirst" by giving Him her love. Now, St. Faustina and St. Therese express the most essential principle in the same way, namely, the thirst of Jesus, but they understood quenching Jesus' thirst, or consoling Him, to be the same as trusting Him. That's the line my retreat follows. It focuses on consoling the Heart of Jesus by living a radical trust in His mercy. In a sense, the image of The Divine Mercy says it all with its rays of mercy and the prayer at the bottom, "Jesus, I trust in You!"

Brother Mike, I trust in Jesus, and I trust you, too. However, all of our readers might not know you. So, why should they listen to you? I mean, do you have any famous people who endorse your book?
Sure do. Do you like apples? How do you like these apples: Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, Ralph Martin, and more [see the full list].

... Oh, and my mom.

Moms are great that way.
Yeah, she's probably my biggest fan with this book. I wrote it with her in mind. That is, when I was studying theology during my first year in the seminary, she wanted to know all about it. Problem was, she didn't have a background in theology, and she couldn't understand all the highfalutin terms, which I only pretended to know myself. So, I made a deal with her that when I would write my papers, I would try and keep the style simple so she (and I) could read and understand them. That's the style I used with this book, and it passed the "mom test."

So, you wrote this retreat when you were in the seminary?
Yes, but that doesn't tell you much, because I'm a professional seminarian. I've been in studies toward the priesthood for 15 years now. I hear they're finally going to ordain me a priest this year, but I've got to see it to believe it at this point. Jesus, I trust in You.

How long ago, exactly did you write this retreat?
Well, I finished the first draft of it almost exactly eight years ago. But, it's only being published now because I never actually intended for it to be a published book. Writing it was really a favor that I was doing for parishioners at my home parish in California. You see, I had given them a one-day preached retreat on the theme of consoling Jesus with our trust, and they asked me to give them a copy of the talks I had given. The copy of the talks became an early draft of my book. And, at that point, I let it go and kept my attention on my seminary studies. Well, those people from my parish made photocopies of the early draft and then photocopies of the photocopies were made until there was quite an "underground" following. So, I'd get e-mails or phone calls from people I didn't even know, encouraging me to publish it. In fact, just this last August, I was in Austria for a wedding, and I met a family who started talking about this retreat they had made years before that had touched their lives. They said, "It was strange because it was only a photocopy, and it didn't have a name on it, only the title, Consoling the Heart of Jesus." When I heard that, I thought, "OK, Lord, I hear You."

Was that the final straw that got you to finish the retreat?
No, there were lots of nudges. The biggest one came from Fr. Mark Garrow, MIC, who died in October of 2007. He was my biggest supporter in getting the retreat published, and I felt that support both before and after his death. The retreat is dedicated to him and to three other loved ones who died. One is Janeise Cowan, a woman who had cancer. She was one of the first people I told about consoling spirituality as I discovered it. The other two people are my brother's two infant daughters, Grace John Paul and Maryn Pia. I felt their help, too, during all the hard off-and-on writing work over the years. I'm grateful to them and to the many, many people who prayed for me to complete this book. I truly felt their prayers ... and I wish I could give them all a big chocolate bar for Lent.

Quick: Milk chocolate or dark chocolate?
Dark. With almonds.

You're a good man.
You're an excellent questioner.

Stop it.

Brother Michael Gaitley, MIC, is preparing for his deaconate ordination on May 1. He lives on Eden Hill in Stockbridge, Mass., home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. Visit the homepage for Consoling the Heart of Jesus.

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