there is a season,
and a time
for every matter
Recently, Michael Voris, of the internet-based video apostolate known as ChurchMilitant.TV (formerly RealCatholicTV), announced his apostolate's first-ever “‘Year of Faith’ Retreat at Sea” cruise for seven days from Fort Lauderdale to various stops in the Caribbean and back. This retreat will be a time of prayer, reflection, fellowship, not to mention Mass and regular confession, given the services of the one and only Father John “The World’s Most Powerful Catholic Blogger” Zuhlsdorf.
The opportunity to socialize and share common ground with Catholics of like mind is good in and of itself. Bringing a good Catholic priest along for the ride is even better in and of itself, given the increasing difficulty of finding cruise lines with a Catholic chaplaincy, never mind a priest whose bonafides are in order. (Some cruise lines have used priests of independent Catholic sects, or "rent-a-priests" who left their calling to marry, but still set up shop for weddings, spiritual counseling, and ... well, opportunities like this.) All this in itself has not been a recent bone of contention. It was the idea of all this under the auspices of a spiritual retreat.
Now, you're sitting there thinking: “But, but ... Oh Black-Hatted One, what harm can there be in joining others of the faithful remnant in prayer and reflection, or do we suspect that your indignation is prompted by (yet another) stick having ventured far into the nether regions of your well-formed posterior?”
Ah, dear minions, a good question. A little over the top, maybe, but never mind that. Let us first consider the essential differences between a spiritual retreat and a pleasure cruise, under the premise that there might actually be at least one.
On one hand, a retreat is held mostly in silence, with a carefully planned sequence of spiritual talks, with balanced if simple meals, and with no allowance for cellphones, electronic devices such as laptop computers or iPods, or musical instruments. All such creature comforts are left at the front desk for the duration of the event. You go to bed early, you get up early, and if you never have a moment's fun, it's beside the point ... isn't it?
On the other hand, a cruise has outside activities, social events with no limit to schmoozing, extravagant meals, swimming pools, shuffleboard, nightclub entertainment, ballroom or other forms of dancing, and social directors which the likes of yours truly would spend most of the time ignoring.
Even when Christ Himself evaded the crowds for solitude, he fled to the desert, not an oasis.
The above having been said, the organizers of this sojourn have no doubt discovered that 1) other Catholic publishers and apostolates have put on the party-dog hat for doing this, 2) the organizers get to go for free (as is standard fare for travel agent/planners among the infidels), and 3) the priest gets to go for free, "for the laborer deserves his food." (Matthew 10:10). On one hand, I don't remember seeing a Caribbean cruise on Father Z's wish list. On the other hand, this is taking place during the latter part of Lent, which is the worst time for a parish priest to break away, and the good Father does not have a parish assignment.
Now, I don't know about the rest of you kids, but when I go on a retreat, I go on a retreat. When I go on a cruise, I go on a cruise. (I haven't yet, but that's not important.) Retreats might be of varying depth and severity, this is true, but in the Catholic tradition, they all have certain things in common, such as the denial of varying degrees of creature comforts, and a certain severity in routine. Unless an entire cruise line is prepared to cooperate, this is an implausible scenario, and it is so during the season of the Great Fast, known in the Western church as Lent. Dressing it up with a certain routine, bringing a priest along, and calling it a retreat doesn't change any of that.
Meanwhile, to the person who accused yours truly in a particular social media venue of engaging in "an ugly display of envy and sour grapes," it is to laugh! Such a response assumes three things: 1) that those who challenge the idea as presented by CMTV are invariably jealous that they cannot or would not attend, 2) that concern over confusing a luxury cruise with a religious retreat is without merit, and 3) that the basis for 1 and 2 are that the parties in question are considered undeserving.
To the first, I can assure this individual that I have ample opportunity to a) go on retreats, b) go on a cruise (eventually), and c) have served Holy Mass for Father Zuhlsdorf, whom I have met and with whom I have broken bread on more than one occasion. He is a fine man, and a devout and (though you might not know it by his internet presence) an unassuming and humble priest.
To the second, my case stands on its own merits, and is motivated solely by them, and so I stand by them. I do so with no resentment towards Mr Voris, CMTV, (both of whom I have defended publicly in this setting), or (certainly!) Father Zuhlsdorf, for their fortunes. That they have suffered the slings and arrows of opposition for their convictions is not to be disputed here.
To the third, it would depend on what you mean by "deserving." Do they deserve a cruise for their apostolic work? Maybe, maybe not. It is hardly a free ride, as both are engaged in the responsibility of managing the event for others. Besides, if enough people decide to attend, Mister V and Father Z will get a cruise whether they deserve it or not, won't they?
But none of that makes it a retreat.
No one in the United States, even in a diocese that is on the verge of schism (and there are those within the walls of the Vatican who have long contended this), has to go offshore as they would with their monetary wealth, to find a haven of spiritual wealth. They can travel to other parts of the country and attend retreats, spiritual talks, and (lest we forget to mention) Gregorian chant symposia, all on dry land, for less money, and without a passport. As for myself, I am presently situated in the ecclesiastical Garden of Eden that is the Diocese of Arlington. I don't need to go on a cruise to hear the Truth with eloquence, having ample opportunity every Sunday to have such legends as those who serve the Church of Saint John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia. (Click on that link there and you can hear them as well.)
Those who choose to attend this soirée, I wish them well, with smooth waters, the wind at their back, and staying clear of the Bermuda Triangle. What I don't wish, is that they would kid themselves into thinking they are attending a spiritual retreat hosted by Princess Cruises, let alone during the season of Lent.
As I have not gained the notoriety for my blogospheric work to nearly the extent of the others mentioned here, this commentary would hardly stir the wind among the willows, don't you think?
Or don't you?
(Less than a week later, a sequel is published, and so the plot thickens!)