by JEFF DILLON
It was a bit of a busman’s holiday for Fr Peter Brockhill from Palmerston North diocese on his tour of the South Island over Labour weekend as he fitted in a day-and-a-half providing a retreat for women in Dunedin.
On both the Saturday and the Sunday mornings, Fr Brockhill celebrated Mass in the Extraordinary Form (Latin Mass) in the old Priory chapel beside
St Joseph’s Cathedral. On the Saturday, Mass was followed by the first retreat session, then lunch with two further sessions in the afternoon. On the Sunday, just one session followed Mass.
His talks were given in a room in the Pastoral Centre to a group of attentive
and appreciative women on the Saturday, while the single Sunday session was available for both women and men to attend. Consequently, there was an even bigger group on Sunday.
Fr Brockhill based his message on a similar set of talks he had originally
delivered to a gathering of Carmelite laity. Those original talks were based on a book about St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross by Fr Dubay, SM,
entitled The Fire Within.
In his first session, Fr Brockhill largely set the background to the decision by St Teresa of Avila to refocus by setting up her own Carmel and reforming the nature of how it operated by emphasising once again the importance of the contemplative prayer life. His material also relied on her like-minded contemporary, St John of the Cross.
The importance of prayer was first explored through reference to The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in which reference is made to the “well springs of prayer” being “sacred Scripture, the sacraments and events of each day, together with the exercise of the theological virtues of faith, hope and love”. It is these things that “lead you to God”.
Fr Brockhill also noted that such observances as “Poverty, Chastity, Obedience” are a “pruning”. But from them “we discover something incredible about the beauty of our lives, the truth of our lives by doing that. We are made for sacrifice”.
The observances help to make us generous with our lives and for the benefit of others, but the biggest benefit is that it sends us straight to
God. “We appreciate . . . where does this goodness come from?”
Another aspect that was covered in the final stages of the first session was what Fr Brockhill termed “body and soul”. Thomas Aquinas says that the human person is made up of body and soul. Fr Brockhill posed the question
“whether we could imagine with respect to God that the Church is his soul”? The soul in Greek thought is the essence of a person . . . but it is hidden in human terms in flesh.
The priest affirmed that God was masculine (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and — to much laughter — he recommended that his listeners put it in their
pipe and take a big draw on it. Again, to much laughter, he was reminded that he was surrounded by women.
While he explored the concept of the Church being feminine and the soul of God, briefly, it was decided that it was a subject that deserved fuller treatment in its own right. (c.f. Catechism of the Catholic Church #370)
The second session dealt with St Teresa describing the first three mansions
in her “interior Castle” as being where a person is dealing with impediments to a life with God. These are commonly earthly attachments of one kind or another.
The third session dealt with St Teresa’s teaching that the primary condition
for growth in the spiritual life is the need to do God’s will from moment to
The final talk, on the Sunday, focused on St John of the Cross and his dictum
that “only the free can love, and only the completely free can love unreservedly”.
As one of the participants commented later, it was about letting go of worldly cares and trusting in God. The celebration of the two Masses and the talks were certainly warmly received by those who attended.