If you told me it would turn out this way, I would not have believed you.
The retirement years for me have been an adventure, a time of greater understanding that I didn’t see coming. It’s not so much that I am learning things I didn’t know before, although there is some of that as I read more. It’s that I see things in a new way, with a deeper appreciation – even things I have known all my life.
Every sick call I make is more inspiring now. Every confession I hear is a greater privilege. Every Mass I celebrate is a joyful act, as fresh as if I had just been ordained. Even the Liturgy of the Hours has become more meaningful as I become aware of its true purpose: to dedicate every hour of the day to the glory of God. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (“For the greater glory of God”) is not just the motto of the Jesuits. It is the motto of everyone who prays the Liturgy of the Hours seven times a day.
That is not to say these spiritual duties were not meaningful before retirement. Of course they were. But the demands of administration often took their toll back then. As a pastor I was so caught up in the duty of paying bills and keeping the lights on that there was little time for reflecting on the full significance of what I was doing.
There was also the problem of repetition, celebrating the same sacraments over and over, sometimes on the same day. By the time I got to the third (or maybe my fourth) Mass on Sunday night, I began to feel like a robot no matter how hard I tried not to be. And getting around to praying the Liturgy of the Hours (I mean all of it) on a day like that became an impossibility.
Retirement means freedom from that treadmill of activity. It means having more time to spend in prayer — provided one takes full advantage of that extra time. It would be very easy for me – I speak for myself — to squander that extra time watching television or indulging in useless gossip.
To avoid that trap, I decided to do something I had wanted to do all my life but never got around to. I took the 30-day retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius that is offered by the Jesuits. (Lots of priests do that retreat after ordination or in the early years of their ministry; I was one who did not.)
That retreat was a life-altering experience for me. Spending four hours a day in silent prayer for 30 days non-stop (which is what the Ignatian regimen calls for) raised my spirituality to a new level. In fact, it left a permanent mark on me. When the retreat was over, I began the practice of a holy hour every day (in addition to the Liturgy of the Hours and the Mass), a practice I have continued ever since. That has given a different tone to everything I do. It is the reason retirement has turned out to be such a surprise.
“I am still learning,” Michelangelo famously said when he was 87 years old. I can say the same thing – at least so far. I am only 77!
Msgr. James Murphy is former associate publisher of Catholic Herald and rector emeritus of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.