by Tom Pankeiwicz, Saint Joseph, Missouri Companion
In late September, the Companions gathered at Conception Abbey for our annual retreat led this year by Sister Mary Kevin Rooney. For the past month, while I have thought of the retreat as a time of introspection and peace, I have not applied what I learned. When asked to write a reflection, I turned to my notes and found Sister Mary Kevin sitting there patiently, nudging me to pay attention.


Stepping outside after the first talk, I found a chair on the patio. Several companions joined me, but we did not talk, concentrating instead on how we can grow to recognize the reality of being precious to God. As I sat down, I looked out onto the trees, still green and blending with blue sky. It was easy to see the richness of God’s creation with its variety of colors, shapes, textures, movement. The day was a gift from God. Sister did not ask me to ponder the gift of nature but to look into myself and my relationship with God. As I began to write, I found it difficult to believe Sister Mary Kevin’s claim that I am precious to God. I wrote about my failures at prayer, my doubts and missteps. Reading over my notes, I moved from problems with concentration in prayer to laziness to ignoring God until I could find the time. I recalled a practice of interrupting classes at Christian Brothers High School to take a moment to “Remember we are in the presence of the Lord.” As a teenager, I thought it was a break from study, not a serious prayer. Even today, depending on the task of the moment and my level of concentration, I might feel the same; I could find a more convenient time for God. By the time I finished my writing, I did not believe I was precious; I knew I had squandered His invitations and disappointed Him.


I began the afternoon reflection walking down the hill from the patio into the trees. Walnuts littered the ground. I walked through the grove around St. Gabriel’s and across the Abbey’s grounds. On my walk I looked at the ground, watching my step so I would not trip or fall. When I settled to write, I re-read my morning words and I noticed they were all about me. I did not think about God and relationship; I wrote about Tom and his weaknesses. I was ready to write how I had been a disappointment when I heard the voice of one of my children who oftentimes says “I know I disappointed you.” That phrase bugs me because it is so false. I want to counter him: “I am your dad and I can be disappointed in one of your actions but it never stops me from loving you and caring for you.” And here I was on retreat saying the same thing to God. In my notes, I jotted down to read Romans 5:6, “Christ died for us godless men.” I began to write about the love of a father for his children, how his children are precious in his eyes, and how a father sacrifices for his family. I knew I was writing about God in my life. His presence, as Sister taught, was lurking. I needed to be quiet and listen.


The final reflection time brought me back to the patio once again looking at the grove of walnut trees. As Sister mentioned that morning, I needed to “pay attention.” The longer I looked at the walnut grove the more I saw. Walnuts hung from branches, the trees displayed shades of color, the wind rustled leaves. Perhaps that is what I have also learned about my relationship with God. I must pay more attention to Him, to find his presence in all that I do. I know I can walk through life safely, watching each step so I will not trip or inconvenience myself; I have done that for years. I must learn how to walk in faith. The final notes captured this lesson. Sister Mary Kevin shared with us “Contemplative Sitting.”

  • Learning to “listen” and attend to that Voice
  • Learning to “see” and attend to that Presence
  • Learning to slow down and “run” with that Companion
  • Learning to “BE” and delight in that One Who is Love

Now weeks later, I hear Sister Mary Kevin gently asking, “Wouldn’t today be a good time to start learning?”