On Oct. 22, 2004, my mom died. Three years later, I was still missing her tremendously. I talked with my wife, family and friends, but to no relief. So, I decided to talk to our pastor, Father Gary Gebelein, about it. At this point in my life, the truth is I was not a very good Catholic. I was Catholic when it was convenient for me. So, Father Gary really didn’t know me very well. He knew me more by my envelope number.
After a long talk, Father Gary suggested that I go with the men from our parish on a retreat to the White House Jesuit Retreat Center. As a point of reference, we belonged to St. Francis of Assisi parish in south St. Louis County, very close to the retreat center.
So, I went. When I arrived, our parish White House retreat captain, Rich Tampow, met me and gave me a quick tour of the place and got me settled in. I walked into the dining room for the opening dinner with 80 other retreatants. I recognized a few men from our parish, but soon had a sinking feeling that I wasn’t holy enough to be there. After dinner, there were some opening comments, which included the statement that after dinner, the “silent” retreat would begin. Before we left the dining room, there was time for questions. I stood up nervously and stated that I must be at the wrong retreat. I’m not supposed to be at the “silent” one. I’m supposed to be at the “talking” one. Laughter ensued and I was informed there is only one retreat — the “silent” one.
I came up with every excuse why I had to leave, but reluctantly agreed to stay. Thank God I did!
The opening comment from our spiritual director, Father Jim Kubicki, was “Don’t pray the way that you normally do. Instead, take these three days in silence and listen to what the Lord has to say to you.” Listen to God? This was a new concept for me. I was so self-centered, so selfish that never had I asked God what He wanted me to do with my life. My prayers to this point had always been negotiations with God. “God, if you do this for me, I’ll do that for you.” Listening to God, this hit me like a ton of bricks.
So, I listened. As I sat in one of the Adirondack chairs overlooking the Mississippi River, the Holy Spirit put this thought into my head — I was going to pray for every person I had ever met in my life over these next three days. I started from my earliest memories until present day. Each night before I went to bed I would pray the Stations of the Cross. On Saturday night, the last night of the retreat, I came to the 12th station, the station where Jesus is crucified. In one hand, I had my list of people, and in the other hand I had the prayer guide for the Stations of the Cross.
As I looked up at the crucified Jesus I saw thousands of stars surrounding the crucifix and I heard these words in my head “Dave, I am responsible for your joy. I am the one who gave you all these gifts, all these people in your life.” At that moment a wave of gratitude rushed over me. It was something I could physically feel. On a Saturday night in mid-April, 2007, I met Jesus. In an instant my life changed. There is no turning back to my former self. And, I can’t stop talking about it.
Fast forward to this year, fourteen years later. I recently attended my 14th retreat at White House. I love being there — it is a sacred and holy place that educates and energizes me. I look forward to my annual weekend vacation with God. Here’s the weird part. I really don’t consider it to be a “silent” retreat. The spiritual director is talking out loud at the 10 conferences over the three days, and all the retreatants pray out loud as a community at morning prayer, daily Rosary, daily Mass, grace before and after meals and nightly Benediction. During the so-called “silent” times between all the scheduled activities, Jesus is talking to you, if you are willing to open your heart, let Him in and listen.
In May 2021, the White House Jesuit Retreat began its yearlong celebration of 100 years of bringing women and men closer to the Lord. Many St. Louis parishes have groups of men and women that attend annually. Consider joining them. You will be glad you did.
Baranowski is the director of stewardship education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He and his wife are parishioners at Mary, Mother of the Church in south St. Louis County. He can be reached at (314) 792-7215 or