How Jack Palance Came to My Rescue During My 30 Day Silent Retreat

I was coming to the end of the second week in my 30 Day Ignatian Retreat.  To simplify, let me say that my spiritual director gave me spiritual exercises to do each day.  We would then talk about what happened between God and me which lead to more exercises.  Saint Ignatias Loyola discovered a way to know and love God that changed his life for all time.

Fortunately, he outlined the general route up to the proverbial spiritual mountain top.  Now you should know this: it took 5 years of planning and preparation before I made the commitment and began this adventure into the heart of God and my own heart.  It’s a slightly different route for each person, but with the grace of the Holy Spirit and the help of a good director and with the capacity to be honest, open, and willing you should make it.

Anyway, back to the story.  My exercise at this point was to try to realize what I had learned so far and put it into words that make sense to my director and, of course, me.   So that’s what tomorrow’ five one-hour prayer periods will be about.

One last assignment tonight.  In the assigned passage — Colossians 3:1-4 — Saint Paul warns us to seek and set our minds on the things that are above.  A very good choice given the next day’s work. So there I was reading, reflecting, praying — nothing!  So I prayed, “Okay, God.  I’m not getting the message (my fault, not yours.)  It’s time for plan B.”

There was no flash of lightening or peal of thunder (that was a few hours ago — someone must have needed some encouragement!), but suddenly a scene from a Billy Crystal movie came to mind.  I laughed and started writing.

In the 1991 movie City Slickers three men having mid-life crises decide spending two weeks working a cattle drive was just what the doctor ordered.  They meet a crusty old cowboy Curly played by Jack Palance who they realize is a very wise man, however grizzled he might be.  At one point he asks, “Do you want to know the meaning of life is?” Billy Crystal’s character agrees.  Curly says holding up an index finger, “One thing.  Just one thing.  You stick to that….” Curly says everyone has to discover that one thing for himself.

Confession time (Yes, priests do go to confession): I knew that, but sometimes I need to be reminded.  Remember Jesus’ words,  “But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness,  and all these things will be given you besides.” (Matthew 6:33) Put God first.  So simple, it’s difficult.  

After I returned home, I lit a candle and said a prayer that Jack took his own advice and is now with God forever.

— Fr. Paul J. Wharton   



About Paul Wharton

I am a cradle Catholic, a native West Virginian, and a priest since April 24, 1982. Spiritual Direction has made a tremendous difference in my life and I encourage people to try it out. My motto is "Progress not perfection." I am grateful that God has done for me what I could not do for myself.
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6 Responses to How Jack Palance Came to My Rescue During My 30 Day Silent Retreat

  1. As you know, Father Paul, more often than not, God speaks to us out of or through our own life experience. We wait for the peal of thunder, the flash of lightning, the voice of God. We wait, we wait, sometimes hours, and – “nothing.” We’ve done our assignment: we’ve read the scripture passage, perhaps even re-read it, meditated on it, chewed on it so to speak, prayed about it in the way of a Lectio Divina. We’ve said our prayers, we’ve begged God for guidance, and – “nothing.”
    Then, in God’s own time, a memory out of our own past. In your case a scene from City Slickers comes suddenly and vividly.
    It certainly helps to be on retreat for this kind of thing to happen. The Ignatian Exercises most definitely encourage something like this because, as you pointed out, Ignatius mandates purposeful periods of prayer and lots of reading of Scripture, and total silence except when we are speaking with our spiritual director.
    The silence is about total communion with God. That’s what opens the space for God’s discourse with us. And often it does come out of our life experience – a memory of a Billy Crystal movie for example, and perhaps even some of the scenes in the movie flash before us, and even Jack Palance’s gestures or words instead of any thunder or lightning or even His voice. And we decide to write about it, talk about it, and it becomes more of a weaving into our own life experience. We integrate it. Or more accurately: God integrates it for us.
    The trick for us in the world outside of a retreat, I think, is to create these periods of silence in our daily living. Easier said than done, but nevertheless doable.
    When we are able to set aside a daily period of prayer, we’ve made a very important beginning. Because in doing so in our intent we auth0matically connect with God, sometimes unwittingly. We set the wheels in motion for God to do the work, to re-open the scene of the movie if you will. . God takes over, and our job is to trust God’s process. God might lead us into a specific prayer or our spiritual director might have given us a scripture assignment or God might send some thoughts our way..
    For me it’s kinda like the hidden mystery of Jesus’ parables. There’s something very important there, but often we don’t get it at first. Later, in God’s time, it might come to us – in a clear message, in a flash of lightening (unlikely), or in your experience the image or words of the old cowboy Curly, or some life experience of our own, and it become more and more clear that God really wants to help us to discover the one thing for our self. There is no perfect human formula for this. We trust in God and God helps us to figure it out.
    Thanks for being willing to share your life experiences with us. Thanks for helping us understand retreat, thirty-day retreat, the importance of Scripture, quite listening, waiting, and the need to create the God experiences outside of retreat – all of it.

  2. jeanpergande says:

    Thankyou for the reminder.

  3. You, Father, are an excellent writer! And I loved this Jack-Palance piece to remind us that even in life’s cinematic comedies we can cull some great advice.

  4. Many years ago, when i was a child, i had an authograph book and collected signatures and little sayings from various people. My Father wrote in that book “Set your mind on the things in Heaven above not on the things on earth”. It wasn’t until many years afterwards when I grew up and he passed away that I realised he was quoting Colossians 3:1-4.

    Thank you Father Paul for the reminder.

    God bless you.

  5. Pingback: Jack Palance

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