Retiree deepens prayer life, offers spiritual direction

| September 22, 2017 | 0 Comments

Al Boll likes to read and pray on the deck of his home in Scandia. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

In 2006, Al Boll was looking forward to retirement from his software job at Thomson Reuters in Eagan, but he had no plan for how he would spend the influx of time.

It turned out that the answer was years in the making. It started with a deepening of his faith prompted by a Bible study at his parish, St. Paul in Ham Lake, and then turned into a new vocation as a spiritual director and membership in a lay Carmelite order.

Boll and his wife, Patricia, joined St. Paul in 2004, but had already been part of a Bible study there for five years. Digging into Scripture inspired him to take the Church’s authority more seriously, he said.

“Through the Bible studies — and especially the study on the Acts of the Apostles — I could see where the authority of the Church came from. It’s all through the Bible, from the very beginning. That … made such a big difference.”

He felt compelled to go to confession, which he hadn’t been doing regularly, and went to St. Mary of the Lake in White Bear Lake, which is near his home in Scandia.

“I told my story about my conversion in confession,” Boll recounted. “The priest offered to be my spiritual director. I had no idea what that meant, but I said, ‘Sure, I’ll try it out.’ That was Father Roger Pierre, who had been a pastor there for many years.”

Boll and Father Pierre met once a week, and, later, once a month. The priest died in 2013, but Boll has applied one key practice Father Pierre taught him to his retirement.

“He insisted on daily prayer, for anyone he was directing,” Boll said. “He recommended that I use the Magnificat [publication]. It has the daily readings, morning and evening. He said, at a minimum, read the psalm in the morning and the psalm at night. So, I did.”

Boll also started reading the works of St. John of the Cross, which fueled a fascination with the 16th-century Carmelite friar and doctor of the Church. He’s since read his complete works several times.

“Every time I read it, I get something different out of it,” he said. “At that time, what was important was the ‘dark nights,’ the dark night of the senses and the dark night of the spirit or dark night of the soul.”

While his prayer life was deepening, he stumbled into his first opportunity to give spiritual direction. It occurred two years before he retired, and began with an office that was too hot. He left his first-floor office to look for some cooler air. He found an empty cubicle on another floor and let colleagues in nearby offices know of his temporary occupancy.

Among them was a woman he had met years earlier, when she was right out of college and interviewing for a job at Thomson Reuters. She now was a manager, and the two began a conversation after he stopped in.

“She was having a problem with one of her kids,” Boll recalled. “I stayed and I talked a little bit, and we said a little prayer.”

Boll left that brief conversation wondering if he could do more. He felt God prompting him to go back and talk to her again, so he did. That turned into weekly meetings over the lunch hour.

Then, two years later, he reached his retirement day. He figured she would naturally seek out someone else for conversation. But she had other ideas.

“I said, ‘What do you want to do?’” he recalled. “She said, ‘Well, can we talk on the phone?’ I said, ‘OK.’ So, she called me every couple weeks. After a while, I said, ‘You know, you really should get a spiritual director of your own.’ And, she said, ‘Al, that’s you.’ And, I said, ‘Well, I meant a real one — one with credentials.’ And, she said, ‘No, you’re great for me.’”

The two are still talking today, and Boll has since taken on more directees. He generally meets with about a half dozen people at a given time, some retired and others a long ways from it.

He says he doesn’t know why people come to him, but it’s become his niche in retirement. His days also include rosary and Mass, either at St. Peter in Forest Lake or St. Mary in Stillwater. He also attends regular events of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, which he joined in 2011. The local community is called Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, and it meets at St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony. In June, Boll made a permanent profession to the community, founded in 1562 by St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila.

He said the order has pushed him to more and deeper prayer, and that, in turn, has paid dividends in spiritual direction. Though he has no formal training, he believes the writings of Carmelites such as St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila have created a solid foundation from which to draw. He also refers to a small book on spiritual direction by the American Trappist monk Thomas Merton and encourages people he works with to read it, too.

But, perhaps the biggest influence on his life goes back more than three decades, when he decided to turn to Alcoholics Anonymous to help him face a problem with alcohol.

“I drank from high school until I was 40 years old,” he said. “Finally, I just said, ‘I can’t do this. I have to quit. I can’t drink.’ Someone told me that if I go to AA, AA will teach me how to be happy without alcohol.”

He continues attending weekly meetings, with 36 years of sobriety now under his belt. He also sponsors another person and gives spiritual advice to others at the meetings.

The background in AA is something he considers invaluable when it comes to helping others. He said that experience motivated him to help the woman at work while at Thomson Reuters.

He also said that AA complements his faith.

“The spirituality of AA is basic Christianity,” he said. “I was struck by reading the doctors of the Church, the Carmelites especially, how much it was like AA spirituality.”

As for others nearing retirement, he offers simple advice on figuring out what’s next: “Prayer. Ask him [God]. Be open to hearing what he says, how he moves you.”

For him, the answer came in the form of Carmelite spirituality, which he plans to practice the rest of his days.

“It’s not for everyone,” he said. “But, if you’re called to it, do it. It all has brought me much closer to God. I said yes to being a Carmelite, and I’ve tried to follow what it means to be a Carmelite, and that has brought me closer [to God].”


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