“Day 22; or the first day of the Third Week.” This slightly odd way of measuring time marks our current position in the month-long programme of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola. The “Long Retreat” is thought of as the central experience of the whole novitiate, and as you read this the first-year novices are making their way through it, under my direction. I am Paul Nicholson, the Director of Novices, making my first guest appearance in this blog.
We began the retreat, in Loyola Hall, a Jesuit-run spirituality centre on Merseyside, on January 11th, around the same time that the second-year novices were beginning their experiments. The three men involved, Joel, Peter and Henry, have been praying for four or five hours most days since then, sometimes getting up in the middle of the night for an hour of prayer. For much of this time they reflect upon incidents from the life of Christ, as recorded in the gospels. Ignatius adds a few “set-pieces” he himself devised. What kind of a leader might you be prepared to dedicate your life to, and how does Christ match up to this ideal? Can you recall a time when you set out along a good path, only to find yourself led astray into moral cul-de-sacs?
And all the time, the novice brings into prayer his sense of the direction his own life has taken, his call from God, his hopes and fears and desires. Sometimes new light is shed on each or all of these. Sometimes he finds himself challenged to go further. Often, he will experience himself as affirmed by God, and strengthened with the gifts he will need for his Jesuit life.
In ten days or so Henry, Peter and Joel will emerge from the experience of the Exercises. Not until they make their tertianship, the final stage of Jesuit training, perhaps a dozen years from now, will they again spend quite so much time in prayer. Before February comes to an end, they will each have been assigned to a first full-time pastoral placement of a month or so. Yet they will go about that work drawing deeply on all that they have received over these last few weeks. If you are yourself a person for whom prayer means something, you might spare a prayer for each of them in the days ahead.