When people come back from holidays, the curiosity of family and friends arises: Did you have a nice time? What was the weather like? What was your favourite place? Three weeks ago (or so) I went through the most important “holidays” of my life: The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola (also known as the Exercises or the Long Retreat). However, the Exercises are not simply a month away in nice location. For 30 days, I had a very intimate encounter with God. To me the long retreat has one purpose: to evoke an overture of Christian servitude by bringing the retreatant to a deep (or deeper) awareness of God’s presence.
As I mentioned before, the Exercises are a personal time with God. Away from the distractions of the world, one can truly focus on the one who creates us. Nevertheless, the temptation to lose concentration is very present. But, through self-discipline and grace, the retreatant can continue Ignatius’ route of discernment. In discernment and opening of the heart, one encounters God face-to-face. And being able to experience proximity to the Trinity can only moves me towards God’s service.
It is difficult to give much detail about the long retreat. I don’t want to spoil the surprises that the God has for those who have not done them. However, the Exercises are a school of discernment. As Tim Muldoon would say, an “Ignatian Work out”. In Ignatius’ mind, the retreatant needs to go through a series of spiritual movements (or exercises). Through them, one becomes more responsive to God’s movements and more open to God’s desire. And by experiencing desolation and consolation, one learns to find God in all things. All this spiritual revival bears God’s greater gift: the freedom of discipleship.
Finally, the Exercises are not “alone” time. First of all, you are accompanied by your retreat director. In my case: Fr. Paul, the novice-master. Through Paul’s direction, I was able to share and make sense of my experiences in prayer. And with his guidance and advice, I could interiorise what God was trying to reveal me.
Whether doing it with other Jesuits or people from other paths of life, the retreatants become a community for a month. Though I was the only Jesuit novice, my co-retreatants were wonderful companions. They were diverse in nationality, Christian tradition and Church involvement. Furthermore, I felt accompanied in my prayer by my friends, family and fellow Jesuits. And I strongly believe that the graces I received in this retreat were supported by the intercessory power those who prayed for me.
I thank God for such a blessed time. By the end of the Exercises, I was worried about forgetting what I went through. However, the long retreat is engraved in my mind and my soul. I like to think that the vivid memories of it are a sign of God’s love. It is God’s love that has reconfigured me for mission. And in it I can only say: Take Lord receive.
PS: A special thanks to Paul and staff of Loyola Hall. (http://loyolahall.co.uk/).