Apostolates · Jesuit life

The Long Retreat

P1050922

Novices and other 30 day retreatants on a repose day.

This is the first blog entry for this year – it has been some time since the last one as we have been busy on the 30-day retreat making the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius which finished last week. People often ask how the retreat went. Did it help you decide? Did you enjoy it?

To provide some glimpse of what the retreat was like it is useful to put it into the context of my own experience. Before the retreat my biggest question was whether this Jesuit life was for me or whether I could be of better service returning to nursing. The first four months had been hard, constantly having this question, and living with the uncertainty of the future. I had many anxieties and fears which I expressed to my family along the way. It is not surprising that they would think it strange that I was still holding out to make the retreat.

At the start of the retreat I knew that this seemingly big question of my direction in life was actually a red herring. The real question was about relationship and the state of that relationship between God and me. I knew it was in need of repair on my part, and I came to see the anxieties and fears were not of God but as a result of cutting God out of that process. Throughout the retreat the word ‘trust’ came up again and again. I found that God made use of my own experiences to say something about our relationship. By making use of my experience of different relationships e.g. family, work, friends and personal ones, I came to experience God in a deeper way. These human relationships were a tangible way of pointing to some truths about my relationship with God. I came to see that when a broken relationship is restored it can take time to trust again. Not on God’s part but with regard to my very human need to trust in God, in his plan, with my hopes and fears that something good will come from this. Trust for me takes time, it doesn’t just happen.

Over the course of the retreat and with the exercises I was making much more time was given over to God. I got a stronger sense that this was a vocation, an invitation to me in the true sense of the word. I also recognised that I was also free to accept or decline that invitation or, as Jesus said when calling his first disciples, ‘Come and see’. Although I am cautious to come to the conclusion that Jesuit life is the best way forward for me I am genuinely at peace and happier to be responding by being fully engaged in novitiate life and seeing if this is for me. Those anxieties and fears don’t have the power over me that they used to.

So to answer the original questions, the retreat helped repair the relationship with God, gave me the grace of peace and contentment, and the strength to trust. It was not an easy or enjoyable experience but the effort and the continued fruits were well worth it. Has it helped me decide? Probably; though being cautious I would say it is still a matter of testing out the vocation to this life.

The dream

The Dream – Sculpture at Sutton Manor Colliery.

Capturing the hopes and aspirations of a community.

The testing and living out the exercises is what happens next. Two of us are off to secondary schools, one in Ireland the other in The Netherlands, for six weeks. Part of my work will involve teaching English, possibly setting up some new initiatives. It also gives me the chance to experience school life in Holland and practice my Dutch, which I am looking forward to. One of the key things I remember from attending a Jesuit School is the phrase “Men and women for others”. This was actually something the former Jesuit General, Fr Pedro Arrupe, said in an address to Jesuit Alumni in the seventies. It is about developing a social conscience and a sense of justice in young people that will inform and mould them throughout their lives. The full text can be found with this link: http://jesuitinstitute.org/Pages/KeyTexts.htm. I look forward to experiencing this again as I step back into the classroom.

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