Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The Long Retreat: Coming to Know, Love, and Serve Christ
“So, how was it?” you ask, no doubt curious to know how the 30-day retreat went for me. No easy way to answer that question, certainly not in one word. Suffice it to say that the retreat was an intense spiritual experience that defies facile description. Not to put too fine a point on it, but how does one begin describe what it’s like when for 30 days, you share your heart with God and He shares His with you?
You may be thinking, “How did Ray (or any of the other retreatants) manage to keep silence for 30 days, with no conversation, no phones, no internet, no newspapers? Hard to believe, I know, but Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the man who devised this retreat, had a lot of wisdom when he insisted that to hear God speak to our hearts absolutely requires the absence of any and all competing voices. I got used to it quickly, and have even come to savor the silence. When there’s literally nothing else competing for our attention, it’s amazing to listen to how much God has to say to us!
We tertians were joined by 63 other retreatants: 7 Jesuit novices (first-year members of the Society of Jesus) and 56 religious and lay people. Each retreatant met individually with an assigned retreat director once each day for a 40-minute reflection session. We tertians were directed by our tertian instructor, Fr. Roger Champoux, SJ. Each day, we kept a routine of five prayer periods, each lasting 50-60 minutes, following the method layed out by Saint Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises (see the side bar posting entitled “The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola). Daily mass was celebrated each evening at 6:15pm. Plenty of time throughout the day for personal reflection, rest and relaxation (we all took afternoon siestas very seriously), spiritual reading, exercise, and long walks.
The venue for the retreat was the Sacred Heart Novitiate and Retreat Center, located in Novaliches, in a northern section of Manila. The retreat house, which resembles in design a classic Spanish hacienda, was built by the Jesuits back to the 1930s as the novitiate for the Society of Jesus in the Philippines, which at that time was growing by leaps and bounds. While Jesuit vocations are still relatively high here in the Philippines (averaging 7-10 men entering each year), the numbers are not nearly what they once were, so only one wing of the house still operates as the novitiate. The rest is used as a retreat house and conference center. Plenty of lush vegetation around, plus a nice swimming pool in which I swam almost every day – what I liked to call my time of “aquatic meditation!” There are some sheep and goats that roam the property, and even a lone Filipino caribou (water buffalo). Three meals a day are served (featuring a lot of fish and plenty of fresh tropical fruit), which we all ate in silence – awkward at first, but we got used to it. CD recordings of sacred instrumental music played softly in the background to accompany the sound of silverware clinking against plates. Even dining was a prayerful experience!
So, what did I get out of it, besides catching up on a lot of rest? Well, at the risk of sounding terribly pious (and those of you who know me well know that I’m not terribly pious!), the Long Retreat has left me with the grace I asked for each and every day – that I might know Christ more intimately, love Him more deeply, and follow him more faithfully, wherever He may call me. Seems fundamental, I know. But that’s largely what Jesuit tertianship is all about: going back to the fundamentals that led us (and still lead us) to live our whole lives in the Society that bears His name. And going back to fundamentals, years after we took the first step, affords us the luxury of prayerfully clarifying and deepening our commitment to our vocation of serving God and His people.
Ad majorem Dei gloriam -- “To the greater honor and glory of God”