Thursday, May 28, 2009

30-day retreat e-mail reflection: Introduction

(this is the beginning of an e-mail that I wrote following my 30-day retreat)

First, let me say that when people first heard that I was going into this retreat, one of the immediate responses was: "Oh my God. Thirty days???!!! I don't know if I can even do one day." Keeping in mindespecially two of my brothers, I would have to say that if they can do it, anyone can. Hahaha

But, on a more serious note, there truly is something that frightens people in having to be silent for this long. In my own experience, it meant that I actually had to seriously spend time with myself, deal with myself, and just be with myself. I had to listen to myself. To listen to my surroundings. To quiet down, to slow down. If you can thus imagine the personal empowerment that happens in doing so, you will understand how, on some level, this retreat changed my life. Not drastically in that I had a complete conversion experience but rather that I have been given, gifted, graced with new lenses, new ways of looking both at myself as well as the world that I never had before. More importantly for me, new ways in seeing how God works in my life.

Just an aside. Ignatius believed that it is possible for everyone to have direct experiences with God. This caused him to be heavily scrutinized by the Church leaders at his time. Was seen as almost heretical, being in line with people like the alumbrados. I think that was like a mystic sect or something. Perhaps a link on the right will appear about them if you use Gmail. Anyway, on a number of occasions, he was brought under questioning by the Spanish Inquisition, and it's quite a wonder how he stood his ground against their accusations upon him, but he believed he was in the right. He never wavered against them but probably grew strength from it as a result from gaining positive sentences from them.

I write that aside because I truly believe I was having direct experiences with God in this past month. And that belief probably makes me appear foolish or crazy. But, I stand my ground. Some may say: "it was just your imagination." Maybe so. But I believe, in my case, God worked strongly with my imagination. In fact, the imagination is an essential part of Ignatius' exercises. A faculty we grow up having as kids but is stifled as we grow older. As I've been with the Jesuits, I have been reclaiming that aspect of myself that was lost many years ago; it has been profoundly liberating.

I've given some thought as to how much information I should actually be sharing. Listening to my heart, though, I think it's important for me to be as open as I need to be in my experience since I think that maybe something may be gained from your reading it. Who knows? Maybe not. Wishful thinking

So now, a little explanation about the Exercises and what my day
looked like.

My days

I was required to pray four hours a day, or pray four times a day an hour each, sometimes five if I did the midnight meditations. I stopped doing those because they took a toll on me and would have affected the other four prayer periods. Besides that, I had my daily meetings with my spiritual director, Paul Fitterer, in the morning for 45 minutes, the normal meal periods, and then Mass daily at 5:00 PM. So, in the meantime...let's just say I got a lot of exercise in and a lot of reading, with a few days here and there where I would take the bus to downtown. For someone who rarely exercises (ask my family and former roommates, there's something striking about being able to jog on the treadmill 2 to 2 and a half miles almost everyday towards the end of the retreat.

Just a note about Paul. There's something wonderful when I think about how great it was that Paul, who is in his seventies, still is filled with energy to guide four of us in these exercises. A work that gives him, in his age, renewed life and strength. And this is new work for him, since he is as new to the novitiate as we first year novices are.

Anyway, being in silence isn't a matter of cloistering yourself; rather, it is a mode of being. So, I could be somewhere like the mall yet still retain my being of silence. But, for the most part, I spent my time in the novitiate.

What I was doing during those prayer periods were the Spiritual Exercises, the fountain of Jesuit formation. During this past month, writing in my journals was my primary form of praying. This becomes most apparent because I filled a journal and a half worth of my prayer experiences. So, I think I may have prayed approximately 175-200 pages worth in this past month. Took a toll on the $50 dollars I receive every month ( I decided to buy the fancy journals just for this month, knowing this would be a special time for me). But, for me, it was worth the price.

The Spiritual Exercises

Let me begin by saying that if you understand what is going on in the Spiritual Exercises, you will understand, at least in my perspective, what makes the largest Catholic order of men tick -- what inspires us to be "Contemplatives in Action."

I'll try my best to explain them. But please know that this is my perception of the Exercises, and I know that my other novice brothers had different experiences of them.

The Exercises are broken up
into Four Weeks.
Week I: Meditation on Sin
Week II: Meditation on
the Life of Christ
Week III: Meditation on the Death of Christ
Week IV:
Meditation on the Resurrection of Christ

There is a reason the name of the Jesuits is "The Society of Jesus." Our lives are grounded in our understanding and relationship with Jesus. If you are able to understand how we understand Jesus and His role in our lives, you will grasp the essence of the Jesuit (of course, this is an ideal for us, to follow in the path of Jesus, but we fail countless times. But that, in part, is the beauty of

(to be continued)

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