A Weekend Retreat by Fr. Tom Shanahan, S.J.
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These Retreat Conferences begin with a short introductory prayer followed by a thirty-minute conference based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Though the retreat was shared with seventy men at the Jesuit Retreat House near St. Paul, Minnesota, the spirit and direction of the retreat is for women and men of all Christian faiths.
This retreat may be made in a variety of ways, by individuals or a group:
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A Spiritual retreat is an opportunity to undertake a journey that can lead us into that most special place in our life – our interiors. The interior journey, or the journey to discover our most intimate self, is indeed a privileged event.
We discover God at the very center of our being, but that daunting discovery has a fearsome dimension. Can I identify the hunger and thirst in my life that can be satisfied only by God? And, can I discover, too, the many ways that I try to fill those hungers and thirsts with things that do not really satisfy them? These are some of the questions that I bring as I start a retreat and my hope is that I discover at an even deeper level God’s goodness towards me.
Lord, send your Holy Spirit to guide me along the path of discovering you in my life. Help me to be open to your word that comes to me in the scriptures. Be with me on my interior journey.
If we only had eyes to see, we would see the wonders and beauty of God all around us. I certainly admire those who are so open to God’s presence in their lives. They seem to be able to tune in to the discovery of God’s loving hand in their everyday lives. What a blessing that is!
We, too, can be encouraged to make that same discovery. How often do we take the time to advert to and be grateful for God’s very clear care and loving concern for us? Rummaging around in my graced life history is one way to be drawn to deep gratitude for God’s constant care for me. Who am I? What am I made of? What are my qualities – my strengths and weaknesses?
Lord, you have made me wonderfully and amazingly. Help me to realize the wonders of your relationship with me and to be drawn to deep gratitude for your life-giving presence to me. Open me to your challenge to grow as a person of faith, hope and love.
My image (understanding) of God is a very important part of how I live my life. I am invited to grow in my understanding of who God is for me. As a person of faith I am called to growth and development in how I see (understand) God. Is God a taskmaster, a judge, an officer of the law, an angry parent, a puppeteer, or a cruel enforcer? None of these images of God tallies very well with the biblical understanding of who God is.
In the scripture God IS love, and there are multiple expressions of that love. In the Prophet Hosea, God deals with his recalcitrant people not with cruel punishment but with inviting and encouraging care: “I will draw them with human chords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks.”
Lord, help me to know you for who you are, and not as my shifting and false images of you would picture you to me. Keep me always open to your loving care. Let me learn to simply receive your love as a child soaks up a mother’s care.
“O, Lord, my God, you called me from the sleep of nothingness merely because in your tremendous love you want to make good and beautiful beings. You called me by name in my mother’s womb.” The words of this prayer remind us that God so wonderfully blesses us; and yet, so often our response to that great love of God is to run far away. I desire to know how I run from God and what are the obstacles I put in the way of God’s forgiving and loving presence at the very center of my life.
Help me to know your will for me, dear God, and to be open to doing that will. Be with me as I seek to know and respond to you.
We need to be reminded that for the most part, God comes to us in very ordinary ways. The ordinary events of our life are the normal avenue of approach for God to enter. We miss that when we think that the relationship with God is somehow so special that it takes us out of our ordinary experience. Relationship with God doesn’t take us away from ordinary life; rather it makes our ordinary life extraordinary if we let it. St. Augustine put it well when he said, “to be faithful in little things is a big thing.”
Lord, help me to be open to you in the daily, ordinary events and situations of my life. Draw me to that faithfulness St. Augustine speaks of. Stay with me even when my divided heart draws me away from you and your caring for me.
In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius there is a four-fold division into four separate “weeks” or four dynamic movements that focus on 1) God and God’s love for us despite our failings and sinfulness; 2) Jesus’ life from birth, his early life and ministry; 3) the passion and death of Jesus; 4) the resurrection of Jesus.
This four-part division provides a framework for our prayer and our response to God’s love and care for us. The retreat so far has been concentrated on the “first week”. Our invitation from God has been to discover God’s goodness and care for us and to humbly acknowledge our sinfulness and vulnerability – the ways that we block God’s love from penetrating our hearts.
Lord, thank you for the many ways that you come to us with your great care and love. Help us to receive that love that you lavish on us.
After rummaging around in our own story, our personal and unique histories, we see in those stories what St. Paul alerts us to so poignantly: that we are a complex mixture of good and evil. We are (according to St. Paul) at one and the same time Christ and Adam, a sinner, yet wonderfully graced by God.
Given that complex situation to deal with, we turn to a sharp focus on Jesus as he is presented in the gospel mysteries. There we will contemplate Christ; by this word, contemplate, we are invited to “watch, listen, and interact with Jesus our Lord.” We, loved sinners, are invited to focus on Jesus and those around him to learn to know him, to love him, and to be inspired to follow him in service.
With Jesus on center stage in our imagination, we are invited to see Jesus’ own strategy of bringing the message of the Kingdom to bear in our world through service to others. We are called to labor and work with the Risen Christ himself.
Lord Jesus, help me to know you more intimately, to fall in love with you, and to be impelled to serve you in others.
As we focus on Jesus, his disciples, the crowds and the many individuals Jesus dealt with, his demeanor strikes us and new attitudes begin to stir in us. Can we be invited, like the disciples, into walking with and serving with Jesus? We come to know Christ more intimately and to grow in our love for him. We acknowledge him as Lord and savior and we desire to serve the needs of others by his side.
Jesus, you show us the way to love. Thank you for your invitation to us to serve with you. Keep us ever attentive to the ways you call us into your service.
As Jesus relates to his disciples, especially to Peter he calls them into faithful service. Although they tried so hard, in the end, they failed in their attempts to be faithful to Jesus. Yet he continued to stand by them. Christ continues to be a blessing of faithfulness and of forgiveness to us.
We are grateful you, Lord Jesus, for your service to us, a service of forgiveness, comfort, peace and the challenge to continue our service at your side.
In our focus on Jesus the Christ and his relationship with the disciples he called to be his special companions, we see that not only did he invite them into service but also he detailed what their service should look like. This occurred strikingly as Jesus and the disciples made the journey from their ministry in Galilee all the way up to Jerusalem. At Jerusalem the startling events of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection would take place.
When Jesus told the disciples about his death and resurrection they did not understand him. They showed this misunderstanding on three occasions. And yet Jesus showed patience towards them. He took these occasions to teach them about what it would mean to be his disciple: take up one’s cross; be humble; be open to the suffering that would come their way as his disciple.
Lord Jesus, I am always surprised that you call me into service with you. I know that I don’t respond well to your call and so I need the strength that comes from you and your Holy Spirit to keep me focused on you and the others I serve with you.
Jesus and his three special friends, the disciples Peter, James, and John, went up to the mountain and Jesus was “transfigured” before them as the gospel says. For a brief moment God’s glory shone through the body of Jesus, as it had never done before. What must the disciples who were there at that very special time have thought or felt? Peter wants to capture the moment forever (“let us build three tents here”), but that is not meant to be.
Similarly Jesus and the three special disciples went to the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus experienced the terrible weight of what would happen to him in his trial, passion and death, events that were soon to take place in life. The disciples can’t stay awake, can’t be a support for Jesus who undergoes this darkness and the following darkness – alone.
Lord, God, teach me the mystery of the passion and death of your son, Jesus. Help me to know its meaning in my life and the life of those I know. Call me to a deep gratitude for your ultimate sacrifice of yourself – for me and for others.
Jesus suffered a cruel death on the cross. He died in the prime of his life condemned and killed as a common criminal. Our faith tells us that Jesus, innocence personified, is punished with the very fury of hell-on-earth. His suffering and death are for us, for our “salvation,” as we express it theologically.
But there is more to it than theologically correct language, and even more to it than the incredibly cruel and unusual punishment that Jesus undergoes. The more is that it is service for me/us. The crucifixion of Jesus is service of us. We see that service enacted dramatically in the passion of Jesus. He prays for those who are actually crucifying him; he forgives the thief crucified near him that day; he gives his mother over to his beloved disciple. These vignettes within the over-all drama of the cross remind us of the core meaning of this event: service – God’s love is shown in the offering of new life through Christ’s entire life and in particular, his death and resurrection.
Lord, send your spirit to teach us how to relate to your passion and death. Show us how to deal with the many “dyings” that are part of our lives: the grieving, the sorrow, the pain and the suffering that our loved ones and we experience.
The mystery of the resurrection is the center of our faith according to St. Paul. Through his resurrection the power of God over death and destruction is accomplished once and for all. No longer need the power of evil hold sway over our lives. The death and resurrection of Jesus (the paschal mystery) has broken the seeming power of evil. The joy of the resurrection is reflected in our lives in the events that bring us a renewed sense of the goodness of life despite the many obstacles that seem to be in our way.
Lord, help us to receive the Risen Lord who comes to us and takes as we are, as he approached his disciples after his cruel death with the incredible joy of his having been raised by God’s hand. Teach us the meaning of that spectacular event as it reaches into our daily lives.
Once again we are served by God’s love and life in Christ’s having been raised from the dead through the power of God. We see that service expressed in Jesus’ triple forgiveness of Peter, who, at the time of Jesus’ passion, denied him three times (“I do not know the man.”). How does Jesus serve us in our lives? Without doubt he serves us in the ongoing forgiveness of our failings, our weakness, and our sin.
Lord, teach us the lessons of joy in the resurrection. Help us to recognize, rejoice with and be grateful for the “resurrections” that occur in our daily lives. Keep us open to one another so that we can be instruments of resurrection for others.