|Exercising with Ignatius: Online retreat helps busy
users find intimacy with God
September 8, 2006
Take on an ambitious goal this fall by beginning a 34-week-long retreat
based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. It’s
actually a “cyber retreat” conducted over the Internet through
Jesuit-run Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., at: www.creighton.ed/CollaborativeMinistry/online.html.
Though people can start at any time, the retreat follows the liturgical
year, and Father Andy Alexander, Creighton’s vice president for
university ministry, suggests beginning on Sunday, Sept. 17.
“The message is—just give it a try,” he said. “It’s
so simple, so directed; it does not require you to get away.
“Ignatius talked of generosity of heart. And the retreat leads
to hearing the cry of the poor. Many of us are not too busy to pray,
we’re too busy to serve.”
As the introductory guide for week one advises, “All we need to
do is give God just a little space to transform our everyday live, a
moment at a time.”
The first week focuses on sin, the second on Christ’s life and
ministry, followed by his passion and resurrection.
The retreat is self-directed, and each week the site offers a guide
page and resources that can be downloaded for further study. It also
features elegant, meditative photos by noted Jesuit photographer Father
Don Doll, accompanied by Scriptural passages and reflections by Father
The university’s collaborative ministry office, headed by Father
Alexander and Maureen McCann Waldron, associate director, launched the
site eight years ago as an inexpensive way to proved Lenten prayers
for staff at Creighton.
“It’s been an extraordinary experience for us,” Father
Alexander said. It started with daily online reflections, and the response
was quick and heartening. They next began offering the retreat online.
And, almost immediately, via the Internet, found they were reaching
people around the world.
“They jumped in, “Waldron recalled in amazement, “This
is something graced and bigger than us. We’re getting two million
hits a month from one hundred forty countries.”
It soon became evident that so many people were alone in their journey,
Waldron said, adding that many retreatants are homebound.
“They tap into the exercises as a prayer experience,” Waldron
And it has reached people who are isolated in other ways. Many live
in Third World countries, but retreatants also include a farmer in Nebraska
and a woman whose rosary and prayer book were confiscated on entering
That’s why they added an online sharing group to the site, giving
retreatants a chance to discuss their experiences.
A parish in Australia has used the online retreat as part of it RCIA
program, a Long Island parish sponsored it for groups.
“We’ve been amazed at the creative ways that people have
used it,” Waldron said.
St. Ignatius created his Spiritual Exercises in the sixteenth century
as a rigorous thirty day silent retreat requiring five hours a day in
prayer. He began by taking notes on his own spiritual experiences.
It wasn’t until some one hundred years ago that the exercises
were even really understood. That’s when Ignatius’s diaries
and his autobiography – never before published – were discovered
in Jesuit archives. His writings were vast, including more than seven
In today’s version, the Website extends the retreat over eight
months and encourages people to spend an hour a day following Ignatius’s
model of Scripture reading, prayer and contemplation.
“Ignatius did something very radical,” Father Alexander
said. “He was a spiritual humanist. He put together a search for
God that was not about fleeing the world but entering more deeply into
it. He was a spiritual mystic.”
Ignatius taught that people should seek intimacy with God throughout
the day. Waldron said the planners based the structure on their own
“I knew if I was going to make a retreat I had to pray in those
little periods of the day – doing the dishes, the laundry, turning
the radio off in the car, walking ten minutes to work – those
little moments tucked away throughout the day, and at the end of the
day remember to say thank you.
“People are thrilled,” she said. “They never had God
brought to them in this way. Ignatius and his followers inspired us.
They went out in the town square instead of making people go into churches.
We felt Ignatius would approve of this.”