|Online Retreat makes web
a prayer partner for busy people.
October, 16, 2000By Elizabeth Wells
The Catholic Voice
There is a quiet place in cyberspace that exists solely to help real people find peace in their busy worlds. A quick connection once a week or once each day is providing hundreds of thousands of Christians around the world with an opportunity to make prayer the "backdrop" to their lives.
Creighton University's Collaborative Ministry Office launched their Online Ministries beginning in February 1998.
The resulting sites, "Daily Reflections," "Preparing for Sunday" and the "Online Retreat" are spiritual resources that provide an opportunity for and access to spiritual development anytime, anywhere, said Maureen Waldron, associate director for the Collaborative Ministry Office.
She and Jesuit Father Andy Alexander, vice president for university ministries and the director of the Collaborative Ministry Office, actually began developing the online ministries as a cost-cutting measure. Each year the Collaborative Ministry Office prepares reflection materials for Creighton employees for the Lenten season. These were photocopied and distributed to directors around the campus.
In 1998, they decided to dispense with the photocopying and place it on the Web, Waldron said.
"It was very popular. When we got to the end of Lent, people asked us to continue. So we extended the daily reflections until school let out in May. We started to be asked the question `How hard would it be to write a little reflection for every day of the year?'" she explained.
That summer the decision was made to put reflections up on the Web all the time. Creighton University's innovative technology supported this decision and they launched the year-round daily reflection in August 1998.
When the Web site received an unprecedented number of "hits," Waldron and Alexander took the ministry a step further and developed a 34-week online retreat based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. The first week began in September 1998.
"People were really looking for this," Waldron said of the ministry. "A lot of people say that to pray properly you have to take an hour in the morning and get away.
"That is wonderful in the ideal, but most of us have busy, busy lives. The retreat begins with a prayer in the morning and then you take it with you all day. You carry it with you when you brush your teeth, drive to work. You contemplate God's love for you when you are at the office, going to a meeting, when you get home, doing the laundrywhen you get ready for bed.
"The Jesuits have this idea about taking contemplative prayer with you in your life," Waldron said.
St. Ignatius wanted his spiritual exercises to be for people who had the potential for doing great good, Father Alexander said. "It was just such a delight to adapt them to this format so anyone could have access to them," he said.
The movements of the Ignatian exercises are meant to be shared one-on-one. The collaborative ministry team has seen the power of the Internet, however.
"How many people don't have access to a spiritual director? How many have access to a computer?" Waldron said.
"Perhaps 30 people are free and available to come to a one- or two-day retreat. This is good, but when you see that 900 people visited (the Web site) that first week and are reading those prayers, it's pretty amazing," Father Alexander said.
This number has only grown over the past two years. The records of the collaborative ministry office show that the "Online Retreat" site received more than 90,590 "hits" last year. The "Daily Reflections" section has seen 286,348 "hits" during this time.
"That's over 800 people reading the `Daily Reflections' each day," Waldron said.
The retreat consists of several components. The weekly "Guide" page provides the weekly direction for the retreat experience. Each week there is a "Getting Started" section. This offers practical help for living with that week's part of the retreat, Waldron said.
The "Guideposts" are a regular column written by Jesuit Father Larry Gillick, director of the Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality. The reflection also offers insights for the journey.
Each week includes sections called, "In these or similar words," "Readings," "Prayers," "A Place to Share" and "Reading the Sharing." All are meant to assist an individual or group to make the most of their retreat experience.
Although the readings match the liturgical year if started in September, Waldron said that people may begin the retreat at any time.
Finally, each week has an image associated with the text. These photographs were provided by Jesuit Father Don Doll. Instructions on the site tell how to convert the image to a screen saver, providing a visual "backdrop" to one's life.
Waldron explained that people use the retreat materials in varying degrees ranging from daily to weekly use, for individuals or groups.
Through feedback, they have learned that the material is making a difference in people's lives.
"The genius of St. Ignatius' exercises is that he takes us to that place where God can work with the human heart," Father Alexander explained. "We've provided an opportunity for these people to articulate the movements of their hearts."
To access Creighton University's Online Ministries, go to www.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/online.html.