|Guided Online Retreat brings
spiritual exercises to the masses
April 11, 2002
BY Joan King
Special to the Catholic Herald
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
Milwaukee- A woman visiting London from her home in
Baltimore heard about it form a priest from Singapore. It can be designated
“handicapped accessible.” It brings a 475-year-old idea
to the modern age of technology. What is it? It is a Web- based online
retreat – 34 weeks of reflections, prayer suggestions and even
direct help by e-mail.
The idea resulted from teamwork by Jesuit Fr. Andy Alexander, vice president
for the University Ministry and Director of the Collaborative Ministry
office, and Associate Director of Collaborative Ministry Maureen McCann
Waldron at Creighton University in Omaha.
In 1998, as they planned a Lenten retreat for the faculty and staff
at Creighton, they put it on the Internet rather than photocopy it and
also enlisted contributions from participants. When they began getting
e-mail at the site from Australia, the Philippines, Africa, and other
areas of the world, they realized it could be a worldwide ministry that
reflects the changing face of the church.
“It was a collaborative effort born of prayer and reflection together.
It took us 34 weeks to create the retreat. We put it together, one week
at a time,” said Alexander. “Each week we would spend several
hours refracting upon the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius…
We would ask ourselves how we would present this material online to
very busy people today, whose only chance for a powerful experience
of intimacy with God would be in the midst of their everyday lives…It
has brought the movements of the Exercises alive in a new way.”
The user-friendly site offers instructions for getting started with
the retreat with the retreat with answers to frequently asked questions.
The weekly guide can be printed for use in any setting. Weekly photos
by Jesuit Fr. Don Doll serve as visual reflections.
There are only three requirements – to read the weekly guide page
each week, to spend some period of time in prayer everyday and to review
the graces of the week each week. An option is to share the graces with
a director of others making the retreat.
The retreat draws on the almost 500-year-old spiritual exercises of
St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order. As originally written,
it was meant to be a 30- day individual retreat, but has been adapted
in person, the Web-site is a boon, available 24/7. It also brings the
spiritual world to the handicapped who find it difficult to move about
outside the home, but have computer access, such as a person with muscular
dystrophy and a voice-activated computer.
Waldron told of one woman who printed each week’s guide and mailed
it to her sister-in-law suffering with terminal cancer. She would then
call and they would go over it together. Both found it very inspirational.
The cancer victim died in the 34th week of the retreat, fully prepared
for her life’s close, a wonderful gift from her sister-in-law.
Both associates advise participants to look at the retreat as a gift,
a wonderful experience, just as we find time to do the things we like.
Here’s how it works.
Go to http://www.creighton.edu/collabortiveministry/online.html
Click on the “retreat” line or explore “helps for
making this retreat on your own” or “helps for a group making
this retreat.” Read what others say about it at “sharing
the retreat” and “our guest book.” It is really simpler
then it looks.
At the retreat setup, the weekly guides can be accessed in various ways
according to individual preference – begin at the beginning or
go with the liturgical year. (The liturgical year begins in September
at the Web site to coincide with the 34-week school year.)
The web site also lists daily reflections (written by 50 faculty and
staff at Creighton) as a link to the daily liturgy, preparing for the
Sunday readings, seasonal prayer preparation, on-line Stations of the
Cross, spirituality and justice links. In March, 1,107 logged on the
week 1 to begin the retreat.
Adding the various link contacts, the site receives several thousand
“hits” a day. The weeks change with the liturgical year
and expand or retract to fit Lent, Easter, Advent, Christmas and seasons
of the secular calendar.
A new twist to the site is the recent expansion to many who program
the daily reflections to their palm pilot-type devices for immediate
availability when time permits.
Many online retreatants make an in-person retreat at a later time. The
Jesuit retreat houses also give out a card with the online retreat site
for those who wish to keep in spiritual contact after an in-person retreat.
Alexander, who served as pastor of Gesu Parish in Milwaukee from 1988
to 1996, credited the wonderful technology department at Creighton that
gives them as much space as they want.
Both Waldron and Alexander work at the Web site in their spare time.
They receive the best “pay” when people reply by e-mail
to their daily reflections. Once the received a $500 donation from a
group of nuns who work with the poor in New York City to express their
gratitude for the convenient spiritual access of the Web site. They
tried to return the money but were refused.
“I like to think the Ignatius is proud of what we have done. I
like to think that he is especially proud that we did it as a Jesuit
and a lay married woman. (The Sharing Page) is a powerful testimony
of how hungry people are to find intimacy with God,” said Alexander.
“Many of these people would never make their way to a retreat
house or approach a spiritual director. Many of them would never go
to a religious bookstore and find a good inspiring book to read and
reflect upon. But they are going online week after week wrestling with
real stuff, falling in love with Jesus, learning to pray in a whole
new way, and experiencing a new freedom to be with and like Jesus in
giving their lives away more courageously.