For Christmas, a friend gave me a book about Jesuit spirituality. A wonderful book, it intends to make the 500 year old spiritual methods of the Jesuits’ founder meaningful today. Admittedly, I am one of today’s seekers. However, I didn’t know what to make of a book on Jesuit spirituality, as I am a Benedictine Oblate, immersed in and, I believe, happily practicing Benedictine spirituality.
“I invite you to come with me on retreat; you will really like it: 3 days, silent, preached by a Jesuit, at a Jesuit retreat house.” I was still pondering the book and its meaning for me when a different friend offered this invitation.
“This is weird, but reeks of synchronicity”, I thought. “I accept your invitation,” I actually said.
It was wonderful, but it offered a retreat experience quite different from that of my private retreat last September ( written about here ).
When arriving at my room last September, I wrote that the silence was palpable. It was not so on this retreat; I conclude that perhaps it was not the earlier silence that was palpable, rather the aloneness. I was not alone here; the retreatents shared a common purpose.
There were many structural things making the retreat weekend different from a typical weekend:
- There were 73 of us together from Thursday evening at dinner around 7:00 to after dinner Sunday, about 8:00.
- The ‘seventy-three of us’ above means seventy-three men.
- The ages of the men span 3 generations.
- We lived in 6 buildings, each in his own room but sharing bathrooms.
- Except for a brief period after dinner on two evenings, we were silent.
- The seat we took in the dining room Thursday evening was our seat for all the meals. Similarly for our seat in the chapel a bit later.
- We were tightly scheduled … and the day was pretty long, rising at 7:00 a.m., concluding with Benediction at 8:00 pm, followed by a conference; yard lights out at 10:15 p.m.
- With adequate time for individual prayer, there were many activities ( liturgies, meals, conferences and group prayer ) scheduled over the course of the day.
- While we ate meals together, we were silent, except for before and after meal prayer ( said as a group ).
- During meals, Fr Pat provided oral stimuli delivered over the sound system.
I began my talk, “Father Pat, I am a Benedictine Oblate ... ,”
“So you are a man of prayer.”
Nodding tentatively, I extended my left hand, palm up, as though holding something ( something Benedictine ), and went on, “ … and here I am, attending a Jesuit retreat,” putting out my right hand. Palms up, I exaggerated the distance between them. I looked plaintively at him, looked at my hands, moving as though I’m trying to put them together, looked back at him: “What the hell?”
A wry smile, “We are all, Jesuits and Benedictines, serving/seeking the same God! You certainly have no conflict.”
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