Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Complementary Spiritualities

“Fr Pat, do you have a minute?” Thus I began mixing my Benedictine spirituality with this Jesuit retreat.

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:
  1. There were 73 of us together from Thursday evening at dinner around 7:00 to after dinner Sunday, about 8:00.
  2. The ‘seventy-three of us’ above means seventy-three men.
  3. The ages of the men span 3 generations.
  4. We lived in 6 buildings, each in his own room but sharing bathrooms.
  5. Except for a brief period after dinner on two evenings, we were silent.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. With adequate time for individual prayer, there were many activities ( liturgies, meals, conferences and group prayer ) scheduled over the course of the day.
  9. While we ate meals together, we were silent, except for before and after meal prayer ( said as a group ).
  10. 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.”

We talked some more, he heard my confession … and I returned to the silence, virtually floating to the next conference. I had left a load in Fr Pat’s office and I am confident mine was not the only one keeping him company.
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