To catch up on my series of posts about my recent Ignatian retreat click here.
One more lunch preceded by the Angelus. One more exercise preceded by the Anima Christi. Before every lunch and supper we have gathered in the dining hall to recite the Angelus. Before the start of each exercise we have gathered in the chapel to pray the Anima Christi prayer. Each are touchstones that unite us with tradition and provide us with a way forward. Both are bridges. It has been my practice to pray the Anima Christi on my knees after receiving Holy Communion for several years; I hope to continue with the Angelus.
Before that final lunch we met for our last exercise. It is on the Resurrection itself, so that we might experience the joy and peace in the Risen Lord as a grace. By meditating on the apparitions of Christ post-crucifixion at the ends of the Gospels one is able to get a small sense of what it must have been like. Mary, at the home of John…on the road to Emmaus…or many others. One statement by Deacon Andrew stands out that I scribble in my journal: “Forgiveness that cannot come in this life can come through Resurrection joy.”
After the end of that session and after lunch I had around ninety minutes before we were to meet for a final communal rosary and closing chapel conference. Energized by the meditations on joy and I suspect by the food I decided to take a long walk in the mid-day sun. I set off once more towards the hay bales to the west and continued past them another quarter-mile before turning south and walking the fence lines that bordered these large sections of prairie. On one hand I wish I had taken my camera along to capture some of what I saw yet I was glad I didn’t. Instead of focusing on getting just the right photo I was able instead to meditate upon each scene. I kept returning to the glory of creation from Friday morning. One of the tenets taught by St. Ignatius in his exercises is that if you arrived at one that was providing you with a lot of fruit you stuck with it, not moving on to the next until you had exhausted all you were gleaning from it. I had been doing that off and on for two days, and so I found myself not focused on the joy in the Resurrection as much as the glory of creation on this day. I made plans to return to the Resurrection at a later time.
There was a slight wind, and few clouds, so the sun was warm in the pristine sky. I was alone on the prairie with nothing but grasses, harvested cornfields, barbed wire strung to old fence posts and sun-baked meadow muffins left behind by cattle. It was perfect.
After two miles I still felt invigorated and decided to cross the country road that borders the retreat center on the east and make my way towards the family campgrounds. After a half-mile of a slight incline and with time running out before the rosary was scheduled I chose to turn back. I would drive to the campgrounds later that afternoon instead once my retreat had ended. After three miles I finally was running out of gas.
A rosary, and then our final meeting in the chapel. We reviewed our three priorities as Christians.
- Spiritual practices (prayer life)
- Intellectual practices (reading, which includes spiritual reading)
- Apostolic practices (who am I inviting into this joy?)
We were challenged to focus on just one of these new priorities for a time, keeping it simple and consistent until it became engrained as a habit or a part of us. We are already doing this with anything else in this life that we want to become a habit. Why not choose one of these instead?
A final subject, the Examen Prayer, was discussed. I already knew a little about this prayer having brought along my book on the subject by Fr. Timothy Gallagher. I liked how Deacon Andrew kept it simple, breaking into the following pieces, using the acronym GRACE:
- Gratitude: for all that has been given me since the last Examen
- Request: a petition for the assistance of the Holy Spirit
- Account of the Day: Review – am I moving towards consolation or desolation?
- Contrition: in which I make an Act of Contrition and seek forgiveness
- Enthusiasm: return to my day and know that I am nearer to God than I was before the Examen
The Examen as you may have gathered is much like an examination of conscience. It does not have to be as extensive as that, or exhaustive, and if done every day (as one may do a “morning offering” for instance) it will not need to be. It may be done at the start of your day, done twice a day at Morning and Noon as the Jesuits do, or done as a part of Night Prayer. This is where I prefer to do the Examen as there is a place within the Compline (Night Prayer) that allows time for a daily examination of conscience and it seems the perfect place to do it while the events of the day are still fresh in my mind. It need only take 3-5 minutes, and often isn’t that long once you do it every day.
Just like that the final talk was over. We stayed in the chapel for a few extra moments to kneel and give thanks for all that had transpired here. Walking into the dining hall for a snack we were able to once again speak to one another. It had had been approximately sixty-eight hours of silence. To be honest I hadn’t planned on saying anything nor had I thought others would. As is usually the case the person whom you think wouldn’t say much based on something as superficial as their appearance (they looked shy and quiet in other words) were the ones who had the most to share about what they had experienced. In the end I did say a few things as anyone who knows me well will tell you it’s difficult for me to shut up. I did find that I was able to be brief, specific and measured in what I said so perhaps a lesson had been learned and taken to heart after all. Certainly something to build on at least.
Suddenly it was time to disperse, pack up our things and walk them out to the cars. Handshakes were made. One by one cars were started and pulling away.
I made a final stop in the chapel. On my knees for a final time I said a prayer of thanksgiving and for a safe journey home. I was joined by one other man just before I left who I suspect was doing the same. Arising, I genuflected, crossed myself, and left him with Jesus.
As I walked to my car I was stopped by a man who thanked me for what I’d said in the dining hall. “I’m grateful for people like you who are not afraid to speak from their heart for men like me who are not comfortable doing so,” he said. I was humbled into silence and thanked him. He told me he was making his first retreat at Broom Tree, but was employed as the keeper of the grounds. I complimented him on his efforts despite the hard drought and asked him about how it appeared under normal rainfall conditions. He assured me it was beautiful during those times. As he said this Cocoa strolled by and I told him about my experiences with her during my time at Broom Tree. Smiling, he told me that “Cocoa seems to have a ministry of her own.”
I agreed with him and while watching her walk away thought to myself that we all do.
Tomorrow: a few final thoughts