By Father G. Robert Gross
Special to The Witness
This last summer, I was given permission by Archbishop Jackels to make the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. St. Ignatius was the founder of the Society of Jesus, a religious institute of priests and brothers dedicated to the apostolic life of evangelization and service. St. Ignatius and his nine companions founded the order in 1534 in Paris, France. It blossomed into one of the largest religious orders in the church.
I made the 30-day retreat at Creighton University under the direction of Father Larry Gillick, SJ, a Jesuit priest at Creighton. It was truly a life transforming experience of purifying and clarifying the motives and reasons of why I am a Catholic priest.
But there is something strange and beautiful that I discovered about the 30-day retreat and St. Ignatius. I realized that St. Ignatius is not a Jesuit!! St. Ignatius did not intend initially to found a new religious order. He intended to “help souls” personally experience the risen Christ so that they might be helped and grow in the life of holiness and service for the sake of the Gospel.
The source of Ignatian spirituality is the Spiritual Exercises. The Spiritual Exercises is a retreat St. Ignatius developed over the course of 30 years. The retreat consists of a spiritual director, a retreatant, the Bible, the life of Christ, a journal, time and prayer. The retreatant prays prayer periods of four to five hours with Scriptures given by the spiritual director. The retreatant, in the silence, prays with the Scriptures that reveal the goodness, love and mercy of the Blessed Trinity, and, over time, the love of God transforms the desires and freedom of the retreatant so that the retreatant can be focused on other-centered mission for the salvation of others.
As I made the retreat two main thoughts came to mind. First, any Christian, Catholic or non-Catholic Christian, can make this retreat. The retreat consists of a lot of time, prayer, the Bible, reflection and journaling and experiencing the Gospel in a personal way. There was Mass offered every day, there was confession offered periodically, but the essentials of the retreat were time, Scripture, conversation with the spiritual director and God doing the rest. The retreat is intensely focused on who Jesus is, and from the fountain who is Christ, so much grace comes into our hearts and souls. So, the Spiritual Exercises is for any baptized Christian: Catholic or Protestant.
The second thought that came to mind was the generosity of time. The more time we give to God, the more time he has to transform our minds and hearts. There were some days that it was difficult to pray four to five hours of prayer, but, for the most part, I was given a little glimpse into what eternity will be in heaven. Heaven will be relationship with God the Holy Trinity for all eternity. Our generosity to God allows us to experience his generosity to us.
Initially, I found it difficult to come back to “normal life” because the life I was living during the retreat was more what heaven will be than our daily life. There are so many things that threaten our time with God. That’s why I find it even more important to safeguard my time with God in personal prayer. I truly experienced what St. Padre Pio said, “Prayer is the oxygen of the soul.” We cannot live without prayer, and that will be the enduring gift of the 30-day retreat. I realized my absolute need to pray each day with generosity of time and how the Evil One is always trying to break in with things and pleasures.
I want to publicly thank Archbishop Jackels for granting me the opportunity. I want to thank my parishes for their patience as I left them for the summer. I want to highly encourage anyone who wants to grow in holiness, know their vocation or to be renewed in their vocation to consider doing the 30-day retreat of St. Ignatius!
Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O Lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me. Amen.
Father Gross is pastor of St. Aloysius, Calmar; Our Lady of Seven Dolors, Festina; St. Francis de Sales, Ossian; St. Wenceslaus, Spillville.