Five Days in the Arms of God: A Restful Retreat or Spiritual Boot Camp?
What does a five day, personally directed retreat, at a Jesuit Spirituality Center, look and feel like? Join me on a spiritual safari as we explore Grand Coteau, a deeply Catholic region of southern Louisiana, in search of spiritual insight during this Advent Season.
Virtual Pilgrimage Location: The St. Charles Jesuit Spirituality Center in Grand Coteau.
Two thousand years ago, Grand Coteau was situated on the west bank of the Mississippi River, near its entry point to the Gulf of Mexico. Built upon a sloping ridge, or “coteau”, this region is known today for its magnificent old oak trees and historically significant Catholic structures, including the Academy of the Sacred Heart, founded in 1821, St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, built in 1886, and St. Charles College Jesuit Spirituality Center, founded in 1837. The latter was my home, from December 8th to the 14th, as I completed a five day, silent, spiritual retreat focused on hearing God’s voice through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, established in 1819, is the third oldest Catholic parish in the Archdiocese of Lafayette. The Jesuits came to serve in Grand Coteau and the surrounding area in 1837 and have been in service to the parish ever since.
St. Ignatius, a 16th-century Spanish priest and theologian, wrote the Spiritual Exercises to increase awareness of God’s presence in everyday life. For centuries, these Exercises were most commonly given as “long, 30-day retreats” in solitude and silence. In recent years, there has been a renewed emphasis on the Spiritual Exercises as a program for lay people. Therefore, today, the most common way of going through the Exercises is through the “retreat in daily life”, otherwise known as the 19th annotation. This alternative method, developed by St. Ignatius, involves a six to nine month program of daily prayer and meetings with a spiritual director. Other modern adaptations include the three, five, and eight day silent, directed retreats offered at the Jesuit Spirituality Center in Grand Coteau.
St. Charles College, the site of the first Jesuit College in the south, became the Jesuit Novitiate in 1922 and Jesuit Spirituality Center in 1972. Today, priests, sisters and lay persons come for a three, five, eight, or thirty day private, directed retreat in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Grounded in the conviction that God is active in our world, St. Ignatius understood that man’s relationship with God was through Jesus Christ. Therefore, his Exercises, divided into four sections or “weeks” of varying lengths, consist of meditations and contemplations on various Scriptural passages focusing on the major themes of sin, and Jesus’ life, Passion and Resurrection. After meditating, contemplating, and praying upon each assignment, the retreatant, accompanied by their spiritual director, attempts to understand how these various experiences or insights apply to God’s call in their life.
The Ignatius Chapel, completed in 2008, is the intimate setting for the 4:45 pm daily Mass held at the Jesuit Spirituality Center.
One of several beautiful statues on the grounds surrounding the Jesuit Spirituality Center. Pictured above: Mary, the Queen of Heaven and Earth, presenting her Child, Jesus, to the world.
So, there I was, surrounded by natural beauty, being enlightened by the Word of God, nourished by His Body and Blood, and guided by an Ignatian trained spiritual director. Sounds wonderful, right? But wait, did I fail to mention, the silence? Being an introvert, I expected the solitude and silence to be the least challenging aspect of my five day journey. Sure, walking through the Passion of Christ and looking upon my own sinfulness would certainly be painful, but the silence? Who knew? Going into the five day process, I was sure that the promised silence would simply be music to my ears. Boy, was I wrong! Although, the three to four hours of quiet meditation, self-reflection, and daily participation in the Mass, was heavenly bliss, the silence proved deafening. Five days of passing each other in the hallways, sitting silently in the communal dining hall, and avoiding eye contact or polite conversation, ironically, became my true “Way of the Cross” on this five day spiritual journey.
Adjacent to the Jesuit Spirituality Center, I found a beautiful spiritual oasis in St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church. It’s superb collection of religious art, stained glass windows, paintings, statues, and continual presence of our Lord in its centrally located golden tabernacle, simply drew my heart, soul and, mind towards God.
Fortunately for me, and all Christians, the joy and hope of the Resurrection always follows the Cross! Thankfully, my persistent and earnest prayers, even in the midst of my silent struggles, helped magnify the saving presence of God in my life, for there, I found stillness of heart, mind and soul. Fed by the Word, Body, and Blood of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I returned home with a renewed sense of focus and joyful anticipation of His coming during every Mass and at the end of time. So, as we celebrate this Advent Season and His celebrated coming at Christmas, I pray that we:
- seek to quiet the noisiness in our lives,
- face the struggles preventing us from seeking God’s love and guidance,
- search for His voice in Sacred Scripture and silent prayer,
- contemplate and meditate upon His personal instructions,
- thankfully acknowledge His total gift of Self for our salvation,
- strive to reflect His gift of unconditional love to others,
- and finally, long for His coming during the celebration of the Mass and at the end of time. Come, Lord Jesus, Come and fill us with Your Holy Spirit until You come again, Amen.
Closing 3:00 p.m. prayer for Divine Mercy.
Eternal Father, I offer You, the Body and Blood, soul and divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and the sins of the entire world.
For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the entire world. (Repeat two more times).
Jesus, I trust in You.
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