God has given me a most wonderful experience in growing closer to Him, and I simply must tell you about it.
I had been feeling dull for some time, as though the world was honing away at my steel faster than God was sharpening it. I knew that it wasn’t a problem of God not keeping up, that it was with me; that I was becoming lazy in my faith life. Ever so gradually I had allowed myself to skip out on a prayer here, a prayer there, a mindful presence of the Lord from time to time. I was allowing myself to become too lax, too comfortable. It was nothing immediately noticeable, but looking back over the past couple years it was clear. I tried to get back into prayerful habits and exercises of piety, but continued to fail time after time. What I needed was a retreat. Just like the armies of man-made warfare who are too worn to continue, I was worn from spiritual warfare and needed to back off from the front lines and take time to heal, to rest, to revive, and to rekindle that deep personal relationship with God. I needed to relearn how to listen to Him intently and allow Him to love me and heal me and guide my life.
I’ve been on several retreats in my life, of various formats and focuses. I’ve even staffed several, and spoken at a couple. I’ve been a group leader, a “table parent”, “prayer staff”, participant…you name it. All of these retreats were aimed at realizing God’s love for us, His Will that we ultimately join His Heavenly Kingdom, His desire for us to do His Holy Will here on earth and in Heaven, and at understanding the wonderful tools given us to help us on our journey. But from all of these, this particular retreat stood out as being more deep and unique, in a profound way.
This retreat is one based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The Order that put on the retreat is Miles Christi (Soldiers of Christ) aptly named in light of St. Ignatius' desire to convert his military service to Christ after suffering wounds in battle in the 16th century. Other groups also put on the retreat and the Exercises have been receiving accolades since the 16th century, by no less than nine Popes. While the traditional form is a 30-day retreat, the one I went on was just less than three days.
The Exercises focus on the interior life, on the state and condition of the soul. Meditation on Christ, in His presence while contemplating His Holy Will for us, is the key used to identify specific sins in our lives, root them out, and grow closer to Christ and form a stronger bond with our Lord in our resolve to avoid those sins. A series of short talks are given to introduce the respective topic, and these are followed by prayerful meditation in the Lord’s presence in the manner recommended by St. Ignatius.
Another key aspect of the retreat is the silence. A silent retreat (where the retreatants do not speak to one another and separate themselves from the outside world, their cell phones, computers, etc.) forces us to go to our interiors and focus on Christ within us. It also places our focus on where Christ is drawing our attention, especially those areas we need to work on. It is precisely these areas of growth that we so easily ignore in our day-to-day lives by distracting ourselves with other things. The Spiritual Exercises exclude those “other things” and we are then faced with dealing with the issues that God wants us to deal with and following His guidance for our healing. While it seems scary at first, it is a truly healing experience by the time the Exercises are completed.
I cannot begin to tell you in full detail how wonderful and powerful and beneficial this retreat was for me. Christ drew me to evaluate my life, both past and present, and showed me several sins that seemed to stem from a common core…sharing a common root. From there I accepted God’s healing grace of forgiveness and resolved to cut the ties to the vices which had led me into sin. I resolved to stop repeating those sins against Him. By putting my resolutions in writing, Christ gave me a way to hold myself accountable for either avoiding sin, or slipping back into sinful ways. He also guided me to choose acts of piety that would strengthen the virtues I was lacking in and combat the vices I had been steeped in. He showed me in an examination of my conscience that spiritual fitness is very important, more so than physical fitness, since our souls are eternal. The Lord gave me, through the Spiritual Exercises, the tools, motivation, and resolve I needed to serve Him in a fuller way and to live the life He has called me to live, in the manner in which He has called me to live it.
Whether you are just a regular Catholic living your faith for God, or you have been searching for ways to deepen your relationship with Christ, or whatever, this retreat is for YOU! I hope you will all consider going on this retreat, or at least some other form of retreat, to refocus your life on Christ and reaffirm your commitment to live for Him and avoid the sins that pull us, however slowly, away from our Lord.
For more information on the Spiritual Exercises, please visit:
Ignatian Spirituality - http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-spiritual-exercises/
Catholic Retreats - http://www.catholicretreats.net/the-spiritual-exercises
Loyola Press - http://loyolapress.com/ignatian-spiritual-exercises-and-retreats.htm
Miles Christi - http://www.mileschristi.org/about-miles-christi/
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