Ending this year and looking to the next
I am about to retreat into the wilderness of Wilson’s Promontory with two of my colleagues and seven adventurous participants. Spring has finally arrived and as we walk in silence we will enjoy the fresh sea breezes, the flowering bushes and singing birds, all gifts of our loving God.
I am delighted to present our program for 2017 at Campion (and at our other Centres of Ignatian Spirituality). Here, in addition to our regular silent and themed retreats, we will have more events to do with God in Nature (evening reflections and day walks); we will have a modest program for Mandarin speaking Christians; we will have a weekend retreat dedicated to the life and impact of St Ignatius himself; and we will have expanded our ministry of supervision (vital for priests, parish associates and teachers).
We are also preparing for the visit of Dr Elizabeth Liebert, Professor of Spiritual Life at San Francisco Theological College and an Ignatian scholar of the Exercises (author of ‘The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women’). She will be with us May 11th – 13th.
When you come to us for spiritual direction or a retreat, I hope you will notice some of the work we have done in the building over the January holidays to make it more attractive ad restful.
I wish you gentle approach to Christmas, which only a strong intention can achieve! You may be helped by these Art and Faith videos produced by Loyola Press in the USA: http://www.loyolapress.com/our-catholic-faith/liturgical-year/advent/arts-and-faith-advent.
The Challenge of the Exercises
I am very fortunate to have the opportunity, with others, to teach the student spiritual directors who attend classes here at Campion. When I have to help others understand what St Ignatius’ intentions were with his Spiritual Exercises, it puts me in touch with my experiences of them and clarifies for me their value. There is such depth to them that one can go on reading and studying the Exercises for a lifetime. The Exercises are very challenging. Ignatius invites us to confront our insecurities, attachments and fears and to weigh them up against the invitation of Jesus to let of of everything and follow him. The more we enter into Jesus’ life, and meet him in person in the prayers of imaginative contemplation of the Gospels, the more we grow to love Jesus and trust Him. There are no prerequisites for becoming a friend of God, only a person’s desire to be so. While this ‘conversion’ – or ‘falling in love’ – can occur for an individual during a live-in retreat, it is no obstacle to God to draw a person to Godself in the slow day to day life of faith and prayer and monthly spiritual direction. What is God’s invitation for you today?
The other day I came across an interesting essay on Ignatius and his insistence on ‘reverence’ to God (Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits, January, 1976). I myself have never been quite comfortable with this attitude – not that I do not wish to give God respect, but I tend to associate reverence and reverential behaviour with the royal courts of medieval Europe, and not with the way I relate to God.
Charles O’Neill sj, the author, explains that for Ignatius ‘reverence’ (Spanish, ‘acatamiento’) is a happy consciousness of divine presence, an awe suffused with warm attractiveness and resulting in love. So it turns out I have been ‘doing’ reverence without knowing it! But ‘reverence’ is not merely an interior act; Ignatius encouraged its external expression too. “Mime will assist mood. Ignatius, drawing on personal experience and anthropological insight, teaches the retreatant to express reverence physically while focusing attention on the Divine Presence.”
This is where I get caught – I feel uncomfortable or a bit false, whether in public or private, when I am invited to make a gesture of reverence. Moses removed his sandals, charismatics raise their arms, some Catholics bow or genuflect towards the tabernacle, Filipinos bring the hand of a priest up to their forehead, Hindus can welcome a visitor by joining hands and bowing to the divine in him or her. We in the West have lost this way of gesturing reverently to one another.
I think the invitation for prayer in this train of thought, for me as well as for you, is to find a gesture that arises naturally out of our awareness of God’s loving presence. Perhaps we may then find ourselves introducing its use to those people whom we revere in public, like our parents or beloved teachers, and then, perhaps even to the stranger.
Life in Winter
In the latest publication of Melbourne Catholic (with its fresh and controversial format), Rachel McLaren writes about the fruitfulness of winter in our southern land. “Unlike in Northern Europe where the trees and plants become dormant in winter, for our native plants winter is a time of growth. Beneath the soil, in the damp and the dark, seeds are splitting open and slender roots are navigating downward, deep into the darkness. Strengthening and stabilising. Likewise for us, deep winter is the season to come inside and curl up, to turn our gaze inward and to nourish the damp, dark soil within.” I find this a very inviting image. Campion Retreat House itself is indeed a comfortable place to rest, to go deep within, and to uncover new emerging life forces. While the skies are dark and gloomy you might consider coming to one of our upcoming retreats to bathe in the warmth of love and faith.
God never ceases inviting us to new life with Godself
Christian Life Community (CLC) is not well known outside Jesuit circles (and some would say even inside them!). This lay apostolic community, formed soon after the time of Ignatius, continues today inspired and formed by the principles of Ignatian spirituality. It operates in 60 countries around the world and in most of our capital cities in Australia and some country areas too. I mention this group because they are holding two retreats at Campion this year, the first on Sunday May 22nd and the second on August 7th. These days are aimed at people who are not so familiar with Ignatian spirituality – if you know someone who might be interested please do suggest it to them.
Campion used to host Men’s retreats but we haven’t had one for some years now. It is usually women who attend our retreats so we are bringing back a weekend of reflection and prayer specifically for men. We hope that the participants will be able to be frank and open about their joys and struggles as men of faith and be renewed by recognizing God’s blessings in their lives.
And a final ‘novelty’ for Campion CIS is our Facebook page. Some of you may not use Facebook but it is a channel of social communication that we wish to be connected to so as to get as wide a coverage (around Melbourne and further afield) as possible. We will endeavour to post news and events on it relating to our ministry here regularly. If you are a Facebook user, please click here to like our page and pass on our posts.
As we pass through the end of the Easter season, celebrate Pentecost and enter into ‘Ordinary Time’, may the Risen Jesus continue to enlighten and guide you by means of the Holy Spirit in your hearts.
Christ is Risen
A blessed Easter to you all! St Ignatius and I encourage you to enter the Easter season with as much vigour, perhaps, as you prayed through Holy Week. If you were following the spirit of the Spiritual Exercises you might have been avoiding excessive light and joyful music and tasty food; during this Easter season, however, Ignatius would be encouraging you to reach out for activities and environments that re-inforce our joyful celebration for the Risen Lord. So find that favourite album of spiritual music and play it loudly!
Mystic and Social Activist
Ignatian spirituality does not take us towards God and away from our fellow humans: rather as we find ourselves more in union with God so too we feel a yearning to be united to our neighbours. The Spiritual Exercises are not the only legacy Ignatius left us; he has also bequeathed to us a legacy of working with and for the poor. He himself lived as a beggar and as a homeless wanderer for some time, identifying with Christ who was despised, misunderstood and with no fixed address. When Ignatius was given food or alms he would share these (or indeed, give them all away) with other needy men and women. In 1535 he returned to his homeland (Basque country) and stayed at Azpeitia where he transformed the way that community looked after the poor: a structure was set in place for those who were ‘ashamed to beg’ (I guess, for those who had fallen on hard times). The First Companions spent many months (when not studying at the University of Paris) visiting the sick in hospitals not only to pray with them, but to make their beds, empty their pots and dig their graves. In the early days of the Society Ignatius saw the needs of prostitutes in Rome – the only way out of their situation at that time was to enter a special convent (of St Magdalens). Ignatius saw to not all women would wish to be nuns on leaving their former occupation and so he founded the house of St Martha providing it with a constitution, financial providers and papal approbation. Ignatius was never one to do anything by halves. Ignatius’ spirituality is clearly apostolic. With your experience of spiritual direction and retreats at Campion, you will notice how God’s spirit calls you not only to a closer relation with God but also to love in action towards your fellow men and women. The staff here at Campion also hear this call – we have reached our to the alcoholic men who reside at Greenvale – and we continue to discern how we may provide our gifts to the needy in our city.
May God pour God’s mercy and compassion into all our hearts.
Year of Mercy
“May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord shine His face upon you and be gracious to you; may the Lord uncover His face and bring your peace” (Num 6:22). With these words Saint Ignatius and I offer you a New Year’s blessing during this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
The term ‘mercy’ in our society and in our church has become weighted to mean only one thing – that I have done something wrong and I should be punished, but you are gracious and show me mercy, letting me off my penalty. This is hardly a life giving understanding of God’s mercy. As Veronica Lawson (who will lead a retreat at Campion later in the year) says, mercy is a biblical concept that is better expressed with the words fidelity and compassion. God is the One who hears the cry of the distressed and rescues them. In my opinion, Pope Francis has called for this special year of mercy in order to turn the Catholic Church (hierarchy) away from its emphasis on law and dogma and towards an attitude and actions that show compassion.
Jesuit James Keenan has a very powerful and succinct description of biblical mercy. He says it isthe willingness to enter into the chaos of another. How might this biblical mercy look like in practice? I think of the many parishes who are planning and organising to house and assist the Syrian refugees our government is letting into our country.
This example – and you can think of others like it – show how people are willing to get involved in the mess of other people’s lives – not to criticise or condemn but to be a friend. Instead of avoiding the chaos of another these practitioners of mercy move into the chaos with boldness and creativity. Mercy recognises a shared humanity with another, which compels a response in action.
I hope our program of retreats this year will help you to experience God’s closeness and compassion towards you and help you to hear God’s call to grow in compassion and mercy, too.