Today a 30-day online retreat (that is, one in which you can follow the suggestions for meditation by viewing a new web page each day) begins. It is sponsored by the Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, and follows the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. In his "19th Annotation" (that is, his 19th note in the Exercises, which speaks about how the Exercises are to be given) he writes that since some retreatants who are engaged in "public affairs or pressing occupations" may not be able to set aside their tasks for 30 days straight, the retreat might be undertaken with retreatants continuing with their "occupations," but praying for an hour every day. This kind of retreat, which is becoming more and more popular, is often called a "19th Annotation Retreat" or a "Retreat in Everyday Life," and typically unfolds over the course of 30 weeks (more or less) instead of 30 days. The first day of the First Week of the JRS retreat begins with this reflection:
In his poem, "God’s Grandeur" Gerard Manley Hopkins, the nineteenth-century Jesuit poet, wrote of how, despite all humankind’s efforts to disguise and mar the divine presence in our world, “there lives the deepest freshness deep down things.” The spark of God’s image survives even in the deepest darkness. The Jesuit Refugee Charter as well confirms this insight when it states: “To accompany refugees is to affirm that God is present in human history, even in most tragic episodes.”
St. Ignatius realized that the foundational grace of our lives as Christians is the experience of the presence and unconditional love of God manifested in Jesus and poured out into our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why, at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises, he invites us into a deeply personal encounter of love with our God that touches our hearts.
- We are continually being created by God.
- We cannot declare that we are independent of God.
- In creating us, God sustains us in existence at every moment.
- We are always in relationship with our Creator God, the source of our lives.
This deep experience of God’s love has permeated the lives of many men and women who worked in Jesuit Refugee Service since its beginning thirty years ago. Fr. Gary Smith, a U.S. Jesuit who worked in JRS for six years with Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda, described this experience of being won over by God’s love in his spiritual journal, They Come Back Singing: Finding God with Refugees:
"Sometimes I am struck by what has happened to me: how strange and mysterious it is that I should be here, sharing in the life of such wonderful people, living, in a world that I would have imagined not too many years ago. (Could I ever have imagined it?) I am conscious of the fact that I—who at one time lived a life totally oblivious to God, to faith, and to church—am now bopping along the roads of northern Uganda because, one way or another, God has benevolently won my heart, and I choose to talk about that love with my life. I am like a ship whose sails were caught by a strong wind from an unfamiliar direction, a wind whose power was not known to me until that moment, and I slowly turned with dignity and pointed toward a new destination. It is such a mystery to me, even now, after all these years. What kind of love am I talking about? I don’t know; I cannot express it but can only point to it."
If you've ever desired to do the Spiritual Exercises, or make a 30-day retreat, but cannot for want of time; or if you've ever wanted to make the "19th Annotation" but haven't been able to find a director; or if you've never been able to find the time to do any sort of retreat away from home, why not try the JRS-sponsored retreat, which you can find here. And open yourself up to a new way of encountering God.