October 17, 2019 — As we have recently highlighted, this year, the Manresa Jesuit Spiritual Renewal Centre in Ontario is celebrating its 70th anniversary. How relevant can a retreat centre be in 2019? “Manresa is an oasis of peace where you can leave your daily drama behind for a while,” sais Fr. Henk van Meijel SJ, Director of the centre, “and some incredible things can happen here – but sometimes it’s just rest and that’s fine.” How are retreats carried out and what is the value of attending one? Three young women share their experience.
Why did you decide to go on a retreat?
My first experience at Manresa was 8 years ago and it was a 12-step retreat for women in recovery. It was recommended to me to help support my journey in recovering from alcoholism. I was 33 years old and 5 months sober.
How did you feel before, during and after the retreat?
I felt nervous before the retreat because I was very new to recovery and thus I was raw and sensitive. I was also not comfortable in large groups and especially hesitant being around so many women. I felt a deep sense of peace During the retreat at Manresa. It is incredibly nurturing and peaceful. I spent time walking the labyrinth for the first time, I hiked in the surrounding woods, I strolled along the pine forest walkway and I spent a good deal of quiet time in the chapel.
The fruits of the retreats I have been to at Manresa have proved to be long-lasting. I now attend the women’s 12-step retreat every year and have been the captain for the winter retreat for 3 years. Coming to Manresa is a spiritual experience that helps me to re-connect with myself, to a sisterhood of women which I now relish, to the incredible staff that keeps Manresa flourishing, to the beautiful land it sits on, to God whose spirit I feel powerfully there and to my miraculous program of recovery. Manresa has a way of welcoming people and helping them to grow deeper in their faith, of bringing things to the surface. It allows you to work on them in a safe and peaceful way. I feel that the ways in which one can attend to themselves and to their issues are limitless when at Manresa.
Can you describe a moment that moved you?
On my very first retreat I was asked to speak as the newcomer – on the Saturday evening at the women's 12-step retreat there is a recovery meeting where 3 different women at differing years of recovery share their journey thus far. I was incredibly anxious about the prospect of speaking to a group of 60+ women and told a friend of mine I couldn’t do it. She told (or rather ordered) me to go into the chapel and pray. I went into the chapel and found the nook with the breathtaking carved wooden crucified Christ and began to kneel and pray - at this time I was not convinced that God had anything to do with me. I was struggling in my relationship with God and doubtful. He listened. On my way down to kneeling, I was overcome with emotion. I don’t know how long I was there in prayer but eventually I got up and later on that evening, I went and spoke in front of the women. As I began to speak, my heart felt like it would pound out of my chest and my legs were shaking. I thought I was going to collapse. Very soon into speaking, however, I felt calm and delivered my message in a direct and powerful way. It was then that I knew that my prayers had indeed been heard and that I was receiving supernatural support. That day was an important day of surrender for me. It was the day I let God into my heart and started to trust him. I am now in seminary pursuing my Masters of Divinity in theological studies to become a pastor. Manresa was the beginning of a beautiful love story between God and I and it is incredibly sacred to me. As long as I live, I hope to be of service to Manresa for the gifts it continues to give me.
Do you feel that anybody, regardless of their religious tradition, can benefit from an Ignatian retreat?
Anyone can benefit from a retreat at Manresa. One does not have to hold any religious faith tradition. In fact, the 12-step retreats are not religious. The 12-step fellowship is one of spirituality, not of religion. When a 12-step fellowship is on retreat at Manresa, the group will have varying kinds of beliefs and traditions, from no belief at all to very religious. The itinerary on a 12-step retreat includes practices from the stations of the cross, confession and mass to personal spiritual direction and group meditation; all are optional and up to the retreatant to attend or not. Manresa offers various types of retreats to suit many different types of people. The centre's greatest strength is that it is holy ground, a meeting place for all people to encounter themselves and whatever they bring as they enter its gates. My prayer is that more people will become aware of it so that they too can experience how powerful and deeply meaningful time can be when spent there.
Why did you decide to go on the Ignatian retreat for young professionals?
It was not my first retreat. I decided to go on a retreat for young professionals to enter into a deeper relationship with God and encounter Him in silence. I wanted to develop tools to help me foster a prayer life amidst the busyness of my day-to-day life. In the past, I used to disregard prayer when things got busy.
I chose an Ignatian retreat over other kinds because I wanted to experience one first hand. As a student at Regis College, I have encountered Ignatian spirituality and The Spiritual Exercises in my courses, and figured that the retreat would be an excellent opportunity for me to experience for myself the things that I am learning about.
What is it about Ignatian Spirituality that aligns with your identity and experience?
I served as a Jesuit Volunteer in Canada for a few months in 2015, and as part of my preparations for my time in Regina, Saskatchewan, I learned about Ignatian spirituality. The Examen, in particular, was the most useful to me during my time as a JV. I journalled my nightly Examens, which helped me see how the Lord was working through the experience. I was able to understand the areas in which God was calling me to grow in, and see exactly how He wanted me to love the people that I served. The same holds true for me today. The Examen continues to be a useful prayer as I deepen my relationship with the Lord and with my friends and family. It helps me foster a spirit of joy and gratitude because it helps me realize that God is always with me and that He gives me countless opportunities to encounter Him daily.
What are the fruits of this retreat for you?
Since this was my second time attending a silent retreat this year, I was excited for yet another opportunity to be in silence. Unlike my last retreat, I had difficulty feeling God’s presence, but I felt like He gave me the grace to persevere in prayer. Eventually, He revealed himself as a “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). I had previously struggled with being faithful to my prayers when I do not feel God’s presence, but this retreat served as the affirmation to keep praying anyway because I know that He is always present.
Was there a particular moment that touched you in a special way?
Yes, after a conversation with Fr. John O’Brien, SJ. I spoke with him about some fears and wounds that I was carrying as a result of a long-term relationship ending. He recommended that I ask the Lord for healing from these wounds, particularly through re-entering into the final months and moments of the relationship. Through doing this, the hope was to let God into a part of my heart that I had buried deep down, so that I could move on. In doing this, the Lord reminded me of his love, and that he was there in that painful moment. It helped me surrender the pain to him, and I think it also helped me move forward in my healing.
What made you attend an Ignatian retreat?
I attended the retreat on Psalm 139, directed by Fr. John Sullivan SJ. It was my first silent retreat. I was interested in experiencing and understanding more about Ignatian spirituality, and having a weekend of quiet contemplation. Psalm 139 turned out to be a good starting place for both of these goals, particularly for a novice retreatant.
I was not sure of what to expect, so I was a bit apprehensive before the retreat. At the same time, I was excited because both the retreat director and theme were known to me. During the retreat, emotions lived much closer to the surface of my consciousness than usual, and I slept a great deal as well. It was very good to live in the present moment and let both my mind and body "go" where they needed to be.
Why is this spiritual experience valuable?
The fruits included the time to be still, pray, contemplate and listen. The theme was also very helpful in that respect, and was a good choice for a first retreat. It allowed me to focus on God's love for me, his purposeful creation and deep knowledge of every ounce of who I am. It was a good or "easy" place to start, for someone who had never spent "this much time" with God before. I also like that it was also an opportunity to not have to plan or worry about the next thing I needed to get done, and an opportunity to spend my time with no interruptions. Sounds odd, but in some ways, it was more indulgent than a normal holiday. It certainly has not been my last retreat.
Can you describe an unexpected moment during this experience?
An "unexpected fruit" was seeing this particular priest preach. Even though I had been attending his parish for a number of years, it was very good to see him in his element over the course of the three days, and outside of our normal interactions. I felt like I knew him better.