I recently took a mini-sabbatical at El Retiro, a Jesuit Retreat House in California, where St. Ignatius and his spirituality consumed me with a deep sense of gratitude.
Born in 1491 in Spain, Ignatius founded the Jesuit order in 1540. In his quest for unity with God, Ignatius funneled his personal experience and insight into a collection of prayers, meditations, reflections and directions called The Spiritual Exercises. The structure of the mostly silent retreat comprises four stages.
Week one, Ignatius invites you to use your senses to experience the wonder of creation through beautiful imagery. In realizing God’s love, you feel a profound sense of gratitude, knowing that creation was made just for you.
Week two takes a dramatic shift. You confront your limitations through sin. Creation is a gift, but we don’t always respond in positive ways. The silence heightens memory, as you confront unfaithfulness. It’s intense! But, ultimately, the redemptive power of God’s love envelops you, leading to a new beginning.
Week three delves into scripture. You visualize yourself walking with Jesus throughout his life, beginning with the nativity, on through his crucifixion. Your senses come alive: you smell the cows, feel the straw, experience his suffering.
Week four, you experience the resurrection through scripture and imagination. I visualized myself walking into our Blessed Mother’s kitchen, to deliver the Good News: He is risen, He is alive!
The retreat culminates in a recommitment of going forth, as a disciple, follower, and preacher of the gospel—a truly foundational experience. In me, it created a living well where I can return and spiritually rehydrate. I share my gratitude to enhance the lives of others, thanks to St. Ignatius, whose feast day is July 31.
Father Scott Donahue is the president of Mercy Home for Boys and Girls.