How is an Ignatian retreat different from other retreats a Catholic or Christian might make? Also, finding one’s deepest intentions…

Excerpt from America Magazine, May 2018, a re-posted interview with Jesuit Retreat Master Howard Gray.

How is an Ignatian retreat different from other retreats a Catholic or Christian might make?

The Exercises are geared toward making a decision: a life choice, a reformation of a choice or a deepening and renewal of a choice already made. It’s the dynamic of the Exercises of a choice under the inspiration of God that distinguishes the Exercises from simply “a prayerful time of reflection.”

What are the best reasons for someone to make an Ignatian retreat, either preached or directed?

[An Ignatian retreat] has to be adapted to the temperament, the time available and the personal spiritual history of each individual. For example, can this person sustain solitude? Is this person familiar with the discipline of daily prayer? Is this person familiar with the Christian/Catholic tradition? The discerning assessment of readiness has to emerge from a relationship with a woman or a man who asks about a retreat.

Why would someone want to make an Ignatian retreat today?

This again will depend on the history, temperament and past religious experiences of an individual. God calls in any culture, chronological moment or circumstance. People ask about the Ignatian retreat for a variety of initial reasons. The real discernment is to note how the reasoning for entering the Exercises becomes “rearranged” by the action of God during a retreat (annotation 15).

What’s your advice to someone who is making an Ignatian retreat for the first time?

Get rest, pray for an open and generous heart, and do some preliminary reflection like Psalm 23 or the first recorded words of Jesus in John’s Gospel: “What are you looking for?” and then “Come and see.” Gently engage a person’s desires for the retreat experience, be that retreat long or short.

What’s the purpose or goal of an Ignatian retreat?

Again, it is to find guidance about a state of life, to reorient a state of life or to deepen one’s appreciation for their life with God.

What have been some of the major graces in your Ignatian spiritual ministry over the years?

To appreciate what Ignatius means by the love that descends from above, to see the importance of annotation 15 within the spiritual lives of people, the affection that Jesus has for the human and how the human realities of life guided Jesus’ presence among various personalities…

To see the unity of Ignatian spirituality in the Constitutions and the letters as well as in the Exercises.

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from giving Ignatian retreats?

The wisdom of what my tertian director Paul Kennedy said years ago: “The indispensable trait of a good spiritual guide is lack of certitude.”

To live with the ambiguity of coming to accept that only God is God, the only absolute. It reminded me of the wisdom of Keats’s “negative capability.”

Do you have any final thoughts?

Often in teaching about the Exercises and the life of the Spirit, I urge people to read literature, good literature, in order to know all the metaphors available to us to understand the human heart and its yearning for “the more,” that is, God. Desires in the spiritual life are sometimes so buried under platitudes and easy moralisms that people do not face what they really want out of life. They mask their deepest intentions with slogans. The Exercises are prayers of finding one’s authenticity before God. This is what Ignatius meant by “pure intention.”

Sean Salai, S.J., is a contributing writer at America.

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