By Rev. Philip Sutherland, S.J., graduate student in the Department of Philosophy
I recently got done helping coordinate a retreat for incoming freshmen before the school year started. It was a chance for them to pray, connect with each other and reflect upon the pillars of our mission here at Marquette. It got me thinking a bit about the importance of retreat experiences in Ignatius’ life and in Ignatian Spirituality.
It is tempting to think of Ignatius and Jesuits purely as people of action who found schools, work with the poor, preach and administer the sacraments. But in fact, we are supposed to be contemplatives in actions, always grounded in our relationship with Jesus. When Ignatius had his cannonball moment and subsequent conversion, he needed time for that experience to deepen. That time was a long retreat of almost a year in a cave at Manresa. He spent time meeting with people and having spiritual conversation, but it was also a time of intense solitude and prayer. That is where he collected his notes that would later become the Rules for the discernment of spirits and the Spiritual Exercises. He would narrate later in his autobiography that he was taught by God like a school child, learning the movements of the good and evil spirits in his interior life.
That spiritual experience at Manresa became the 30-day long retreat required of all Jesuits both as novices and at the end of their formation. Every year we are also required to do an eight-day retreat that draws on the Spiritual Exercises in order to renew that intense contact with Jesus and the movement of those spirits in our interior lives.
It might be a surprise to you, immersed in an educational setting, that a major ministry of the Society of Jesus is retreat work. We have two retreat houses close by: one in Barrington, Illinois, and one in Oshkosh. I would encourage you to explore the retreat offerings here at Marquette. This ministry is fundamentally rooted in Jesus, who would consistently make space for solitude and prayer with the Father.
If you are a student, Campus ministry offers many retreats, including silent weekend and week-long retreats during the Christmas break. If you are staff or faculty, the Faber Center offers various retreat opportunities both on the weekend and in everyday life. We are all called to be contemplatives in action, but it can be very easy to embrace the action and neglect the contemplation.