Last week we had the pleasure of joining together as a global community to participate in the first Ignatian Online Live Retreat “On Earth as it is in Heaven”. The fifth and final session of this retreat was a Bonus Session designed for those participants who were looking to know more about how to replicate the experience of this retreat in their schools. In this Bonus Session we had a brief introduction explaining some general aspects of the retreat followed by a Q&A segment, where the retreat leaders responded to general questions from the participants .
Below is an extract from the introduction given by Fr. Casey and Fr. Patrick followed by some of the questions and answers shared during the session. We hope these will be helpful both to those of you who couldn’t attend the Bonus Session and for those who attended the session and would like a brief recap to share with your colleagues.
In this first section the retreat leaders shared some insights on the importance of taking time for faculty and staff days of recollection and prayer retreats and some of the details of putting together those days. Here are some of the reflections they shared:
“We’re setting up our calendar right now at Boston College High School and it’s so hard to squeeze things in but [it’s important] to take that moment.. we know how energized we feel coming out of these days of Prayer, and it really goes back to that cura personalis. We like to say that phrase a lot, “to care for the person”, to care for the individual mind, body and spirit. But to really put that into practice whether that’s an overnight off campus or a day of recollection or even just a morning [is so important…]Fr. Pat speaks about the importance of gathering your community in prayer, providing a space and offering people the opportunity to get to know other people’s stories and to recapture the mission. He likened this space to the Gospels and to what really fuelled Jesus – “that intimate time in the morning with his father, and that time to pray”. He reminded us that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. Fr. Pat shares with us that this is where they got the name for this retreat “On Earth as it is in Heaven”, from Jesus teaching his friends how to pray the Our Father. Fr. Pat acknowledges that it’s easy to neglect the interior life but offers us a few ways in which we can pay attention to the interior life in our institutions.
The retreat leaders also spoke about the importance of taking time to invest in programs like this retreat:
“It’s in those little things… it’s very easy to dismiss those little gestures. I think gestures are laden with meaning so a day of recollection or an overnight retreat or an online retreat.. this hasn’t been a major part of the calendar for you and me for the week but it’s been laden with meaning”. Fr. Pat shares that the importance we place on interior life, on taking this time and on these small gestures means a lot as these small gestures have a cumulative effect. While the bad spirit might say “well a half hour doesn’t really do anything so why bother?” we can see the grace builds on nature and that “half an hour yesterday might evolve into minutes next week or it might be that I discover how very helpful it is to take care of myself physically so I might start to offer more of my time [to this] because I recognize how integral it is to care for the interior, especially in a school.”
In this section the retreat leaders responded to some interesting questions from the participants. Here are some of these questions and responses:
1. How do we help to motivate those that already feel exhausted of screen time with work?
“The content of what we’re talking about on screen is very different from what a typical zoom session has contained throughout the day. …this kind of conversation, this kind of material, I think we listen to with double senses: we’re listening with the heart, so in many ways in my other meetings on screen I’m just listening here [points to head] but through “On Earth as it is in Heaven” an additional dimension of my person is engaged, and actually the fruit of that isn’t fatigue… I hope that your experience has been that you’ve left this retreat feeling energized after having been on screen for an hour and a half.” When Fr. Casey shared this many heads nodded in agreement and several participants shared on the chat that they could identify with this and although they were spending an hour and a half on screen, in some cases late in the evening at the end of a very busy day, they felt energized by the retreat experience.
2. How might you do this retreat differently if you were offering it to students, not looking at the content but more the format of a possible student retreat?
In response to this question, Fr. Pat shared his experience of offering retreats to students. He shared that they wanted to take students from the retreat format based on a lot of small groups and talks and move them to a silent retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises. The format they used was similar to what we did in this online retreat. They would start with a talk for about half an hour of stories the students could relate to but rooted in the flow of the Spiritual Exercises They then gave the students about a half hour of silent prayer and insisted on that silence. The students then came back from that silence and journaled on some questions and went into a small group, led by a teacher, where they were able to share with their peers. Fr. Pat also shared that they would show movies in the evenings with content and relatable illustrations to what they had spoken about during the day which students really enjoyed.
3. How do you manage that need to communicate personal information but still make the retreat about the greater mission?
“Whenever we illustrate from our own experience, I think if the motivation is that the illustration is meant to help illustrate the major point that I’m trying to make rather than draw attention to myself then it’s going to bear great fruit and that’s something that I think takes practice. You know sometimes when we first start teaching or when we first start preaching, we might have an example and then all of a sudden we realize “oh no I’m talking about myself” and they’re hearing more about me than about what I’m really trying to emphasize. We have to learn that it just takes a certain amount of the illustration to get the point across. So I think one thing that I’ve learned is that illustrations from the personal if they’re magnifying the greater point that’s at hand they’ll always bear fruit…” Fr. Casey responded.
4. How can we help non-believing students in a secular society discover the core identity of being a child of God?
To this question Fr. Pat responds that we need to focus on translation without watering down and that this is something the entire network can do better. Often, we translate stories but don’t refer back to the origins and therefore lose some of that depth. “The core is that every person is a beloved daughter or a beloved son of God. Every person is a companion of Christ Jesus, every person is a temple of the Spirit” Fr. Pat shares that another way of communicating this to a wider audience would be “every person has been born to be loved, every person is worthy of friendship, every person is worthy of dignity and respect. I mean, I think that one of the gifts of Christianity is that its truths can be nuanced in ways that you know everything’s received according to the mode of the receiver. That we can present in ways that are delightful for all human ears” while also representing the language of our faith and tradition.
5. Do you have any suggestions or tips on preparing retreats for parents?
To this question Fr. Pat responds that parents are often very curious about these retreats that their children experience and this curiosity and desire to experience something similar can be used as a hook. Fr. Pat shares that in his experience, an input session, some kind of presentation, followed by responding to a question and sharing their answers in dyads or triads with the people sitting next to them works well. He says that often for parent retreats it is difficult to keep them for very long because of their commitments so an hour in the evening could be enough. In Fr. Pat’s experience parents love to have some kind of experience of the interior life that connects them more deeply to their child’s education.
6. Given this current situation and schools engaging their students and faculty online do you have any strategies that have worked for you in strengthening faith and spirituality online?
To this question the answers were; consistency – for example a daily mass at the same time and being consistent with the programs being offered insofar as possible so that students and faculty have some sense of routine and normality and; providing a space to talk and be listened to and a way for the community to stay connected – this seems to be particularly important at the moment.
These were just some of the insights Fr. Pat and Fr. Casey shared with us during the Bonus Session. This session concluded the Global Virtual Retreat “On Earth as it is in Heaven” and left many people inspired to find new ways to offer retreat and reflection spaces in their own school communities. One of the wonderful benefits of being part of a global community like this is that we all have experience and insights from our own work which we can share with colleagues from other Jesuit schools. With this in mind please feel free to continue asking questions and sharing in the comments below.