This past week I had a three day retreat at the Jesuit Spirituality Center in Grand Couteau, Louisiana. The center is on the site of the former St. Charles College, which the Society of Jesus established in the 1840s to educate the young men of the area. As well, it was, and still is, the site of a novitiate where men from the Southeastern U.S. entering the Society of Jesus spend their first two years in formation.
Grand Couteau has a rich Catholic heritage. The parish church of St. Charles Borromeo is a beautiful wood frame building with an picturesque bell tower. Nearby is the Sacred Heart Academy, which also dates to the 1840s. The cemetery running between the parish church and the college grounds has several old parts, including two separate plots for Jesuits. The grounds running behind and around the rest of the college are serene, full of oak and pine trees.
Of course, the most important aspect of life on retreat was the time dedicated to prayer. I chose the Jesuit Spirituality Center because I wanted a retreat rooted in Ignatian spirituality. I wanted to work with a retreat director who would take me through the forms of mental prayer and contemplation developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola and taught by members of his Society of Jesus for centuries. I met daily with my retreat director. After an initial conversation exploring my purposes for the retreat, he provided me with biblical passages to mediate on with specific prayer requests (“graces” in the Ignatian vocabulary) to bring to God during these periods of prayer, designed to last an hour. In the midst of all this, silence was kept with my other retreatants. I spent my time in my comfortable but simple room, walking the grounds, or at daily Mass.
The greatest fruit of the retreat for me was the ability to spend time daily in meditative prayer on biblical passages that emphasized God’s love and care for all God’s creatures, including me. Through that, my retreat director led me to the wonderful beginning of the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius:
Each living person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. All the other beings on the face of the earth are created for the sake of humankind, to help each person realize the original purpose he is created to achieve.
I find this call to praise, reverence and serve God as a means of discovering my true purpose to be deeply liberating. This vision calls forth a path to journey on, a way to move ever closer to the purposes of God for myself and for all people. I left the retreat giving thanks for the work of God in Ignatius, in all members of the Society of Jesus, and in myself.