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A memorable meeting

The Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP) in Ireland », whose aim is to build a community of hope with people recovering from homelessness and addiction invited American Jesuit Jim Harbaugh SJ to join one of their fortnightly zoom meetings on Friday 16 April 2021.

Jim Harbaugh is the author of A 12-Step Approach to the Spiritual Exercises. The men and women who are involved in the ISP work in Dublin read through and discussed this book as part of their team formation during the pandemic.

The group decided to reach out to Jim, who had been to Ireland previously as the main speaker at a Pioneer Conference on spirituality and addiction ». “We were delighted he accepted so readily,” says Eddie Cosgrove SJ, who heads up the ISP project here.

Jim gave a 25-minute input at the beginning of the Friday meeting and the ISP volunteer group was joined by people who had taken part in the homeless retreats in Manresa before the lockdown. After his input, there was a sharing session in which everyone from the group participated.

Read below Eddie’s account of the meeting and the responses of the participants.

Pure Gift

“Jim invited us into his life with incredible freedom, warmth, and compassion. His inspirational sharing and searing insights into addiction, recovery and our walk with God, left me with a profound sense of blessing and gratitude”. So says Andrew, one of our volunteers in the Ignatian Spirituality Project. He certainly speaks for all of us there, for it was indeed a memorable and moving meeting.

Danny, who took part in one of our first retreats » put it like this: “I got a lot of hope out of Jim, it wasn’t really from a religious aspect… the fact that he was a Jesuit priest for 20 years before he went into a recovery group, and he said that he learned his spirituality through 12 step groups, I was dumbstruck with that, it gave me such a lot of hope, I love Jim for his honesty”.

Like Danny what struck me most was the honesty and hope that Jim brought to our group by sharing his personal stories and reflections based on his many years of recovery from alcohol addiction and his experience running retreats and workshops in the area of 12 steps and spirituality. I came away feeling deeply enriched and moved, and encouraged to explore my own story with more honesty and hope.

Guided by the wisdom of Ignatian Spirituality, ISP aims to light a path forward for those in recovery from homelessness and addiction. Like most other works, we had to stop in-person retreats and ongoing spiritual accompaniment due to the pandemic.

However, we stayed in touch with the community that had formed and offered online group spiritual companionship which worked well given the restrictions. We even had an outdoor pizza afternoon in December (a first for all of us I would say in winter!) when the restrictions allowed – people were so grateful for the connections and sharing.

We look forward to starting in-person groups again, initially outdoors, and hope to have retreats later this year when all are vaccinated and it is safe for groups to meet together indoors. But during the lockdown, our volunteer team of five men and five women met regularly online for team training and mutual support. After reflecting on the 12 steps with the help of the writings of Richard Rohr, we moved on to Jim’s book.

Many in our group found his book to be very enriching and loaded with wisdom. We had the thought to invite him to join our group some afternoon, so we reached out to him, and he was very happy to take up our invitation. Our volunteer team and some people who came on our retreats were blessed to hear his story and his life experience as a Jesuit priest, a recovering alcoholic, and his ministry helping so many others.

When we gather together, either as the woman’s group or the men’s group or all together and with retreatants we all share from our own experience and truth. In that spirit, I include below the feedback from those who took part in our special meeting with Jim in April. It was great to be able to meet speak in person to the man whose book we have been studying and reflecting on during the difficult months of lockdown.

“Spending time with Jim Harbaugh (even via Zoom!) was pure gift. I came away from the encounter knowing that we had been in the presence of a great and good man. His honesty, humility, and committed self-sacrifice, set him apart as a beacon of hope and light for all of us” Christine – team member.

“It is a rare gift to meet an individual as humble and authentic as he is. His willingness to share from his own lived experience helped me to live more comfortably with my own history. It was a blessed encounter”. Ber – team member

“Jim created an atmosphere of renewal and reassurance in our commitment to spiritual growth. He did this with tremendous warmth and humility.” Art –team member

“it was a wonderful and inspiring occasion”. Noreen – team member.

“Great story, kept my attention, enjoyed it”. Darnell – retreatant.

“There are many downsides to this pandemic but being able to have Jim join us for our Friday gathering was a gift for sure. His searing honesty about his own struggle with alcoholism and how addiction is actually a family disease that affects people across and down the generations was particularly helpful. Jim’s openness allowed all of us to be open and vulnerable too. For me, it was a real experience of community in the deepest sense of the word.” Pat –  team member.