Jesuit week in Knock
‘I visited a house in Moycullen during Jesuit Week and the family was debating a statement made by the day’s homilist!’ This comment from a fellow Jesuit was relayed to Brian Grogan SJ during the now annual six-day Ignatian retreat at Knock Shrine conducted by Jesuits and their lay colleagues and led by Ashley Evans SJ.
The retreat took place 24-31 July 2022 in the run-up to St Ignatius Day, 31 July. The comment prompted Brian to pen the following reflection on the whole experience.
‘Awesome and Scary – the Spirit at Work‘
For the past two years the Ignatian retreat had been online due to Covid, but this year up to 60 people came to each session in person, with some 450 attending online from various parts of the world. Those who came fitted the familiar Knock profile: a strong majority of women, religious and lay, most of whom would remember Vatican Two!
We were a team of ten: four married women—Phyllis Brady, Savina Donohue, Patricia McCarthy, Siobhan Murphy; two Loreto Sisters—Rosemary Gallagher and Stephanie O’Brien; and four Jesuits—Ashley Evans, Terry Howard, Charlie Davy, and myself. I stress the word ‘team’ because from the beginning we wanted to work as a community of equals. We had prepared the retreat together, through prayer and discernment, from the beginning of this year, and our mutual understanding and support carried us through tensions when we actually got underway.
We prayed together as we began each day, attended each other’s presentations, met socially for meals, and reflected together in the evenings on the experiences of the day. We made hospitality to pilgrims our special care. One of the team members remarked: ‘If this isn’t being a synodal Church, then I don’t know what is!’ It was scary but awesome to experience the Holy Spirit up-close and personal over the week, and made us feel that we were writing another chapter for the Acts of the Apostles!
There were four set moments in the day: the opening talk by Ashley at 10.30; Eucharist at noon; Guided Meditation at 16.30, and Evening prayer at 20.30. Except for Evening Prayer, we used the Basilica—not ideal because of its size, but it enabled pilgrims to wander in and engage if they wished. Ashley unfolded Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Romans is not for the faint-hearted, but his clear presentations and personal anecdotes caught the participants’ attention, while his scriptural references and questions for pondering focussed their personal prayer throughout the day.
With the conviction that an Ignatian Retreat should include the availability of individual direction, we set up a rota that catered to all who wished to meet personally to discuss their relationship with God. Many were impressed by the availability of the team to them over the full six days.
Inscribed on a plaque in 1828 on the outer wall of the People’s Church in Knock is the quotation: ‘My House shall be called the House of Prayer to the Nations’ (Isaiah 56:7). The Prayer Guidance Ministry, a Jesuit initiative, began in 1990 in order to promote the mystical dimension of a Knock pilgrimage. ‘You will be prayed for at Knock!’ has become a motto of the Shrine, so we let it be known that we would pray individually for each person who submitted a petition. This led from a trickle of petitions to a flood, and hinted at that strong but hidden network of love and altruistic concern which helps to hold our fragile world together.
As the fox said to the Little Prince, ‘the things that are essential are invisible to the eye’. The scripture scholar Rudolf Bultmann asserts that the role of petitionary prayer is to move God to do something which otherwise would not be done; Walter Wink affirms that history belongs to the intercessors, while Pope Benedict has stated that the world is saved by the prayers of the few. My experience over the week was that this may well be true!
Past and future
The idea of a Jesuit Week at Knock came from Richard Gibbons, Rector of the Shrine, some six years ago when a small European band of Jesuits made a summer experiment there. As always, Richard was deeply appreciative of our labours and commitment and hosted the event free of charge to participants. We went home exhausted but happy and will have a team reflection in October, with an eye to next year.
Issues such as advertising and language will surely arise: what do retreat, guided meditation or spiritual direction mean for younger people today? What attracting power still lies in the words Jesuit or Ignatian? How can we engage the possibilities of the digital world? And so forth. Plenty of work ahead!
Brian Grogan SJ