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Jesuits offer online retreat for Lent

The Irish Sacred Space online prayer website had teamed up again with the British Pray As You Go audio prayer site to offer a Lenten retreat to people all over the world. The retreat, entitled ‘The Way of Ignatius: A prayer journey through Lent,’ is written by Gemma Simmonds and will be delivered in six weekly sessions.

The first week’s theme is ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made’. Retreatants are invited into the company of Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, and Mary Ward, founder of the Loreto Sisters.

Ignatius was a sixteenth-century Spaniard and Mary,  a seventeenth-century English woman. Both are often depicted in pilgrim dress, walking on the road.  The theme of pilgrimage is deeply biblical, according to Gemma. Jesus made pilgrimages to Jerusalem with his family and friends and would have recited psalms on the road. Psalm 84 says, ‘Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.’ (Ps.84:5). Genesis chapter 3 speaks of God walking with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. Retreats help people to start each day afresh getting to know the God who wants to be  their companion on life’s road. Making a retreat in Lent is a special opportunity for participants to walk with Jesus and build an intimate friendship with him on his pilgrim way to the cross in Jerusalem, and to the glory beyond.

The staff of Sacred Space and Pray As You Go hope that those who take part in the retreat will encounter God in a new and closer way, helping them to come to a deepened awareness of God at work in their everyday life. They note Ignatius’ teaching that prayer is not some spooky secret skill developed by special and holy people. The longing for God is part of our DNA as human beings, made in God’s image. We all have a capacity to pray and faculties of feeling, imagination and desire to help us develop a friendship with Jesus.

In this retreat Gemma Simmonds encourages people to pray as they can, not as they can’t. She notes that the 14th century English mystic Julian of Norwich says that God is grateful when we remember him. Even if our prayer feels meagre and distracted to us, God is happy when we just show up, and will bless us with unexpected graces.

The retreat starts with some practical suggestions that might help people who haven’t made a retreat like this before, or act as reminders for those who have.  Participants are asked firstly to consider how long they feel that they are able to devote to each session of the retreat. They are told that it’s good to decide this in advance, and try and spend the same amount of time on each reflection.

They are encouraged not to give up too soon if they struggle with the prayer, and not to continue too long if it seems to be going well. The material presented in each session lasts about 15 to 20 minutes, but participants might want to take more time than this to prepare themselves , or to revisit ideas that arise from the retreat throughout the day.

Those who decide to do the retreat are also encouraged to ask themselves what they are making this retreat for. What are the gifts and graces they hope to receive from God during these times of prayer? They are advised to make sure that you start the prayer by asking God for these, or for whatever else God wants to give them.