Best Retreat Ever, Part One

All right, perhaps it is difficult to say which, of the various retreats that I have made, was the best one. Since I entered the Society of Jesus in 2006, I have made eight-day retreats on a yearly basis. As well, as a novice I made a thirty-day retreat, along with my novice mates. That thirty-day experience of the Spiritual Exercises was certainly a memorable, important time for me. But the retreat that often comes to my mind was a relatively short, three-day retreat, which I made in Guelph in the summer of 2009.

The retreat began with my meeting the woman who would be my spiritual director for the next few days, Sister Agnes Bhutia. Sister Agnes proceeded to tell me that she recalled having met me previously, in India! This encounter, talk of India and memories of the place, foreshadowed what would become an important aspect of this retreat and of my future …

During the first night of the retreat, I recognized and expressed two desires, two graces that I would pray for during these days. First, and primarily, I expressed the desire to be with Christ. Second, I prayed that I might gain some clarity regarding my future life. After one more year of studying philosophy, I would be entering the stage of formation called Regency. That stage can be described as one of formation, of personal growth, through contributing to the work of a Jesuit apostolate. I prayed that, during this three-day retreat, God might help me to see my own deep desires, whether regarding Regency or regarding my future more generally.

Probably the most important moment of the retreat took place on the second full day, as I sat outside for a time of prayer. Toward the end of this time, I focused on Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” I recognized then a desire within myself, to be with and to help the poor and marginalized of our world. I experienced this moment as a relief and a blessing, as I was able to express this thought and desire. At the same time, I received and noticed the grace of being free to do various kinds of work or ministry in the future, of not feeling tied to any particular type of work.

Later that day, the thought came to me: what if I were sent to Nepal for two years, for Regency? My first reaction to this thought was one of fear, related to the possibility of being away from everyone and everything I know. Yet, at some point after the retreat, over the next few months, I found within myself an interest, a desire, to be with the poor in a particular place: namely, Nepal. Why Nepal? Well, it had something to do with a year spent in India as a candidate for the Society, a few years earlier. At that time I had visited Nepal, and had spent time with Nepali people in India.

Fast-forward to January 2010. I met with our Provincial Superior, Jim Webb SJ. Much to my surprise and delight, he suggested that I go to Nepal! That surprised me because I had not suggested to him that I might go there. My reaction to his proposal was one of joy: my joy was complete, I might say! I wrote in my journal that day that Nepal was “exactly the one place I’d most like to be.” Surely God was working here, blessing me, providing me with opportunities that I both longed for and hardly dared to express!

Is this not how God can work in our lives, giving us all that we need and what we most deeply desire?

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All photos courtesy of Brendan McManus, SJ

Paul Robson, SJ, is a Jesuit priest studying Theology at Regis College in Toronto.

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