Into Great Silence
In 2010, I spent a summer in Omaha, participating in the Institute for Priestly Formation. The IPF program aims to provide seminarians with solid spiritual, psychological, and theological foundations that will sustain them in healthy habits of priesthood. It's a great program that does a lot of good for the Church. The summer starts with an 8 day silent retreat. For all 175 seminarians in the program, the expectation was 4 hours of prayer a day and a daily meeting with a retreat director to talk about what God was doing - or not doing - in prayer. The common joke among the seminarians was that you would go to your retreat director and say, "Nothing is happening in prayer!" Then the director would nod sagely and say, "Tell me more about the nothing." These conversations (hopefully about something rather than nothing) were the only times outside of Mass that we could talk. Silence was to be maintained at all times, even at meals, in order to pay close attention to the inner life of the soul. The hours of prayer were dedicated to meditations on certain Scripture passages following an arrangement set out by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.
Ever since that 8 day retreat, I have found the spirituality of St. Ignatius to be incredibly fruitful in my prayer life. I never had to talk about "the nothing" with my spiritual director, thank God. It has been a constant part of my priesthood. As such, there has always been a part of Ignatian spirituality that I've wanted to undertake: the Spiritual Exercises. The Spiritual Exercises are 30 days of silent prayer and meditation meant to draw the retreatant into deeper relationship with God. The 8 day retreat I went on in Omaha was a condensed version of the full Spiritual Exercises (there are also 5 day and 3 day versions). This summer, I am blessed to have the opportunity to take this 30 day silent retreat. Now, I know what you're thinking. Even my bishop made the same joke: "Fr. David? Silent? For 30 days?!" Well Zechariah was mute for nine months before his son was born so I think I can handle a few weeks of silence.
What's even more extraordinary is where I'll be: Jerusalem. I still have a hard time believing that I will be spending an entire month reading the Scriptures and meditating on the life of Jesus in the Holy Land! I tell people that I am really excited about this once-in-a-lifetime chance but I am at the same time terrified. I’m not scared for my physical safety, but rather my spiritual safety. You can’t spend that much time alone with God without coming back changed! Yet I know that whatever happens during this time of silence and prayer will only strengthen my relationship with God.
Naturally, this means I’ll be away from the blog, email, social media, and the rest. In fact, the retreat director has made it clear that everyone will be turning in their phones at the start of the retreat and won’t be getting them back until August! I’ve never had an entire month of my adult life when I am totally cut off from the world. Honestly, I’m looking forward to getting away from it all so thoroughly and completely.
So if you’re reading this during July of 2019, please stop and say a prayer for me right now. Pray for my perseverance to stick to the regimen of the Spiritual Exercises. And pray for my openness to receiving whatever it is God wants to give me. I’ll be back after the first week of August. May God bless you and keep you!