The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly turned the world upside down for the past several months. At St. Patrick's Seminary we sent our seminarians home early in March and they successfully completed their term using distance learning. We graduated seven seminarians who will shortly be ordained priests. In fact, one already has become a priest.
Another program that has been affected by the COVID-19 restrictions has been our Summer Spirituality Program. We cancelled the first session since it was a series of guest lectures followed by an eight-day retreat program. This program could not be effectively implemented on campus and still ensure the safety of the instructors and the participants. Fortunately, the second session was able to start with a limited number of participants with some safety restrictions. We have twelve seminarians taking part in our second session, the 30-day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. They come from seven different dioceses, including the Archdioceses of Los Angeles and San Francisco and the Dioceses of Jefferson City, Kalamazoo, Oakland, San Jose, and Santa Rosa.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th-century Spanish priest, theologian, and founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), composed the spiritual exercises around 1524 to help participants to discern the will of God in their lives and to make a total commitment to following Jesus. Normally, the exercises are 28-30 days in length, but there are shorter retreats for those who are only starting down the path of discernment. Through this process of discernment, the participant learns the connection between their thoughts and actions and the grace of God.
For the spiritual formation of the seminarian, the 30-day retreat is critical for his spiritual growth. By entering into the meditative and contemplative elements of the retreat, the retreatant comes:
• to recognize the self-revealing love of God in his particular life
• to understand the nature of his call
• to deepen his unique relationship with the Lord
Each day begins with Mass and ends with Eucharistic Adoration. In the beautiful setting of St. Patrick’s Seminary, the retreatant encounters a prayerful silence that quickly enters into their hearts. He also meets with a spiritual director once a day. Fortunately, this program is a good match for the current self-imposed isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Consequently, we can all model this activity in our current lives during our shelter-in-place. Instead of binge-watching Netflix, we can implement a media fast in which we give up the use of phones, television, computers, popular media, and other electronic devices for most of the week. The fast promotes a new interior freedom for silence and a stilling of the heart and mind for listening to our Lord in a growing awareness of His constant presence. Then, we can implement some of the programs from the spiritual exercises, including contemplative prayer, reading and praying the Scripture, executing a Daily Examen, etc. The Daily Examen is a particularly powerful technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God's presence and discern his direction for us. Ignatianspirituality.com has a number of resources to help you on this prayerful journey.
Ad maiorem Dei gloriam!