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7 reasons every Catholic should go on an Ignatian Retreat

Stephen Kokx Stephen Kokx Follow Stephen

May 25, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – There are many things we must do if we wish to attain salvation. Attending Sunday Mass and going to confession are probably what most Catholics think will secure their spot in heaven.

While it is true we have to receive the Holy Eucharist in a state of grace if we wish to gain eternal life, there are many other tasks Catholics should engage in if they want to obtain the ultimate goal of union with God. Prayer, penance, visiting the Blessed Sacrament, and performing spiritual and corporal works of mercy are a few that come to mind.

Largely forgotten in the post-conciliar Church is the profound importance of spiritual retreats, in particular, spiritual retreats based on the exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

If performed correctly, these exercises can help set a soul on the straight and narrow path that leads to eternal bliss.

Who is St. Ignatius?

Born in northern Spain in 1491 to a noble family, St. Ignatius was one of 13 children. Perhaps best known for founding the Jesuits in 1540, in his youth Ignatius was a proud soldier. In 1521, he suffered a cannonball injury to his leg during the Battle of Pamplona that ended his military career. 

In 1522, he went to a Benedictine monastery. A year later, he arrived in Manresa, a small town where, among other things, he physically fought the devil inside a cave he prayed and meditated in. 

While in Manresa, he received from our Blessed Mother what are now known as the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

The exercises are meant to be carried out over a 30 day period. For the average Catholic, that is simply not possible, so they are offered to the laity in a condensed 5-day format by various orders of priests.

What happens during an Ignatian retreat?

I had the great privilege of participating in an Ignatian retreat last week. Unlike the updated, liberalized Ignatian retreats given by Jesuits today, mine was done the traditional way according to pre-Vatican II rubrics. In other words, done the same way St. Ignatius himself would have practiced them. 

My Ignatian retreat took place in New England at a multi-acre retreat center. During the week, I was without not only my phone but also without socialization. 

Although in between meditations myself and the 15 or so other men (mostly young men under the age of 25) consulted with priests, we could not talk to one another. During meals, we listened to audio CDs of sermons about the priesthood, the sufferings of Christ, the crisis in the Church, and other edifying  topics. 

An average day consisted of waking at 6 am and praying the office of Prime at 6:30 am. Mental prayer and Latin Mass followed. 

Breakfast was at 8 am while at 9 am a conference on rotating topics was given by a priest. One conference was on the gravity of sin. Others were on the Holy Family, the passion of Our Lord, and the resurrection. Again, these topics were given to St. Ignatius by Mary herself. 

A 20-minute silent meditation or contemplation (also known as “exercises”) in each retreatant’s room on the conference’s topic took place after each lesson. 

At 11 am, a conference was given on St. Ignatius’ rules for the discernment of spirits, which help Catholics know whether what they are feeling is from God or the devil. 

Following lunch, we were free to walk the grounds, pray in the chapel, read, take an afternoon siesta, and do pretty much anything else we wanted. 

Afternoon conferences were held and more meditations and contemplations were performed. The rosary and the Church’s prayer of Compline were recited collectively in the evening. 

Overall, the retreat was a roller coaster of an experience. Sometimes consoled, sometimes desolate, I often found myself distracted and wanting to leave on the third day only to  later in the week have an immense sense of consolation and wanting to stay a while longer. 

Due to a severe thunderstorm, the retreat center was without power for several days, which made the week feel downright medieval at times, as priests spoke to us by candlelight about the tools needed to effectively fight the devil. 

While no doubt challenging, Ignatian retreats are a gift from Our Mother and should be undertaken once yearly if possible. 

Why every Catholic should go on an Ignatian retreat 

1) You become deeply aware of how offensive sin is to God and you experience an increase in sorrow for the sins you’ve already committed.

Many people blame God for their “problems” — sickness, handicaps, unemployment, personal tragedy. In reality, it is sin that is ultimately behind all the problems we experience. 

Lucifer declared “Non Serviam!” when God revealed to him the plan of the Incarnation. As a result, 1/3rd of the angels rebelled, setting into motion events that lead to the downfall of man by way of Original Sin.

Original Sin darkens man’s intellect, hampers his resolve, causes him to prefer the sensual life to the supernatural life, and inclines him to replace God’s will with his own.

It is not God’s fault we have earthly problems. It is Adam’s, it is the devil’s, and it is our own. 

God loves us. He gives us everything — our aptitudes, our families, our jobs, music, the birds of the air, sunsets, and all the other niceties of life we take comfort in.

Yet we, like Lucifer and our first parents, turn our back on Him when we sin.

St. Ignatius reminds us that these two sins, Satan’s refusal and Adam’s folly, as well as our own failures, are the source of the world’s miseries, and that we must learn to hate sin.

As Proverbs 14:34 points out, “Justice exalts a nation, but sin makes nations miserable.”

2) Ignatian retreats remind us that God speaks in silence. 

Although Romans 10:17 says faith “comes by hearing,” week-long Ignatian retreats require you to meditate and contemplate on everything from the birth of Christ to His passion for 20 minutes at a time.

For many persons, silence can be a scary thing. In all likelihood, such a disposition is an indication of spiritual frenzy and a disordered relationship with God.

Persons mired in sin prefer noise because silence forces them to confront the world as it is, as God has made it.

Consider that when speaking to someone, it would be impossible to carry on a conversation if you were looking at your phone. So too can we only have a relationship with God if we turn off our television sets, mute our car radios, and fast from the internet.

Scripture tells us Samuel said, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” We can’t listen to what God is saying if we are consumed with the world, continually blocking Him out. We have to give God a chance, like the Roman centurion did, to enter under our roof. Ignatian retreats are a perfect opportunity for doing that. 

3) You get to make a general confession. 

Unlike regular confessions, a general confession is when you confess every sin you’ve ever committed. 

Just the thought of calling to mind every sin we’ve ever made can make some souls nervous. 

But general confessions aren’t meant to torture us. They are a gift from God designed to help us start anew in the life of Christ. 

General confessions show the love and mercy God has for each and every one of us.

Recall that Adam only committed one mortal sin and death was introduced into the world. Recall that Lot’s wife committed one mortal sin and she was turned into a pillar of salt.

How merciful God is to allow us to continue living day after day even though we continually commit sins of pride, gluttony, lust, drunkenness, and the like hour after hour. We deserve hell for just one mortal sin, yet God mercifully holds back His avenging arm and gives us time to amend our lives.

God wants all his children to come back to Him and stop disobeying His commandments. A general confession at an Ignatian retreat is the perfect way to do that.

4) Seeking relaxation in the vanities of the world will never refresh the soul. Christ alone gives us what we need. 

In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ says “Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Put another way, the world vacations. Catholics go on retreat.

Ignatian retreats are exercises in spiritual warfare. They are not relaxing. They are work. They are training camp for the soul that prepares us for the battles we face on the real playing field — the office, the courtroom, the warehouse, the classroom, the construction site. 

Consolation and desolation are a major part of any Ignatian retreat, and Satan is always lurking around the corner just as he was lurking around at the foot of the cross. 

Many retreatants are tempted to leave before the week is out, thinking God has abandoned them and that He doesn't love them.

Nothing is further from the truth.

God allows us to feel desolate and far away from Him because He wants us to show our faith in and love for Him. We must, as 1 Peter 1:7 says, be like “gold tested in fire.” Like Simon, we must carry our cross. We can’t reign in heaven with Jesus if we don’t first suffer with him. The choice is ours. 

Ignatian retreats capture the ups and downs of the spiritual warfare we all must endure. As such, it’s good practice for when it matters most during our daily lives.

5) Ignatian retreats focus on the life of Christ, which, in turn, gives you a better understanding of the priesthood.

A priest is truly God’s representative on earth. St. Alphonsus says the priest is even greater than the angels. Priests are God's instrument to forgive sins. They call down from heaven the Bread of Life that opens up heaven to poor sinners. 

It seems obvious that the concept of the priesthood has been greatly distorted in the years following Vatican II. Many priests simply believe they are presiding over a communal meal or “worship service” on Sunday mornings.

In truth, the priest, acting in the person of Christ, mediates between God and man during liturgy. It is not the congregation's role to mediate, nor is it the priest and the congregation together. It is the priest alone who pronounces the words that transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of our savior. 

Ignatian retreats have the effect of reminding attendees of the hierarchical nature of God’s plan and that it is through the priest, altus Christus, that souls are cleansed.

6) Ignatian retreats increase your appreciation of St. Joseph and proper family relations.

St. Joseph is not mentioned much in the Gospels. Still, meditating on his role as protector of the Holy Family is one of the exercises St. Ignatius asks retreatants to perform.

Joseph was given the task of escorting Mary as they fled into Egypt. Joseph provided for his family through carpentry and he led them in prayer. He also submitted to the angelic messengers God sent to him and did his duty of state. Truly he is a model for all husbands and fathers.

Yet how many men today can say they are like St. Joseph? Are men today courageous leaders who fulfill their role as husband and father and who protect women? Of course not. Many men today are effeminate, overly-sensitive, and obsessed with sports. They use women to fulfill their lustful desires and then move on to the next fleeting pleasure.

Furthermore, how many women today scorn the life and example of Mary?

Mary pondered all things in her heart, was obedient to and encouraged her husband Joseph, raised the child Jesus, and helped care for the apostles after Christ’s ascension.

Feminists detest childbirth, want radical equality with men in the home and in the career field, and they mock housewives who focus on their children instead of engaging in lifelong political activism.

Ignatian retreats help Catholics realize the current cultural opinion of men and women is completely at odds with God’s plan for the family unit.

7) You gain a plenary indulgence from the retreat.

This means that with various conditions being met, should you suddenly die after having received the indulgence you would go straight to heaven.

At the end of an Ignatian retreat you are asked to make a public profession of faith and to make 1-3 resolutions to follow when you get home.

A blessing with a crucifix is also performed at the conclusion of the week.

In effect, an Ignatian retreat lets you start over again and to declare, by your actions, that you renew your baptismal promises rejecting Satan and all his works.

If it is at all possible to go on a week-long Ignatian retreat, do not wait any longer. Find a retreat house that offers St. Ignatius’ exercises according to the traditional methods and go as soon as possible.

If for whatever reason you cannot attend, at a minimum go to confession and begin the life of perfection God has called you to.

Psalm 103:15 states: “As for man, his days are as grass.” The only thing that matters is heaven. Pick up your cross now. Tomorrow isn’t a guarantee.

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Stephen Kokx

Stephen Kokx is the Assistant Director of Digital Marketing for LifeSiteNews' Catholic Edition. He has previously worked for the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office for Peace and Justice. A former community college instructor, Stephen has written and spoken extensively about Catholic social teaching. His essays have appeared in such outlets as The Remnant Newspaper, Crisis Magazine, Catholic News Agency, and Most recently, he hosted “Church and State with Stephen Kokx,” a podcast featured on Magnificat Radio.