- Welcome to our Lenten retreat. Obviously, at one level, these six-and-a-half weeks represent a period during which we prepare for Easter; but at another level, there is something else going on at this time in our world, something rather deeper. For on the one hand there is a wholesale departure from God; but at the same time there is a thirst for something real, something that the mainline churches do not always seem to provide. I want to suggest to you that the God whom secular Europe has abandoned is a caricature God, not the real thing; and that the thirst is something to which the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises can help you give expression. That is what I am proposing to help you do in the course of this ‘retreat’, which is divided into six ‘sessions’, to be used over the six weeks of Lent.
- And there is one other thing; the entire world has been struck by the very new example of Pope Francis, who seems to be pointing to something very important in calling for the present ‘Year of Mercy’; in doing so, he seems to be reminding us, not of the ‘caricature’ God, who glares irascibly at our wrong-doings, but of the real God, who created us in love and for love. That is the God who underlies this Lenten retreat.
- So what are you to be doing if you follow this Lenten retreat? Each week, I shall offer you several different points to think about with regard to the text. Please don’t feel obliged to use them all every day, or indeed any of them. What matters is that you should follow where the Spirit is leading you. This is not a syllabus that you have to ‘get through’. We are making the journey through Lent to Easter, which will take a different form for each of us, and that is all that matters.
- Let me suggest three things that will apply in each week, or ‘session’. First, make sure that you do something each day, and try to give a good period of time to it. My suggestion is that you attempt to do at least twenty minutes; but if that thought drives you crazy, or makes you think that I am crazy, then choose a lesser time, but always do at least the time that you have agreed to, and never less, whatever the temptation. You will find that God is not outdone in generosity.
- Secondly, I suggest that you find yourself a ‘sacred place’, somewhere where you are going to make your prayer each day. Some people do it on the way into work, with a longer, more contemplative period at weekends. If that works for you, then do it that way: can you get a seat on the Tube or the train, and be left in peace? Or perhaps you have a room at home where you can easily do it, or even a church near your place of work, where you can have uninterrupted space. Then, when you go to your chosen place, make some kind of a signal that you are now entering into prayer. Some people like to make the sign of the cross, for example, or kiss the ground, though you might not want to do that on a crowded Underground train! You might just close your eyes and bow your head before you start, while saying to the Lord: ‘This is your time, Lord; and it is up to you to fill it’.
- Thirdly, Ignatius wants us in each time of prayer to ‘ask for what I want’. He's talking about the particular grace that we are trying to get out of this session, and wants us to ask for it, with real confidence. When you do that, the only piece of advice that I should give is that you make sure that what you ask God for is what you really want, at the very deepest level of your being. If you do that, then you will be looking for the real God, the one we are searching for in this retreat.