Look back over the Retreat
Over the course of our Advent retreat, we have encountered the unique and surpassing joy of God, embodied in the birth of Christ. Through the words of Isaiah, and the eyes of Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, we have experienced the anticipation, the Advent, that preceded this magnificent act of love. We can now take time to reflect on this retreat, and, as Mary 'treasured' the events and 'pondered them in her heart', we too can recall what we have learned and begin to discover how we might become messengers of joy.
Before you conclude this retreat, you might ask Jesus to help you hold onto the graces which you have received. Was your heart moved when you prayed? Was there a scripture reading or image that particularly resonated with you? Perhaps you got a new insight into the meaning of God’s gift of joy. If you were to pray with the text of the retreat again, what line or phrase would you go back to?
In the second week of his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola says that contemplating the mystery of Christmas means “seeing in imagination the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem”. Ignatius suggests that you picture the Nativity scene in your mind and “consider, observe, and contemplate what the persons are saying”. After this, he proposes, you might “reflect” on this mystery “and draw some fruit from it”. Spend a few moments now pondering the Bethlehem scene. Jesus is born in a humble stable, to a poor family among the ordinary people of the time. Simple shepherds were the first witnesses to this event. Enter into the silence of this scene. Ask yourself, what does it mean for me?
Jesus, God made man, who was born in such simple surroundings, desires to come into the most ordinary events of our daily life. This is the true message of Christmas: that Emmanuel – God with us – comes to us in the depths of our hearts and invites us to meet Him there. We are His beloved sons and daughters, and we can encounter Him everywhere – in our homes and our workplaces, in silence or in speech, on our own or with our friends, in the beauty of the countryside or the bustle of city life. Where are you most conscious of Jesus’ presence? Let Him gaze at you now, and speak to him from the heart about how the experience of this retreat has been for you. Share with him your joys and sorrows, your hopes and fears.
Looking to the times that lie ahead, think about how this retreat may be of help to you. What has stayed with you? What might be useful to hold onto? Have you experienced a particular blessing or sense of joy during this time? Where have you met challenges or difficulties? Have you felt resistance? What are you most looking forward to? As Christmas and the new year approach, ask Jesus for the grace of being fully alive to His presence. Ask Him for the help, strength and joy you need for the future. Conscious that you are on this journey together, come closer to Jesus now and offer these final moments of prayer to Him.